A child of Icelanders who was born in Winnepeg, Manitoba, director Guy Maddin has taken his place as a living jewel in Canada’s cultural crown. Luckily, he is also respected in the rest of the world for his cinematic feats.
His life and film work represent a unique and lonely path, centered on his obsessions with melodrama and male jealousy. Yet humor buoys his movies. When asked for his feeling on audiences laughing during his ostensibly cerebral art-house films, he quickly admitted, “Yeah, I’m a laughter slut.”
“The Dead Father” became his first film; “Tales from the Gimli Hospital,” his first feature (1988), is the beginning of Maddin’s exploration of the techniques of silent film; “Archangel” is the story of amnesiac lovers in World War I, and won Best Experimental Film of the Year in 1990 from the U.S. National Society of Film Critics. His first work in color was “Careful,” a delightful “pro-incest” mountain movie filmed in two-strip Technicolor. “Twilight of the Ice Nymphs” (1997), another gorgeous color extravaganza, featured Shelley Duvall and Frank Gorshin (the Riddler from the 1960s “Batman” TV series). Maddin’s short films have intriguing titles such as “Sissy Boy Slap Party” and “The Cock Crew.”
What do you say to marijuana legalization in Canada?
The last time I even tried drugs was some months ago when I licked rock off the back of some flaccid crack whore. She gave me a joint packed with dill fresh from her baba’s garden. I came down on Steichen’s Ellis Island—NO MORE!! And since I can’t have fun, I don’t want anyone else to, either.
What does one do for fun in Winnipeg?
Well, lately I’ve been collecting a Winnipeg scrapbook of newspaper clippings for my out-of-town friends. There are stories of mad dogs dragging off children, a man killed by an errant puck, two hockey stick bludgeonings, a robbery by a man armed with a hockey stick, a zamboni shanghaied by drivers run amok who inflicted $200,000 damage to a skating rink, and a father arrested for shooting randomly into the bodies of his son and daughter-in-law to break up their fight over who would get the family snowmobile. At least our coroners are having fun!
What silent film is most overdue, in your opinion, for a splashy DVD release?
I want to see a triple-feature DVD of Frank Borzage’s work with Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell: “Seventh Heaven,” “Street Angel,” and “Lucky Star.” Throw in their early talkie, “Delicious,” while you’re at it. I’d pay anything!
What is the name of a great genius we’ve never heard of?
My good friend John Harvie, a perfervid anachronist fixated on all things 1920s, aviation of all eras, and just looking so spattily and sleekly happy. He’s the greatest pitchman of all quixotic ideas — he’s got me tilting at the least likely windmills. I’m very grateful for his existence.
What country have you not visited that you’d like to, and why?
I’ve never been to Russia, but I’d like to get at Noam Kliman’s immense film archives from Soviet and pre-Soviet eras and just live among these pictures for a long time.
What is the secret to longevity?
I follow most of Satchel Paige’s aging tips. I walk with a slight dance in my step to jangle the juices. It’s worked for 40 years!