Candy Mountain

Candy Mountain is a 1988 drama film directed by Robert Frank and Rudy Wurlitzer, and starring Kevin J. O'Connor, Harris Yulin, and Tom Waits. The film was set in New York City and Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.[1] It is categorized as a drama and road-movie and it draws heavy inspiration from 1960s genres of film and music. The film is rated R and contains some adult situations and strong language. The film is Robert Frank's third collaboration with American novelist and screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer.[1] Wurlitzer explains the story of Candy Mountain as a combination of the lives of both him and Robert. He stated "We both live in New York and we both have houses in Cape Breton. In a way Elmore's route was the same as ours. Music and musicians, their dilemmas and lifestyles, mean a lot to Robert and myself."[2]

Candy Mountain
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Frank
Rudy Wurlitzer
Produced byPhilippe Diaz
Written byRudy Wurlitzer
StarringKevin J. O'Connor
Harris Yulin
Tom Waits
Bulle Ogier
Roberts Blossom
Music byDr. John
David Johansen
Rita MacNeil
Leon Redbone
CinematographyPio Corradi
Edited byJennifer Augé
Distributed byInternational Film Exchange (IFEX)
Republic Pictures
Release date
February 20, 1988
Running time
103 minutes


Set in New York City, Candy Mountain tells the tale of a struggling guitarist named Julius (O'Connor). After he promises a rock star he can find an elusive guitar maker and acquire his valuable products, he sets off on a quest to Canada to find the legendary Elmore Silk (Yulin), in order to strike a deal with him. Along his journey via T-Bird, Volkswagen, and hitchhiking, he experiences a series of encounters and misadventures with those who claim to have known the reclusive Silk. Each encounter provides him with valuable insight into the kind of man Silk is, and his journey is filled with "musicians playing small roles: David Johanson as the star who wants to buy up the guitars, Tom Waits as Elmore's middle-class brother, Joe Strummer as a punk, Dr. John as Elmore's cranky son-in-law, Leon Redbone as one-half of a peculiar Canadian family who enjoy imprisoning passers-by".[3] As he ventures further North, and reaches Canada, he is finally in the presence of the famous guitarist he had been searching for. Once he meets Silk, he is faced with the realization that financial gain is nothing compared to the development of one's artistic ability.



In an interview, Robert Frank stated that the film reflected his own life and journey from New York City to Nova Scotia. Additional inspiration was drawn partially from Wurlitzer's previous films and his experience of having a career on the road. The film's script was developed from a book of photography that was built upon Frank and Wurlitzer's experiences from living in Nova Scotia. The portrayal of the United States in the film is that of a "twisted industrial landscape",[4] whereas Canada is seen as a "slow, peaceful land".[4] The central theme of the film is the journey between the two countries, and is "exemplary of the road film genre".[4] Frank credits his opportunity to live quietly and view nature as contributing to his own self betterment and his work as a filmmaker, which he exemplifies in the film.[4]


Toronto International Film Festival

The film was featured in the 1987 Festival of Festivals, now the Toronto International Film Festival, at the Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto. The film was shown during the closing night of the festival in the Perspective Canada Section, and was shown alongside Jacqueline Levitin's Eva: Guerrillera (1988), and John N. Smith's National Film Board of Canada production Train of Dreams (1987). The film received mostly favorable views from the festival goers, and was considered a critical success.[5]


The film generally received positive reviews from critics. Caryn James of The New York Times wrote, "...seems to be a small, quirky film, but it easily assumes the weight, ambition and success that many larger films aim for and miss."[6] A review published in the Herald, August 25, 1988 writes, "You might think that a movie directed by a still photographer would have a static, composed quality, but Frank goes the opposite way, to a raw, gritty sense of life. Life may not be a candy mountain, but Candy Mountain finds some unexpectedly sweet moments." J. Hoberman of the Village Voice wrote, "In a way, this shaggy-dog hipster road film is Frank's ultimate work -- evoking the end of the road and even the end of Endsville-but he has persevered."[3] Despite mostly favourable reviews for the film, O'Connor's performance was criticized, stating that "if they had cast a different lead (someone like Mickey Rourke would have been ideal), Candy Mountain would have been much better than it is".[7] As of March 2018, film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes had issued a 100% rating based on reviews from 8 critics, with a 73% audience rating based on scores collected from 354 users.[8]


San Sebastián International Film Festival

  • 1987: Won, "Silver Seashell Award"


  2. "Wurlitzer is back on the road again; Rudy Wurlitzer." The Times (London, England), 21 Dec. 1989. Academic OneFile, Accessed 23 Mar. 2018.
  4. Lerner, L. R. (1997). Canadian Film and Video: A Bibliography and Guide to the Literature(Vol. 2). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  5. Lerner, L. R. (1997). Canadian Film and Video: A Bibliography and Guide to the Literature (Vol. 2). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  6. Movie Review - Candy Mountain - Review/Film; Hitting the Highway -
  7. Kinsella, Warren. The Ottawa Citizen; Ottawa, Ont. [Ottawa, Ont]06 July 1988: E7.
  8. Candy Mountain - Rotten Tomatoes
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