Monday, July 14, 2008

MY WINNIPEG - The Forks, The Lap, The Fur...

Intone it like a mantra....

Guy Maddin is one of the most consistently original, surprising and evocative of the independent film-makers working today. And for the uninitiated, MY WINNIPEG is his most accessible work. It's a fictionalised documentary about his home town - the buildings, people and local legends that shaped his childhood. Maddin's voice looms large over the work, in a lyrical voice-over that speaks of the spiritual power of a town founded on ley-lines, at the intersection of two rivers, and at the hub of a great railway network. He speaks of his childhood above a hair-salon, "the gynocracy", and intones the word "home" with such meaning it makes you feel nostalgic too. You feel his civic wrath at the simple-minded local government that tore down the landmark Eaton department store and ice hockey rink. And if you let yourself go with the movie, you want to believe, as Maddin does, that a ghostly team of all-stars still plays on its site.

Maddin's homage to Winnipeg isn't fenced in by reality but somehow manages to convey the true spirit of the city more successfully through an acknowledged fictionalising of events. So, while Maddin persists in pretending that the actress Ann Savage really is his mother, pressed into re-enacting key scenes from his childhood, he also starts the movie with a scene showing us that he is directing her! It's as though he's teasing us: I know and you know that this is a nonsense-tale, but after all wouldn't you rather believe that the town council really did conduct seances in city hall?

That this movie weaves a spell is in no small part down to Maddin's brilliant way with words, but it's also due to his wonderful collage style of filming. His movies are largely shot in monochrome, as if cobbled together from period footage, distressed and jump-cut. Images over-lap each other - there's extensive use of back-projection....It feels like you've stepped into a box of old photos and gramophone records. Sometimes, Maddin shows you some contemporary colour footage, and then let's you see him transform it back into monochrome myth. It's as if he can't resist letting you know just how clever he is! More charitably, that he's saying something meaningful about how we create memories.

MY WINNIPEG played Toronto 2007 and Berlin 2008. It opened in the US on June 13th and is currently playing in the UK.

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