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The Dead Father (1985)
I have covered the films of Guy Maddin on a few occasions here. However, even with all that coverage there are a few of his films I had not seen. One such film was Tales from the Gimli Hospital, his first feature.
On the DVD of that film, one whose horror qualifications are disputable, there was the short film The Dead Father. This is one that is more obviously a horror tale. It’s one in which death is a transient experience. One misapprehension I recall from my days in film school is that writing “homey” or family-based tales was us students playing it safe, sticking far too close to writing what we know. However, it’s not the motif or the milieu you work with, but rather how you use it. Much of Maddin’s works, this one included, are family portraits but you could not confuse Maddin with any other filmmaker because of how he tells his stories in narrative, visual and editorial senses.
Even with it poetical use of voice over and sparse use of dialogue there are still silent film tropes all about this film starting with the introductory photo title cards of the characters. Maddin’s style is embossed on this film, and though he has experimented with different kinds of tales; he has created his own approach and that really started here.
While short films are a starting point for most, if not all filmmakers, few modern auteurs can be referred to as short film artists and Maddin is most certainly that. He continues to make many shorts and he tells tales that are as long as they have to be and is not only making features but made a short as recently as last year in an anthology, and one due out next year.
This is a film that sets its tone with weird off-kilter photo albums immediately and continues to its creepy, gross finale with occasional humor and persistent oddities throughout. Unlike many of his shorts, this film is not available online but instead is on the Kino edition of Tales from the Gimli Hospital it is definitely recommended viewing if you’re looking for something a bit different.