Sunday, May 3, 2009

My Winnipeg

After having seen Tales from Gimli Hospital I was intrigued but thoroughly confused. Having chanced upon Cowards bend the Knee I decided to watch it. My confusion fell away as I was taken in completely by its beauty. Like David Lynch , Guy Maddin has the surrealistic ability to finesse as much depth and neuroses into a black and white silent film as you'll find anywhere in films which have the advantage of color and dialogue. Having realized that the Saddest Music in the World was his work, a film who's look and title attracted me but had somehow fallen through the cracks, I made for it as soon as possible, eager to see how he'd be able to improve his craft with a bigger budget.

I turned the film off nearly 15 minutes in. Maddin had in his revivalist spirit suffered the same folley as the greats of the silent era by allowing dialogue into the film. Chaplin and Keaton were marvelous so long as they allowed their bodies to do the talking and the music to carry the tone. When they started talking something was undeniably lost, especially with Keaton who's weird little voice directly antithesized his stubbornly heroic characters.

But, obviously I didn't give up on Maddin and I hoped My Winnipeg would be a return to form. Maddin calls the film a "docufantasia". Its an autobiography where Maddin and his family share the spotlight with the films other most important character the city itself, a city characterized by its nostalgia, it's frosty clime, and most of all by its sleepiness.

Maddins voice over met with my immediate disapproval, but over time I settled into it and began to trust him as a tour guide through this place I had little knowledge of, trying to forgive some of the more purple prose, in order or open myself up to his dream-like wave-lengh. It was easy to identify with the protagonist a man fed up with "home" and eager to set his heels to a less frustrating landscape.

So what's keeping him here?

He begins to describe with the same importance both the historic idiosyncracies of Winnipeg as well has his own living biography, which he tells as a sort of self-referential docu-experiment that blends perfectly with the rest of the film, which includes a workers revolution, the demise of professional hockey in Winnipeg, and probably the most shocking a stable fire which ends with the heads of several anguished horses coming frozen up out of a lake like tortured stumps, a spectacle which attracts the city's romantics and is apparently responsible for a baby-boom.

Maddin himself is most romantic though. Winnipeg seem to flow through his veins on the same scale and Fellini's Rome or Scorcese's New York. He knows the city intimately. One get the sense that like a disproportionate amount of it's citizens he could sleepwalk through it, and with My Winnipeg he takes us along with him on that dream walk.

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