Release Date(s)1964 (October 22, 2022)
Studio(s)NFB/Cinema V (Canadian International Pictures/Vinegar Syndrome)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B
Nobody Waved Goodbye is a low-budget look at the downslide of a high school senior who can’t see himself entering adulthood in a cookie-cutter life. Produced by the National Film Board of Canada, the film had its premiere at the 1964 New York Film Festival.
Peter (Peter Kastner, You’re a Big Boy Now) is a clean-cut 18-year-old high-schooler in a Toronto neighborhood of suburban-style, one-family homes who always seems to be having arguments with his parents about the course of his future. They expect him to get good enough grades to go on to college and eventually get a decent job and settle into a comfortable life. Peter doesn’t want that. He longs to be independent and make his own decisions. The only person who really understands him is his girlfriend, Julie (Julie Biggs). She loves Peter and is becoming increasingly influenced by his rebelliousness and reckless behavior. When he takes his father’s car for a joy ride, she goes with him, even though she knows he doesn’t have a license. He’s stopped for speeding and brought to the police station.
His frazzled father (Claude Rae) rushes to the police station in the middle of the night but doesn’t have the $200 needed to bail him out. Peter, resentful and insulting, spends the night in jail. A condition of his being freed is that he regularly see a probation officer (John Sullivan). He attends these sessions resentfully and denounces bourgeois phoniness, but when the officer asks Peter what his principles are, he can’t come up with a response.
Intent on leaving home and convinced that without any credentials he can get a well-paying job, Peter quits school, rents a cheap room, and assumes he’ll be able to save enough money so that he and Julie can leave what he considers a stifling existence. But things get worse when reality hits. Forced to settle for a dead-end job that pays little, he begins stealing. His mother (Charmion King) invites Peter to come back home if he promises to go back to school and pause his relationship with Julie so he can concentrate on his studies. He refuses, and his self-centered arrogance leads to increasing desperation.
Director Don Owen tells the story in documentary style, minus the shaky, hand-held camera. Several scenes are improvised and spontaneous, enhancing a sense of reality. The film taps into youthful rebelliousness and is reminiscent of Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause. In both films, the protagonist yearns for an undefined alternative to his present life. On the surface, Peter has a good life. He’s from a two-parent, middle-class family concerned about his lack of direction. His parents attempt to steer him onto a path they feel will offer him happiness, but Peter is restless and acts out by breaking rules—of family, school, and society.
Kastner is an accomplished young actor who has charm, yet conveys self-righteousness and arrogance as Peter refuses to listen to reasonable parents, his probation officer, and even Julie. Lured by a life of independence, Peter fails to take into account how unprepared he is to assume adult responsibilities. As we watch him make one bad decision after another, we wish we could shout out, “No, don’t do that.” Though Peter is headed for delinquency, Kastner nonetheless keeps us involved in his journey. Through his natural charisma, he nicely embodies teen angst and disillusion.
Julie, more mature than Peter but persuaded to go along with his perilous, self-destructive activities because she loves him, gets to a point at which she realizes that staying with Peter can only lead to disaster for both of them. Julie looks up to Peter and sees them living happily ever after, but only after getting through school. She’s intrigued by Peter’s impatience and the picture he paints of a life that isn’t “by the book.” Biggs conveys Julie’s conflicted feelings toward Peter through her sad, expressive eyes.
The film is somewhat predictable but nonetheless captivating. In a mere 80 minutes, director Don Owen tells his story economically, with each scene essential. There’s no padding with unnecessary exposition. He lets the camera and the dialogue—very natural with its repetitions, partial sentences, broken thoughts, and awkward pauses—do the work. The film’s conclusion is highly melodramatic but quite powerful.
Nobody Waved Goodbye was shot by director of photography John Spotton on 16 mm black-and-white film, finished photochemically, and blown up to 35 mm in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The film has been digitally restored by the National Film Board of Canada. According to information in the enclosed booklet, “Given the fragile and precious condition of the original 16 mm camera negative, the archival interpositive 16 mm print (sourced from the original camera negative) was scanned on the NFB’s Spirit DataCine in 2K.” Dirt specks, scratches, splices, tears, flicker and warps were removed, giving the presentation a pristine appearance. Lighting is occasionally uneven, such as in a scene at the dinner table when light from a window behind the actors causes intermittent overexposure. Detail is very good, with ripples in a lake, stubble on Peter’s face, and individual strands of Julie’s long hair well delineated. A fast zoom is used a few times, which draws attention to the camera and is distracting.
The soundtrack is English mono DTS-HD Master Audio. English SDH subtitles are an available option. According to information included in the enclosed booklet, “the original monaural soundtrack was restored and remastered at 24 bit from the original magnetic tracks by the sound restoration specialists at the National Film Board of Canada.” Dialogue is clear throughout, though in scenes in which Peter drives a car, traffic noise nearly overpowers it. The sound of a jail door shutting has an echo that punctuates Peter’s incarceration. During scenes in Peter’s home, there’s an echo caused by a lack of adequate sound-absorbing material. The song The Water Is Wide is played under the opening credits, during a romantic scene in which Peter and Julie canoe on a lake, and when Peter accompanies himself on banjo while singing. The tune serves as the film’s key musical theme.
Bonus materials include the following:
- Christopher’s Movie Matinee (87:31)
- Runner (10:54)
- Toronto Jazz (27:02)
- You Don’t Back Down (28:03)
- Lonely Boy (26:40)
Christopher’s Movie Matinee – This 1968 Canadian documentary focuses on the youth counterculture hippie movement in the Toronto district of Yorkville. The teenagers are engaged as active participants rather than subjects. They contribute their own ideas as to what kind of film director Mort Ransen should make. Footage shot by young people with personal video cameras is incorporated. The film raises questions about the responsibilities of the documentary filmmaker in terms of recording reality or helping to stage it.
Runner – This short 1962 documentary by Don Owen profiles 19-year-old Canadian long-distance runner Bruce Kidd. Kidd won gold and bronze medals at the 1962 Commonwealth Games. The film contains poetic commentary written and spoken by W.H. Auden. Kidd is filmed running on practice tracks, piers, and in an international race.
Toronto Jazz – Also directed by Don Owen, this 1963 documentary examines the mid-20th century Toronto jazz scene. The film features acts from the third-largest jazz center in North America. Performers include the Lenny Breau Trio, Don Thompson Quintet, and Alf Jones Quartet. The film illustrates the elements that have made these performers successful, including hard work, improvisation, and unique styles.
You Don’t Back Down – Dr. Alex McMahon, a young Canadian physician serving in a mission in Nigeria with his schoolteacher wife, encounters new challenges and rewarding experiences every day. Filmed in 1965 by Don Owen, the film follows the daily activities of the McMahons.
Lonely Boy – This 1962 cinema verite documentary is about teen singing idol Paul Anka. The film is named for Anka’s hit song of the same name, which he performs to screaming fans. Backstage moments are captured with hand-held cameras. Produced by the National Film Board of Canada, it won a Film of the Year prize at the 15th Canadian Film Awards and was often shown before Nobody Waved Goodbye during its original theatrical run.
Booklet – The 12-page booklet contains a lengthy interview with Don Owen conducted by his biographer, Steve Gravestock; black-and-white photos from the film, and information about its restoration.
Nobody Waved Goodbye is a fairly obscure film that deserves to be seen. Though much of the story is predictable, the two leads are quite good, Don Owen’s screenplay is engaging and his direction brisk and uncluttered. The theme of teen alienation is examined with an objective, non-judgmental approach.
- Dennis Seuling