My Winnipeg (Canada, 2007) * * * 1/2
D: Guy Maddin
It's the tenth anniversary of the Wisconsin Film Festival, held every year here in Madison, and for many locals it's traditionally a frenzied four days of squeezing as many films into their schedules as possible. As I do every year, I'll be blogging the fest right here, although this weekend I'm not sure I'll find much time to do so, since I'm seeing so many. The first day is kind of slow--just one film for me--but it started the festival with a bang. I'm no stranger to Canadian dream-savant Guy Maddin (see this essay), but I'm still amazed at the pace at which he issues his films, as though spewing them continuously from some grungy backroom meat grinder somewhere in Manitoba. Well, Winnipeg to be precise, the coldest city on Earth as Maddin hyperbolically puts it in his hyperbole-strewn autobiography, My Winnipeg. It's an autobiography-via-municipal history, with Maddin portrayed recurringly as the passenger of a drifting train, struggling to stay awake as outside the window we glimpse snowy images of the frozen city (from every angle). His films have always been autobiographical (his father died when he was young, and reincarnated fathers play a role in his first short, "The Dead Father," as well as last year's Brand Upon the Brain!), but My Winnipeg goes further than most, as Maddin directly addresses the audience, providing his own narration. I've listened to his audio commentaries and so I'm familiar with the sound of his voice, but to hear his narration, set to his own subjective montages of stock footage, I was struck at how much he reminded me of Michael Moore, in particular the early sections of Roger & Me. Winnipeg might as well be Flint, Michigan--nostalgically remembered, but desolate and nightmarish at the same time. Of course, this is still a Maddin film, and so the vaseline-smeared lens plummets through a series of eroticized tall tales from Winnipeg's history and Maddin's personal memories, all enacted using techniques that call to mind Eisenstein, Cocteau, Bunuel, and Bergman. He even adds a new trick: animation, albeit pleasingly Soviet-styled cutout animation like the 1920's animated feature The Adventures of Prince Achmed. (I'd like to see a lot more of this in the future, please.) And it's filled with bawdy humor, camp, and Maddin's peculiarly poetic writing, which marries dreamy surrealism to deadpan hilarity. The height must be the feverish séance scene, set in a Masonic temple, in which a ballerina leads the proceedings (shades of Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary) and coaxes, um, ectoplasm out of one of the young male volunteers. I thought this would be a toss-off, truncated Maddin film, but he delivers: it's another low-budget epic, stunning to look at, and extremely entertaining. It seemed to win over the medium-sized audience at the 5:15 screening at MMoCA, including, I'm sure, many being introduced to his bizarre filmmaking for the first time.