Six Strings with... Guy Maddin [Director]

Some cool things has shown up on this site over the years, but nothing as cool as this... the great director Guy Maddin stops by for a chat about his career and latest film "Keyhole". A special thanks to Jason Staczek [composer] and Jenny @ Monterey Media for all their extra care and help... couldn't have done it without their help!
-Jeremy [Retro-Zombie]


- From your first project to now, have you felt you have come full circle or is something more you feel the need to say?

Guy Maddin: Great question, I've been thinking of closing the circle ever since I conceived the movie Keyhole. My very first film, a short called The Dead Father, was an attempt to recreate the deliciously strange sensations given to me by persistently recurring dreams that my father had not died after all, that he had instead simply deserted our family for a better one, a family that, in most of the almost-nightly dreams, lived in Minneapolis. The dreams were a real treat, because I got to see and hear my dad again and again, daily, if only for a few minutes while he came home to retrieve a forgotten shaving kit, sport jacket or glass eye. And during those few minutes I had to try and convince him to stay with us, his original family. Not once did he stay, every night he abandoned us again. But the dreams stayed with me after waking almost till noon every day, the feelings of recent encounter, and I kept having these dreams, oddly, for decades. Finally, after about thirty years, my father had gradually mutated into a variety of animals in my dreams. He finally boarded an airplane as a wolf and left us once and for all -- that was just about five years ago. Then I read Homer's Odyssey and realized that was the ultimate deadbeat dad story, that Odysseus had left a wife and son behind for nineteen years before he started to make his return trip, or odyssey, home, and even that trip could be easily seen as one dreamt by the missing man's son. Telemachus can be seen to be willing his father home again, or dreaming it. With Keyhole, I decided to make a genre film -- I'd always wanted to mash up ghosts and gangsters in a picture. And I wanted to make a movie about the home each of us loved the most (whether we're still in it or not), and about the feelings each nook and cranny of that home, remembered or inhabited, can impart to its loving denizen. I decided to make Keyhole a loose spooky gangsters adaptation of The Odyssey by way of remaking my very first movie and closing the books on the strange account of my eternally returning dad. I threw in a bunch of other family business that haunts me to this day and voila -- Keyhole, an abstract and often impenetrable dream of house and home; atmospheres all melancholic and horny; unbearably sad and goofy for me, and trippily evocative (I hope) for everyone else.


- Using many of the same people from actors to composers do you feel a certain closeness to them or do you find they know better on how you work as a director?

Guy Maddin: It's a little different for each returning collaborator. My editor John Gurdebeke and I know each other eerily, para-normally, even though we rarely, almost NEVER, see each other. I think of him all the time, though. When shooting my stuff I like to throw him cuts. While looking through my camera I can guess what he might do with a shot that moves in a certain direction, where he might jump cut, what he might insert. Months later he throws me back an assembly, or even a fine cut, and lots of my guesses are in there, confirmed, but then he throws me tons of surprises too. We communicate through my rushes and his edits, often with months between the shooting and cutting, but the communication seems most lively, most immediate, even though it's slower than anything since the mail coach went out. Isabella Rossellini likes to be surprised by me, and so I try my best -- she's an incredible sport and, I've discovered, a truly gifted comedienne. And I love working with composer Jason Staczek. He's the most versatile and gifted composer I've ever met, and a super-gracious collaborator. He's strong, makes a really good case for pieces I'm not so sure about, and keeps working toward serving the movie best. He's also hilarious.


- When you start a project what is your inspirations… which comes first the idea or the title, same at the end of the projects. How involved are you in the selling the idea?

Guy Maddin: Usually the theme of the movie comes first -- say, I'll want to make an amnesia melodrama to illustrate the number of ways we use forgetfulness to leverage love and self-forgiveness, or some such crap. That's how I made my feature, Archangel. Sometimes the setting or the world of the movie comes first, as in Careful, simply because I wanted to make a movie set in the mountains, papier maché mountains. Best of all is when the title comes first, as in Sissy-Boy Slap Party, which was suggested to me by my old friend Caelum Vatnsdal. It was a game he played as a child, apparently the movie ended up looking exactly like his boyhood diversion. After I heard that title, the movie could only be one thing. That just doesn't happen enough!


- Strangest thing you put into any of your films, that even made you think… what the hell was I thinking and why?

Guy Maddin: Perhaps the semi-transparent "ghost fellatio" I had Louis Negin perform on not one but six phalli in my film Glorious. I'd never shot anything pornographic before, and had never wanted to, but it became necessary to the story. And I had abandoned my fantasy that the Will Hayes Production Code was still in effect. Glorious, btw, is available as a bonus on the Keyhole BluRay. British composer Richard Ayres did the crazy score -- he's nuttier than Carl Stallings on bath salts, and like Jason a genius.


- I believe this latest film “Keyhole” is the first time you have had a score released by composer Jason Staczek, can we expect more releases of your films. If you had to choose to what would you release first… or is a collection more fitting to your body of work.

Guy Maddin: I love John McCulloch's score for Careful, I wish that could come out. In 2011 there was a new soundtrack written for my first feature Tales from the Gimli Hospital. This gorgeous soundscape created by a collective of Icelandic musicians, including super-ethereal twin sisters Kristín Anna & Gyða Valtysdottír, and Seattle-based Foley artists Aono Jikken Ensemble. Winnipeg-based composer Matthew Patton worked on little corners of the score too. The whole thing is incredible, so haunting and strange -- it really transformed the movie into something I could never have expected. It was like watching a movie made by someone else. I actually enjoyed one of my own movies! I wish that recording could come out commercially.


- For films what do you like or dislike, do you feel it’s becoming more special effects/CGI over storyline and finally… what is next?

Guy Maddin: I like to be bowled over by a movie, whether it's by massive special effects or by the charming lack of them. I loved loved loved Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and I spent the entire time watching it pretending that Luis Buñuel and I had a bag of popcorn between us. In my mind, the immortal Spanish surrealist loved it too! But I also love anything -- ANYTHING!!!! -- with Bela Lugosi in it! Give me White Zombie, Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Invisible Ghost, Plan 9 -- any of the Ed Woods! -- and I'll be happy, very happy.


Information/Bio: Frequently referred to as “the Canadian David Lynch,” Winnipeg-born filmmaker Guy Maddin’s surreal, dreamlike works are often cited for their striking visuals and obscure sensibilities. Maddin’s father was a prominent hockey coach and manager, and his mother the proprietor of a local beauty shop, and both of his parents’ careers had a profound effect on the young filmmaker. Whether watching the teams practice at Winnipeg Arena or playing with his friends at his mother’s salon, Maddin’s unique take on everyday eccentricities was fueled by numerous unforgettable childhood experiences. Two of these, in particular, were a piggyback ride from Bing Crosby and the advancement of a common cold into an intense neurological disorder that resulted in strange physical sensations; these experiences gave the imaginative youngster an acute and unique view of the world. Childhood memories and stories passed on by his parents have frequently found their way into Maddin’s unique films as well, with the tale of how his grandmother accidentally poked out his father’s eye memorably recreated in his first feature, Tales From the Gimli Hospital. As for his education, Maddin received a degree in economics from the University of Winnipeg, and his following years were spent as a bank teller and a house painter. His film education came not with any formal training at a trade school, but with endless weekends of watching films with close friends John Paizs and Steve Snyder. Soon realizing that Paizs was making films and Snyder was teaching production at the University of Manitoba, Maddin eventually decided that he needed to put his own knowledge to work and step behind the camera.

Encouraged by his participation in a local cable access show in addition to the films that Snyder had produced while in film school, Maddin put light to celluloid for his darkly comic freshman effort, The Dead Father. Soon developing his own style in regards to camera movement and lighting aesthetics, Maddin was quickly on his way to filming his first feature, Tales from the Gimli Hospital. An expressionistic voyage that found two hospitalized patients embarking on a bizarre competition and which took viewers into “a Gimli we no longer know,” Maddin’s surreal and humorous freshman effort gained the burgeoning filmmaker international attention, and the film continually played as a midnight feature in the theaters of New York in the years following its release. Reluctant to abandon short films for features as many filmmakers do, Maddin subsequently averaged one short per year while preparing his next feature, Archangel (1990). Once again filmed in stark black-and-white and taking on the crackling texture of a film released at the turn of the century, the film held true to Gimli’s promise, and fans certainly couldn’t accuse Maddin of a sophomore slump. Dipping his toes into color for his third feature, Careful, Maddin’s departure from black-and-white showed a filmmaker as adept at creating lush, over-saturated images as he was at re-creating the desaturated images of an age long past.

In 1995 Maddin was honored as the youngest ever recipient of the Telluride Film Festival’s Lifetime Achievement award, an event which ultimately marked the beginning of one of the most creatively stifled periods in the young director’s career. Maddin had collaborated with writer George Toles to pen what was to have been his fourth feature, entitled The Dykemaster’s Daughter, the withdrawal of a major financier would ultimately result in the project reaching a standstill during pre-production. The disappointment resulted in a five-year hiatus from features, and Maddin spent his downtime refining his skills with a series of acclaimed shorts. Though he would emerge in 1997 with Twilight of the Ice Nymphs, the fourth feature from Maddin ultimately proved somewhat compromised and unsatisfying to all involved despite its admirable stylistic flourishes. Even though the film itself would prove something of a disappointment, Maddin’s developing relationship with numerous Manitoba-based filmmakers began to find the generally neglected regions’ filmmakers receiving some long overdue recognition. In 2000, Maddin was commissioned to make a promotional short film for the Toronto Film Festival, and the resulting The Heart of the World not only stole the honor of being proclaimed one of the best films of the festival, but was also included on many critic’s top ten lists for the year.

Maddin’s fifth feature, a filmed version of a Royal Winnipeg Ballet production of Dracula entitled Dracula, Pages From a Virgin’s Diary (2001), proved that the renowned experimental filmmaker had lost none of his remarkably unique vision in his period of soul searching. Following an experimental autobiographical art exhibit entitled Cowards Bend the Knee, in which viewers could only witness the film through strategically placed peepholes in a museum wall, Maddin was back at work for his sixth feature, The Saddest Music in the World (2003). A dramatic musical fantasy revolving around a worldwide competition to create the eponymous composition, the film retained all of the typical Maddin surrealism of his best works, including a stunning turn by Isabella Rosselini as a brewery baroness with beer-filled prosthetic legs.

For a Full list of his work [CLICK HERE]

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