At Stella's cafe near his Osborne Village apartment, the self-deprecating Guy Maddin wears a wrinkled shirt and khaki pants, his hair is a mess. In between bites of what he deems "the best carrot cake in the city," the Winnipeg filmmaker speaks of his mythic childhood, being a university teacher, and his relationship with the city he cannot seem to escape.
In 1962, on the day that Marilyn Monroe died, the girlfriend of Maddin's eldest brother was killed in a car crash. His brother took his own life on her grave shortly thereafter. Maddin was 6 years old. He was told by his parents that his brother had died to be with the girl that he loved, and they were to be married in Heaven. Maddin remembers it sounded like a fairy-tale, too young to fully understand.
Maddin manages to make the tragedies, the comedies, and the trippy moments of his life sound mythical. He has incredible stories to tell, and he could go on for days telling them. He is an enchanting story-teller, each story more fascinating than the next. His career as a filmmaker blossomed as a result.
Maddin's unique signature style of film is very artistic; it mirrors early melodramas and silent films. He has written and directed 38 short and feature films, and is perhaps best known for My Winnipeg, a fantastical telling of his childhood. The film won Best Canadian Feature Award at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2007.
"If you look at his films, one would think that you were going to meet some effeminate fellow wearing a scarf with a questionable handshake," Jason Patric, an American actor starring in Maddin's latest film, Keyhole, said via phone. Keyhole is an auto-biographical tale, loosely based on Homer's The Odyssey. It stars Patric alongside Isabella Rossilini, and will be released in early 2011.
When he did meet Maddin, Patric was surprised at the range of Maddin's expertise that goes far beyond his catalogue of film knowledge and avant-garde visual sense. “He also has a love for sports. It's very rare that you can have a fans conversation about the Yankees that, in between beers, turns to German expressionist films. He is quite unique." Patric adds, "I just don't understand what he is still doing in Winnipeg."
Maddin has filmed all but one of his movies here in his hometown, and has an interesting relationship with the city. In Maddin’s narration of My Winnipeg, he says: "I need to get out of here, I must leave it now. After a lifetime of many botched attempts, this time I am leaving for good." Why then, years later, is he still here? Maddin seems incapable of straying too far from the city that he calls “a mother,” comparing it to an enabling parent.
Three years ago, after filming My Winnipeg, Maddin flirted with the idea of permanently moving to Toronto. He met with the dean of the film department at the University of Manitoba, where he had been teaching on and off for close to a decade. "I asked for (an obscene amount of money) to stay in Winnipeg, thinking he would never accept. To my chagrin, the dean didn't even blink," Maddin says.
And just like that, he'd condemned himself to the city he'd always dreamed of escaping.
He calls himself a "Winnipeg jet-setter": spending summers at his cabin in Gimli, autumns teaching in Winnipeg, and the rest of the year he splits his time between Toronto, where his daughter and grand daughter live, Los Angeles, New York and Paris.
Film students at the University of Manitoba are benefitting from Maddin's entrapment and have the opportunity to learn from one the most original filmmakers of our time. Maddin teaches two classes in the fall semester: Sex and Censorship on the Silver Screen, and Film Enchanté - Out of the Nursery into the Night, a course designed by Maddin himself. "Sometimes I wish I didn't have the job, but it's the greatest job ever, I have to keep telling myself that."
"When it is going well, it feels good, like maybe you're doing for some young people what my friend and former teacher George Toles did for me 30 years ago. Infecting them with the bug: curiosity and an avid enthusiasm for watching more," Maddin adds.
He did just that for Evan Johnson, a good friend and former student of Maddin's, "he's really funny as a professor. He doesn't need to put any effort into the class. You just get to sit and bask in his refined taste. Learning happens through osmosis." Johnson is Maddin's current writing collaborator, the duo are working on a series of short 1920-style short films.
Johnson doesn't seem to think Maddin is going anywhere, saying "he could never fully leave here. His art is mythologizing his childhood and this place.”
Maddin, however, remains hopeful, “I would like to film in New York or Paris. I don't know what I am waiting for, maybe I should just go do it already. I should do myself a favour and just do it already."
- In a celery-salt rimmed glass, filled with ice, pour in vodka, clamato, the worcherterchire and toabasco
- stir and top with s & p, garnish with olives.