Weird Wednesday #2- Guy Maddin

Posted on February 16, 2011


So in digging through Netflix one day I found out that one of the most idiosyncratic, unique and creative filmmakers in all the world, Canadian Guy Maddin, has quite a few films available to stream.

Now it is rather difficult to encapsulate Maddin’s style but I will attempt to do so as to get a brief understanding of who he is and what he’s about in part to understand my disappointment in the first film.

Maddin’s films usually employ voice over, they are typically shot and styled like an antiquated film whether it be a silent, early sound or other classical techniques are employed, the films cuts quickly and chaotically at times like dreams, films may be tinted or in black and white, in terms of cinematography strange angles and overexposed imagery is not uncommon. Story-wise some sort of family drama is taken to the nth degree and the strange is commonplace and treated as such and not exploited. Due to the emphasis on technique and narrative there is usually not a dependence on performance.

Twilight of the Ice Nymphs

Pascale Bussiéres, Shelley Duvall, Ross McMillan and R.H. Tomson in Twilight of the Ice Nymphs (1997)

First, a disclaimer: Netflix claims that they stream both this and Archangel as one, they do not. Now the observations I made on Maddin’s usual style are based on viewing many titles long and short. This film is a departure from that formula, however, that is not why it fails to compel in my estimation.

In terms of camera-work and editing the film has a very simplistic zero degree approach most of the time. The camera does not draw attention to its presence, however, the cinematography does manage to be bothersome. You’ve heard of desserts being too sweet, well the same applies for eye candy. The colors are lush the sun-like light is plentiful but the palette is too crowded with brashness and boldness and blown out images such that its hard to look at.

Maddin’s dialogue, as well as his narration, can be quite poetic and beautiful as is evidenced by My Winnipeg, however, while the text of this film on the surface read wonderfully it is rarely performed as such. Furthermore, when your text is quasi-Shakespearean in terms of imagery and few of the actors carry it off convincingly it also becomes an assault on the ears.

Granted there are good performances (Krige and Duvall) and the narrative which starts non-existent does eventually reveal itself, however, it takes far too long and at that point interest has been lost.

Careful

Careful

Now, before proceeding I have included video links to some shorts below which will give you a taste of this man’s style and why it’s so easy to fall in love with it.

Careful is the kind of film that plays right into Maddin’s wheelhouse, for lack of better words this is the kind of film you expect from Maddin. The tale is a strange one taking place in a fictional Teutonic village in the Alps wherein all loud noises are frowned upon lest they cause an avalanche. This reserve permeates the fabric of the city and infiltrates the private lives of its people.

All the families seemingly have skeletons in their closets which are slowly but surely brought to light. However, things don’t play out in a typical fashion. there is heavy usage of tinting, odd angles and a decidedly 1930s approach and technique to all aspects of the film.

The film starts off with the narrator talking over cuts in a mock-educational film wherein life in the town is described. The tale ends up being split into a part one and part two despite only running 99 minutes. Yet with this throwback style the narrative is not reserved as there are severed limbs, murder, suicide, incest and more.

Despite how disparate in quality and style I found two films Maddin is always exciting and is worth getting to know if you have the stomach for his brand of weird.

My Winnipeg (trailer)

Sparky: To the Pier and Back

Maybe the best illustration of how his mind works. A simply concept, shot uniquely and cut frenetically.

Sombra Dolorosa

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Posted in: Weird Wednesday