Something hidden -- go and find it;
Go and look beyond the Ranges
Something lost behind the ranges:
Lost and waiting for you. Go!

-- from Guy Maddin's CAREFUL

Being a periodic meditation on some of the more obscure outlying regions of cinema;
regarding movies that are inadequately publicized and hence, easily overlooked --
and by cinema, it is meant in the larger sense of films/tv/DVD/internet --
that might be worthy of your interest, but perhaps has escaped your notice.


Monday, July 21, 2008


       One could make the argument that all Art functions as art therapy. Whether we’re talking about Vincent Van Gogh or a sixth grader who’s been sent to the school counselor for dipping one too many girls’ pigtails in ink, they’re both painting for the same reason: they have some issues to work out, and some way, somehow, getting it all down on canvas (or paper, or clay...) makes the artist feel better. Conventional psychotherapy has it that art therapy is usually carried out through readily available mediums -- pen, paint... crayons even; sometimes music. Less often utilized are the various collaborative art-forms; dance, theater; but certainly not cinema though -- too costly to produce, too time-consuming to create, too... logistically difficult to carry out. That being said, I can’t say I’m all that surprised that Guy Maddin has managed to undergo just such a therapeutic option; financed by the Canadian Film Board no less. And now screening in theater venues around the country, for all to see, under the title of My Winnipeg.

       For this, Maddin’s first attempt at helming a documentary -- or, as he calls it, a “docu-tasia” -- his chosen subject matter is the history of his hometown: Winnipeg, Canada. The resulting effort, however, could more accurately be called a “docu-reverie”; because the history being recounted is not that of the actual city, but of Maddin’s recollection of it. The film is framed with scenes of Maddin himself (as portrayed by Darcy Fehr; a faux-filmmaker for a mock-documentary), attempting to leave -- escape even -- his native burg by train; but it’s a city he loves... maybe too much. Lulled asleep by the mechanical cadence of the locomotive, the documentary proper begins -- a fever-dream recollection of actual historical facts (including Winnipeg’s founding and geography); Maddin’s own family history (recreated as a series of filmed “experiments” in which Guy hires his ”mother” and actors to portray his family!); and the filmmaker's own visions regarding his native city (his home as he would imagine it to be, rather than as it really is). My Winnipeg mixes live-action, animation and presumably even some actual “documentary” footage in a fairly willy-nilly fashion -- which I suppose befits a film whose narrator is supposedly in a deep slumber.

       Whether you call it “art therapy”, “docu-tasia” or just plain self-indulgence, it’s also all pretty entertaining. Maddin’s take on the documentary form is playfully, even cheerfully irresponsible -- downright anarchic at times; for example: his apocryphal account of a popular soap opera from his youth -- Ledgeman! -- starring his “mother”; who, on a daily basis, attempts to talk a distraught Guy down from a dizzyingly high window ledge. Or a “recreation” of an early twentieth-century seance which turns into an extended ballet sequence -- makes me wonder why more documentaries don’t have dance numbers... For all its reliance upon hyperbole and outright fabrication, the movie is almost embarrassingly forthcoming regards Maddin’s personal and early family life -- the kind of stuff you only reveal to your psychiatrist -- and then maybe only in the fourth or fifth year of therapy (and even then, only if you really trust your therapist...). The appeal of all this personal revelation is that Maddin comes across as a flawed yet sympathetic sort; a fellow whose had his fair share of misfortune and, yes, even tragedy -- but who can’t quite muster the courage to take it all seriously -- even though it’s his own life he’s poking fun at. Oh well, Maddin’s character flaws are your ticket to a fun night at the movies -- would that your last therapy session was half this entertaining...

       My Winnipeg has already made its way through NYC and LA -- and will be released in a few more of the major markets (currently playing St. Louis; Atlanta supposedly soon to follow) before its inevitable DVD release. Check the sidebar for that, later this year.

Next post -- imminent!