December 10, 2019

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Opinion

Guy's ghosts

Director's short snippets pay homage to the lost silent films that haunt him

Guysurround: Kim Morgan cuddles a stuffed wolf.

Guysurround: Kim Morgan cuddles a stuffed wolf.

If Guy Maddin's film style is doggedly antique, the notion of a Guy Maddin art installation is as close as the Winnipeg filmmaker may ever get to 3-D.

In Hauntings I, 11 pieces of his work are projected on different walls throughout the Platform Gallery's cosy Artspace facility, screened through cheesecloth, or screened on a black wall. Maddin's delicious foggy esthetic is everywhere you turn.

Udo Kier is a lusty ship's captain.

Udo Kier is a lusty ship's captain.

On one wall, German cult star Udo Kier (who looks born to appear in Maddin films) is a lusty ship's captain literally counting out his sexual exploits on an abacus to an actor in a dimestore ape costume. On another, Kier is a pilot racing against his nemesis in a sabotaged airplane. Over here, the world's most glam film critic Kim Morgan (a.k.a. Mrs. Guy Maddin) is cuddling with a stuffed white wolf, contemplating the weird cemetery paradox of Bela Lugosi being buried next to Bing Crosby.

In tribute to the '70s cinema gimmick Sensurround, let's call it Guysurround.

The installation was originally created for the opening of the Toronto International Film Festival's Bell Lightbox facility last September, and was revived in Winnipeg to herald the WNDX Festival of New Prairie & Canadian Cinema, which begins in earnest Sept. 29.

Maddin, who is currently in New York, describes the 11 films as "little impressionistic fragments of films lost to history.

"Over 80 per cent of all films made in the silent era are lost, destroyed by time, kaput," Maddin says. "They are narratives with no known final resting place, stories consigned to wander miserably the limbo landscape of film's unknowable history.

"They haunt me, because I can never see them, unless, well, unless I make them myself and then watch them.

"Some of the lost films were huge commercial hits, zeitgeist-defining works made by canonical directors, nominated for Academy Awards.

"It drives me mad these things can never be seen. Every great director from the era lost at least one film. F.W. Murnau lost 10. Imagine a world where at least one novel was randomly removed from us forever from the works of Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Dreiser, and on and on.

"For us to be deprived of so much greatness drives me crazy. I needed to make contact, if only a charlatan's contact, with these films somehow."

 

RK: The films were shot concurrently with Keyhole, which premières at this year's TIFF. Isn't making a feature film demanding enough, you had to pile on a series of short silent pieces as well? 

GM: Yes, it was mad, too mad to resist doing. But I deputized a half-dozen filmmakers I like to direct some of these for me. My frequent onscreen alter-ego Darcy Fehr (My Winnipeg) made one, Mike Maryniuk, who has a film at TIFF, shot one as well, with the help of Matthew Rankin. Jody Shapiro (Maddin's frequent producer) shot a couple. Caelum Vatnsdal was always armed with a camera.

Between setups on Keyhole, I'd run round the warehouse's slag heaps to see how the Hauntings were going. I've never felt more frantic, more productive. It seemed like everybody in the local filmmaking community was helping. With up to six crews working all at once, the shoot looked more like a film-camp reality show. It was really enchanting.

RK: So if you weren't exactly the director of Hauntings, were you more of a studio chief, overseeing the projects, leaving your stamp on all of them, kind of like a David O. Selznick?

GM: I shot a few of them, but I found while making the pictures with so many other collaborators that the project took on a Ouija board feeling. It really felt like some other force made these things, and that was so cool. You'll see, they don't look like films directed by six different people.

RK: Significantly, you cast a film critic in both Hauntings and Keyhole. That would be Kim Morgan. How's married life? 

GM: Couldn't be better! When I got married, my actor friend Mark McKinney said, "You know I could tell you a million jokes about the movie director who married the film critic, but I won't."

RK: What are you doing in New York? 

GM: I'm at an artist's residency with a bunch of Icelandic musicians developing Winnipegger Matthew Patton's new score for my first feature, Tales from the Gimli Hospital (1988). We're putting on a live-music and effects version of the movie at NY's Lincoln Center in November.

RK: Do you have anything special in mind for the première of Keyhole at TIFF (on Friday)?

GM: We have some première hijinks planned, some of it involving Jason Patric, Udo Kier and Louis Negin, the three holy terrors who kept me awake nights during the shoot. They were like Errol Flynn, John Barrymore and Peter Lorre out on the town every night. My liver!

On top of it all, Louis is a nudist! Ideally, he jiggles out at the end of a wildly unrolling red carpet.

 

Guy Maddin will give an artist's talk on Saturday, Oct. 1, at 3 p.m. at the Platform Gallery. The exhibit's closing night party will be held that same day at 11 p.m.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Exhibit preview

Guy Maddin: Hauntings I

  • Platform Gallery, 100 Arthur St.
  • Tuesdays to Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m.
  • To Sunday, Oct. 2
  • Admission is free

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

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

Read full biography

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