The Quintessential Guy Maddin!: 5 Films from the Heart of Winnipeg
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(Dec 14, 2010)
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THE QUINTESSENTIAL GUY MADDIN! Four-Disc Set boasts five of director Guy Maddin's most hallucinatory and hilarious fever-dreams. The beloved auteur of Winnipeg, Canada, Maddin has been lovingly spinning fantastic tales of obsessive love and grand guignol with the language of cinema's distant past for more than two decades. Wretched swan feeders, beauty-parlor noir, incestuous psychodramas, ghostly patriarchs, fascist butler academies, midnight-summer fantasia and hyperbolic Soviet montage are all part and parcel of the delirious cracked-glass, scratched-frame universe of this visionary filmmaker.
Disc One: Careful (1992, 100 min, Remastered and Repressed Edition)
Disc Two: Twilight of the Ice Nymphs (1997, 90 min) + Archangel (1990, 83 min)
Disc Three: Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary (2003, 75 min)
Disc Four: Cowards Bend the Knee (2004, 64 min)
* Five audio commentaries with Maddin + crew members
* A 60-minute documentary on Maddin's early career, narrated by Tom Waits
* Six shorts, including ODILON REDON (1995) and THE HEART OF THE WORLD (2000)
* Three behind-the-scenes featurettes
* Imagined audition reels
* Radio interviews
* Production design collages and storyboards
* Vintage photos from Maddin's personal collection
* Also includes a Limited Edition Peephole O-Card PLUS 5 collectible postcards of Original Poster Art.
While summaries of the five features included in this limited-edition boxed set are entertaining in themselves, what matters equally if not more about Guy Maddin's films are the literary, art, and music references packed into each and the editorial poetry implicit in his unique brand of high camp. This set includes his quintessential movies: Archangel (1990), Careful (1992), Twilight of the Ice Nymphs (1997), Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary (2003), and Cowards Bend the Knee (2004), the companion piece to Brand Upon the Brain (2006) that was released by Criterion Collection, but more importantly offers plentiful background information about Maddin's oeuvre. Organized as a four-disc set, each has its own set of information surrounding the feature. First there's Careful, a genre film inspired by German Mountain melodramas, serving as a gateway into the set by introducing themes of incest, bondage, and the ever-present references to Oedipal complexes and horrors surrounding motherhood. Like a Leni Riefenstahl film ripped open with colorful sexual innuendo, Careful, like Archangel and Dracula, establishes Maddin's m.o., which is to make fantastically faux "silent films," some of which are "talkies," as the director says, that mash-up fetish and melodrama into a mix that ends up looking antique and punk. Archangel, Maddin's "World War I Amnesia Melodrama," one finds out during the hilarious commentary between Maddin, screenwriter George Toles, and John Harvey, explores the silent film aesthetic with seemingly equal play given to Bill the Barber, Maddin's set hairdresser, during extended hair-modeling shots onscreen. Notably, the commentaries alone, what the men call their "Tracks of Atonement," are reason to re-watch these films Maddin fans know well.
While Twilight of the Ice Nymphs offers a burst of color after some major black-and-white moments, and stars Shelley Duvall as an ostrich farm girl, exciting extras pepper this disc, like the short film "Odilon Redon," a partially animated and surreal cut-and-paste film, starring Berenice, the woman who lives in a seashell underwater while trains chug by, inspired by the Symbolist artist. Other shorts, like "The Heart of the World," and the blueprint outtakes compiled for the "Love-Chaunt Workbooks," bear similarity to "Odilon Redon," with titles and dialogues plastered onscreen as if flipping through a moving zine about romantic, sexually charged imagery. There are behind-the-scenes featurettes, especially good for Dracula, which is a ballet packed with dance numbers and Cabinet of Dr. Caligari-like sets, audio tracks of radio interviews, set design collages and storyboards, and lots more revealing how Maddin generates his looking-glass features. With films ranging stylistically from the decadent and romantic to the most fetishistic, like Cowards Bend the Knee, which spends lengthy camera time showing vamps Meta and Marroon seducing men on piles of hockey gloves, there is a constant humorous undertow that makes it all refreshingly silly, like a good Kuchar Brothers or Jack Smith film. This boxed set offers an intimate glimpse into one of the more original minds working today, and even its packaging is praiseworthy. --Trinie DaltonSee all Editorial Reviews
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Like David Lynch, Maddin's films are very surreal. They are also often very funny.
Chronlogically first in the set is Archangel, which immediately demonstrates the Maddin look - movies that seem from another era, particularly the cusp between the late silent films and the early talkies. The story deals with an American in the Russian town of Archangel at the end of World War I. He becomes convinced a local woman is his one-time lover who's actually dead. That only scratches the surface of the story, in which Maddin defies the constraints of a low budget to create a picture that resembles the German Expressionist films of the 1920s.
Careful takes its influence from the Leni Riefenstahl and her mountain films to tell the story of a small village high in the Alps where the threat of avalanches force everyone to be extra quiet; the animals even have their vocal cords removed. Against this backdrop is the story of two brothers, the first who has lustful feelings for his mother, the second falling for a girl who has similar daddy issues. It's essentially an incest comedy, with a mixture of taboos and humor. This is one of two films in color, albeit a washed out color similar to the old-fashioned two-strip Technicolors.
The other color film is Twilight of the Ice Nymphs, the one film with somewhat familiar celebrities (Shelly Duvall, Alice Krige and Frank Gorshin) and the one film that I really wasn't very impressed with. A former political prisoner comes home to the farm run by his sister. He falls for a mysterious woman who is under the sway of a local doctor. This is another surreal film, but the bright colors and relative talkiness makes this film quite different from the others in the set.
Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary is a ballet version of the classic story, though with a Maddin twist. Silent and black-and-white (with a little red for blood), it offers an interpretation of Dracula that emphasizes the xenophobia and sexism of the novel.
Finally, Cowards Bend the Knee is a semi-autobiographical film which has a hockey player drawn into a plot by his lover to avenge the death of her father. There is an element from the classic horror film The Hands of Orlac in which the "hero" supposedly has the hands of a dead man. This silent film is broken into ten six-minute chapters and was originally designed as an installation at a museum (in which viewers would walk from chapter to chapter.
Besides the movies, there are also short films, most notably the award-winning Heart of the World (slightly reminscent of Metropolis). All the movies have commentaries by Maddin; there's also a documentary about him and several other features. These works are definitely not for everyone. They're far from the mainstream and they have material (such as incest) which some people will find offensive or uncomfortable. But if you like avante-garde films - or just want to experiment with something that is offbeat and entertaining - this is a great collection.
"Cowards Bend the Knee" is... about "Guy Maddin" (Darcy Fehr). No, not the director, but a hockey player who falls in love with a weird girl named Meta, who lives at a hair-salon/abortion clinic -- and finds himself in a strange world of ghosts, severed arms and revenge. "Careful" explores the bizarre repression in the tiny town of Tolzbad, and what happens when their repression springs a leak.
Then there's "Twilight of the Ice Nymphs," an eerie little fairytale centering on a beautiful woman and an ostrich farm. "Archangel" is a strange little story set in post-World War I Russia.... in a town that nobody has notified of the war's end! Love, amnesia, and general weirdness ensue. Finally, "Dracula: Pages From A Virgin's Diary" sets Bram Stoker's classic novel to ballet and music, with a special emphasis on the ill-fated Lucy.
Guy Maddin is perfect for anybody who is sick'n'tired of Hollywood's mindless blockbusters, romcoms and remakes. Absolutely NOTHING is normal or predictable in these films, and he crams it full of bizarre situations and characters that could never fit into a "normal" movie. It's like someone dug up a canister of century-old film directed by a madman on acid.
Maddin has a very distinctive style. Crackling with faux-age, cobwebbed and manically surreal, these movies revel in the old-timey cinematic conceits like uber-closeups, iris-ins, and jerky manic acting that makes up for the usually silent filmmaking. And the plots are BIZARRE. Here's a glimpse of just how bizarre Maddin can get -- a guy dumps his girlfriend mid-abortion (she dies) to chase a girl who will only get involved with him if he has her dad's hands grafted onto his arms. Yeah.
In addition, this boxed set comes with a bunch of extras: five audio commentaries with Maddin, some short films, a documentary on Maddin's career, featurettes, interviews, designwork and storyboards, and "imagined audition reels" (whatever that means).
"The Quintessential Guy Maddin! 5 Films from the Heart of Winnipeg" is a delightfully warped, weird little world that sucks you in and doesn't let you go until it's over. Love it or hate it, you'll never forget it.