by Andrew Mooney
My Winnipeg (2007) – Guy Maddin (Dir.), Anne Savage
First, before you do anything, watch this:
You might be asking yourself, “What just happened?” You might be asking yourself, “Wait, seriously, what the fuck just happened?” You might also be asking yourself, “Wait, guys, stop, stop…wait…WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?” And you would be right.
Guy Maddin is a Director (with a capital ‘D’). It’s not that he’s pretentious. It’s not that his films are almost impenetrable on a level of perplexing lunacy that’s positively Lynch-ian . It’s not that he’s a bad person. It’s that he is fucking crazy. When you watch other films by ‘Directors’ (looking at you, Von Trier) you sit back and just accept that these guys know what they’re doing and that they’re smarter than you and that there is no way you will get it so shut up and watch, you uneducated, whorish heathen. But that isn’t true with Mr. Maddin. His films are so blissfully bat-shit that one cannot help but fall into the oceanic quagmire of his rattled psyche. You hit the waters with a crash, your every inch soaking in nonsensical purity, before being knocked about by wave upon wave of sexually-confusing-melodramatic-nightmare/dream-worthy imagery. This isn’t Maddin masturbating into your eye (like some people I know…Von Trier.) , this is a man inviting you inside his head for an hour and twenty minutes.
How do you feel once you’ve escaped? Violated. A little into it. Utterly, utterly, painfully, beautifully confused. Let’s get to it then. This movie exists because the Documentary Channel thought it was a good idea to ask this guy to make something. And he did. Oh, he fucking made something. On the surface, it’s the story of Guy Maddin growing up in Winnipeg, Canada. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Canada or met a Canadian, but, in general, they are made of lollipop dreams. They have managed, as a country, to create a persona so infallible that the world thinks they’re the niceness equivalent of the second coming of Jesus.
Not according to Guy Maddin. Sheeeeeeeeit.
This film, well, it’s a psycho-analytic fever-dream of a thing, twisting and curving through the murky past of Maddin’s bizarrely abusive relationship with his mother, a brief foray into his adolescent homosexual experiences (the dude is straight…I know, right?), and an existentially metaphorical waltz through a city once golden and now crumbled into purgatorial hellscape. Here are a few items that you will witness during the truncated length of this film: he reenacts sections of his life with actors standing in for his mother and siblings (though he insists it’s his actual mother. Eesh). He exhumes his dead father and puts him under the rug in the living room because it ‘makes mother feel more comfortable’. Horses freeze in a river, populating the ice with shattered grimaces held in place for the entirety of the winter, real-life, stomach-churning ice sculptures. A map of a river repeatedly overlaid with a vagina. Ledge Man! A television show about a boy trying to commit suicide every episode and his mother convincing him not to. A gay bison stampede through a theme park. And so, so much more!
This is a ‘documentary’ and yet there is absolutely no way to check any of these facts against reality. According to Mr. Maddin, Winnipeg has a civic law prohibiting the destruction of signage, thus the creation of the world’s largest graveyard of discarded signs. Fake Nazis invaded the city during WWII as a test to see what would actually happen if the fuhrer made it across the pond. The town has an epidemic of sleepwalkers. What do you make of this? Do you sit there, declaring what’s bullshit and what’s not? Do you call the man on his shenanigans? Or do you sit back and allow the insanity to take hold, to seep through your every pore and infect you with the oddity of pure sense. Not an ounce of this picture is coherent and yet you never question. Once the claws are in, you let it drag you along, smacking your head against the sidewalks of ‘irrationality’ and ‘Oedipal complexes’. It’s as though you’re sitting next to a good friend, showing you his/her art film. Every time you ask a question, such as ‘Did you have to dissect a pig anus? And did you have to do it to a soundtrack of the Backstreet Boys?’ they yell ‘SHUT THE FUCK UP AND WATCH’. And you do. You do shut the fuck up. And you do watch.
And I haven’t even scratched the fucking surface. His style, for whatever reason, harkens back to the melodramatic noirs of the late thirties and forties. Maddin’s voiceover is a mixture of Werner-Herzogian hilarity, peppered with misplaced metaphors and thoughts so deep, you’d need James Cameron to excavate the bottom. (Side note movie idea: James Cameron as a ‘thought diver’. He uses an Inception-like submarine to dive into your darkest dreams and nightmares…and once he gets there he calls you a ‘pussy’ and makes a billion dollars. How? Don’t ask. He’s James Fucking Cameron.) And between the eyeball-battering flashes of disconnected flotsam and jetsam, Maddin breaks in with title cards screaming subtext through your entire body. There’s no time to process or argue, you just have to wait, thinking, “Wait…wait… did that just say boobs? Guys…why did it say boobs? Guys…?”
Here are a few of my favorite title cards:
“The Marchpast of Flesh.”
“The Corridor of Thighs!”
It’s as though those art students, who create six-hour performance pieces of them exfoliating their scrotums while pouring cat urine into a hollowed out doll-head and repeating ‘IRAQ, IRAQ, IRAQ,’ are slowly digested by the world at large, sucking out the creative juices that bring about such acts of bold artistic bullshit and funneling it down into a well of the collective-consciousness, an emotional runoff, a cesspit of retarded passion. As they hide their tattoos, grow back the half of their head they shaved and begin wearing clothes that weren’t found in a dumpster, their aesthetic aspirations die a quiet death. Does that energy dissipate? Or concentrate into a mix of such hellish oddity that it would make the Marquis De Sade blush. If that does indeed exist, then Maddin is the guy who found it and jumped the fuck in. He’s if those people made full-length films. Every second is an assault on the sense and the logic of reality.
All that said, this was, by far and away, my favorite viewing experience thus far. As he turned Winnipeg into the ideal of Beckettian nonexistence, I gobbled up every second. And I had no fucking clue what was happening. It’s the weirdest thing I’ve seen in years. But we need that. We need that jump in the tracks to off-set the train of normality, sending it careening into the uncharted woods of pure possibility, killing all 350 passengers of conformity and…alright, that metaphor got weird. Point is: we need the crazy. We don’t need too much. We don’t need it all the time. But we need it, a palette cleanser for the artistic soul, a catharsis of such inexplicable queerness, it forces you to question everything in your life…until you realize that you just watched a movie. You take a breath. You eat another Twizzler and turn on The Big Bang Theory. The cycle begins again.
As a person who has severe phobias of being trapped in my Connecticut hometown, I can absolutely relate to the train that just never leaves the station, the over-riding frustration that translate directly into crushing inaction. It’s hard to encapsulate the emotions we have towards the places we grew up. These nurturing spaces transform into a malevolent specter, a symbol of comfort that becomes smothering. It’s a pillow that you know you can lay your head when the world gets rough, an eternal safe space…and yet, when you fall back and feel the warmth of slipping between sheets that you’ve felt a thousand times before…you remember that you’re falling back, not forward. You get tired. You tell yourself 5 more minutes. Ten, twenty…
A day passes. And another. And another. Maybe a year. You look at the clock and rub your eyes. Most of your young life is gone. And all you’ve done is catch up with sleep.