UK distribution for the films of the avant-garde Canadian director Guy Maddin has been erratic, with only The Twilight of the Ice Nymphs (1997), Dracula Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (2002) and The Saddest Music in the World (2003) earning fully fledged releases here. But even those not fluent in Maddinese will pick up in a flash the director’s stylistic lingo in My Winnipeg, a multilayered docu-fantasy that doubles as a nifty Maddin primer. As an onscreen surrogate dozes his way through a never-ending train journey, Maddin fantasises in his italicised, mock dramatic narration about how best to leave the place where he has spent his life. ‘What if I film my way out of here?’ he wonders, introducing the idea of cinema as psychological liberation, before trying to work through Winnipeg’s history and his own, the better to shake it off at last.
In the film’s dizziest, most Charlie Kaufmanesque sections, Maddin moves into his childhood home where he stages key moments from his youth using actors as his three siblings (one of whom died aged 16). Ann Savage, scarcely seen since playing the vinegary femme fatale in Edgar G. Ulmer’s 1945 Detour, takes the part of their fearsome matriarch. (‘Mother is in the moment!’ whoops Maddin hilariously when Savage comes up with the goods). With his childhood pet Toby the chihuahua, played by Spanky the pug, looking on, and a lump beneath the living room carpet representing Maddin’s exhumed father, this fake family re-enacts scenes which themselves reflect on the process of re-enactment – particularly the ritual of watching the TV serial ‘LedgeMan’, in which each episode sees the same highly strung young fellow poised to jump from the window ledge, only to be coaxed indoors by his mother in preparation for a repeat performance the following day. It’s a perfectly ripe metaphor for the soothingly repetitious hysteria of family life.
It would be unrealistic to expect conventional dramatic energy from a film this skittish and freeform, which takes in everything from Winnipeg workers’ riots to a medium who interprets her messages from the dead in dance. That said, there’s quite a kick to the performance of the aptly named Savage. ‘No matter where I am, I can feel her watching me,’ complains Maddin, as back-projected footage of her scowling face appears magnified in train windows and she assumes the infantilising omnipresence of the mother in Woody Allen’s Oedipus Wrecks (from the New York Stories portmanteau).
Allen’s Manhattan is also a clear precursor of My Winnipeg, as are city-based film essays like London or Tokyo-Ga, and especially True Stories, the spaced-out hymn to everyday eccentricity directed by David Byrne of Talking Heads. As with Byrne, Maddin’s most skew-whiff ideas – such as the frozen horses sunken in a snow-covered field ‘like 11 knights on a great white chessboard’ – assume a poignancy that outlasts their silliness. Scattershot it might be, but My Winnipeg nudges at the heart of what it means to dream, and how our fantasies of who we are spring from the reality of where we are.
This is articulated most sharply in the revelation of an alternative web of back lanes, known as ‘black arteries’, that don’t appear on any map of Winnipeg – ‘lanes with names known only by word-of-mouth – illicit things, best not discussed.’ There’s an entire tantalising mythology for this secret network, but its real value lies in contributing another layer to Maddin’s wildly fabricated Winnipeg, where veracity matters less than evocation. Who cares if, as Maddin claims, Winnipeg really has ten times the sleepwalking rate of any city in the world? What counts is that the cap fits.
The level of invention in Maddin’s writing is so high that there are times when the film’s visual style, for all its busyness, lags behind noticeably. The textural collage is appropriately jumbled and hallucinatory: the editing is so frenetic that many shots register only subliminally, while dissolves make the images bleed together into abstract shadows and smudges during a spooky tour of three vertically stacked swimming pools. Noirish monochrome puts up a good fight against colour inserts and burnished shadow puppetry, but this is still a film that rewards the ears more than the eyes. It’s no new thing for audiences to be coerced into buying the soundtrack of a film they’ve just seen. On this occasion, I’m hoping there’ll be an audiobook.
Ryan Gilbey, Sight & Sound, July 2008
Guy Maddin on ‘My Winnipeg’
I firmly believe that My Winnipeg is a documentary, but in a pre-emptive strike against tiresome arguments I just call it a ‘docu-fantasia’ and that seems to at least limn out a sub-genre of documentary for itself. In addition to facts, it also presents a lot of opinions, nakedly and unashamedly so, and then it’s all presented dreamily. I made a shorter film with Isabella Rossellini to mark her father Roberto’s centennial (My Dad Is 100 Years Old, 2006) – I don’t think she did any research, and yet it’s full of rock-solid emotional truth. Emboldened by that and by precedents set in literature by W.G. Sebald, I went on a little Möbius-strip train trip through my home town.
Every so often you get impassioned, particularly on the subject of the destruction of much-loved buildings.
I realised I was getting obsessionally vitriolic when the movie was screened to puzzled Berliners; I wondered how much empathy they might have for me when I’m griping about a couple of buildings and their entire city was pounded flat a generation ago. But I could hear in the silence of that Berlin audience a lot of poststructuralist eyebrow knitting going on.
Was the title always My Winnipeg ?
There was a civic pride slogan in the 1970s that I always loved because it sounded a little bit threatening: ‘Love me, love my Winnipeg.’ For the longest time I was calling it that, but its working title was always My Winnipeg, and when it came for me to change it to my preferred title, those associated with the project wouldn’t let me. Never ever have a working title.
Interview by Michael Brooke, Sight & Sound, July 2008
The Heart of the World
Maddin has said of his short, ‘to this day the only film that turned out as I planned it.’ This 4K restoration only heightens the sense of wonder produced by the filmmaker’s take on Soviet propaganda filmmaking.
THE HEART OF THE WORLD
Directed by: Guy Maddin
©: Toronto International Film Festival Inc.
In participation with: TMN - The Movie Network, Super Écran, Astral Media
Presented by: Sun Life Financial
In partnership with: Téléfilm Canada
Executive Producer: Niv Fichman
Produced by: Jody Shapiro
Co-produced by: Jennifer Weiss
Casting: Barb Pritchard
Written by: Guy Maddin
Director of Photography: Guy Maddin
Co-camera: Deco Dawson
Co-editors: Guy Maddin, Deco Dawson
Production Designer: Rejean Labrie
Art Director: Olaf Dux
Costume Designer: Meg McMillan
Make-up/Hair Design: Beverly Hamilton
Music Co-ordinator: Vladimir Gabyshev
Sound Design: David McCallum
Re-recording Mixer: Lou Solakofski
Leslie Bais (Anna)
Caelum Vatnsdal (Osip)
Shaun Balbar (Nikolai)
Hryhory Yulyanovitch Klymkyiew (Akmatov)
Tammy Gillis (Mary Magdalene) *
Carson Nattrass (centurion) *
Directed by: Guy Maddin
©: Paddlewheel Productions, February Pictures Inc
Produced with the participation of: Canadian Television and Cable Production, Manitoba Film and Sound Development Corporation
Produced by: Everyday Pictures, Buffalo Gal Pictures
Presented by: Documentary Channel
Produced with the assistance of: Government of Manitoba, Manitoba Film and Video Production Tax Credit, Canadian Film or Video Production, Ontario Film and Television Tax Credit Program
Produced with the participation of: Canadian Television and Cable Production
Executive Producer: Michael Burns
Producers: Jody Shapiro, Phyllis Laing
Production Executive: Jean du Toit
Production Accountant: Colette Desjardins
Production Co-ordinators: Colleen Wowchuk, Lindsay Hamel
Production Manager: Shelly-Anne Hays
Location Manager: Sarah Jane Cundell
Post-production Co-ordinator: Lindsay Hamel
1st Assistant Director: Ronaldo Nacionales
2nd Assistant Directors: Danielle Dumesnil, Richard Duffy, Lori Stefaniuk
3rd Assistant Director: Leona Krahn
Casting: Jim Heber
Extras Casting: Patricia Kress
Screenplay: Guy Maddin
Conceived by: Guy Maddin
Additional Dialogue by: George Toles
Scenario Consultant: Noam Gonick
Director of Photography: Jody Shapiro
Lighting Directors: Michael Drabot, John Clarke
Additional Camera: Guy Maddin, Shauna Townley, Rob Thomson, Evan Johnson, Lindsay Hamel, Len Peterson, Stephan Recksiedler, Charles Venzon
1st Assistant Camera: Shauna Townley
2nd Assistant Camera: Jason Heke, Charles Venzon
Key Grip: Rob Thomson
Gaffer: John Clarke
Animation: Andy Smetanka
Train Set/Model Sequence Designer: Ricardo Alms
Editor: John Gurdebeke
Post-production by: Technicolor Creative Services (Montréal)
Assistant Editor: Ryan McKenna
Additional Editor: Matthew Hannam
Production Designer: Réjean Labrie
Art Director: Katharina Stieffenhofer
Set Decorators: Alexis Labra, Chad Giesbrecht, Bill MacInnis, John Jennissen
Set Dresser: Allan McGowan
Props Master: Jason Gibbs
Props: Brian Barnhart
Construction Co-ordinator: Denis Duguay
Construction Co-ordinator Train Sequence: Bill Sinosich
Costume Designer: Meg McMillan
Key Make-up: Brianne Lewin
Key Hair: Ediena Hawkes
Colour Timer: Louis Casado
Film Processing: Black and White Film Factory, Exclusive Film & Video
Choreographer: Stéphane Léonard
Production Sound Mixer: Marvin Polanski
Boom Operator: Jordan Pede
Voice Over Recording Engineer: Michel Germain
Re-recording Mixer: Martin Lee
Post Sound Facility: Tattersall Sound & Picture
Sound Editors: David McCallum, Steve Medeiros, David Rose, Jane Tattersall
Narration Interviewer: Robert Enright
Narrated by: Guy Maddin
Print courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library
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Programme notes and credits compiled by the BFI Documentation Unit
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