The Always Disappointing Guy Maddin

First times with director Guy Maddin are good for not getting what you think you want. For example, when he spoke at Waterloo’s Perimeter Institute at an event held by the Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery in September, he told a story about his first foray into digital filmmaking, Nude Caboose. Shot on a cellphone for cellphones, he asked the National Film Board, which commissioned the work, who the demographic was. “13 year old boys”, they replied. “Well I tried to do that, but it ended up being a film for 9 year olds”. Despite his transgressions from orthodoxical expectations, first times with Guy Maddin give you something else, usually more wonderful than you could have hoped for in the first place. The man makes darkly beautiful and absurdly melodramatic films that are throwbacks to cinema’s past. Most impressively, these movies are events, entertaining mind-busting events. His latest, Branded on the Brain, which was released to audiences at the Toronto International Film Festival, was a 90 minute silent film with a live narrator, libretto, and performance by the TSO.

But back to my primary point: first times with Guy Maddin are good for not getting what you think you want. That summed up my initial thoughts towards him when he spoke for about 45 minutes about his childhood, bizarre reality, and melodrama and my eccrine glands were pouring out buckets because I was thinking “how the hell can I make this fit into the Politics and Religion issue?” So later I had to capture his mind with a question of orthodoxy for my Blueprint masters: “Who’d you vote for in the last election?” “Oh!, I haven’t told anyone about this yet…NDP”. But that was all I got out of him on that. He was more interested in discussing his orientation towards allegory and myth in his films so he can make something true for the human experience of emotions, something “true and pretty”. But why? “I think to prove or disprove our worst fears that what we do is merely ridiculous and funny […] To show that the more things change the more they stay the same”. And then he told a story of a plane that came apart mid air in 1970s San Diego that spilled out flaming human beings into gravity, and a man driving along with his wife in the passenger seat had her replaced by a woman who fell from the sky and who was on fire. “And people complain to me that I put such bizarre, unreal things in my films”. The man’s just trying to speak the truth.