skip to Main Content
Hungry Ghosts Of Film History: Resuscitated By Guy Maddin

Hungry Ghosts of Film History: Resuscitated by Guy Maddin

 Maddining Maddin

Guy Maddin, renowned Canadian artist from Winnipeg, Manitoba has painted us a brand new filmic nightmare.

The Nelson Civic Theatre brings you a one-time screening of The Forbidden Room. If you’re up for a surreal non-linear sort of evening, this is the closet you’ll get without the use of recreational drugs. You don’t see a film by Guy Maddin, you experience it. Let’s just say I am cautiously poised for Thursday evening.

The official website for the film provides the following ambiguous synopsis: “A submarine crew, a feared pack of forest bandits, a famous surgeon, and a battalion of child soldiers all get more than they bargained for as they wend their way toward progressive ideas on life and love.”

Image by Guy Maddin/Wikimedia Commons

My best guess is we will be viewing an absurd multi-layered juxtaposition of unlikely characters and timeframes that will make little logical sense but will speak to us in a way that a John Hughes flick never could. Maddin’s film language is brash and unusual. It incorporates a plethora of elements and snippets from old timey films and is always adorned with dialogued intertitles that never seem to match the lip movements of the characters. In fact, sometimes the intertitles just silently shout statements that seem (and probably are) completely random.

Forbidden Filmmaking

Shots and sequences in Maddin’s films are intentionally jarring and disjointed. Jump-cuts abound while he spits in the face of convention and breaks all the rules with poetic effect, forcing John and Jane Doe film watcher to take mighty leaps of the imagination, and connect uncomfortably close with Maddin’s ideas of memory and mother. There’s a definite adjustment period to the rambunctious rhythm, but once you’ve come to grips with it, it’s quite exhilarating.

The passage of time and the inextricable connection to place and memory are Maddin’s favourite themes. An obsession no doubt fueled by Winnipeg’s reputation for having an unusually active spiritual element. But also from a deep understanding of how memories make us what we are. They are all we have, and they create and affect us more than anything else. I remember therefore I was. The mother figure reappears often as a metaphor for the past and its looming quality.

Maddin seems to enjoy creatively experimenting with the imperfections of recalling past occurrences, and the inherent gaps and flaws in memory. The repetitive nature of the images in his films seems to mimic the way in which we recall past occurrences. Rolling them over repeatedly, trying to make sense of them, all the while losing or embellishing bits and pieces of them.

Guy Maddin’s WinnipegMy Winnipeg

My Winnipeg is an overtly surreal history lesson of the city of Winnipeg through the eyes and understanding of Maddin. This fantastical study of Maddin’s past and the ways in which it is inextricably tied up with the ghosts of Winnipeg make for a more than interesting auto-biog. I was envious of the completeness of the examination he was able to achieve through actually getting his mother (whom he describes as a strong and foreboding force in his life) to play herself in re-enactments of his childhood. He even rented his old apartment and hired an actor to play his deceased brother.

He tries to escape his city and his past by realizing them more fully. It’s not apparent whether this works for him or not, but My Winnipeg is its interesting result, reconciliation notwithstanding.

Image by [paul stumpr/Flickr]


A Word from Our Director

I so enjoy watching as Guy paints his way through the past in his wonderfully fanatic way. I hope it helps him sleep at night, and keeps others awake contemplating its awesome weirdness:

“We just have too much narrative in our heads, so much we feel our brains are going to explode. With this film, we set out to create a controlled setting, an elaborate narrative network of subterranean locks, sluice gates, chambers, trap pipes, storm sewers and spelunking caves where all the past, present and future films in our large heads might safely blow! Where no one will be hurt by the spectacular Two-Strip Technicolor havoc we’ll wreak on the screen, knowing the whole thing will drain away by credit roll.  Stay safe and enjoy!” – Guy Maddin


Heather Austin is a freelance writer living in Nelson, BC. She studied English Literature and Film at Memorial University of Newfoundland.  She enjoys skiing, canoeing, and thinking.