Guy Maddin

“I work under the banner of primitivity,” Maddin has proclaimed, and for the past two decades he has invoked the codes and forms of silent cinema and early talkies, of the film noirs and color-coded melodramas of the ’40s and ’50s, in his search for the cinematic sublime. Such Maddin classics as Tales from the Gimli Hospital (1988), Archangel (1990), and Careful (1992) aim to look exhumed, their tales of amnesia, incest, death, and transfiguration decked out in low-rent expressionism and dime-store surrealism. Whether shot in high-contrast black and white or aggressively artificial color (as in the exquisitely tinctured Twilight of the Ice Nymphs [1997]), the films rely on such superannuated devices as the iris, the lap dissolve, and superimposition, and on the cheap, dreamy blur provided by Vaseline, store-bought fog, and fake snow. The radical anachronism of this style is wedded to empurpled dialogue, crackly, muffled sound tracks, and a playhouse aesthetic in costume and set design, in which everything looks handmade, outsize, and illogical, keyed to the (soap) operatic passions and masochistic emotions of Maddin’s bushy-browed characters. Non sequiturs and convolutions proliferate in both narrative and style, until one is left adrift in an obscure, obsessive spectacle conjured up from disinterred art forms and private compulsions. (Though Maddin is frequently compared to David Lynch and the Quay Brothers, his funny, puzzling, and often overstretched first films have surprising affinities with the early work of German director Werner Schroeter.)

Maddin insists that no matter how outlandish his films are, they are all in some way autobiographical. Born in 1956 in Winnipeg, he escaped the laconic, Lutheran culture of the prairie Icelanders by watching films in the local cinemas, on late-night television, and, later, at home after he discovered a trove of 16 mm silent films. This mock-Canuck Cinema Paradiso account of his childhood underscores the semi-apocryphal nature of Maddin’s biography, whose formative events–his father’s Willy Loman life and early death, his brother’s suicide on the grave of his girlfriend, his own youth as a slacker surrounded by equally slothful male friends called “drones”–sometimes sound “heightened,” to use a favorite Maddin locution. An artist who invents the traditions that inspire him, is influenced by films he hasn’t seen, and makes versions of films that don’t exist and whose stock-in-trade is imagined memories and fake nostalgia…
Words by James Quandt for ArtForum

Here’s a clip of him talking about 2008’s “My Winnipeg”…

And here’s his wonderful short “The Heart of the World”

And some of “The Saddest Music in the World”

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2 thoughts on “Guy Maddin

  1. killa cam says:

    wow. i appreciate guy maddin much more thanks to this post.
    good work hern! lets see these film reviews weekly or bi-weekly.
    like aristotle said ” “Those that know, do. Those that understand, teach.”
    We’re all ears comrade…

  2. Róisín says:

    I love the first quote of the post and the very last quote. I can’t say I’m aware of any other film-maker that uses the Super 8 as superbly as Maddin.
    One my favourite things about Maddin is that he makes films for the love of them, something which some directors tend to forget as they become more and more successful.
    I wonder what else he has up his sleeve!

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