Posted By Art Baxter


Guy Maddin - February 28, 1956

The films of Canadian director, Guy Maddin, are about delirious swooning emotions worn on the cuff and seething repression gone to the point of madness. His films are insane dreamlike melodramas that go up to the line of the barest acceptability and then leap over it into gleeful morosity. They are the kind of films a young David Lynch might have made if he had been apprentice to James Whale at Universal in 1932 and his home town was Winnipeg Manitoba and he had a depressive Nordic temperament. His films aren't for everybody. If fact they appeal to almost no one. When I recently screened his latest film Brand Upon the Brain! here in Philadelphia on a Sunday night there were six people in the audience. My wife and I were the only couple. Two thirds of the way into the picture, a woman got up and left never to return. That woman missed what turned out to be one of my absolute favorites of Maddin's films.

The first of Maddin's film I saw was his first feature Tales of the Gimli Hospital. I was intrigued when I read about the film in one of the local free weeklies. It was playing that weekend at a midnight show. It was just the sort of thing I was itching to see. Gimli is a resort town outside of Winnipeg where the young Maddin spent his summers at the family's cottage on a lake. The story concerns itself with two young men who are in the hospital's care for various ailments. Naturally, a romance is at the center of the story which includes many odd local customs like slicking down ones hair with goose grease and combing it with a fishbone. The film was the grainiest black and white and looked like it was made in 1928. The film was a very modest critical and financial success which sent the young filmmaker on his way.

You can imagine my excitement when his next film Archangel appeared two years later. The central theme of the film is forgetfulness as most of the cast has amnesia of one form or another. It takes place in a small Russian village after World War One. A town so remote they haven't yet learned the war is long over so fighting continues. It bombed even by art house standards. Perhaps it was it's long meandering pace that turned people off. Or perhaps it was a scene where a disemboweled man strangled the Huns who invaded his house with his own intestines before dying. It certainly couldn't have been the scene where the Russian townspeople were invaded by an army of rabbits as they waited in their snow filled foxholes. Could it? Well, I liked it!

Ironically, Maddin's next film Careful is the one that cemented his reputation as a filmmaker. Ironic, since the film takes place in the Alps and is pro-incest. It's in color but the colors are over vivid and wrong. The mountains were created by draping cloth over wood. The film received praise in the form a fan letter from none other than legendary female film director and unrepentant nazi, Leni Riefenstahl, director of Triumph of the Will and Olympiad, who cut her own film making teeth on "mountain climbing" pictures. Of course what's not to like when you have a main character who, out of guilt, sears his own lips with a hot poker then cuts off his hand after lustfully watching his mother bathing in a bathtub, through a mirror while being suspended upside down.

I was fortunate enough to see his highly praised short film The Heart of the World at a local theater in 2000. It is in black and white, filmed in 8mm and blown up to 35mm and is silent. It's an amazing six minutes.

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