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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!
Guy Maddin described My Winnipeg as 'docutasia' and that's probably more accurate than any other description I could give of it. The film is a very personal, light-hearted, but informative, look at Winnipeg through the eyes of her native son Guy Maddin. The film is shot in black and white, combining stock archival footage (including private home videos) with some new freshly shot material. The film follows a young Guy Maddin (played by Darcy Fehr) on a train trying to escape from 'sleepy, snowing, Winnipeg' and its mystic pull. To affect his escape Maddin must, through the course of the film, come to terms with everything that binds him to the city (family, home, community, and history). Held together by the barest narrative thread, the film is most like Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, though being Canadian it's much funnier and self-deprecating. The film is narrated by Guy Maddin himself, and despite the fact that he seemed to have many reservations about using his own voice, he does a great job (ranging from the fiery sermon of charged propagandist to the soft relaxing repetition of an experienced hypnotist). Made for the documentary channel, with a TV audience in mind, the film is accessible enough for anyone and funny enough to make even Winnipeg charming. While I don't know if it's feature film material, definitely watch if you can catch it on the tube.
A tribute, kind of, to the great city of Winnipeg, Manitoba (I'm not being facetious-I've been there), this is an 80 minute documentary about the place. It accentuates the winter's bitter cold, the days gone by (some of the images are amazing) and what the city meant and means to Mr. Maddin. This film is not for everyone. It is in black and white and grainy. At first, I wasn't sure if this was a mockumentary, but even though the narrator laments the passing of people and places, I was wondering if the whole point was to explain why people don't leave. Sure, its no Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver (you get the idea), but its a medium size city that thrives. I have seen Mr. Maddin's "Saddest Music In The World", so I know I was expecting something different. Maybe you have no interest in Winnipeg (or can even find it on a map!), but that doesn't detract from the narrative. An added bonus is Ann Savage playing the narrator's mother. Wow, she is in her mid 80's and she agreed to do this role. I don't expect mass agreement here, but if you were commissioned to do a film about your hometown, I'm not sure how different your film would be than this, especially if you life in a city thats cold in the winter. I'm waiting for "My Buffalo" or "My Fargo". For now, I'm quite content with this film that moved me and even taught me about the city. A great left of center cinematic achievement.
You could say that Guy Maddin makes films for the dreamers.
No other filmmaker alive puts so much effort into chipping away at the audience's sense of logic and running them through a grinder of their own twisted subconscious.
Beginning with his feature debut Tales from the Gimli Hospital in 1988, Maddin has remained furiously independent, the closest he's ever come to mainstream success being 2003's The Saddest Music in the World, which acted as a kind-of holy grail for film buffs and those obsessed with the days of cinema past. My Winnipeg may be the purest distillation of his unique aesthetic vision to date, almost surely because it's paradoxically the most personal and fantastical.
In essence, the film is a love-letter to Maddin's hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba. It's a rueful love-letter though, because the film opens with the director hurriedly explaining that he needs to, has to leave forever. But he can't bring himself to do it. The solution? He'll hire actors to recreate scenes from his childhood, in a desperate attempt to attain some obscure kind of closure. In a fabulously inventive instance of casting, B-movie veteran Ann Savage (Edward G. Ulmer's Detour) plays his "real" mom playing herself.
Maddin augments the often hilarious film-within-a-film with bizarre "facts" about Winnipeg, like how it has the 10 times the sleepwalking rate of any other city or that Maddin himself was born in the locker room of the local hockey arena only to return three days later as a newborn to attend his first game. These half-truths attain a kind-of mythic status when combined with Maddin's haunting visuals that, like most of his filmography, harken back to the choppy, rapid-fire pace of German expressionism and the heart-on-sleeve emotion of '40s and '50s melodrama.
It shouldn't be surprising how funny My Winnipeg is, considering that Maddin might be the most unpretentious avant-garde filmmaker of all-time. His casual, matter-of-fact narration blends perfectly with the film's stark poetic images, making the many leaps of fancy that much more potent. When he describes a "secret" taxi company that operates only on Winnipeg's darkened back streets or ruminates on the beauty of "snow fossils" caused by plodding winter footsteps, it's downright impossible not to be overcome with feelings of deep nostalgia and wonder.
Maddin has made faux-biographical films before, 2006's Brand Upon the Brain the most notorious example, but with My Winnipeg, it feels like he's finally letting us in. Of course, it's just as likely that he's putting us on, and if he is, it's one of the most staggeringly beautiful con games ever committed to celluloid.
A love poem to Canadian auteur Guy Maddin's soon-to-be-former home, MY
WINNIPEG feels like a fever dream that brings together past, present,
and future. Repeated words and phrases form a hypnotic cadence as
Maddin's cinematic stand-in (Darcy Fehr) chugs through the snowy
darkness. "Winnipeg, Winnipeg, Winnipeg," is the chant, rising and
falling like the locomotive drone of the night train carrying its
somnambulistic fares through Manitoba's premiere city.
Winnipeg; heart of the heart of Canada, the place that raised Maddin. With a hockey arena for a father and a hair salon for a mother (for more hockey and hairdressing see Maddin's earlier COWARD BENDS THE KNEE), Madding explores the structural arteries of his home town and revisits the history of himself and his city. Narrated by the filmmaker, the prose of the film (courtesy of long-time Maddin crony George Toles) is an overwrought poem of maniacal hyperbole and enthusiastic linguistic gymnastics; a perfect pitch for the fractured visuals of Maddin's multimedia pastiche. Looking like a daguerreotype picture postcard of this snowbound wonderland, MY WINNIPEG typifies Maddin's mad genius and captures his sordid relationship with his home.
Screened with live director-narration at the Sydney Film Festival, My
Winnepeg was not always easy to engage with but was, ultimately, one of
the most satisfying filmic experiences of the Festival fortnight
Mixing surreal, dreamlike images with heartfelt reminiscents, Guy Maddin created extraordinary cinema that will linger long in the memory of all that witnessed it.
The first 20 minutes are the toughest slog - it takes a little while to comprehend exactly the direction this loving-yet-satirical homage to Maddin's home town is trying to accomplish. And I also have reservations as to how this is going to play to audiences without the immediate, personal engagement the live-narration provides - the connection the on-stage presence provided made for an intimacy that may not be otherwise available.
But, with no reservation, the dreamlike images, coupled with the heartfelt words of the creator, made for a unique, beautiful, hilarious, moving experience. This is a major work from an extraordinary talent; a must-see for those that crave films that engage the head and the heart.
It's so hard to write about a Guy Maddin film. What exactly do I
describe, what do I say about the film? His films defy convention in
every way imaginable. I can guarantee that there is no film out there
that's even especially similar to "My Winnipeg" in style or content,
even if Maddin's current style is essentially a pastiche of a
particular sort of silent film, there are none that are edited in the
same way or used to quite the same effect as Maddin's films are. At
least none that I have seen, as Maddin is not imitating anyone, but
making films in a style that is not used anymore, and had he been
making films in the 1920's he might have been considered an innovator.
"My Winnipeg" is a film I wish I was clever enough to make about any of
the cities I've lived in and fallen in love with, and is original
enough to captivating, but is also astonishingly clever and witty and
funny and entertaining.
I was actually not a big fan of Maddin's last film, "Brand Upon the Brain!", a pleasant enough film but ultimately of no real worth or substance, merely a visually interesting retread of themes Maddin fans are familiar with. It was certainly a far cry from some of his better work- "Archangel" and "Careful" being my favorites. Maddin is certainly one of my favorite Canadian directors, and one of our few genuine auteurs whose work is actually accessible and available relatively easily, but there's always been an issue with his films, even his better work, the issue being that his films often feel rather insubstantial. Like the bizarre and amusing experiments of an eccentric than anything of real value (although obviously that is debatable). I always enjoy a Guy Maddin film, but I think "My Winnipeg" is the first of his which struck me as truly passionate or exceptional with regard to its content.
"My Winnipeg" tells you everything you need to know about it in the title. This is Guy Maddin's love/hate letter to his home town of Winnipeg, Manitoba, and it's really about HIS Winnipeg, and it's the sort of personal thing that could have so easily been a bore, but Guy Maddin is so interesting that his own perception of Winnipeg is enough to sustain this 80 minute film. It flies by, leaving the viewer in an appreciative daze by the end, appreciative of the remarkable sense of humor in the film, the wit, the cleverness of the narrative, and a real sense of Maddin's love and passion for Winnipeg. This film has everything that is appealing about Maddin's work as well as a new richness that he'd never quite found before. It's an oddly inspiring film, gorgeous to look at and rather unexpectedly the funniest film I've seen from 2008 as well.
Winnipeg is to Guy Maddin as Baltimore is to John Waters. It's very
unfashionability is its inspiration. But where Waters dwells on
hairspray and bouffant dresses and twisted vowels, Maddin describes
Winnipeg as a place of perpetual snow, destroyed hockey rinks, and
sleepwalkers. "Winnipeg, Winnipeg, Winnipeg, Winnipeg...." he begins
his incessant voice-over as the first of his typically distressed,
nostalgic black and white images in square format appear showing
long-ago men and women walking in snow-covered streets and a man dozing
in a train car whose big window is like a movie screen showing figures
and the big face of his mother. Sometimes blurry phrases flicker onto
the screen echoing his words, like a refrain.
The man (Darcy Fehr) is meant to be himself, getting out of town. "I've got to leave it, I've got to leave it," he chants, and then speculates that maybe he can film his way out of Winnipeg, putting all his past on celluloid and thereby ridding himself of its fascination so he can move elsewhere.
For this poem and rant about his native city, which he says he wants to leave and can't, Maddin hired actors to play his mother and some of his siblings and borrowed his girlfriend's pug to stand in for the childhood chihuahua. He leased their old house and moved the old furniture (or facsimiles) into it, distributing a runner carpet and shabby couches in the living room and an old TV. His mother is played by veteran B-picture vixen Ann Savage. Black and white images of what purports to be his real family back in the Fifties flash on the screen alternating with their hired look-alikes as Maddin spins arcane anecdotes about his childhood and drops in the occasional fact. An old department store and a restaurant that served orange jello figure prominently, as does the dynamiting of a treasured tree and a hockey arena. If there is a logic to this quirky ramble, it's as sui generis as you can get.
We don't come away with a sense of Maddin's actual past, because all his anecdotes seem highly embroidered, like his mother's grabbing some friends' 75-year-old myna bird--which ran free in the house and had "a large vocabulary"--and smashing it to the floor because she was afraid of birds. Or the family threatening their mother with a parakeet to make her get out of bed and cook them a meatloaf. Or the team of ancient hockey stars, all suited up, one known to be dead his face all covered in bandages, playing in a half-destroyed arena, while Maddin sings their praises and curses the establishment of the NHL, which he regards as the beginning of the end. He says his father was a hockey executive, and he grew up in the locker room--was even born in the dressing room of the Winnipeg Maroons. According to him, Winnipeg has a secret network of back streets that parallels the main ones, and to pacify two rival taxi companies one was allowed to ride only on the main streets and the other only on the back alleys, where the ride over the snow is cushiony. The city he invents has an annual "If Day" when the town is invaded by mock Nazis who rename it "Himmlerstadt." A racetrack fire disaster caused a dozen horses to become buried in the earth with just their giant heads out of the snow in attitudes of agony. People come later to visit and picnic. In the family living room they watch a show called "Ledge Man" every day (it's run "for fifty years") in every episode of which the actress playing Maddin's mother talks the actor playing Maddin out of jumping from a ledge to his death.
Maddin calls this film, done for the "Documentary Channel," a "docu-fantasia," and that's what it is--sort of. It's hard to pin a genre to his film-making and this one is also an imaginary autobiography. He depicts himself living in an insular snow-globe parallel universe (sometimes fake slant lines of white snow are superimposed on scenes)--like the parallel system of back streets. The voice-over is a kind of crotchety incantation; Maddin has said this could be called "A Self-Destructive Sulk." What entertains, in its fey and offbeat way, is the man's humorous detachment; what appeals is the sense of a cozy far-off snowed-in world whose present is so remote it's like its past, a town that isn't very old but seems as if it is. For all the detail about growing up in a hairdressing establishment, lying in the living room with the family watching TV, being trapped in an indoor swimming pool complex on three levels among naked boys with "hairless boners" who refuse to swim, there's no sense of personal revelation at all, any more than in Dylan Thomas' "A Child's Christmas in Wales." And in his interweaving of the invented and the real, the contemporary and the archival in flickering dreamlike images, this movie has the power to enchant.
But also to numb. If Winnipeggers are sleepwalkers, the viewers of 'My Winnipeg' may at moments become sleep-sitters. And yet for a filmmaker so obviously withdrawn and secretive, this is his most autobiographical and perhaps most accessible and appealing work so far. "Amusing, elegant, inconsequential and it doesn't overstay its limited welcome," a London critic writes. I guess that's fair.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie is just about as un-describable as Guy Maddin is. If you're
familiar with who Guy Maddin is, then you're probably aware of this
movie and how it fits into his general approach to film-making. If
you're not, well, this would be a great way to be introduced.
"My Winnipeg" is fairly straight-forward in concept, it's just different in execution. Guy Maddin mixes fact and fiction (as he's wont to do) to make a sort-of documentary about Winnipeg, his home and geographical Oedipal complex. As usual, his approach involves some of the most strange, surreal analogies (strange because they come out of nowhere; surreal because they actually make sense and work for what he's going for); dark humor; silent era montage editing; and dark, dry humor. He narrates it himself with an angry, purposefully whiny voice, both intoning with audio the frustration he feels with the world he's trying to escape and the underlying love and passion for it. The "plot", if you'd call it that, is technically about him trying to leave Winnipeg, but by the time the end comes, you'll be convinced he doesn't really want to leave--even though he never says as much and the "plot" doesn't head in that direction.
Beware: here be demons. There's sleepwalkers, frozen horses, smashed deer, and sexual undertones to almost everything. There's re-enactments, found footage, animation, digital effects, and back-projection. There's montage editing, snow falling constantly, layered images, and repeated ostensibly failed takes. It's a whirlwind of paranoia, anxiety, hysterics, and humor, all with the usual black-and-white enclosed feeling that's inherent in many of Maddin's works, the type of imagery that feels like you barely perceive it at the back of your mind and yet it's right in front of your eyes (even when it is in color). And you will laugh. There's not much else that can be said definitively about how to react to this movie, but laughter is a pretty good prediction.
But rest assured (and most amazingly): It's accessible! Maddin's commentary, intertitles, and playfulness is contagious, and even though his stream of thought seems awkward and even at times repetitive, it's easy to follow and summarily follows through to a good conclusion. This is the type of movie that proves that a movie can be "weird" and still abruptly entertaining. There's just not enough of that out there...
Guy Maddin's ninth feature is a pseudo-documentary about the director's hometown of Winnipeg. It mostly focuses on his relationship with the city, but it also includes re-enactments of his family life and famous weird things that happened in the city's past. It's a bit of a mess, but, as I've said before regarding Maddin, his films play out like dreams. A mess makes sense a lot of the time. I do think the film lacks the focus of his best work, and is, in fact, my least favorite of his features. Also contributing to my relatively low opinion of it (i.e., I don't think it's one of the best movies ever) is Maddin's own narration. I loved his previous film, The Brand Upon the Brain!, but objected to the narration. It's even worse here, taking a lot of the mystique out of the silent film pastiche Maddin has been perfecting since The Heart of the World (I'm kind of hoping that he'll some day return to the stuff of his earlier works, which felt more like the films of the '30s than those of the '20s). My favorite sequences were the occult ceremony in the Masonic temple and the hockey legends game, where septuagenarians play one last game as their stadium is demolished by wrecking balls. Darcy Fehr of Cowards Bend the Knee returns as Guy Maddin, who, in the movie, is as desperate to leave his depressing hometown as he is to stay (throughout the movie, Fehr appears dozing in a train car that never seems to get out of Winnipeg). And Maddin dug up Detour's Ann Savage, possibly literally, to play his mom.
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