Frosted Memories

my_winnipegDo you ever truly leave your city of birth? Especially when you carve out your youth there, physically you may move on, but emotionally you can never escape. The flood of childhood memories may certainly be reduced to a random drip of good, bad, or indifferent, but the grasp of smells, tastes, and visions remain indelibly stamped in your psyche forever.

Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg, a lovingly twisted homage to his city, part historical documentary, part “reenacted” childhood memories, is certainly one of the most inventive portraits by a filmmaker on his youth and memories. (It won Best Canadian film at the Toronto Film Festival.) Borrowing elements of David Lynch’s abstract visual style -- think Eraserhead, especially the train and horse head scenes -- it is mostly black & white (the color parts I found a tad annoying, continuity issues aside), light and dark, cold and snow, blurring fact and fiction. There's a trippy, dream-like quality that leaves viewers in a hallucinogenic frosted haze throughout that actually works to its advantage. I suspect that one needs something to elicit interest to the largest and capital city of the Manitoba province. It's doubtful most of us will ever venture to this city that sits smack in the middle of Canada’s vast prairie, at the confluence of the historic Assiniboine and Red Rivers AKA The Forks. That's one of many narrative elements that Mr. Maddin's hypnotic voiceover and newsreel footage reminds us of again and again.

But why not leave? In 1868 railroad tycoon Mr. William Conelius Van Horne, who built the Canadian Pacific Railroad across Canada, started a longstanding tradition on the first day of winter. He held this much revered yearly “scavenger hunt” that offered a train ticket out of town on winning that scavenger hunt, and yet no one to date has willing left upon winning the coveted prize. The real prize is rediscovering all the charm and magic of their beloved snow-etched city. And so we are offered some explanation why people would have settled and remained in the snowy wilderness, the filmmaker included.

I wonder how many film enthusiasts will appreciate the casting of 87 year-old Ms. Ann Savage -- the cigarette smoking seductress of the 1954 cult classic Detour -- for her portrayal of Mr. Maddin’s mother in the “reenacted” scenes. Especially brilliant is the hilarious “Ledge Man” TV series that she and her children watch night and night, waiting to see if the protagonist will conjure up the courage to jump. As “dark” as it may initially seem, it is the perfect metaphor for leaving -- to take the that leap from childhood, from the traps of everyday life -- and sums up why most people, Mr. Maddin included, remain in their hometowns, intuitively knowing they could never leave. Why they peer into the darkness from the ledge and, try as they may, could never leap into the unknown. Something coaxes you off that ledge, you climb back in the window, and you start your next day, reminded of why your life is so vital in your beloved hometown. And so does Mr. Maddin, his film a clever narrative on the settling for your lot in life, reexamining all that keeps you tethered, standing pat even with the burning spirit to move on. - Dusty Wright

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Mr. Wright is the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and music. He is also a singer/songwriter who has released 3 solo CDs, recently contributed to Chris Butler's The Devil's Glitch project (the longest song in the world), and a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was an agent at the William Morris Agency!

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