On September 11, 2013, The End of Pinky, an NFB short by Claire Blanchet, based on the original short story by award-winning author Heather O’Neill, will have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. The stereoscopic 3D- animated film is narrated by O’Neill herself and internationally renowned Quebec actor Marc-André Grondin. Last week, I had the chance to speak with Heather O’Neill about her story, the making of Pinky and her future projects.
In 2008, Walrus Magazine ran a Dark Cities series and invited the Lullabies for Little Criminals author to write a grittier, sexier and darker tale than anything she had ever imagined about her hometown, Montreal. O’Neill drew on a story that she had first imagined as a teenager, the era of her romanticized gangster and Mickey Spillane obsession. A love of noir apparently runs in the family. “My father was a fan of gangster films,” said O’Neill, “and kids often take up the interests of their parents.”
Set in Montreal’s former red light district, “The End of Pinky” is the tale of a handsome young gangster named Johnny, his ghost-like girlfriend Mia and fellow criminal and former friend Pinky. The product of a traumatic childhood, Johnny is an unfeeling thug who seeks to even the score in a shadowy brothel. Mia intervenes, but Pinky’s insatiable graphomania in solitary confinement has irrevocably sealed his fate. O’Neill’s “The End of Pinky” appeared in the 2008 January-February edition of The Walrus. That same year, NFB filmmaker and 2007-Norman McLaren Award winner Claire Blanchet approached O’Neill about making an animated short of her story.
Many writers have misgivings about having their stories adapted into other narrative forms, in spite of the fact that it exposes their work to a much wider audience. “It’s always a leap of faith,” said O’Neill. But after Blanchet had showed the author a wonderful long-scrolled charcoal drawing of her magical yet realistic rendering of Saint Laurent Boulevard’s red light district, O’Neill knew that Blanchet had a similar vision of her story. The clincher was a tiny detail that Blanchet had included in her drawing. “Claire had put Jean-Luc Godard’s À bout de souffle on the movie theatre marquee,” said O’Neill. It was exactly what the author herself had imagined.
Having grown up in Montreal, O’Neill is a long-time fan of the NFB, and Blanchet’s animated film gave O’Neill the chance to try her hand at voice-over. “I’ve done radio and reading performances, but this was the first time that I had done voice-over,” said O’Neill. The author also said that she “was charmed” to learn that Marc-André Grondin would be doing the narration in the French version, in addition to the voice of Johnny in the English version.
The difference in narration styles obviously has an impact on the final product. I have had the opportunity to see both the French and English versions, and both narrators enhance the film in different ways, making it impossible to say one version is better than the other. But one thing is certain: to be fully appreciated The End of Pinky must be seen in 3D, preferably on a big screen. In my own experience, 3D films often have overpowering visuals, but in Pinky, the 3D aspect actually draws the viewer into the story and makes it easier to appreciate some exquisite lighting and texture. The uneven cement wall in Pinky’s jail cell, and the intricately designed snowflakes are just two details that immediately come to mind. The Café Cléopâtra also makes a fun cameo appearance.
Heather O’Neill has another project in the works with Claire Blanchet on the subject of wolves. In addition, the author’s second novel, The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, published by HarperCollins in Canada and Farrar, Straus and Giroux in the U.S., will be released in May 2014.
Heather Leighton is Rover’s Books Editor. She also blogs at The Unexpected Twists and Turns.