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Filmmaker Guy Maddin was born, raised and has always lived in Winnipeg, Manitoba, a town where he says everyone sleepwalks through life. He is trying to escape Winnipeg, but isn't sure how as he isn't sure what's kept him there in the first place. Perhaps his parent's month long 65th wedding anniversary celebration (despite his father being dead for some years) where he will reenact his childhood (with actors playing his family, except his mother who plays herself) in the old family home at 800 Ellis Avenue, which was above the family's hair salon business, will provide some answers. He recounts some civic events which have affected him and the life of Winnipegers: the 1919 general strike, the destruction of the Wolseley Elm in 1957, and the replacement of the iconic Eaton's building for the new hockey arena in favor of the old Winnipeg Arena. The latter has an especially close connection to him because of a family tie and the rich history of hockey in the city (discounting what he ... Written by
Wittgenstein once observed, "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent". It should follow on from this wearied maxim that all true art is destined to be personal. Such a truth is evident when watching Guy Maddin's "My Winnipeg". Apparently inspired by the film he shot of Isabella Rossellini remembering her father, "My Dad Is 100 Years Old" (2005) (a documentary of memories - a hyper-documentary? - rather than realities), with "My Winnipeg" Maddin cine-alchemically recreates the patchwork quilt of his life and history of his city, indelibly stained with Winnipegian fluids and woven with Manitoban heart-fibres.
Influences become clear as never before, Maddin's ambisexuality is on display (1995s Sissy Slap Boy Party now makes sense), "La Roue" (1923/Abel Gance) is revealed as his cinematic touchstone (following on from the quotation in "Odilon Redon - or The Eye Like a Strange Balloon Mounts Toward Infinity", also 1995). The movie is almost like a coming out, a cry of freedom, a love letter to all he holds dear, ice hockey, Winnipeg, silent cinema, sexuality, proletarian utopias, family memories. It reminded me of the words of a Portugese man on TV when describing the Carnation Revolution of 1974, where armed forces were conquered by ordinary people wielding carnations, he called it a "giant national orgasm". "My Winnipeg" is Guy Maddin's heart nailed to the screen, as fiercely courageous a movie as you will ever see.
There are blue truths in the film, we're not spared his mother's genitalia or fever dreams of childhood sexuality. Here are some quotations from interviews Maddin gave for this film just so you know what you will be seeing:
"Children are sexual beings, just think of your own childhood. In my case, I was far more sexual as a child than I am now"
"Nothing bothers me more than a movie about the innocence of children! What are they innocent of? They might be innocent of murder, but that's about it! Children haven't learned to repress yet or anything like that. They're just teeming with wonderful luridity, from very early on!"
There is something universal about the film, Maddin incants a litany of opprobrium and indignity that the city of Winnipeg has suffered, from the demolition of an iconic department store, to the closure of two underground swimming pools and the hockey stadia. Modern history is written in the rictus of the agonised city exposed to modernity. Many cities have undergone such outrages, my own city lost it's old centre to Nazi bombing, a fragile heart torn out.
The swimming pools of Maddin's memories are lustful pits, at street level families swim, down one tier the girl's practice mouth to mouth resuscitation on one another, and on the bottom level the boys cavort naked in the changing rooms.
The film transcends documentary, even fantastical documentary into mysticism. Maddin uses the imagery of horses, as have many great artists from Raphael, to Gericault, to Marc, to Parajanov. We see Golden Boy parades, a Masonic town hall, and the two forks under the forks, the mysterious underground rivers that feed the mons veneris on which Winnipeg nestles.
My personal favourite scene was Lorette Avenue where we are show a "hermaphrodite" street where on one side the street has houses facing front, and on the other side the backs of houses. No-one talks about Lorette Avenue (Previously Maddin had made distinctions between alleys where the backs of houses only can be scene, and streets where we only see the fronts of houses).
I won't spoil the ending for you, you have yet to see the wonder of Citizen Girl! Do not waver or hesitate, make ye to the cinema! Maddin has now taken the step from being a beloved cult director, to being a great auteur. Vive le Cinema! Vive la Résistance Culturelle!
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