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secret rivers lie hidden beneath them, possessed of supernatural
powers: “The Forks, the lap. The Forks, the lap… The Forks
in the old days – according to filmmaker Guy Maddin beneath the lap.” His patented flurries of associative cutting
– Winnipeg would hold an annual citywide treasure hunt in whirl between city maps, wind-blown fur and a naked female
which the first prize was a one-way ticket out of town. No one crotch, as he hovers with Oedipal fixation on both his birthplace
ever claimed this ticket, Maddin tells us: once participants had and his actual mother, the latter represented as a fierce elderly
combed every nook and cranny of their city, they could never matron seen at one point peering ogress-like into the window of
bring themselves to leave. Maddin’s new film My Winnipeg is Maddin’s carriage.
itself a treasure hunt, in which he delves into the dark and the daylit Maddin’s films have explored assorted variations of taboo
corners of his native city for its buried secrets. His motivating desire, but My Winnipeg is the most directly, and playfully Oedipal:
impulse is a desperation to break away at last from the place that a fascinated sift through the undergarments of his maternal city.
made him and that haunts his dreams. The question is whether, Playing fast and loose with Freudian revelation, Maddin takes
once they’ve seen the film, the burghers of Winnipeg will give what other filmmakers might encode as unconscious content
Maddin the keys to the city or drum him out of town for good. and emblazons it for all to see, forever practising ‘wild’ self-
Manitoba’s strangest son, Maddin has been making analysis. Reminiscing on his boyhood home, which coexisted with
his fanciful, witty, dreamlike films since the late 1980s. In their the beauty parlour run by his mother and Aunt Lil, he turns the
melding of camp, nostalgia, film-buff fetishism and (unreliable) joint into a primal scene, the mythic source of wildly overstated
confessional candour, they inhabit a zone close to the work fetishism. “The smells of female vanity and desperation… I grew
of underground filmmakers Jack Smith and George Kuchar, under their influence into what I am”, he confides, while intertitles
but derive order from an archivist’s adoration for film’s dead flash up hysterically: ‘Scent of Lilac!’ – ‘Sprays!’ – ‘Smells!’ – ‘Queer
languages. An arch-pasticheur, Maddin uses his bargain- to Smell!’
basement resources to ‘do’ F.W. Murnau or 1920s Russian silent Maddin’s most outrageous stroke is to have his mother
small town
cinema, or, with joyous precision, create a Santa’s Grotto version played by Ann Savage, an actress in her late eighties who
of Odilon Redon’s brand of Gothic symbolism. Maddin’s features achieved deathless cult notoreity when she played film noir’s
have usually been fictions, often inspired by the myth and history most irredeemably vicious femme fatale, in Edgar G. Ulmer’s
of his native landscape, as with Tales from the Gimli Hospital legendary 1945 thriller Detour. As Mrs Maddin, Savage has her
mentality:
(1988). But increasingly he has developed a fictionalised (if not benign moments, even elicits sympathy, notably when Guy’s
entirely faked) autobiography, notably in Cowards Bend the Knee siblings terrorise her with a pet parakeet to blackmail her into
(2003), whose hero is ‘Guy Maddin’, a lovestruck hockey player cooking meatloaf. But she can also be terrifying, notably when
with the Winnipeg Maroons, and the silent-with-narration Brand brutally grilling Guy’s teenage sister on her sex life: “Was it the
upon the Brain! (2006), in which ‘Guy Maddin’ reminisces about boy on the track team, or the man with the tyre iron?” In order to

childhood in a lighthouse-turned-orphanage. break the spell of his past, Maddin sublets the old family house
The actual Guy Maddin is the voiceover narrator of My and stages a controlled reenactment of his childhood, with his
Winnipeg, a film that ought, as autobiography, to be more reliable dead father represented as a body under the living room rug.
than the above: it is, after all, part-financed by the Documentary There the Maddins watch a long-running local soap called
Channel. My Winnipeg contains ample factual material, LedgeMan, about an oversensitive son’s daily suicide threats.
certainly: archive footage showing Winnipeg’s streetscapes The film’s encyclopedic nature allows Maddin this time to
and society over the last century or so, plus treasures from indulge as many pastiche styles as he wants: Eisenstein agitprop,
the Maddin family home-movie archive: that is unmistakably a Lotte Reiniger shadow shows, 1940s melodrama, 50s television.
toddling, cowboy-hatted baby Guy in his parents’ backyard. But For Maddin cinema itself is both the fetish and its psychoanalytic
it’s hard to know how much of the local lore that Maddin narrates reading; both the source and the manifestation of all obsessions; . Courtesy Soda Pictures, London
is genuine. I’m prepared to buy the stories of the three-level cinema is the Forks, and the Forks beneath the Forks. Hovering
stacked swimming pool, and the destruction of the Happyland on the indeterminate borders – at the generic Forks – between
amusement park, although I wonder whether it was truly razed fiction, history, travelogue and essay with as much fluidity as the
by herds of stampeding bison; I draw the line at the tales of writing of W.G. Sebald and Iain Sinclair, My Winnipeg is a city
Rotarians disguising themselves as invading Nazis, and of the portrait of which Winnipeggers can be perversely proud, and a
frozen horseheads that jutted from the icy Red River in 1926, but proudly perverse self-portrait of its author. Without a doubt the
then again… director’s masterpiece, the film creates its own hybrid genre: a
The film is framed as Maddin’s exploration of his city and psychogeography of Winnipeg, a geographic psychoanalysis of
its history, which is to say, of his own psyche. The visual metaphor Guy Maddin. (still), 2007, dir Guy Maddin
threaded throughout is of a nocturnal train journey in which a
carriageful of sleepers, including Guy Maddin (played by Darcy My Winnipeg will be released later this year by Soda Pictures
Fehr), careers through the streets and secondary arteries of a
My Winnipeg
city of eternal night and snow. Maddin’s voiceover provides an
incantatory poetic commentary: “Always winter, always winter,
always sleepy… Winnipeg, Winnipeg, Winnipeg.” His dream-
tossed musings return obsessively to the Forks – the confluence
of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers – and the myth that other
109 Artreview
Mixed Media_Film.indd 109 6/3/08 16:13:57
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