Commissioned by the Canadian Documentary Channel, and screening at the centre of this month’s BFI retrospective of Maddin’s films, it opens – in typically teasing and drolly provocative manner – with a period shot of a reclining female nude. That image is a defiant testament to both Maddin’s faithfully unorthodox attitude to conventional structure and his swooning affection for 1920s black-and-white imagery.
What follows are sundry archive material, back-projected reconstructions, animated inserts,
TV-soap deconstructions and anachronistic subtitles. All of which is cast by Maddin as a reverie, an unreliable memoir delivered by a silent, somnambulant train traveller played by Maddin regular Darcy Fehr and intoned by the ‘always lost, always befuddled’ auteur himself.
Yet among the camp exclamations, tongue-in-cheek historiography, and Freudian casebook of autiobiographical musings, an affecting, dreamy, Chris Marker-esque, ciné-essay emerges of the social and industrial history of this workers’ town of railyards, forked rivers and ‘Bolshevik’ revolutions.
This is deepened by the 50 year old’s angry lament for the demise of the old landmarks – the Happy Land fun-fair, Eaton’s Dept Store, his hockey manager father’s beloved Winnepeg Arena. This combines with the director’s unfailing ability to come up with extraordinary, occasionally transcendent, marriages of sound and sublime imagery to provide an engaging and subtly confessional love-poem to the home Maddin may never have quite successfully ‘filmed his way out of’.