You haven’t seen anything like a Guy Maddin film, unless you’ve seen another Guy Maddin film. At the simplest level, the Canadian filmmaker makes elliptical experimental films using the language and iconography of Golden Age Cinema. His last film, “Keyhole,” was a cryptic take on gangster noir, while his most famous, 2004’s “The Saddest Music in the World,” was a parody of the musicals of yesteryear.
But to classify them as parody or pastiche really does a disservice, as packed as they are with weird flourishes, personal obsessions and often a strange sense of loss (never nostalgia) for a bygone era that probably never existed in the first place. Maddin described his motives behind “Keyhole” this way in an interview with the Guardian in 2012. “I wanted to make something viewers could let themselves go with and just listen to, like a piece of music. I don’t mean listen with their ears, I mean listen with their eyes; and feel no need to understand it, but just take it in.”
2007’s “Brand Upon The Brain!,” with its mix of ’50s horror, Hardy Boys mystery, and family psychodrama, felt like a relic from old-school Hollywood that some nervous executive had buried deep in the studio vaults like a curse. 2008’s “My Winnipeg” is a “docufantasia” that tells the “real” story of Maddin’s hometown, transforming the wintry prairie burg into a city full of secret societies, villainous conspiracies and surreal touches.
As a native of the fellow Canadian prairie town of Calgary, “My Winnipeg” remains my favorite of his films. There’s something about the way he invents a narrative of mystery and romantic ominousness for his snowbound hometown, a city that the swells in Toronto and Montreal probably sneered at, that’s magical and poignant.
Madison film fans are extremely lucky that Maddin is coming to town this week at the invitation of the UW Cinematheque and the UW’s Material Culture Program. On Thursday night at 6 p.m, Maddin will give a lecture on “Loss in the Cinema” in Room L160 of the Elvehjem Building, 750 University Ave.
Then it’s a double feature of sorts with Maddin. At 2 p.m. Friday, in the UW-Cinematheque screening room at 4070 Vilas Hall, 821 University Ave., Maddin will screen “My Winnipeg.” Following the film, he’ll take part in a panel discussion on the “Poetics of Space, Memory and Architecture in ‘My Winnipeg.'”
Finally, on Friday night Maddin will present one of his favorite films, James Whale’s 1935 comedy-mystery “Remember Last Night?”, at 7 p.m. in 4070 Vilas Hall. He’ll talk about the film and his own cinematic obsessions following the screenings.
All the Maddin events are free. For local fans of movies old and new, familiar and strange, it’s a rare treat to have him in town.