My First Encounter with Guy Maddin

It is not always easy to identify a film’s director by simply observing the way in which it is filmed. Influence begets influence, and so the pioneering techniques developed by cinematic visionaries are later adopted and modified by others, shaping what is the cinema of today. However, there are filmmakers whose cinematic style is immediately recognisable, as they manage to separate themselves from the masses with a style all of their own. Such is the case with veteran Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin.

Based on the works I have seen by the director thus far, My Winnipeg (2007) and The Forbidden Room (2015), it is safe to say that Maddin is far from being a director of convention…or at least modern convention. Maddin derives his style and narrative techniques from that of the silent/early-sound eras of cinema, though with a decidedly modernised surrealist twist. It is the type of cinema I would imagine David Lynch to produce if he were to mimic the works of Fritz Lang.

Lang’s influence is clear from the beginning of My Winnipeg, as Maddin uses montage imagery (a technical staple of the cinematic eras Maddin embraces) to depict operating machinery, which is no doubt alluding to Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis. However, while Maddin owes a great deal of his filmmaking techniques to the cinema of old, it is the surrealism that he injects into his narratives which make them very much his own.

There are numerous moments in My Winnipeg, a film based on his life and hometown of the same name, that exemplify Maddin’s penchant for alternative filmmaking practices. His narration and use of imagery veers from the pessimistic to the optimistic with poetic grace, coalescing into an absorbing narrative that is relatable through the human ability to both love and loath the very same thing. All the while, this unfolds in a metafictional narrative that is described by Maddin himself as “docu-fantasia.”

Even from this, it is clear that Maddin’s cinema seeks to engage viewers in an alternatively unpredictable manner, though this can also make his work frustratingly oblique at times. In spite of this, like David Lynch, there is always the sense that there is something greater at hand, and that all the pieces work toward a greater whole, particularly in The Forbidden Room.

Ultimately, Guy Maddin’s brand of cinema does not cater to the masses, and rightfully so. Of all the Canadian directors I have encountered thus far, I believe that Maddin is the most stylistically sure-handed, leaving no doubt about his passion for the craft. It is safe to say that I have never before encountered a filmmaker quite like Guy Maddin, who views the world through a kaleidoscopic lens, even when his depiction of it is monochrome.


Image courtesy of Queryzo on Wikimedia Commons.

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