Indy Film Talk: Guy Maddin's 'docu-fantasia'



My Winnipeg
is more of a dream than a documentary.

Director Guy Maddin sleepwalks through the titular setting, which he says has 10 times the sleepwalking rate of any other city in the world. Is this a fact or a half-remembered myth? In My Winnipeg, truth and tall tales are one and the same.

My Winnipeg is the definitive Maddin film — a prime example of his aesthetic, which he will discuss during a retrospective of his work this week at IU Cinema.

The film is a surreal spectacle — a visualization of a city’s collective unconscious and Maddin’s nostalgia. It’s a potent blend of both public and personal history.

Maddin frames the film around his trip back home. He rents his childhood house, hiring actors to play his family members and dressing them in old, mothballed clothes his mother saved.

In between re-enactments of his childhood, Maddin explores the city’s past: the demolition of the hockey arena where he was born; the closing of the amusement park, Happyland; If Day, a simulated Nazi invasion of the city mounted to promote the sale of war bonds in 1942.

He mixes in other facts that seem too strange to be true, such as the annual appearance of frozen horse heads on the river and the Canadian Pacific Railway’s annual treasure hunt, in which the first prize is a train ticket out of town that has yet to be claimed.

Maddin’s upbringing starts to seem just as otherworldly. And the film emerges as a look at the larger-than-life nature of parents and the past. Maddin describes his mother as “a force as strong as all the trains in Manitoba.” He visualizes this with a shot of her as a giant, looking through a train window at him as he attempts to leave the city. The fact that his mother is played by B-movie star Ann Savage adds to the pulpy feel of the film. 

Maddin’s visual style is hypnotic. Shot in misty black-and-white, everything appears to be filtered through the dreamy fog of his memories. Through the stark shadows and hazy halos of light, you can see the influence of early silent-era cinema and German Expressionism.

“Since I was poking around in my own earliest years, I felt comfortable using the film medium’s earliest years or flavors to represent them,” Maddin told NUVO in a recent interview.

A lifelong student of film, Maddin came to the conclusion that, “like the philosophical edict, ‘everything tastes more or less like chicken,’ all films are more or less fairy tales.” It’s easy to see how they seem that way to a man who’s always dreaming with his eyes wide open, viewing the world with larger-than-life lenses.

Although it often smacks of David Lynch and Tim Burton’s films, My Winnipeg is ultimately a “docu-fantasia” unlike anything you’ve seen before.

Maddin is presenting the film tonight, 6:30 p.m., at IU Cinema. The theater director Jon Vickers will lead a Q&A session with him after the screening. Tickets are $3. 


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