Thursday, 10 July 2008

Thiessen Bros. return to (Maddin's) Winnipeg


On Canada Day, Walter and I went to see the critically-acclaimed My Winnipeg on London's south bank. It was a special screening, with the director (Guy Maddin) there to do the narration of the film in person. Having grown up in Winnipeg, we had a particular appreciation for the film and could more readily separate fact from fantasy in Maddin’s documentary/mockumentary (docu-fantasia, to use Maddin’s term).

We both enjoyed the experience, and the film, though neither of us was sure it deserved the level of critical acclaim it has been getting. I don’t want to be too hard on one of Winnipeg’s few famous film people, but I found the film a little uneven. There were parts which were plain hilarious (and hilariously Canadian/Manitoban) and parts which were particularly funny or moving for me as a Winnipegger. But there were a number of scenes which didn’t work for me and I could not quite understand how his obsession with hockey helped the film.

Many critics liked the innovative style, the mix of bizarre fantasy and insightful (though personal) documentary, and the way My Winnipeg conveyed Maddin’s family life and his struggle to leave his home town. All of these were fascinating to watch, and I appreciated the old-fashioned European feel of the film and the marvellously evocative black and white cinematography, but I am not one who applauds innovation for its own sake. Still, whether or not it was because I grew up in Winnipeg, I did enjoy the film very much and it was a precious experience to see Guy Maddin standing in front of us for the whole film (and to watch a film with Walter). If you are in the mood for something completely different, this is for you.

***+ My mug is definitely up. For Walter’s response, see the comments (?).

1 comment:

  1. One of the key aspects of watching movies in theatres vs. dvd's is that they are much more likely to be an 'experience.' My most memorable example of this was watching Fisher King in an empty former-glory-now-run-down-and-thoroughly-seedy theatre in downtown Hollywood. The fit between the movie and the setting was amazing and somehow amplified by Little Richard pulling up in a limo and handing out tracts as we left the theatre.

    In this case the experience was compounded by flying into London and arriving quite literally in the middle of the night (3am of the day that would end at My Winnipeg), the next day celebrating Canada Day (complete with Tim Horton's) in Trafalgar Square and then watching the 'docu-fantasia' with live narration while sitting beside Vic who, as a six year old playing in a Winnipeg backyard with a cowboy hat, was apparently the splitting image of Guy Maddin.

    As the opening images of the film brought back memories of suffering through Maddin's The Saddest Music in the World, I thought it was going to be an uphill journey to appreciate this film. Saddest Music seemed chaotic and pointless - surreal for the sake of being surreal.

    But where the surrealism of Saddest Music didn't cohere for me, in My Winnipeg it all kind of made sense as a subconscious journey attempting to escape a Winnipeg upbringing. The motif of sleepwalking and the association between The Forks and Freudian pulls toward sexual/Oedipal regressions were both hammered repetitively, yet that seemed to work with the flavour of the film.

    The humour was often brilliant; the Winnipeggers' response to the frozen horse heads was a highlight. His mixture of exaggeration and outright creation of urban myths also seemed to be used to good effect - the only one I felt missed the mark was the connection between the General Strike and St. Mary's School for Girls.

    My main disappointment really doesn't seem to be Maddin's fault - it was simply that his Winnipeg had too few points of connection with mine. Ellis Ave and suburban North Kildonan are quite a ways apart.

    I'll agree with the stars and the raised mug, but for those inspired by reading this - just don't underestimate Vic's phrase "If you are in the mood for something completely different."

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