Guy Maddin’s special specimen

Pub date July 22, 2008
WriterMax Goldberg
SectionFilm FeaturesSectionFilm Review

REVIEW We all knew it was his Winnipeg after gobstoppers like Cowards Bend the Knee (2003) and The Saddest Music in the World (2003), but Guy Maddin certainly puts a fine point on it with his latest. Finally, a Maddin film that fully incorporates the homely comic-pathos of his essays and movie reviews. In My Winnipeg, the Canuck filmmaker’s punch-drunk dissolves and superimpositions aren’t just cinematographic cake-frosting; they’re visual portents and analogues of his seasick crawl through the past. While his festival-circuit peers increasingly strive for transcendent realism, Maddin still slops on the Vaseline. Curiously, he ends up in the same place that they do, blurring lines of autobiography and fictional representation. To wit: after Maddin introduces his "sleep-chugging" city in voice-over, he sets in explaining his missive to reenact key episodes of his childhood with stand-in actors in his family home. This meta-"making of" is a wonderful joke on the psychologically overwrought status of the auteur, complete with inflated reminiscences and digressions (segments on Winnipeg’s spiritualists, 1919 labor strikes, and the National Hockey League’s conspiratorial malevolence stand as mini-movies of their own). Casting Ann Savage (the belligerent face of Vera in Edgar Ulmer’s 1945 noir Detour) as his mother renders the psychodrama of cinephilia with florid hilarity. Beneath all Maddin’s Oedipal goofing, there’s a serious reflection on the way that movies seen at an impressionable age — or rather our memories of them — can burnish real experiences with chiaroscuro drama. Maddin’s always deserving of kudos for his bricolage assortments of essay, silent film, lantern show, melodrama, and papier-mâché, but My Winnipeg is a special specimen: his finest testament yet to memory and imagination being a two-way street.

MY WINNIPEG opens Fri/25 in Bay Area theaters.