Movie Review: “West Wind: The Vision of Tom Thomson”

Written by Brent Holmes February 17, 2012

Bringing on a brand new Renaissance.

Nobody really knows what happened to Tom Thomson. He disappeared while on a canoeing trip on Canoe Lake in 1917. After his body was found, questions were raised about his actual resting place, but his spirit undoubtedly influenced the Group of Seven and he remains a national icon for Canadians.

West Wind: The Vision of Tom Thomson is strange for this reason: it is one of the few documentaries on Tom Thomson. While the mystery of his death is explored quite heavily, the rest of his life has not been painted on film—until now. The film screened at London Museum’s Domestic Arrivals Film Festival and will be playing on television later this year.

Directors Michèle Hozer and Peter Raymont brilliantly contrast images of Tom Thomson’s paintings with shots of landscapes that could potentially be of the same places he was painting. These landscapes are just as beautiful shot on high definition cameras and it is nice to see these images presented back-to-back to get a feeling for Thomson’s vision.

 

The film follows most of Thomson’s life quite thoroughly but it does feel like some sections of his life are missing. Thomson’s second romantic interest seems to be an important figure in Thomson’s life and there likely is a substantial amount of information on her, but she is mentioned only briefly. The full scope of Thomson’s influence on the Group of Seven is not fully covered either.

These are minor complaints, one could make a very lengthy movie about Thomson’s life focusing on various areas from his early childhood to his evolution from sketching to painting to his struggle in dealing with the role of an artist during World War I. West Wind does recognize that it wants the focus to be on Thomson’s life and for the most part stays focused there.

 

The film does gracefully ignore foreshadowing parts of Thomson’s life, making it’s quality far beyond that of a biography channel production. Thomson’s death is treated as it was: a sudden blow to the Canada’s artistic history and it is not mentioned until the great artist disappears. This style works well because it takes the focus off of his mysterious death, which would be very easy to focus on and obsess over.

West Wind isn’t entirely accessible to the uneducated viewer. If one doesn’t know about Thomson’s paintings or artistic style, then there will inevitably be points where one could get confused or lost.

For the attentive viewer, this film is a brilliant portrait of Thomson’s life. It is a truly Canadian experience showing the beauty of Northern Ontario and Algonquin Park. Where the film succeeds tremendously is in how it proclaims the call of the North, through a comparison of Thomson’s paintings to the landscapes he painted in. West Wind is a film that makes one proud to be Canadian, and it is a film that will become a crucial part of the retelling of Canadian history.

My Rating 7.5/10

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About Brent Holmes

Brent Holmes is a Film Studies and English Major attending Huron University College at the University of Western Ontario where he is working towards a PhD in Film Studies. He currently writes for We Eat Films and The Western Gazette (on the latter, he serves as Arts & Life editor).

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