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Film / Whale Music

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Whale Music is a 1994 Canadian feature film directed by Richard J. Lewis, co-written by Lewis with Paul Quarrington, and based on Quarrington's 1989 novel of the same name.

The film tells the story of Desmond Howl (Maury Chaykin), an aging, eccentric, mentally ill rock star who lives in almost total seclusion in a dilapidated seaside mansion after the death of his brother, spending all his time swimming and recording "whale music"; a concept album of music meant for the whales that swim around his property to listen to. One day, a mysterious young woman named Claire (Cynthia Preston) arrives at his house unannounced; as their relationship develops, Des starts to come out of his shell and deal with the outside world again.

The film's original songs were written and recorded by noted Canadian indie rock band Rheostatics, who had previously named their otherwise unrelated 1992 album Whale Music after the book. The song "Claire", co-written with Paul Quarrington, became the band's first and only true hit and remains their best-known song.

Though the film was not a great success, it was nominated for nine Genie Awards (Canada's then-equivalent of the Oscars), winning four: Best Lead Actor for Maury Chaykin as Desmond, Best Original Song for "Claire" by Rheostatics, Best Overall Sound, and Best Sound Editing.

Provides examples of:

  • Adapted Out: Several characters from the book (including all the real-life celebrities) are completely absent from the film; most notably, Desmond's parents, his psychiatrist Dr. Tockette, the Indian guru Babboo Nass Fazoo, and recording engineer Fred Head.
  • Affectionate Parody: The Howl Brothers' song "Torque Torque"—written and recorded by Rheostatics in real life—is a loving nod to The Beach Boys' early car-centric material and the lush production techniques of their Pet Sounds era.
  • Age-Gap Romance: Claire is 19 years old, while Desmond appears to be in his mid-to-late forties; his actor Maury Chaykin was 45 when the movie was released.
  • Artistic License – Music: The end credits point out that in real life, Desmond's mixing console doesn't function quite the way it does in the film:
    The Mackie 24 Channel 8 Bus Console used by "Desmond" offers full MIDI automation from the computer screen using virtual faders, but is not physically automated as seen in the film.
  • Ax-Crazy: Claire turns out to be a kleptomaniac on the run from the psych ward, having threatened department store security guards with a pair of steak knives; she doesn't seem to think it was that big of a deal.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Des, in spades. It's somewhat less obvious here than in the original book since the viewers aren't privy to his internal monologue, but Des frequently hallucinates, writes music for whales to listen to, has odd speech patterns, and (last but not least) initially assumes that Toronto is a distant planet and that Claire is an alien.
  • Comically Missing the Point: The first time Fay drops by, she suspects that Claire is underage (she isn't) and warns Desmond, "Could mean prison". He retorts with: "That seems a heavy price to pay for a youthful appearance."
  • Composite Character: Fay, Desmond's ex-wife, survives the adaptation from book to film, though in the process she takes over the role that Desmond's mother previously played.
  • Dinner and a Show : Against Desmond's better judgment, Claire throws a dinner party for his friends, many of whom he hasn't seen in a long time; the results are predictably disastrous.
  • Divorce Assets Conflict: Desmond owes Fay a lot of back alimony. She wants to fix up his rundown mansion and sell it.
  • Fanservice : Cyndy Preston (as Claire) spends a lot of time in a bikini or underwear. Desmond even lampshades this.
    "Are you a housekeeper? I ask because they tend to be stouter, Germanic, and more given to wearing clothing."
    • This is partly justified due to her Limited Wardrobe: She only seems to have one or two outfits with her.
    • Inverted with Desmond, who is unshaven, significantly overweight, and played by Maury Chaykin, who was 45 at the time. Desmond also lives in his boxers and occasionally a bathrobe.
  • Feet-First Introduction : Claire, for both the audience and Desmond; the audience first sees her as a pair of legs walking up Desmond's front steps; Desmond first sees her as a pair of feet dangling off the edge of his couch.
  • Hidden Depths: Midway through the film, it's revealed that Claire is a talented painter, surprising Des with a mural of a killer whale on the inside of his refurbished swimming pool.
  • Leitmotif:
    • Scenes with Danny often feature a snippet of the Howl Brothers song "Torque Torque".
    • Certain parts of the instrumental score recall the melody of Desmond's song "Claire".
    • A minor example occurs with Claire; early on in the film, she's lounging by the pool listening to "Nice to Luv You" by Canadian rock group 54-40; towards the end, the same song plays while she strips at The Penthouse.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl : Claire, although she's a more realistic version; her exuberance and confidence help Desmond come out of his shell, but her instability and eccentricity is partially explained by the fact that she was molested by her stepfather and recently ran away from a psychiatric treatment facility after she was arrested for armed robbery.
  • Mistaken for Aliens: After Claire tells Des she's from Toronto, he seems to sincerely believe she's referring to another planet and that she's an alien sent to Earth to study it.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Desmond Howl, Danny Howl and the Howl Brothers are clear parodies of Brian Wilson, Dennis Wilson, and The Beach Boys respectively.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: While the original book takes place in the United States, the film is quite obviously filmed in the Vancouver area, though it's not entirely clear whether it actually takes place there or not:
    • Desmond's mansion is on the shores of Howe Sound, in or near West Vancouver.
    • When Desmond emerges from his house to find Claire at The Penthouse, he crosses the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge connecting North Vancouver and East Vancouver, with the downtown Vancouver skyline clearly visible in the background.
    • The Penthouse is a real strip club in downtown Vancouver which operates to this day.
  • One-Steve Limit: Somewhat averted; Des mentions to Claire that his mother is also named Claire several times, though she's not an actual character in the movie like she was in the book.
  • Scenery Porn : The outdoor scenes around Desmond's mansion were filmed in Howe Sound, British Columbia, northwest of Vancouver.
  • Sticky Fingers : Claire is a self-described kleptomaniac, and was arrested after impulsively stealing a golden egg from a department store.