Hot Docs Preview: The Myster of Mazo de la Roche [2011, Maya Gallus]

The Mystery of Mazo de la Roche is a documentary that explores the public and personal lives of the famous 20th century Canadian writer. In 1927, her novel Jalna garnered international acclaim. It follows the Whiteoak family, a northern Ontario dynasty. I can’t help but think they’re an old thyme version of Arrested Development meets Keeping up with the Kardashians meets Kids in the Hall. Having never read the book or the series, it bears mentioning that I only feel qualified to comment on the documentary, not Mazo’s work as a writer.

When I hear the name “Mazo de la Roche”, the first thing that comes to mind is that this is clearly a made up pen name. Sure enough, a quick fact check on the all-knowing all-seeing Wikipedia confirms that her real name was Mazo Louise Roche. Now that sounds more like it. It makes sense that Mazo would have a pen name. Hers was a private life, and we get a glimpse into her desire to keep her fame as a ground-breaking early 20th century female writer distinctly separate from her personal life with Caroline Clement.

Caroline, we learn, sacrificed much to support Mazo as a budding young writer. When the Jalna series broke out, the roles reversed as Mazo became the provider. Through it all, Caroline was her muse, her source of inspiration, her rock. The two lived together in an arrangement referred to in New England at the time as a Bostonian Marriage. Although interviews with her somewhat terse adopted daughter maintain that Mazo and Caroline were not lesbian lovers, all other evidence from their writings and story arc suggest otherwise.

Regardless of the details of Mazo and Caroline’s relationship, it’s easy to comprehend the difficult waters they would have had to navigate in the socially rigid 20’s and 30’s. It’s perhaps this stifling atmosphere that pushed Mazo to craft such a barrier between her personal and private life. So much of the media we consume is carefully crafted by writers that tie together every loose end. I can’t help but feel a little unfulfilled when we break from this and examine the intrigue and unanswered questions of a public persona sans Entertainment Tonight or People magazine.

While Cancon literati’s and gender studies types will certainly enjoy the history and subject material, this documentary doesn’t have a lot of universal appeal.

The Mystery of Mazo de la Roche plays April 29, 30, and May 6. Show listings here.

Posted on by Mark in Hot Docs