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Into the Past

Into the Past: The Cinema of Guy Maddin

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 504
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  • Book Info
    Into the Past
    Book Description:

    Into the Pastprovides a complete and systematic critical commentary on each of Maddin's feature films and shorts, from his 1986 debut filmThe Dead Fatherthrough to his highly successful 2008 full-length 'docu-fantasia'My Winnipeg.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8693-9
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. A Note on DVD Sources
    (pp. xiii-2)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-15)

    Guy Maddin is one of the most interesting film directors in the world. His work is strictly unique – a description that cannot be applied to many film directors of whatever stature. Perhaps another filmmaker might be able imitate Maddin’s work, but his work, no matter how many influences and homages it may contain, resembles no one’s at all. The circumstances of his entry into the craft were unpropitious, and his first films (and not just his first ones) so strange and even ridiculous that people didn’t know what to make of them. There are still a lot of his viewers...

  7. 1 The Dead Father (1986)
    (pp. 16-25)

    Maddin’s first film is twenty-five minutes long and is a quite wonderful debut. In a manner predictive of many things to come, it uses the simplest of elements to conjure up a filmic environment that is at once alertly inventive, surreally shocking, and endearingly homemade, self-mocking, and eerily poetic. It announces itself immediately as nested in the cinematic past: the opening credit sequence features a meticulous copy of silent and early-sound movie title cards (one for each actor, all introduced in costume and named as themselves and as the characters they play); meanwhile on the soundtrack we hear the crunchy,...

  8. 2 Tales from the Gimli Hospital (1988)
    (pp. 26-49)

    Tales from the Gimli Hospitalwas the film that first brought Guy Maddin’s name to the outside world.The Dead Fathershowed singular and striking qualities, but its length made it undistributable, so hardly anyone saw it. By contrast the 72-minuteTales from the Gimli Hospitalmanaged to get shown – indeed to play at weekend midnight screenings for more than a year at the Quad Cinema in New York’s Greenwich Village² – and inaugurated the stream of reviews and interviews that would install and keep Maddin’s work in the consciousness of devotees of alternative cinema. The film is slowly paced and...

  9. 3 Archangel (1990)
    (pp. 50-87)

    Gimli Hospitalis a movie full of delightful surprises and much promise, but it is not an entirely realized film: for all its originality and daring, its apprentice qualities are still visible, its step sometimes not quite certain. Maddin’s next feature,Archangel,is by comparison solid and finished. Indeed, despite a few miscalculations and the odd unsuccessful experiment, it remains to this day one of the director’s most fully achieved works, a film to set, in its early-Maddin idiom, next toCowards Bend the KneeandBrand upon the Brain!in his later one. Everything inArchangelis on a...

  10. 4 Careful (1992)
    (pp. 88-126)

    The idea for Maddin’s next film, he says, came to him during a trip through the Rockies after the completion ofArchangel:

    I couldn’t even recall seeing mountains before, so I was basically seeing them for the first time. Then something that [University of Manitoba film professor] Howard Curle had mentioned to me came back. He’d said that there was this mountain picture genre in Germany that was as popular there as Westerns were in North America. I thought, that’s it!²

    Maddin cooked up a script with George Toles, made a pre-sale to distributor Cinephile, got contributions from Manitoba Film...

  11. 5 Twilight of the Ice Nymphs (1997)
    (pp. 127-162)

    Twilight of the Ice Nymphsbrings many things that are quite new to Maddin’s cinema. The script was George Toles’ take on Knut Hamsun’sPanas filtered through the sensibility of Melville’sPierre, and Maddin transferred the Arctic Scandinavian setting into a Symbolist world of perpetual light. On the production side the presence of a major distributor (Alliance) made for great differences of organization and approach, not to mention a budget of approximately $1.5 million. An Alliance-designated producer (Ritchard Findlay) brought a regime very different from that of Maddin’s previous producer, Greg Klimkiw, who was a fellow-Winnipegger and personal friend....

  12. 6 Dracula – Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (2002)
    (pp. 163-191)

    Maddin’s prize-winning 2000 shortThe Heart of the World² may have been as exhilarating for him as it was for his viewers. Both the experience of setting off in new creative directions and the universal enthusiasm that greeted thisjeuprobably helped to elevate the director from the trough he seemed to be in following the less than perfectly happy experience of makingTwilight of the Ice Nymphs. But where his next feature film would come from was hazy for quite a while. Then there arrived an invitation from Winnipeg producer Vonnie Von Helmolt to direct a television version of...

  13. 7 Cowards Bend the Knee: or, The Blue Hands (2003)
    (pp. 192-231)

    In his review of the DVD issue ofCowards Bend the Knee, the excellent J. Hoberman (one of Maddin’s smartest and most stalwart supporters) called it ‘Maddin’s masterpiece.’³ I am inclined to agree. None of Maddin’s feature films is without flaws, butCowardscomes the closest yet to perfection. It has such compactness, verve, and potency, such an effortless and assured wielding of his self-developed silent cinema and avant-garde practices, such an unerring integration of outrageousness and feeling, that it seems like a summation of everything he had achieved so far in exploring an utterly personal sensibility and finding a...

  14. 8 The Saddest Music in the World (2004)
    (pp. 232-269)

    The originality, thedifference, ofCowards Bend the Kneeis only emphasized when we turn toThe Saddest Music in the World, the big film that Maddin had in development, and in production, simultaneously with the realization of the much smallerCowards. In contrast to the latter’s $30,000 budget and five-day shooting schedule,Saddesthad a $3.8 million budget and a twenty-two-day shooting schedule, an international roster of performers and a cast of thousands (well, hundreds), a script that was originally written by a Booker Prize winner, and production/distribution by Rhombus Media, a substantial player in the world of art...

  15. 9 Brand upon the Brain! (2006)
    (pp. 270-312)

    Brand upon the Brain!came into being through an invitation from The Film Company, a Seattle non-profit cultural entity whose aim was to commission filmmakers to make a film of their choice with all production costs paid, the only stipulation being that it should be shot in Seattle with the artists provided by The Film Company.³ Of course the budget would be small (Maddin estimates that the movie cost somewhere in the neighbourhood of $40,000).⁴ The time between Maddin’s acceptance of the proposal and the completion of shooting was an incredible two months, with a mere two weeks for script...

  16. 10 My Winnipeg (2007)
    (pp. 313-357)

    A feature-length documentary film certainly represented something of a departure for Maddin, even given the fact that he had not long before directed the quarter-hour documentaryMy Dad Is 100 Years Oldfor Isabella Rossellini. Michael Burns, president of the Documentary Channel in Canada, commissioned Maddin to make a movie about his home town, enjoining him to ‘make it your Winnipeg, enchant me.’² Maddin says that his first concept was like a combination of ‘[W.G.] Sebald’sRings of SaturnandI Vitelloniset in the Winnipeg of Italy.’³ The film was scripted in a fairly detailed fashion, and George Toles...

  17. Envoi
    (pp. 358-360)

    Very briefly to conclude, we might observe once more that Guy Maddin’s latest projects – the films fromCowards Bend the KneetoMy Winnipeg– have brought him to an aesthetic landscape where all the forces of his art have managed to join hands in the most productive way. Looking back over the expanse of his creative career to date, we may have the sense that this arrival at a country where experience and memory may at last be fruitfully accessed in a more straightforward way represents some kind of breakthrough, if not indeed a terminus. In every film of ‘the...

  18. Appendix: The Short Films
    (pp. 361-402)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 403-446)
  20. Bibliography
    (pp. 447-458)
  21. Index
    (pp. 459-471)