As ruinous as it may be to Guy Maddin's self-made mythology, it's important to point out that he's not, in fact, the laziest man in Canada. The oddball filmmaker may only have a handful of features to show for his 20-year career, but he's always worked steadily, cranking out short films and TV specials to plug the gaps in his filmmography. It just stokes Maddin's formidable creativity to picture himself as a slothful nostalgist, still parked on his parent's couch watching old movies and sorting through family photostoo inert, as the director himself puts it, "even to exercise my imagination."
When it's pointed out to Maddin that somehow in his torpor he's managed to produce three features in the last two yearsthe ballet Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary, the autobiographical museum installation Cowards Bend the Knee (showing 9:45 p.m. Thursday), and the relatively big-budget musical comedy The Saddest Music in the World (showing 2:30 p.m. Sunday)he shrugs and insists that he was desperate "to do something to keep my name alive."
Whatever the reason, the upsurge in activity has been good for Maddin, adding a weird passion to a style that's always relied on theatrical distance. The director's pastiche of old silent-film techniques and contemporary avant-garde filmmaking emboldened Dracula, and the two Maddin films playing this week are packed with surprising emotion. Cowards Bend the Knee is, in Maddin's words, "a real sloppy, cut-and-paste collage of my own autobiography," which he shot "with a sort of childlike free-spiritedness, attacking the subject matter with a Super 8 camera and not caring what went out of focus."
The Saddest Music in the World is another one of Maddin's myth-making runs at his Winnipeg home, imagining a Prohibition-era contest run by a Canadian beer baroness (Isabella Rossellini) to find the country whose musicians make...well, see the title. It's as odd as any Maddin feature, but it's also more story-driven, thanks to an original screenplay by Booker Prize-winning novelist Kazuo Ishiguro that Maddin and his writing partner George Toles roughed up a little.
The director admits that in Saddest Music he and his producers made an active attempt to polish the Maddin style somewhat. "We tried to remove some of the barriers," Maddin says, "while keeping all of things that are important to me."
The result is a film set to be as widely distributed as any Maddin has made. That prospect has the puckishly melancholy filmmaker feeling somewhat optimistic, albeit as pragmatic as ever. "Even if you've made the most brilliant film," he says, "you still need good timing. You have to coincide with some kind of Ouija-board zeitgeist effect, a desire out there to see it. Some of the best movies of all time have been released at the wrong time and bombed as a result. I think Wizard Of Oz is the most famous bomb of prewar years, and then It's A Wonderful Life was the most famous bomb immediately after the war. Probably if they traded years of release they would've both been hits."
That's Maddin in his couch-mode again, interpreting his world through the prism of cinema historya history of which he may finally be starting to see himself as a vital part.
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My name is Eve