“What’s a city without its ghosts?”
Canadian director Guy Maddin first made a name for himself in the early nineties with his German expressionist pastiche Careful. The story of whispering Alpine villagers living in fear of an avalanche and their repressed, incestuous emotions soon gained a small but faithful cult following. In 2002 and 2003 he finally achieved art house credibility with Dracula: Pages From A Virgin’s Diary, a silent adaptation Bram Stoker’s tale interpreted through dance (dear God!) and The Saddest Music In The World, a 30’s set musical comedy starring Isabella Rossellini. As you can imagine, with his over the top melodrama and cinematic techniques lifted from the silent era, Guy Maddin’s bizarre filmography is somewhat “specialist”.
My Winnipeg on the other hand is the closest he’s come to a crossover success beyond the art house crowd. A magical, mesmerising, bubbling cauldron of a movie, Maddin successfully utilises the style he’s famous for into an accessible documentary format to great effect. With its cheap but charming aesthetics, he seems to have embraced his limited budget as a challenge rather than a hindrance to be hidden and created a totally original, idiosyncratic piece of work. It’s also very funny.
My Winnipeg, we’re told, is the history of film maker Guy Maddin’s hometown, Winnipeg, Manitoba, and his filmed attempts at re-enacting parts of his difficult upbringing, using actors and family members, whilst addressing his inability to escape, and then some.
Opening on a train heading for nowhere, populated by semi-comatose passengers, we are then taken on a strange, swirling journey though the narrative past of Winnipeg as Guy Maddin’s rhythmic voice over effortlessly ricochets across Manitoba’s surreal history and his own strange memories. Using animation, bizarre stock footage and anything else to hand, we are treated to tales of the paranormal, local myths, phantom hockey players, the problem with Winnipeg’s sleepwalking epidemic, the local councils ineptitude towards its heritage, a poetic ode to lounging on couches and how a band of dead race horses frozen in a lake became a popular spot for picnics.
Guy Maddin’s world is an isolated, dreamlike land where it’s perfectly acceptable to embellish the truth for dramatic or humorous effect, where eventually it’s the story that counts and not the hard facts. A personal, visionary netherworld that isn’t quite fiction but not exactly documentary either, a place that can only be called Winnipeg.