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Maddin. Guy Maddin. I never thought I belonged in your cinematic universe. Your black-and-white universe. Your 8mm universe. Your rear projection universe. Your silent film-gone-gonzo universe. Guy Maddin. I never thought I belonged in your world. Maddin. Guy Maddin. Admittedly, for a film nerd of my pathetically devoted status, my experiences with your films have been infrequent, but they have always left me feeling empty and bewildered. Impressed by the spectacle, but numbed by it as well. Pushed away by it. Each film floating away before I could become smitten or fall in love. Maddin. Guy Maddin. Creativity sprouting from your spirited brain, but somehow never settling into my head, stomach, or heart. Maddin. Guy Maddin.
Was this my fault? Surely it wasn’t yours. Your legion of followers could not be wrong. So what kept me on the outside looking in? Was it all too campy? Too whimsical? All pomp and no circumstance? Movie watching is subjective. It’s okay if I don’t connect with your dazzling vision. But I wanted to. Maddin. Guy Maddin. Yet with your newest film, my world has changed. By bringing your own subjectivity and unhidden sentiment to a proposed ‘documentary’ about your hometown, you have given me the foundation I desperately needed in order to finally feel one of your films. Maddin. Guy Maddin!
Though My Winnipeg was commissioned for The Documentary Channel as a film about Winnipeg, the impossible-to-categorize finished product feels more like a deathbed fever dream. Excluding other Maddin films, My Winnipeg has more in common with Jon Amiel’s The Singing Detective than a history-of-a-place documentary, and that, of course, is what makes it so special. Maddin is tapping directly into his past to create a work that has noticeably deeper significance. While his art has always been devoted to Winnipeg and his own obsessions, something more personal is happening here. Fortunately, he understands that this situation demands a turning up of the humor levels, not a turning down. For him to have gone 100% dramatic would have been the worst decision of all. Then again, by now it’s quite obvious that Guy Maddin can’t go 100% dramatic.
Stylistically, things aren’t noticeably different than in Maddin’s past work, but this time around, the voice-over is as overpowering a presence as the visual spectacle. I wonder if Madden wrote and recorded his furious, rhythmic voice-over first and cut his images to that, or if the two coincided, for the soundtrack feels like a world unto itself. It would be an interesting experience to listen to My Winnipeg as a book-on-tape. My hunch is that it would feel just as complete and rewarding.
One of the riskier aspects of Maddin’s confrontation with nostalgia was his decision to cast actors to play his family when they were younger, having them act out scenes from his childhood. But what might sound dangerous in theory is ingenious and hilarious in execution. It must have been tempting for Maddin to overuse this conceit, yet he keeps these reenactments limited, which only leaves us wanting more. They are some of the film’s outright funniest moments, especially when his ‘mother’ interrogates his ’sister’ about fornicating with her boyfriend after she returned home having hit a deer with her car.
Light research leads one to believe that Maddin is making up at least half of his ‘facts’ about Winnipeg, but that doesn’t feel lazy or unethical or wrong (aka, it’s the point). This is simply (or should I say complicatedly) a nostalgic ode breathed into life by a lifelong Winnipegian, born in his brain, and watching it on screen, it feels as if we have been transported inside that brain. From this perspective, anything he says is credible. Whether it’s true or false doesn’t matter. All that matters is that it matters to him. Maddin supports this point visually by unveiling a relentless mélange of footage that blends reenactments, false stock footage, and actual stock footage, to the point where, like a dream, it feels both fake and real at the same time. For someone who previously never fell under Maddin’s spell, My Winnipeg is a work of converting hypnosis.
— Michael Tully