Maddin Madness — Celebrating “My Winnipeg”

Kevin Lee of the Keyframe Blog at Fandor, the subscription internet video service, is holding an important event this week — “The Maddin-est Blogathon in the World” – celebrating the dazzling idiosyncratic Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin. I had to put my two cents in.  Especially after a very hot and sultry Florida summer, thinking about the sometimes frozen climate of Canada offers a much-needed and pleasing contrast, and I can think of no better, stranger, more magical journey into cold Canada than through a viewing of Maddin’s magnificent fever dream of a tribute to his hometown in My Winnipeg, from 2007.  

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aY9BtROpNQ4&w=560&h=315]

(So sometimes it works when we embed trailers here, and sometimes if doesn’t.  If it’s not working, check out the trailer for My Winnipeg here.)
 

When I moved to Florida after living in Nova Scotia for seven years, I found myself mostly missing the wonderful starry skies and the magic of falling snow.  My longing for some of the latter is met by My Winnipeg, where the Manitoba city’s inescapable relationship with snow is one thread in the intricate mythology woven by Maddin in his fanciful documentary.  Not only did Guy Maddin direct, write and serve as narrator for My Winnipeg, it is his childhood and growing up in the city which fuel the restless imagination of the film.  You can’t watch My Winnipeg without being caught up in its intentional near-somnambulistic web, where Maddin uses sleep and sleepwalking  to represent the inexplicable pull of the city on him and other Winipeggers.  No, probably there isn’t really a train where snoozing citizens ride through the snowy darkness in an attempt to escape Winnipeg’s hold, but as seen by Maddin you will be completely mesmerized by the image and the gentle rhythm of the sleep train.  “Wake Up!” he cries severals times at the dozing passengers, but they can’t rouse themselves.

Maddin’s most popular film is probably his 2003 The Saddest Music in the World, starring Isabella Rossellini and The Kids in the Hall alumnus Mark McKinney, and undoubtedly some people might confuse him with David Lynch because 1.) a lot of his films kind of resemble that director’s Eraserhead and The Elephant Man  and 2.) he’s worked several times with Rossellini who used to be Lynch’s girlfriend.  The creative and unique Lynch is positively mainstream compared to Maddin, though, whose distinctive output is filled with outrageous and often beautiful images that seem to have been extracted directly from inside his brain and somehow transferred to film.  In My Winnipeg, Maddin’s embroidered and emboldened memories — real and conjured — of the city and his life in it come alive in a variety of styles.  Dramatic recreation — Maddin, as he explains in his utterly winning narration, hires actors to play his family, “1963-ish”, including actress Ann Savage (from the noir classic Detour and one of Maddin’s inspirations) as his mother, his dead father under the living room rug, and a pug dog standing in for his childhood chihuahua — results in great scenes like the straightening of the rug runner, the parakeet in the mother’s hair, and the night his sister hit the deer.  “There’s no such thing as an accident!” intones the incredulous mother, accusing her daughter of sexual dalliance.  “Don’t try my patience,” she rebukes her child, with a fury that’s nearly funny but also hits deep and darkly at twisted family dynamics.  “Everything that happens in this city is a euphemism” concludes the narrator, soundly.

Other fascinating and immensely entertaining sequences detail the beauty salon/home where he grew up (“I reeked of hair products”), the creation of the Winnipeg amusement park called Happyland, the mystical confluence of rivers from which First Nations people say the city gets its power, a TV drama called Ledge Man where each week “the same oversensitive young man takes something said the wrong way” and tries to commit suicide, the strange supernatural history of Winnipeg including psychic ballet teacher Gweneth Lloyd, the ill-fated Wolseley Elm, various hockey arena and hockey player outrages, department store demolitions, labor strikes, Winnipeg’s secret backstreets, an Egyptian bridge living in snow country, sleepwalking dreamers who cross the city with keys in their hands, male beauty contests and a wheel of orange jello, a triple-tiered public bathing facility “segregated by gender”, rooftop hobo villages, a Nazi take-over of the city, and so many more incredible things, true and not-so-much.  Perhaps the most memorable is a fabulous tale of frightened horses who meet a macabre fate in a frozen river.  Unforgettable!

Also to be savored is Guy Maddin’s narration of the film; it’s so good — amusing, clever, earnest, sometimes almost like something out of a film noir detective film, tough, puzzled, always seeking some way to explain the personal and civic conundrum which is Winnipeg.  Maddin performed it several times live at various screenings when the movie came out, and that must have been incredible.  Also interspersed with the hypnotic visuals are many of the silent-movie-ish effects favored by Maddin, and wonderful, nearly subliminal, title cards which punctuate the narrative.  

Fandor, the site which is hosting/sponsoring “The Maddin-est Blogathon in the World” is offering free trial subscriptions this week, and they have a number of terrific Maddin shorts and films on their site.  Do check out Fandor’s unique service and interesting offerings!  If you’re now yearing to experience the snowy, soporific world of My Winnipeg, it’s currently available on DVD and also streaming at that other internet subscription service which seems to be getting nothing but bad press lately.  Do check it out one way or another. It’s not for everybody, but its odd charm will win you over, I think, as it wins we over every time I watch it.

14 Responses Maddin Madness — Celebrating “My Winnipeg”
Posted By dukeroberts : September 21, 2011 7:34 pm

Ah yes, our lovely, hot, humid weather here in the Sunshine State. I remember at one point this past winter I saw on the news that it was snowing in 49 states. The one holdout? You guessed it. I will watch My Manitoba and dream of far off places, of memories almost forgotten from my own childhood living in states where it snowed once every 5 years or so. Thanks for the article about this interesting movie.

Posted By dukeroberts : September 21, 2011 7:34 pm

Ah yes, our lovely, hot, humid weather here in the Sunshine State. I remember at one point this past winter I saw on the news that it was snowing in 49 states. The one holdout? You guessed it. I will watch My Manitoba and dream of far off places, of memories almost forgotten from my own childhood living in states where it snowed once every 5 years or so. Thanks for the article about this interesting movie.

Posted By dukeroberts : September 21, 2011 7:34 pm

Sorry, My Winnipeg. Dagnabbit!

Posted By dukeroberts : September 21, 2011 7:34 pm

Sorry, My Winnipeg. Dagnabbit!

Posted By Suzi : September 21, 2011 10:10 pm

Nice job, Medusa. I wish I was there with you all in Florida as I face another cold winter in Chicago.

Posted By Suzi : September 21, 2011 10:10 pm

Nice job, Medusa. I wish I was there with you all in Florida as I face another cold winter in Chicago.

Posted By swac : September 22, 2011 11:15 am

Greetings from your former home of Nova Scotia (Halifax, to be exact). As much as I love where I live, I have an odd fascination with Winnipeg, a fellow provincial capital of similar size and with similar advantages and disadvantages, but a unique flavour of its own. It’s got a lot of history (Louis Riel, labour unrest) and quirky landmarks (The Nutty Club!), but I could never get used to the flatness of the place. I do appreciate Maddin’s look into the dark side of the gateway to the prairies though, and the vintage techniques he resurrects to present it. I’ve only been there one as an adult, but look forward to seeing it again through his eyes.

Posted By swac : September 22, 2011 11:15 am

Greetings from your former home of Nova Scotia (Halifax, to be exact). As much as I love where I live, I have an odd fascination with Winnipeg, a fellow provincial capital of similar size and with similar advantages and disadvantages, but a unique flavour of its own. It’s got a lot of history (Louis Riel, labour unrest) and quirky landmarks (The Nutty Club!), but I could never get used to the flatness of the place. I do appreciate Maddin’s look into the dark side of the gateway to the prairies though, and the vintage techniques he resurrects to present it. I’ve only been there one as an adult, but look forward to seeing it again through his eyes.

Posted By swac : September 22, 2011 11:16 am

Also, is it just me, or does the entrance to Happyland bear an eerie resemblance to the gates of Auschwitz?

Posted By swac : September 22, 2011 11:16 am

Also, is it just me, or does the entrance to Happyland bear an eerie resemblance to the gates of Auschwitz?

Posted By Morlockjeff : September 22, 2011 2:08 pm

I think this is my favorite Maddin film to date – so witty, sad, absurd, creepy, hypnotic, hilarious. It might be his masterpiece.

Posted By Morlockjeff : September 22, 2011 2:08 pm

I think this is my favorite Maddin film to date – so witty, sad, absurd, creepy, hypnotic, hilarious. It might be his masterpiece.

Posted By Jenni : September 22, 2011 5:24 pm

The gates of Happyland remind me of that horror flick, Carnival of Souls, of the amusement park where the heroine is running around, trying to avoid the dead man that keeps tracking her down. I know that film used another amusement park for those scenes, but when I looked up Happyland on the internet and saw pictures of it, that’s the first thing I thought of.

Posted By Jenni : September 22, 2011 5:24 pm

The gates of Happyland remind me of that horror flick, Carnival of Souls, of the amusement park where the heroine is running around, trying to avoid the dead man that keeps tracking her down. I know that film used another amusement park for those scenes, but when I looked up Happyland on the internet and saw pictures of it, that’s the first thing I thought of.

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