COVER STORY: Guy Maddin invites us to peer through the ‘Keyhole’The USA has David Lynch, Spain has Pedro Almodovar and Canada has Guy Maddin. Arguably they are the modern makers of weird, disquieting beauty that’s rooted in a genuine desire to explore the bottomless depths and shallow pools of human experience. They make movies that mess with our sense of self. Maddin, particularly, is a master of this as reflected by his unsettling new film, Keyhole. It’s a tense, disturbing genre mashup of 1930s gangster and haunted house flicks, gorgeously shot in black and white. It’s also a contender in the prestigious Borsos Competition at the 11th annual Whistler Film Festival. (For more on the Borsos award, see next page.)
The words “perverse” and “strange” get thrown around a lot by writers when talking about your films. Do you take pleasure in having a certain shock value?
Nothing is shocking. And real life can be perverse and strange. I just don’t have it in me to produce naturalistically performed movies set in workaday worlds. I’m not Chekovian enough. And besides, my tastes run to folk tales – savage narratives that tell us in no uncertain terms fearsome things about ourselves, no matter how strange or perverse they might seem. Please regard the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen. Perverse and strange geniuses and superb role models.
It seems like Canadian cinema has never been stronger, and yet it still suffers from a serious inferiority complex. What’s your take on its evolution?
Canadian cinema just needs a big breakout, a phenomenal film that blows away all our fears, and the world’s preconceptions of our timid ways all at once. It’ll come. You can’t make it happen, it’ll just happen if we keep trying.
What made you decide to ground Keyhole so specifically in a house?
I used to dream of lost loved ones, in delirious nightly dramas during which I worked through, or expressed, feelings that never quite untangled themselves while everyone was alive. Now I dream only of empty architecture. These dreams are more haunting to me than the old unfinished-business dreams involving the family ghosts. I decided I wanted to make a movie that was about a house, about the places in which we live and they feelings they can produce in us. It’s too glib to say I wanted to make a film starring a house, because more often than not I like to watch films with people in them – not always, but mostly. So I knew I wanted to stray from my recurrent dreams and actually populate the corridors of my night-architecture with characters. But I also knew I wanted to stay inside that house the whole film. It’s a good-looking home with lots of detail, lots of surprises, surely more than enough visual richness to support 90 minutes screen time without it wearying anyone’s eyes. After all, we spend infinite hours in our own homes, often loving the environs more and more with each passing day. I wanted viewers to feel comfy, at home, in that house by movie’s end. Who knows if I got it right.
What does it mean to you to have Keyhole be part of the Borsos competition?
I am honoured. Borsos was a great filmmaker. I met him a couple of times and was deeply impressed.
Why is it important to have competitions like this one that honour Canadian films?
The winning of prizes means little, or should mean little, to the filmmakers themselves, but prizes help mythologize and glamorize the craft, help elevate Canadian filmmaking into the competitive and glitzy delirium of showbiz and all its artificial glamour. The prizes help remind us to embrace the artificiality of filmmaking, make us complicit in its fakeness, make us want to participate in the dream on the screen more. Without such prizes we Canadians will watch our films with a grim literal-mindedness we’ve always deployed in shooting down our own work the instant it gets airborne.
What is Canada’s film reputation internationally? Are we held in high esteem?
I can’t tell. I think everyone just feels sorry for me when they say nice things to me, and way more often they say terrible things to me. And I’m too busy bad-mouthing my Canadian colleagues to judge fairly how they’re perceived internationally.
Twenty or 30 years ago, the idea seemed to be that if you wanted to make it as a filmmaker, you had to leave Canada. How much of that perception remains today?
I’ve never even left Winnipeg to make a movie, so you’re asking the wrong person. I even suspect you asked this just to rub that fact in. But I do know that a hometown person is never deemed a complete success until he or she leaves and achieves something significant away from home. That applies to every country, not just Canada. Probably the worst place to be born in is Hollywood itself. These are the kids that have the biggest discriminations to deal with.