COWARDS BEND THE KNEE at the Power Plant (231 Queen's Quay West), from Friday (March 21) to May 25. For details, see art listings, page 65. Rating: NNNN
GUY MADDIN'S ENCHANTED DELIRIUM: A RETROSPECTIVE AND CARTE BLANCHE at Cinematheque Ontario (Art Gallery of Ontario's Jackman Hall, 317 Dundas West), from Saturday (March 22) to April 5. Maddin in person March 22-25. For details, see Rep Cinema listings, page 97. Rating: NNNNN
INTERNATIONAL LECTURE SERIES: GUY MADDIN in Harbourfront Centre's Brigantine Room(235 Queen's Quay West), Wednesday (March 26), 8 pm. $15. 416-973-4000.
In winnipeg recently for the Film Exchange festival, I sat and warmed myself with fried perogies. I was freezing. I'd just come from the set of Guy Maddin's new film. Inside an old warehouse, Maddin's crew built a frontier town half-buried in snow. Real snow, and ice. It's easily minus-15 inside the studio, which makes the smudged, forlorn movie town feel melodramatically cold.
The picture's called The Saddest Music In The World, and it's yet more freight for the chugging Guy Maddin renaissance that pulls into Toronto this weekend.
The Cinematheque Ontario serves up all of Maddin's delirous features and a clutch of rare shorts. They've also given him a Carte Blanche, where he screens overheated tales like George Kuchar's The Devil's Cleavage (April 2, 6:30 pm), and the late Joan Crawford movie Berserk! (March 28, 8:45 pm). Maddin loves a good exclamation point.
Meanwhile, at the Power Plant, Maddin makes his debut in that modern wonder, installation art. Cowards Bend The Knee is his autobiography, although it's set in the 1930s and mixes prairie hockey with lurid horror, craven sex and Euripides' Electra.
His recent output has been astounding. Maddin's short The Heart Of The World was the single best thing at the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival. But that came after Telefilm Canada axed one of his films, and the follow-up, Twilight Of The Ice Nymphs, died a quick, public death.
"I did go through a few rocky years," Maddin admits over the phone, "but I've regained a very intense affair with my long-term partner, primitive filmmaking."
These days he's more confident, and fewer people are fighting him.
"When I started out, a lot of people saw some potential in me. But always inherent in their compliment was "When are you gonna start making normal movies?'
"Too many people started telling me what to do, and I listened to some of them and got lost. Now I don't listen to any of them. I just try to channel my own hysteria."
Hysteria begins in the bedroom, so Cowards Bend The Knee is inspired by what Maddin insists is the abject flower of his romantic life.
In 10 short films seen through 10 peepholes, "Guy" falls under the spell of a siren named Meta, who seduces him to do her murderous bidding, using her dead father's blue, transplanted hands. It ends, as it must, in a wax museum.
"How autobiographical is it?" he asks. "Completely!
"There's that tedious debate that says documentaries are fiction anyway, and autobiographies are fiction, and everything more or less tastes like chicken."
But "what matters," Maddin says, "are the poetic and psychological truths."
In Cowards Bend The Knee, "the psychic discomforts are all spot on.
"I think a lot more people are cowards than are willing to admit it," he continues. "I'm hoping that when people look in those peepholes they'll get get frightened because they see themselves in there."
So it's a kind of universal autobiography.
"The real Guy Maddin" in the story, he says, "was the girl that "Guy' was going out with. That was me. I was just playing off myself. I am that manipulative, hot-headed woman, or at least I really, really wanna be."
Strung together and thrown up on a big screen, Cowards Bend The Knee could work as a Maddin feature, which is what he feared.
"I'm very uncomfortable working the gallery world," he says. "I'm too infrequent a visitor to that world, and the few installations I've seen have been disappointing or just unengaging. I was afraid I'd just be making a film that happened to be shown in a gallery."
And yet, peering with one eyeball through the gallery's "glory-hole-sized" apertures to see Cowards adds a furtive quality that serves not just this piece, but all his work.
Maddin makes the most chaste dirty movies in the world, so it's no surprise that many of the old melodramas he chose to screen -- including Tod Browning's West Of Zanzibar (Sunday, March 23, 4 pm) and Fritz Lang's Scarlet Street (April 5, 6:30 pm) -- also feature florid women and cowering men.
"There's something of my heart, of my marrow, in every one of these movies," Maddin says. email@example.com