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5. Meatballs

Country Available: Canada, USA
Related Programs:
  • On Screen! II
  • 'On Screen! III
  • Are you ready for the summer? Ivan Reitman's breakthrough comedy hit, Meatballs , remains one of the highest grossing films in Canadian history--even if few people today remember the film is Canadian. Set at the mythic summer Camp North Star, Meatballs is a warm-hearted look at the hijinks of campers and counselors alike. The star of the show is C.I.T. supervisor Tripper Harrison (Bill Murray, in his first film and first starring role), as he woos co-counselor Kate Lynch, and befriends the meek Rudy (Chris Makepeace), though who can forget the misadventures of Spaz (Jack Blum, also the film's casting director, and brother of co-writer Len Blum) and his compadre in crime, the portly Fink (Keith Knight). Meatballs captures all of the summer camp moments distinctly familiar to Ontarians, such as the feeling of being homesick, the intercamp Olympiad (here, with the rich kids from Camp Mohawk), and the first pangs of responsibility when being away from one's parents, where everything can, and often will, go wrong.

    Filmed on location at Haliburton's Camp Whitepine, the making of Meatballs was an event full of fun and scheming trouble at every step, much like the film itself. The first summer camp film also represents an early high in improvisatory, Saturday Night Live-National Lampoon style sketch-based comedy when transposed to a feature film. Reitman had just produced the wildly successful anti-establishment hit Animal House , and was up for the opportunity to create a wider hit, skewed for a younger audience. It took a lot of convincing to bring Murray onto the project, including script rewrites involving SCTV's Harold Ramis (an interview subject), and when Murray finally arrived, the wild improvisations began, and the film truly was born, as the star created such indelible moments like the "It Just Doesn't Matter" speech from scratch. However, it required reshoots to round out the relationship between Tripper and Rudy, making the film truly successful. Though Meatballs led to numerous imitators and three unfortunate sequels, none captured the special feel of the original, which remains a film loved by a generation and, perhaps, a model for the Canadian film industry in the present.

    The story for Meatballs begins with the early exploitation films produced by the McMaster-grad Reitman for the Montreal-based Cinepix, including early efforts from David Cronenberg. John Dunning and Andre Link, who both fondly recall working with Reitman in these early days. Now one of Hollywood's most successful directors, Reitman places Meatballs in the context of his career, and assesses its ongoing popularity, as well as that of its star, Bill Murray, who went on to star in Reitman films like Stripes and Ghostbusters . (Many critics and present-day directors also attest to its unique place in the Canadian film industry.) Alternative perspectives of the making of the film are provided by production designer David Charles, costume designer Judy Stoffman, and locations manager Kay Armatage, who all recall how hard it was to make Meatballs with real campers as extras while camp was in session. Actors Jack Blum, Keith Knight, Chris Makepeace, Harvey Atkin, and Genie-winner Kate Lynch all lend this episode a strong "where are they now" feel.

    View a printer friendly version of this page...Copyright Date: 2006 Length: 48 minutes Library Audience:
  • General Interest
  • Canadian Film Studies
  • School Audience:
  • 10-12
  • Post Secondary
  • Subjects:
  • Canadian Film Studies
  • Media Studies
  • Film Making
  • Language Arts
  • Formats Available:
  • DVD
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