Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg is an odd and brilliant creation which though utterly unique could be described as a meeting of Douglas Coupland, David Lynch, and Lars Von Trier.
I think I was even more impressed with the film since just yesterday I watched a film with a similar goal, that of melding the history of a city with an autobiographical investigation, Terence Davies’ Of Time and the City.
I happened on the film since I will be in Liverpool this coming April and thought it would give me some sense of the place. It did anything but. This is a horrible mess of an undertaking, and even more obviously so when one sees when it has been done right, as with Maddin. Though the film is described as beautiful and lyrical, it is so in single words rather than phrases which makes you think these could just have been as easily taken from uncomplimentary reviews.
Davies comes across as a man who was old before he was young. He paints a picture of a bleak depressed town and when this seeming armpit of England engenders a spark that goes on to light up the world, the early Beatles, rather than embracing this potential escape, he sees it, even as a teenager, a good reason to dig himself deeper into classical music. He professes atheism and yet the dreary and fairly shallow imagery is presented with liturgical song; his supposed life expressed almost entirely in the words of others, and in a breathy preponderous stagy and self-important fashion. And for those who enjoy DVD extras, this offering not only shows you not how to make a film but also how not to add to the nonsense with utter enervation.
And then you see My Winnipeg. I offer the trailer which is a very small indication of the wealth of this film.
Essentially it is Maddin’s exploration of his childhood interwoven with the history of this city. And the history is magical. Stories of buildings with three public swimming pools, one on each floor; of seances held with leading society figures and madames; of old hockey players playing games even as their rink is undergoing demolition; of bridges built for Egypt and ending up in frozen Manitoba, and the endless winter and snow.
The old footage is both informative and entertaining and Maddin’s own is brilliant as well. He’s managed to create a masterpiece in what could have been a mess. This is surely one of the greatest Canadian films and a great film by any measure.
Excerpt from a review by Ty Burr at Boston.com
Maddin spins his self-styled “docu-fantasia” in a dizzying variety of styles: silent movie, 1940s melodrama, perky 1950s documentary, even Bunraku puppet theater. At times he simply shuts “My Winnipeg” down to hold on a single eerie image, like the trapped horses frozen in the ice of a 1926 river crossing. “My Winnipeg” represents fantasy run riot if only to keep a greater melancholy at bay. “Even the architecture is sad,” says Fehr/Maddin on the soundtrack.
The underlying message, as with any artist obsessed with the past, is that modernity is a broken thing. “My Winnipeg” brings up the city’s new look only to scorn it, and Maddin curses the urban renewal that has destroyed his childhood’s sense of place. More than that, the new buildings leave nowhere for the angels and boogeymen of our imaginations to hide. “What’s a city without its ghosts?” the filmmaker wonders, leaving the answer to us.