Aiming for Roses

Patty Osborne

First there was the Canadian daredevil Ken Carter who, for five years (starting in 1976), made repeated attempts to jump the St. Lawrence River in a rocket-propelled car. He planned to land on the US side, in two hundred square feet of roses (planted specially for the occasion), which he speculated would be “a fairly soft target.” In 1981 Robert Fortier made an NFB documentary about Carter; this inspired Mark Haney, a Vancouver composer and double bassist, to spend the next five years composing music that for some reason he based on the first 499 digits of pi, and recording it on a concept album for double bass, guitar and vocals, along with audio clips from the documentary, and to call it Aim for the Roses. Haney’s album, described by one music critic as “utterly amazing and completely fucking ridiculous,” fuelled the imagination of the Vancouver filmmaker John Bolton, who started with the music, used some scenes from the original documentary, built a shortened version of Carter’s ramp that stands in for a Shakespearean stage and hired some actors and singers, all so that he could add his own crazy movie to this chain of obsessions. Much like the works that inspired it, the movie Aim for the Roses (Opus 59 Films) started small and grew to include two men in bright-coloured jumpsuits and/or red and white striped long underwear, three women in white one-piece shorts sets and green fishnet stockings (one of whom is the “Statistician,” because what would a daredevil be without statistics?) who are backup singers and dancers but who could also be angels, and one announcer/singer/dancer who could also be the devil. Plus the two and only members of the Ken Carter Preservation Society, who are storing several parts of Carter’s original rocket car in a shed in Ontario. Throw in the composer playing a darker, more dramatic version of himself (and also playing the double bass), the filmmaker (playing an inscrutable bartender) and Renowned Psychic Raziel Ross (playing herself), and all the audience can do is sit there and wait to see where this wacky road is heading. We laughed, we cried, we worried, we rolled our eyes, we shook our heads, and in the end we may have come away inspired to try stuff that we’re pretty sure won’t work, just in case it does.

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