Tag Archives: Guy Maddin

193. MY WINNIPEG (2007)

“What happens, by accident, is that the way you choose to lie, because it’s coming from you, has something of the truth in it. Whatever you’re saying is something that’s intentionally coding the truth. And then somehow that coding gets worn down the more you retell it until finally you might as well just be telling the truth—under oath, and on sodium pentothal. It’s disguised somewhat but it’s as true as, say, Homer is true, the “Odyssey,” and the great literature is true. None of the surface is true, but… So in this case I started with a mostly true surface, and the more mischievous I tried to get about it… I just found myself returning to my way of thinking about the world, or my place in it, which involves laps and subterranean things. So it’s not like I was structuring the story so that things would rhyme or echo with each other, or belong in one piece, it’s just that they came from one place—me—and ended up in one sort of cohesive place—the movie My Winnipeg.”–Guy Maddin

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Guy Maddin

FEATURING: Guy Maddin (narration), , ,

PLOT: “Guy Maddin” narrates a documentary about his hometown, Winnipeg, mixing fact with outrageous tall tales. In the course of the film he hires actors to portray his family and recreate scenes from his childhood. Maddin states his intent is to escape Winnipeg by “filming my way out;” but one of the running themes of the documentary is that no one ever leaves Winnipeg.

Still from My Winnipeg (2007)
BACKGROUND:

  • My Winnipeg was commissioned by Canada’s Documentary Channel.
  • The film is the third part of Maddin’s “Me Trilogy,” three partly autobiographical but fictional films all starring a character named Guy Maddin, which also includes Cowards Bend the Knee (2003) and Brand Upon the Brain! (2006),
  • During festival screenings the film was shown with live narration, usually performed by Maddin but sometimes rendered by guest narrators including and .
  • Ann Savage, who specialized in femme fatale bad girl roles in the 1940s, had not acted in 16 years (her last role was a bit part in an episode of “Saved by the Bell”) when Maddin called upon the then 86-year old actress to portray his mother in My Winnipeg. Savage died one year later.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The eleven horse’s heads, distressed mouths filled with frost, flash-frozen in the Red River after they stampeded while fleeing a stable fire. The view is so romantic and astounding that (according to Maddin) young lovers used to picnic among the icy mares’ heads.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:The Documentary Channel commissioned a documentary about the city of Winnipeg from renegade director Guy Maddin, and instead of a recitation of local facts, they got an icy plunge into the frozen lake of the director’s psyche. The mockumentary form turns out to be a perfect match for Maddin’s prankster temperament. Like the subterranean rivers the First Nations say flow with mystical power underneath Winnipeg’s surface rivers—“the forks beneath the forks”—he exhumes (or invents) fantastic myths about his hometown to try to get at deeper truths about himself.


Original trailer for My Winnipeg

COMMENTS: Relentlessly subjective, Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg is Continue reading 193. MY WINNIPEG (2007)

147. KEYHOLE (2011)

“…a ghost sonata in which dream and waking life are seamlessly blended to isolate and expose universal feelings.”–description from the Keyhole press kit

DIRECTED BY: Guy Maddin

FEATURING: Jason Patric, , , David Wontner, Brooke Palsson, Udo Kier

PLOT: A group of gangsters rendezvous at a large old house filled with ghosts, bringing a kidnapped man tied to a chair with them. They meet with their leader, Ulysses Pick, who arrives carrying an unconscious woman on his back. As the mobsters wait in the parlor, Ulysses travels through the house with the woman and the kidnapped man, trying to reach the upstairs chamber where his wife awaits him with her father and her lover.

Still from Keyhole (2011)

BACKGROUND:

  • Guy Maddin lists the Bowery Boys’ Spooks Run Wild, French philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s “The Poetics of Space,” and Homer’s “The Odyssey” (or, as he once joked at a screening, Ulysses’ Wikipedia page) as among the influences on Keyhole.
  • This is the director’s first film shot on digital video. Because Maddin’s style is to evoke the look and feel of old movies, the use of actual film stock has been important to him in the past to achieve an authentic period look.
  • Maddin wrote the part of Ulysses Pick with Jason Patric in mind.
  • According to the director Ulysses’ son Manners is named after David Manners, a “bland” (Maddin’s word) Canadian lead in 1930s horror films (Manners played John Harker in Dracula, among other roles).
  • Maddin wanted to use music by Bernard Hermann for the score but could not afford the rights to license the music. Jason Staczek wrote an original soundtrack for the film instead.
  • Keyhole was one of two movies selected as among the best weird movies of all time in 366 Weird Movies 4th Reader’s Choice poll.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Unfortunately, the image you will not be able to get out of your mind is Louis Negin’s wrinkly nudity. Negin plays Calypso, the aged father of Ulysses’ wife Hyacinth, who is chained to his daughter’s bed—naked. His chain is long enough that he is able to walk around the house where, in invisible spirit form, he sometimes whips the assembled gangsters, including one memorable moment when he flogs a mugging mobster played by “Kids in the Hall” alum Kevin McDonald as the gunman is fornicating with the ghost of a maid while she scrubs the floor.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: All of Guy Maddin’s movies are dreams, but Keyhole isn’t just a dream, it’s a dream of a ghost. An amnesiac ghost, with deep psychological issues, who finds that extracting strands of his wife’s hair from a keyhole unlocks buried memories of family tragedies. Hazy double images, avant garde editing, and unexpected color intrusions supply the visual weirdness Maddinites have come to expect and treasure, and the bizarre collision of gangsters and ghosts does the rest.


Original trailer for Keyhole

COMMENTS: Memory is sacred to Guy Maddin; his movies are always about remembering. Sometimes the connection to memory is explicit. Continue reading 147. KEYHOLE (2011)

LIST CANDIDATE: KEYHOLE (2011)

Keyhole has been upgraded to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of all time. This initial review is kept here for archival purposes. Please leave comments on Keyhole‘s official Certified Weird entry page.

DIRECTED BY: Guy Maddin

FEATURING: Jason Patric, , Louis Negin, Brooke Palsson, David Wontner, Udo Kier

PLOT: Gangster Ulysses journeys through his immense mansion searching for his wife who is

Still from Keyhole (2011)

hiding on the top floor; along the way he uncovers tragic family memories.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It’s got Loius Negin as a naked grandpa ghost tied to his daughter’s bed by a long chain who likes to run around his haunted house whipping mortal intruders, for one thing. There’s more than enough soft-focus weirdness here to justify a position on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies Ever Made. The only problem is, icons like Guy Maddin make things difficult on themselves by raising their own bar so high. Keyhole would stun us if it were the work of a first or second time director, but we’ve watched Maddin creep about similarly maddening psychoscapes before—and seen him do it better.

COMMENTS: I think there are four possible reactions to Keyhole. The average moviegoer who has never seen a Guy Maddin movie before will despise it as incomprehensible trash. A tiny minority of newcomers will be astounded and think it’s the most visionary movie they’ve ever laid eyes upon. If you’re already initiated into Maddin’s esoteric world, there are two further possible responses: either an enthusiastic “Guy’s done it again!” or the more muted “Guy’s done this before.” I’m afraid I’m leaning towards the last camp. For this outing, Maddin sets his genre renovation sights on 1930s gangster movies, but we don’t stay in mob mode for long—the film quickly morphs into a unique, psychological haunted house piece. Crime boss Ulysses Pick has assembled his gang at his Gothic manor while he attends to a personal matter. The thugs wait on the first floor while Ulysses takes a blind girl and a kidnap victim through the house, peering through various keyholes and re-enacting a ritual with his (dead?) wife (they exchange a verbal formula, then he extracts a bit of hair from the keyhole and remembers an incident involving one of his four children, all of whom came to tragic ends). Meanwhile, various ghosts roam the home annoying the gangsters, and Udo Kier shows up as a doctor to pronounce some of the characters dead. Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: KEYHOLE (2011)

113. CAREFUL (1992)

“The pandemonium of everyone, everywhere suddenly declaring all at once ‘and I too was molested by my father, or my mother; I too have recovered memories which have basically obliterated my chances of any kind of comfortable adult sexuality’—it seemed at that moment almost unthinkable to slant a movie—even going back into the German romantic past when incest was almost a common theme—to slant it comically and yet still somehow catch the feverish horror of incest in the net… It was only when the idea of the Alpine world, where extreme caution was required for all behavior, where there was a kind of silencer on everyone’s libido and behavior, when that was factored in, then I could see the green light in Guy’s eyes. Once he had the world ‘careful’ it was there all at once.”–George Toles describing genesis of Careful in the documentary Guy Maddin: Waiting for Twilight

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Guy Maddin

FEATURING: , Gosia Dobrowolska, Sarah Neville, Brent Neale

PLOT: Villagers of the Alpine town of Tolzbad believe that avalanches will bury them if they are not meticulously careful to keep their voices low and their movements measured.  The film follows the adventures of a family of a widowed mother and her three sons: Johann, who is engaged to be married; Grigorss, who is training to be a butler; and Franz, a mute who never leaves his chair in the attic. Presaged by the appearance of the blind ghost of the father, the family’s repressed emotions eventually erupt into suicide, duels, and even the dreaded avalanche.

Still from Careful (1992)

BACKGROUND:

  • This was Guy Maddin’s third film, and his first fully in color (Archangel featured a few tinted scenes). The chromatic process used in the film mimics the so-called “two-strip” Technicolor which was used before 1932.
  • The setting of Careful was inspired by “mountain movies,” a 1920s subgenre popular in the German national cinema, although Maddin admits in the DVD commentary that he had not actually seen any mountain movies when he made the film.
  • Long-time Maddin screenwriting collaborator George Toles appears in Careful as a corpse in drag.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: I am tempted by the vision of the mountain mineworkers—women stripped down to their underwear, wielding pickaxes while wearing candle-bearing diapers on their heads—but the film’s most significant image is Johann gazing manically at his mother sleeping under her goat’s-head headboard while spreading the limbs of his massive garden shears.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: If movies themselves could dream, their dreams would look like Guy Maddin movies: sludgy jumbles of styles, moods, and melodramatic preoccupations, composed of fragmented images made up from bits of misplaced, distressed celluloid. Like Maddin’s other movies, Careful keeps us at two removes from reality: it displaces us once by its narrative dislogic, and then a second time by its archaic stylization. In Careful the technique is particularly appropriate, since the subject matter—repressed incestuous desire—demands to be buried under layers of mystery.


Original trailer for Careful

COMMENTS: Careful begins with what amounts to a pre-Code Public Service Announcement, Continue reading 113. CAREFUL (1992)

SATURDAY SHORT: ODILON REDON (1995)

A father and son witness a train wreck, and compete for the affection of the only survivor. Like much of Maddin‘s work, this short was well received at the Toronto International Film Festival.  This film is also known by the long title The Eye Like a Strange Balloon Mounts Toward Infinity: Odilon Redon.

The Eye Like a Strange Balloon Mounts Toward Infinity (Odilon Redon) from Guy Maddin on Vimeo.

THREE GUY MADDIN SHORTS: “A TRIP TO THE ORPHANAGE” (2004)/”SOMBRA DOLOROSA” (2004)/”SISSY-BOY SLAP-PARTY” (1995)


Though most folks (who know him at all) know him thanks to his feature films, Guy Maddin is a master of the short film format, having birthed more than two dozen shorts in his career, many under five minutes.  The Heart of the World, his apocalyptic valentine to Soviet constructivist cinema, is the director’s best known and most impressive brief work, but anything by Maddin is worth looking at for a few minutes.  Therefore, we thought the three short films included on MGM’s The Saddest Music in the World DVD deserved their own synopses.  At their best these mini-movies are like a shot of pure rye whiskey: they burn going down, but they give your soul a jolt, and you want another as soon as you’ve digested the first.

Still from "A Trip to the Orphanage"“A Trip to the Orphanage” appears to be an outtake from Saddest Music, reimagined as a pure mood piece.  The finale of “Orphange”—when Maria de Medeiros kisses a sleepwalker on the cheek, and he says “goodnight, mother” to her—actually appears in the film.  There, the episode has no explanation.  You won’t get one in “Orphanage,” either.  The man walks through a wintry street with a sleepy, dazed expression.  We also see shots of de Medeiros’ China doll face, and briefly view her posing with an anonymous child.  A woman appears and sings a generic aria of lament: “so fraught with pain his yearning soul…”  A sparse piano accompanies her.  Snow falls over all the characters, and lace curtains billowing in the wind are superimposed on the picture; sometimes there’s one set of drapes waving in the foreground and a second set in the background.  Singer Sarah Constible’s voice is opera-trained and lovely, and “Orphanage” is a Canadian saudade that’s as melancholy as a lone snowflake drifting on the wind.  It’s also just as light, and in a mere four minutes it’s there and gone, just like a dream.

Still from Sombra Dolorosa (2004)“Sombra Dolorosa” returns us to more familiarly comic Maddin territory, with a deranged plot, hysterical intertitles (“to save your daughter you must defeat… El Muerto!!”), and the same psychotic editing that characterized Cowards Bend The Knee.  It tells the story of a bereaved widow who must defeat death in a wrestling match, before an eclipse arrives, in order to save her daughter from suicide (“FROM SUICIDE!”, the titles Continue reading THREE GUY MADDIN SHORTS: “A TRIP TO THE ORPHANAGE” (2004)/”SOMBRA DOLOROSA” (2004)/”SISSY-BOY SLAP-PARTY” (1995)

96. THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD (2003)

“I’m actually trying for something a little bit different this time. I’ve always used, as a safety net, dreamlike delirium, confusion among the characters. On this I don’t really have a safety net. It feels good to remove the safety net…  I really need to tell a story the way my idols had to tell a story. Still, it will, perhaps, I hope, strike people as ‘different’ than most of the other pictures made today.”–Guy Maddin on The Saddest Music in the World

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Guy Maddin

FEATURING: Mark McKinney, , , Ross McMillan, David Fox

PLOT: During the Great Depression Lady Port-Huntley, a legless beer baroness from Winnipeg, organizes a contest to discover which nation produces the saddest music in the world, offering a $25,000 prize.  Musicians from across the globe descend upon the city, including three members of a Canadian family: a father (representing Canada) and two brothers (one a Broadway producer representing America, the other an expatriate cello virtuoso playing for the honor of Serbia).  It turns out that the family has a twisted history with each other, and with the contest organizer, involving amnesia, medical malpractice, broken hearts, betrayals, and beer.

Still from The Saddest Music in the World (2003)

BACKGROUND:

  • The Saddest Music in the World was based on a screenplay by novelist (The Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go), but was extensively rewritten by Guy Maddin and his writing partner George Toles (for one thing, the setting was moved from 1980s London to Canada in the Great Depression).
  • With a budget of 3.5 million Canadian dollars, this was the largest budget Maddin had ever worked with.  Unfortunately, the film made back less than $1 million at the box office.
  • Maddin sent Rossellini copies of the “legless” performances of in West of Zanzibar and The Penalty to watch in preparation for the role of Lady Port-Huntley.
  • The Saddest Music in the World was the second Maddin feature released in a busy and amazing 2003; Cowards Bend the Knee (also Certified Weird) debuted at the Rotterdam Film Festival in January, while the relatively more mainstream Music was first shown in August at the Venice Film Festival.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Isabella Rossellini’s bubbly new gams, which she proudly displays while dressed as Lady Liberty as dancing girls dressed as Eskimos lie on their backs kicking their heels in the air, all set to the heartbreaking strains of the melancholy ballad “California, Here We Come!”

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Guy Maddin’s promiscuous mix of retro-film techniques, including iris lenses and a primitive two-strip Technicolor process, that drops us into an artificial, alternate movie world that never really existed.  These visuals illustrate a preposterous plot packed with the delightfully absurd coincidences that were the coin of early melodrama—everyone of importance in the movie has a dark, hidden history with everyone else—all interrupted by screwball one-liners and absurd Busby Berkeley-style production numbers.  It’s as if random selection of melodramas and musicals made between 1915 and 1935 had been carelessly stacked on top of each other, and over the years the degenerating nitrate gradually melted into a single filmstrip.


Original trailer for The Saddest Music in the World

COMMENTS: The Saddest Music in the World is the strangest, and funniest, movie about Continue reading 96. THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD (2003)