My Winnipeg (2007)
It’s now a more or less open secret in earnest cultural circles that I’m about to make inroads into film-making, so the moment has come to declare an interest in order to pre-empt any accusations of plagiarism. The film I adore, and would love to have made, is My Winnipeg (2007). The director and writer, Guy Maddin, has achieved the impossible.
Mr Maddin blends autobiography and factual or fictional statements about his home town, turning it into one of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities with a visual vernacular all of his own. It is unfettered delirium, pure surrealism, verbal and ocular poetry of the highest order, every black and white edge-blurred scene fuzzed with snow. And over it all presides his overwhelming, sinister mother, with her fear of birds and grapnel-like clutch on him and his siblings.
The silent movie-style filming, interleaved with shadowplay animation, the refusal to allow any distinction between reality, memory, dream and fantasy, the euphoric humour, the melodramatic voice-over that pulls all the drawstrings to give the whole credibility – this is what film-making was once, and should always be. Where else does one find anything like this, except perhaps in the hands of the Soviet director Dziga Vertov, possibly one of Maddin’s inspirations? I could go on, but everything you might want to know about where this movie came from is online.
They call it a “mockumentary” or a “docu-fantasia”. It is a grid of a secret city, right on top of the named one. It is the portrait of a place that nobody would have thought deserved a portrait. a hymn to the unbridled soarings of the parochial imagination. It is about someone desperate to leave Winnipeg, but psychologically hamstrung and unable to do so. This is the most gorgeously wild hallucination I’ve ever seen. It shows how the language of film can be appropriated to uses that no-one thought possible. Forget Bunuel. Meet Mr Maddin. There are no easy pigeon-holes for this sort of thing. It is art, artifice, parody, beauty, seriousness, frivolity, illusions, delusions and reverie, all rolled into one glorious whole.