61 Days of Halloween: The Dead Father (1985)


For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween and a list of previously featured titles please go here.

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.

Review- Keyhole

Keyhole is a film by Guy Maddin. If one knows Guy Maddin then one knows precisely what this means. If one is not familiar with him then you will soon find out precisely what this means. To begin to get some sort of grasp of the significance of that statement you can visit either of the aforelinked posts. Now what precisely is Guy Maddin’s latest like?

Keyhole is a black & white, horror/comedy melodrama, which is a widening gyre that goes from a very cloistered, guarded tale and unwinds into one that is a rather effective and is nearly pantomime. The loop that the world revolves in and the roles these characters play, the unusual ways the characters behave in soon make themselves evident and as they do a seemingly fragmentary tale begins to tell other tales and history by implications.

With a film such as this, which is so unorthodox, the pacing thereof will be a precarious balancing act and a difficult thing to navigate, however, while not brisk the film does manage to move at a relatively steady pace. The incremental repetition of certain visual motifs and snatches of dialogue don’t bog the story down and serve as markers to an extent. One must also acknowledge that there will be a certain amount of disorientation that will need to be surmounted that also affects the speed of mental processing that this film requires.

Key to establishing the surreal and other-worldly tone that Maddin seeks in this film is the scoring, which is wonderful in this film. The score provides an anchor which keeps the film grounded in some sense of constancy and gravitas as the dialogue, images and scenes get all the more wilder as they are slowly unfurled and deciphered.

Another aspect that gives the film a sense of tempo is the edit. This is a film where you can almost predict the cuts by metronome. Here is where Maddin imbues the film with much of its frenetic energy. Surely, the pace of the cuts frequently belies the flow of the narrative, but it reaches a rather constant speed that pulls the story along with it. While such a discordant bit of technique may seem a distraction it mostly serves the film well as another steadying force.

The guardians of this arcane world that is partially occluded are the actors as they must do something very difficult, which is to play rather broad types but still resonate with the audience as people, transmit that they too are trying to uncover mysteries and/or not seem as they are obviously hiding something. With such affectations in the making of the film and stylizing in the narrative it can be most difficult for an actor to convey true emotions but the cast throughout manages quite well.

I find it important to seek reasons to justify the usage of color, even if the choice between color and black and white is a rather anachronistic one in this day and age, however, I hold the inverse true: if a film is shooting in black & white is it truly exploiting that choice; is it seeing and portraying a world that can only be conveyed monochromatically? Here I say the answer is an emphatic yes. There are tableaus and mise-en-scène designed the way they are because they fit a black & white landscape similarly many of the actors look like they were born to be shot in black & white.

Keyhole is not the most accessible film in the world but it is a nut that can be cracked with patience and focus, whether you know Maddin or not. Clearly, if you are familiar with him you’ll know what to expect better than most and your appreciation of it may be greater.


Short Film Saturday: Guy Maddin

On occasion on these posts I think it would make sense to feature a filmmaker who excels in the short film form. Therefore, I figure who better to start with than Guy Maddin.

This is not to say Maddin’s feature work isn’t brilliant, it certainly is. I have not yet seen all of it but I started with Brand Upon the Brain and didn’t expect that to be exceeded and then it was by My Winnipeg. For my reaction to a few other features go here.

Yet I’d have to say I almost prefer his short works because they can be that much more explosive and consistently brilliant and for those unfamiliar with Maddin it is here that you can get a sense for his style and see if its to your liking before investing your time and potentially money in them.

So below you will find many of Maddin’s short films culled from many locations about the internets enjoy! Before proceeding please note that quite a few of these films are NSFW (Not Safe for Work) and Parental guidance is suggested. Also, since I found so many this post also constitutes a Make Your Own Film Festival entry which is a series I’ll add to quite a bit soon.

The Heart of the World

Sombra Dolorosa

Spanky: To The Pier and Back

Zookeeper Workbook


Sissy Boy Slap Party

The previous films I first viewed thanks to a blog post by Roger Ebert. The film below is available on The National Film Board’s (Canada) site.


Now here are some I found through YouTube searches:

It’s My Mother’s Birthday Today

Hospital Fragment

Fancy, Fancy Being Rich

Odilon Redon or The Eye Like a Strange Balloon Moves Towards Infinity

Send Me to the ‘Lectric Chair

A Trip to the Orphanage

Odin’s Shield Maiden

Weird Wednesday #2- Guy Maddin

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.



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