That Guy Maddin’s “nostalgia style” calls to mind films of yesteryear is only half the story; you must also contend with the urge to name the period of cinema he chooses to imitate, which is often an exercise in futility. Even if you connect the composition or texture of a single shot to, say, Erich Von Stroheim’s Queen Kelly, or skid-row exploitation films of the Great Depression, or a popular adventure serial, Maddin will somehow corrupt the frame with two or three more layers of interference. With a gel, a superimposition, a fisheye lens, or a cutaway, Maddin keeps the viewer’s mind in a state of flux.
It’s this flux on which Maddin’s peculiar art depends in almost all of his shorts and features, and the fact that he never seems to run out of raw materials to achieve his polyvalent effects should suggest just how vast the cinema is, at least as much as one might admire the breadth of Maddin’s connoisseurship. The destabilizing effect of this “pastiche flux” speaks also to Maddin’s thematic concerns, as he returns, time after time, to the well of extricating sexual innuendo and undercurrents from classic cinema and literalizing them—casting subsurface to the surface.
Not that any judgments are cast. “Old movies” were chaste for a reason, just as Maddin’s films bond together the dizzying sensations of dreaming, of sexualized emotions, and of film viewership—a falling-inward, falling out, falling from a great height. Being absorbed, being cut to pieces, being collaged, yet paradoxically being made whole. The three-ring circus of sexuality, cinema, and dreams gives way to concentric, infolded layers and a composite of related themes—not just sex as an autonomous, conceptual thing, but the weight of sexual anxiety, imagery (explicit and/or parodic) of genitalia, ceaseless gender reversals, and an entire, self-contained world of fetish objects. Not just an homage of movies remembered, or forgotten, but of movies that could not have existed, seem somehow wrong, blasphemous. A dream sequence could not be introduced into a Maddin film without also being hyphenated as a reminiscence, a mental projection of terrors, or a digressive non sequitur.
To read other contributions to Fandor’s Guy Maddin Blogathon, click here.