HKIFF Hidden Gem: 'Green Fog' Re-creates Hitchcock's 'Vertigo' With Found Footage

Courtesy of Berlinale; Getty Images
'The Green Fog' still (Inset: Guy Maddin)

Canadian iconoclast Guy Maddin and co-directors Evan Johnson and Galen Johnson use only one shot from the 1958 classic in their dreamlike love letter to San Francisco.

Iconoclastic filmmaker Guy Maddin, known for his inspired weirdness in films like The Forbidden Room and The Saddest Music in the World, insists that The Green Fog is perhaps his most commercial movie to date.

It’s a bold statement considering the film’s backstory: Maddin and co-directors Evan Johnson and Galen Johnson set themselves the challenge of using Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo to create a montage-like tribute to the iconic city where the auteur’s masterpiece takes place, after being commissioned by Stanford Live and the San Francisco International Film Festival.

There was just one catch: “We weren’t allowed to use any shots of Vertigo,” Maddin says matter-of-factly about their constraints. And except for an opening shot from Hitchcock’s 1958 classic — the directors violated the rule for a brief glimpse of star Jimmy Stewart — they stuck to that credo.

The filmmakers admit the task was daunting. At the very least, Maddin and the Johnson siblings’ choice to create a parallel version of Hitchcock’s masterpiece with found footage from about 100 movies and TV series set in San Francisco — including Basic Instinct, Dirty Harry and the 1970s Karl Malden series The Streets of San Francisco — could have sent them into edit room meltdowns. But not this cool Canadian trio. “It seemed too tempting not to fiddle with perfection in that way,” Evan Johnson says, adding: “Maybe it’s being bad little boys.” And fiddle they did.

For much of Green Fog, actual talking is edited out of dialogue scenes, leaving onscreen characters to communicate via jarring jump cuts and pregnant pauses. “When you’re making a film in the edit room, and you have choices with the order of shots — if you change one thing, it changes countless other things,” Maddin says.

Indeed, viewers will see in Green Fog a cut-and-paste rendering of Vertigo’s story of romantic obsession made with found footage that offers both an homage to San Francisco as well as a deconstruction of the revered masterwork. “We realized that using these euphemisms illuminated the story in interesting ways,” Maddin says.

As for the commercial prospects of such an adventurous, uncategorizable project, Maddin is upbeat. “Of all the movies I’ve made, this film just seems to be the biggest crowd-pleaser, strangely,” he says. “It’s an art form but also entertainment, and that feels pretty great to me.”