October 22, 2018

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A San Francisco treat

The Green Fog pays homage to the City by the Bay via Hitchcock's Vertigo

The Green Fog is certainly an original film. But it is best approached with a thorough familiarity with Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1958 thriller Vertigo.

In fact, it’s an absolute prerequisite.

Commissioned by San Francisco International Film Festival director Noah Cowan, it is a “celebration of San Francisco in cinema” that, in its own strange way, functions as a kind of remake of Vertigo, told obliquely with footage from an array of San Francisco-set movies and TV shows, including Bullitt, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, McMillan and Wife, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and The Streets of San Francisco.

“We were told to feature footage from any film or TV show ever shot in the Bay Area,” says director Guy Maddin (My Winnipeg, The Saddest Music in the World), who took the assignment in collaboration with fraternal partners Evan and Galen Johnson.

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The Green Fog is certainly an original film. But it is best approached with a thorough familiarity with Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1958 thriller Vertigo.

In fact, it’s an absolute prerequisite.

Commissioned by San Francisco International Film Festival director Noah Cowan, it is a "celebration of San Francisco in cinema" that, in its own strange way, functions as a kind of remake of Vertigo, told obliquely with footage from an array of San Francisco-set movies and TV shows, including Bullitt, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, McMillan and Wife, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and The Streets of San Francisco.

"We were told to feature footage from any film or TV show ever shot in the Bay Area," says director Guy Maddin (My Winnipeg, The Saddest Music in the World), who took the assignment in collaboration with fraternal partners Evan and Galen Johnson.

"Noah supplied a fair-usage lawyer as a fourth collaborator," Maddin says. "Over my Christmas break from teaching at Harvard, Galen, Evan and I got together here in Winnipeg and watched a few hundred movies spanning a century of film production... and we almost always watched in fast-forward in order to see as much as we could.

"I can’t remember whose idea it was to use Vertigo as the organizing principle for this film," Maddin says. "We entered the project figuring we’d make a ‘city symphony’ assembly, that we’d show the city waking up, getting into its typical day and finally its hedonistic night before sleeping it all off. But one of us wise-cracked that we ought to remake Vertigo."

Hence, the narrative parallels Hitchcock’s movie but with extreme liberties taken. The beginning of Vertigo features Det. John (Scottie) Ferguson (James Stewart) and a uniformed officer engaged in a rooftop chase that ends disastrously. The uniformed cop falls to his death and Scottie, left dangling from the roof, is forever traumatized with a crippling fear of heights.

The Green Fog merrily stitches together lots of chases and falls. At one point it’s Joan Crawford falling to her death (clipped from the 1952 movie Sudden Fear). And so the movie proceeds, telling the story of Scottie’s unhealthy fixation on Madeleine (Kim Novak), whose husband has hired Scottie to follow her, via footage from other films.

Jumping into the project, Maddin, 62, had the advantage of his own obsession with Hitchcock’s original.

"Vertigo has been enormously influential for me," he says.

"I love the idea its protagonist loves so obsessively he might as well be the film’s villain," he says. "I love the fact the film makes musical, almost symphonic, rather than literal, sense.

"Vertigo’s plot is absurd, absolutely ridiculous, but it feels emotionally true," he says. "I’d kill to make a movie as implausible and as honest as Vertigo. And I love that Hitchcock seems to use the movie to impugn himself along with all other men for their behaviour.

The Green Fog was made in the image of Vertigo by Alfred Hitchcock. (San Francisco International Film Festival)

The Green Fog was made in the image of Vertigo by Alfred Hitchcock. (San Francisco International Film Festival)

"Maybe, in light of Tippi Hedren’s allegations of Hitchcock’s on-set sexual harassment (on the set of The Birds), he could have used even more self knowledge than he possessed while working on Vertigo."

Maddin turned to his Forbidden Room co-director Evan Johnson and Evan’s brother Galen to help put the film together.

"The initial appeal was financial: we were all broke and looking for something to do," Evan says. "Also, let’s face it, it’s kind of a dream job for us, watching a bunch of films and then cutting them up into a new one.

"I’d do that for the rest of my life if I thought it would be fruitful for me or anyone else, which I certainly don’t."

Most of the footage they reviewed came from trashy TV and obscure movies. Not that the trio had a problem with that.

"Many of these films we were unfamiliar with, and many more we knew of but had forgotten about, or didn’t know they were shot or set in San Francisco," Evan says. "(The Gina Lollobrigida melodrama) Go Naked in This World is the kind of thing I probably would have grown old and died without ever having heard of if it weren’t for this project.

The footage for The Green Fog came from trashy TV and obscure movies. (San Francisco International Film Festival) </p>

The footage for The Green Fog came from trashy TV and obscure movies. (San Francisco International Film Festival)

"I was very happy to see (the 1950 Ann Sheridan thriller) Woman on the Run for the first time — a movie I’d never heard of but which has great tension and atmosphere. (Don Siegel’s) The Lineup was also delightful, and chilling!

"Of course, the three of us also enjoyed watching episodes of Hotel — especially the ones with Leslie Nielsen guest-starring," Evan says. "I actually can’t remember the experience of watching many of the specific films. We watched too many, too quickly, and they’re now all just broken up into pieces, a garbage dump of fragments in my brain."

Following the Thursday, June 7, 9:15 p.m. screening of The Green Fog, Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson and Galen Johnson will take part in a Q&A conducted by Greg Klymkiw.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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History

Updated on Wednesday, June 6, 2018 at 10:22 PM CDT: Fixes broken link

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