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Maddin: Bringing it all home

Guy Maddin may be one of Canada's best-known unknown filmmakers. From his early, improbable success with "Tales From the Gimli Hospital," the director has relied on near-extinct film techniques to convey both a heavy dose of melodrama and a sly sense of humour. Maddin now works with international stars, but his humble origins are with the Winnipeg Film Group — a filmmakers' co-op that, over 30 years, has brought global acclaim to many Manitoba moviemakers.

Though Guy Maddin has rarely strayed from Winnipeg during his career, his hometown has never figured in his features -- until now. The city, deemed "the world capital of sorrow," is the setting of Maddin's film The Saddest Music in the World. "Canadians are lousy self-mythologizers," Maddin tells CBC's The Arts Today. "I really wanted to set things in Winnipeg, give it the old Hollywood treatment and let the mythology machinery take over."

The film stars Isabella Rossellini as a Depression-era brewery owner keen to sell beer to thirsty Americans. As a publicity stunt she concocts a worldwide contest to determine which nation has the saddest music. For the movie, Maddin and his screenwriting partner George Toles have adapted a script by novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, keeping only the title and the contest. All the rest -- the family melodrama, the love triangle, and the absurd beer-filled glass legs -- are pure Maddin. 
The Saddest Music in the World premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2003. It opened in movie theatres across Canada and the United States in April 2004.
• The movie earned Maddin a 2004 Genie Award nomination for best director (Denys Arcand won, for The Barbarian Invasions). Maddin's movie was also nominated for editing, costume design and original score and won in all three categories.

• At $3.5 million, The Saddest Music in the World was Maddin's most expensive movie. Its funders were optimistic it would succeed beyond the film-festival circuit. "Our aim was to hopefully let Guy make a film that would transcend the traditional, very small audiences that he's had in the past," co-producer Niv Fichman told the Globe and Mail. "There's so many people out there both in Canada and throughout the world waiting for that one film they'll support to the nth degree."

• Liam Lacey, film reviewer for the Globe and Mail, called it "a masterpiece and a film only Guy Maddin could make… a wild mixture of antique flickering black-and-white and tinted film, a wry contemporary political fable, black comedy and exercise in campy outrageousness."
• Actor Mark McKinney said his experience on the set was an epiphany. "It kind of ruined me for going back and doing more audience-driven work," he told the Globe and Mail.

• In a September 2003 interview published in Take One, Canada's independent film magazine, Isabella Rossellini praised Maddin's directing style. "There are many ways to direct and some directors direct out of fear or out of authority," she said. "Guy does it with charm, so you're ready to do anything for him. He always seems to be walking on eggshells. There's a fragility about him that's very touching."

• In August 2004 the film critic for the Winnipeg Free Press, Randall King, noted a distinct Maddin look in the new film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. After a screening, he wrote, "a handful of (mostly Canadian) critics and journalists were moved to comment on how much the film looked for all the world like a Guy Maddin movie, albeit a Guy Maddin movie with a really big budget."

• Maddin had two short films in the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival: Sissy Boy Slap Party, a remake of a film he originally shot in 1995; and Sombra Dolorosa, a "crazed Mexican melodrama."
• Winnipeg Film Group alumni Deco Dawson and Sean Garrity were also present at the 2004 festival, taking part in a three-day directors' workshop conducted by Guy Maddin and U.S. director Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, Elephant).

• As of autumn 2004 Maddin is developing his next feature. "I'm making a movie about a house," he told the online World Movie Magazine in April 2004. "It is from the house's perspective and is called Keyhole."
• "My goal hasn't really changed since the first day I picked up a camera. I want to make movies that stand a chance of lasting, that are worthwhile taking a look at decades down the road, the way I've enjoyed films at many decades' distance myself." — Guy Maddin, Kino Delerium: The Films of Guy Maddin
Medium: Radio
Program: The Arts Today
Broadcast Date: April 21, 2004
Guest(s): Guy Maddin
Host: Eleanor Wachtel
Duration: 11:09

Last updated: February 17, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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