Tag Archives: Kyle McCulloch

GUY MADDIN’S TALES FROM THE GIMLI HOSPITAL (1988)

Guy Maddin’s first feature film, Tales From The Gimli Hospital (1988), had nearly as much impact for him as Eraserhead (1977) had for . Of course, Maddin is often compared to Lynch, which is as ridiculous as comparing Paul Klee to Max Ernst, ultimately failing to give due credit to either artist.  Make no mistake, Maddin and Lynch are indeed two of the most potent artists in the medium of film from the last fifty years. Late in life Arnold Schoenberg, the boogeyman of the first half of twentieth century music, was asked by an interviewer, “Are you aware that young composers are now utilizing your twelve-tone method?” The reply was pure Schoenberg: “But are they making music with it?” Lynch and Maddin succeed where others fail because they make music.

Maddin and Lynch belong to a small (unlike painting and music, film has never had a large school of revolutionaries) school of innovative avant-garde (or Surrealist, if one prefers sub-labels) filmmakers who are astutely aware of their aesthetic tradition.  No matter how elastic, their films maintain a sense of control, never veering into a slipshod experimentation for the sake of experimentation mode. After Schoenberg died, Pierre Boulez took up that mantle. Now, with Boulez gone, we really have seen the last of the avant-garde titans that remembered to continue “making music with it.” One can only hope that we will not soon be saying the same of Lynch, Maddin, , , or (yes, De Palma), but it is likely that we will. Innovation has been largely silenced in favor of the mainstream’s imitation diet. De Palma and Waters have unofficially retired. Jodorowsky, never a prolific artist, is finishing his first film in three years. Lynch has resurfaced after nearly a ten-year hibernation (although he did produce largely unseen shorts during that period). Alas, this is only to rehash “Twin Peaks” for television. After INLAND EMPIRE, this seems a step backward.

Maddin has been (and remains) the only active filmmaker of the listed lot. It is tempting to say that we cannot, or should not limit ourselves to a single work in Maddin’s oeuvre. Rather, we are rightly invited, or tempted, to absorb his entire body of work. Perhaps the best place to start is in the beginning, with Tales from the Gimli Hospital (1988).

From the outset, Maddin establishes his obsessions: silent film, radio melodrama,  Mary Pickford’s Sparrows (1926), indigenous documentaries, , the s, and . Maddin also finds a kinship with the earliest, scratchy films of John Waters (i.e. 1969’s Mondo Trasho and 1970’s Multiple Maniacs 1970).

Still from Tales from the Gimli Hospital (1988)Above all, Tales is lit and narrated like a visualization of an “Inner Sanctum” radio episode. It opens on the coastal village of Gimli, which is faced with a smallpox epidemic. An emergency makeshift hospital, inside of a barn, deals with the crisis. The film primarily focuses on the relationship between Einar the lonely () and Gunnar (Michael Gottli).

A boy and girl, dressed in their Sunday best, are ushered into the hospital to visit their ailing mother. Nurse Amma (Margaret-Anne MacLeod) tells the children to “let your mother listen to her music,” which sounds like 1940s big band playing on a 78 record with a stuck needle. The nurse distracts the children with a tale of “Einar the lonely and Snjofridur, a beautiful young girl who was dying. It all happened in a Gimli we no longer know.”

Oddly, it is awhile before we are introduced to either Einar or Snjofridur (Angela Heck). Rather we are treated to homoerotic images of shirtless men shaving each others’ nose, frolicking nymphs (who look as if they were yanked from ‘s Sunnyside), and flapper girls sleeping on the beach ( and seem to be the references here) while men wrestle. No doubt, the children will surely be relieved that it is a Gimli no longer known.

Iris into Einar, Gunnar, and the tale: Einar lives in a hut with hanging fish. With no explanation, he grabs one of the fish, squeezes its guts onto his skull, and combs his hair. Einar and Gunnar were also infected with small pox, which leaves them looking like a low budget, black and white version of ‘s Frankenstein monster.

Having cut his finger, Einar is admitted into the Gimli Hospital. There is a bit of business with an Al Jolson-like blackface and a puppet show entertaining Einar. He is next entertained by the hemorrhaging of a dying man. Like January snowflakes, feathers float through the ward. Einar is introduced to the amorous Gunnar, the rotund, bespectacled patient next to him who carves fish out of bark. Next up, a nurse (who looks like an anorexic Theda Bara) engages in sex with Gunnar. It’s another show for Einar, who watches their silhouettes through a bed sheet. Sexually frustrated, Einar eats the nurse’s hat.

Back in his bed, Einar spins the tale of he and Snjofridur and how he infected her with the mysterious epidemic. Shamefully, Einar rejected Snjofridur, which caused her to die of a broken heart. Gunnar also has a tale of the same maiden, revealing how he came upon her  grave, stole her burial tokens, and engaged in a bit of necrophilia with her corpse.

Foreshadowing the fate of the children’s mother, we are introduced to a pink sepia-hued, Busby Berkely-like heaven with singing, swimming, flapper mermaids.

Naturally, Einar is a tad upset with Gunnar’s confession and the two men wrestle it out to the gruesome finish. Cue bagpipes and an angelic mother ascending to a Wagnerian heaven.

Like most, if not all of Maddin’s films, Tales is a List Contender.

Next week, the sole remaining David Lynch feature film to be covered here: The Elephant Man (1980).

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)

10. ARCHANGEL (1990)

“And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.”

Matthew Arnold, “Dover Beach” (quote originally intended to introduce Archangel)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Guy Maddin

FEATURING: , Kathy Marykuca

PLOT: In 1919, one-legged Canadian airman Lt. John Boles finds his way to the Russian port of Archangel in the endless night of Arctic winter.  There, he meets Veronkha, whom he believes to be the reincarnation of Iris, his dead love.  Veronkha has problems of her own, in the form of an amnesiac husband who wakes up every day believing this is the day they are to be wed, but Boles tires to woo her nevertheless as Archangel’s ragtag militia battles the Germans and the Bolsheviks without realizing that both World War I and the Russian Revolution are over.

archangel

BACKGROUND:

  • The city of Archangel was the port of entry for Allied soldiers during World War I; therefore, soldiers from America, Canada, and the European allies might very well have been found gathered there (although probably not East Indians and Congolese, as depicted in the film).  Many Allied soldiers were sent to Russia, partially to help assist the Imperial (White) Russians against the Bolshevik Communist rebels (Reds).
  • Some reports say that the version presented on the “Guy Maddin Collection” DVD is a different cut from the theatrical and original VHS version, with tinting and intertitles added.  I haven’t been able to confirm whether differences exist.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  As his dying act, a lifelong coward strangles a bestial Bolshevik with a length of his own intestine (which is obviously a sausage link).

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The tale of an obsessive, grieving soldier who thinks he’s found

Short clip from Archangel (French subtitles not in original)

the reincarnation of his lost love in a benighted Russian city where the citizens continue to fight a war that is over would be weird enough if told straight.  Director Guy Maddin exaggerates the already dreamlike quality of this tale by clothing it in the archaic period dress of an early sound film, complete with intertitles describing the action, dubbed voices that are occasionally slightly out of sync, and casually disorienting jumps/glitches in the film.  He pushes this inherently confusing story of terminally confused characters further into strange realms with deliberately surreal elements, such as women warriors going to the front dressed in elegant evening headwear, and even odder sights.

COMMENTS: The city of Archangel seems the perfect place to dream.  Isolated from the Continue reading 10. ARCHANGEL (1990)