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Guy Maddin
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25th JULY, 22:00
Helios 5
27th JULY, 10:00
Helios 5
30th JULY, 16:00
Helios 5
Shown in Guy Maddin – short films with:
A Trip to the Orphanage, Berlin, Collage Party, Footsteps, Glorious, Hospital Fragments, It's a Wonderful Life, It’s My Mother’s Birthday Today, My Dad Is 100 Years Old, Nude Caboose, Odilon Redon or The Eye Like a Strange Baloon Mounts Towards Infinity, Odin's Shield Maiden, Send Me to the ‘Lectric Chair, Sissy-Boy-Slap-Party, Sombra dolorosa, The Heart of the World
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Spanky: To the Pier and Back
dir. Guy Maddin / Canada 2008 / 4’
subtitles: no dialogs
retrospective: Guy Maddin

Kuba Mikurda: In a Haunted Cinema

I do believe in ghosts - Guy Maddin says - they are perfect for stories.So - let us start with ghosts (and we will soon see that with Maddin, you can hardly start with anything else).Right after the premiere of Archangel (1990) the director caught a cold which did not recede in seven days, but affected the brain instead.Although the complications were in the end curable, for some time Maddin felt as if he was constantly touched by someone - his ear was pulled, his knee was tickled, his finger was squeezed, his hair was ruffled.An anecdote?Another tale from the Gimli Hospital?Or another Maddin film, screened on a living, though sneezing body?

Maddin's filmography opens with a ghost - not a random ghost, but his father's ghost.He knocks on a window.From now on, ghosts will make themselves at home in those films and in many aspects of them - literally[1], and in a strictly formal sense as well.The Dead Father (1986) is an introduction, a prologue of Guy Maddin's cinema - austere, almost realistic, seemingly non-Maddin (if one considers elements which combined into his later, inimitable style).The scene resembles somehow the moment when Hamlet is visited by his father's ghost and says:The time is out of joint.The ghost is 'out of joint' and it gets the entire world 'out of joint'[2] - including the history of cinema, according to Maddin.

What joint is this?This is the usual path our thoughts take, describing the world in pairs of opposites - impossible to reconcile, excluding each other.A ghost is and is not at the same time, thus setting the most powerful pair out of joint and all the other ones with it.In Maddin's haunted cinema, opposites do not exclude each other: developing and enhancing one element, his films imperceptibly end up on the other side, without crossing any precipices, cleavages etc.

One example is falsity, stylisation and conventions: they do not exclude authentic experience at all, for Maddin, they are even the only way to get closer to one's own traumas, inaccessible, impossible to present themselves, directly[3] (which is especially visible in Cowards Bend the Knee or The Blue Hands, Brand Upon the Brain! and My Winnipeg, where Maddin shows auto-biographical issues indirectly through the conventions of film noir, Greek tragedy, elements of grand guignol, and crime stories for youth etc.).If you set a few mirrors so that they reflect each other, you can finally see the ulcer on your ass- Maddin says.- Of course, a mirror, like any other device, a filter, deforms images a little.But this is the only image that we have.


[1]Ghosts (or living dead) will later appear in many of Maddin's films, including Careful, Twilight of the Ice Nymphs, Dracula, Fancy, Fancy Being Rich, Cowards Bend the Knee or The Blue Hands, Brand Upon the Brain!, My Winnipeg (Winnipeg as the parapsychology capital of the world), Odin's Shield Maiden or one of his latest projects with the working title: Ghost of a leg.

[2]'Out of joint' may refer also to a derailed person, introducing the additional 'railway' context, which appears in Maddin's work quite literally: in Odilon Redon, his original, surreal remake of The Wheel (La roue) (1923) by Abel Gance. What's interesting, in My Winnipeg (2007), Maddin tries to escape the town by train - as if in an ill-fated attempt to break away from this 'wheel' of suffering, set fate, or, as Hamlet said, 'to set the time right'.

[3]This is characteristic that Maddin never made the film based on the screenplay Uncharacteristic Child (1992), presenting his own childhood in a realist manner.However, some of its elements, carefully transformed, were used then in Brand Upon the Brain!

1.

For instance, let us take a look at melodrama, Maddin's favourite genre (or actually the only genre he approves of[4]).Maddin believes that the artificiality of melodrama (exaggerated acting, impudent music, extreme plot situations) allows for the 'liberation' of emotions, for the extraction of what is hidden in reality as we experience it every day - constricted by conventions, smooth-spoken etc.(in this sense melodrama is strictly surrealist).In other words, the further one goes into melodrama, the closer one gets to authentic emotions, and the more intense emotions are, the closer we are to melodrama (doesn't the experience of quarrelling confirm this - at the highest, the most 'authentic' moment, doesn't a quarrel become strangely melodramatic, artificial or even film-like?).

The allegedly false, unreal melodramatic situations thicken and enhance certain emotional truths, like myths, whether based on facts, chronicles, reports of witnesses etc., they serve to concentrate and allow us to capture the emotional truth of a place.The Canadians, in Maddin's opinion, are terrible at creating myths (in contrast to their neighbours from the USA, where myths are produced like in a factory).In My Winnipeg (2007), intertwining facts, biographic anecdotes, invented stories and motifs from books, Maddin attempted to create a myth of his home-town.To avoid being charged with 'missing the truth', he called his film a docu-fantasy, opening municipal chronicles and his own memories to thickening and shifting (two mechanisms of dream described by Freud).

There are many other examples of things 'out of joint'.From other 'out of joint' figures, such as prosthesis (at a time artificial, 'affixed' and incorporated in the body), wounds, openings of the body (blurring the border between what's inside and what's outside) or transsexualism (stressing the 'trans' part of it - not actually moving from the false to the true sexual identity, but a free motion in both directions - like in Brand Upon the Brain! or Hospital Fragment) to the Maddin paradox itself:how can using archival, 'old-fashioned' film tools result in one of the most expressive and avant-garde styles of contemporary cinema?

In texts about Maddin it is often declared that the director makes 'silent films'.Actually, Maddin's first 'silent' film (i.e. with no dialogue and sound effects, screened with music only), Hospital Fragment, was made in 1999 (15 years after Maddin started working on The Dead Father), and the first feature-length silent film - in 2003 (Cowards Bend the Knee or The Blue Hands)[5].The correct historical counterpart of Maddin's films is the part-talkie, a disappearing intermediate level between silent cinema and sound films.Part-talkies were made between 1927 and 1930, in the first years of sound cinema (The Jazz Singer of 1927, considered 'the first sound film ever' is actually a part-talkie).They differ from talkies by the selective use of sound (and a very conscious selection):above all, in music sequences, but also in spoken elements (intertwined with subtitles) or to stress important moments in the plot (a gunshot, a hoot etc.).

If Maddin repeats everything, if he remains, so to say, faithful to an event in the history of cinema, this event is exactly the opening between 1927 and 1930 when an aesthetic concept, system of meanings, manner of organising the plot and creating characters - were becoming the past, replaced by a new concept of sound cinema, not yet clearly defined.These few years cannot be described with the well-known division of 'commercial' and 'experimental' cinema - somehow everyone who made films in those times was an inventor, an experimenter, taking their own risks, not covered by codes and regulations of a film story.
 


 [4]Everything tastes more or less like chicken, I think every movie is more or less melodrama - these are words Maddin often repeats in interviews.

[5]We do not get involved here in reflections on the impossibility to 'repeat' any aesthetics, which is different only by the fact that it is repeated.But another important detail should be noted - Maddin's films do not look like silent films in the 1920s, but like silent films used for dozens of years.Scratches, effacements, stains are a sort of materialisation of the time distance, another filter, another layer between the source and the viewer.

2.

For Maddin part-talkies is a name for this event.All films by Maddin begin in this moment, somewhere around the 'sacred year of 1929', the most important year in the history of cinema (though some may say it was the worst one):the part-talkies' year[6].If you think about cinema as a train which left the station in La Ciotat in 1895 - a series of wagons of subsequent styles, conventions, techniques - Maddin, returning to 1929, derails this train time and again, selecting various elements of the crash site.

Maddin has also been labelled 'the Canadian David Lynch'.Before we dismiss this comparison as an easy stereotype (experimental, somewhat perverse and cinema, impossible to understand + Isabella Rossellini = David Lynch), let's pay attention to what the two filmmakers really have in common.People call me a director, but I really think of myself as a sound man - Lynch once said.With Maddin's manner of using sound and how important it is for him, he could very well sign up to Lynch's self-description.Lynch and Maddin are two great soundmen of contemporary cinema.Just like Lynch, Maddin specialises in formal experiments with sound, but he also makes voice, music, and sound a subject, an important part of his films' plots - like in Careful -­ where any sound may cause an avalanche[7], in Brand Upon the Brain!, with sophisticated voice devices (aerophone) or finally - in The Saddest Music in the World.

In My Winnipeg sound appears where other means of expression fail.At the beginning of the film, Maddin sets the date precisely - 1963 and adds:this is the period I guess, which hides the key to all memories and emotions I struggle with to today.But the scenes Maddin stages do not include the most traumatic one - in 1963 Maddin's 16-year-old brother Cameron committed suicide by shooting himself in the head at the grave of his beloved killed in a crash (Maddin wrote about it in his diaries and in the screenplay for Uncharacteristic Child).If we oust a trauma, the fact is usually obvious, as a huge hole is left in the story.You can usually say what the trauma is by analysing the hole's contour.It can be filled with plaster, like imprints in Pompeii, to see a cast of this negative space - Maddin says.

In My Winnipeg, the hole is filled with sound - Cameron built amateurish loudspeakers, radios, transmitters, and he recorded sound collages. Maddin included his brother's recordings in the soundtrack, in the scene in which he speaks about driving backstreets - It is here, in the dark arteries, where you can find the real Winnipeg,where memories return in the most convincing way.(...) Where we throw away all this we don't want to admit and everything (...) is immediately covered with snowy forgetfulness.These streets are dominated with bizarre frequencies.It seems that the operator [the narrator is driving a cab] is speaking directly to you…[8]

There is no ear-lid - Jean-Luc Nancy wrote.Perception of sound is closer to touch than sight.Sound is a wave of pulsating air - in the case of voice this wave is set in motion by a particular, living body.In Maddin's haunted cinema, sounds pull your ears, ruffle your hair, take your breath.

An excerpt from the introduction to the book by Kuba Mikurda and Michał Oleszczyk Kino wykolejone.Rozmowy z Guyem Maddinem



[6]Allow us for a short reminder of what happened in 1929, Dali and Buñuel showed An Andalusian Dog (Un chien andalou) and they were already working on Age of Gold (L'âge d'or), Dziga Vertov presented his Living Russia, or The Man with a Camera (Chelovek s kino-apparatom), Man Ray - his Mysteries of the Chateau de De (Les mysteres du château de Dé), G.W. Pabst - Pandora's Box (Die Büchse der Pandora) and Alfred Hitchcock Sound Test for Blackmail in two versions, silent and sound.This was also the year of the first two-strip Technicolor film On with the Show!by Alan Crosland, one of the main visual inspirations of Careful.What's interesting, in the same year, the first Oscar ceremony was held, one of the most important initiatives of the newly-established (in 1927) Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, whose role in consolidating the revolutionary impulses cannot be overestimated.

[7]Isn't the fear in Careful a sort of a self-reference - the silent cinema's fear of the disaster coming with sound?

[8]One of Cameron's devices is also shown at the beginning of Maddin's first feature-length film - Tales from the Gimli Hospital.The story itself begins with a close-up of a loudspeaker playing a disquieting, recurring music theme.

 

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