'The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Maddin': Venice Review

Courtesy of Venice Film Festival
Guy Maddin in 'The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Maddin'
Well worth a look.

French cine-doc specialist Yves Montmayeur follows his Michael Haneke study with a suitably eccentric probe into the work of Guy Maddin.

A lively supplement to the idiosyncratic filmography of Guy Maddin, The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Maddin will delight admirers of the Canadian avant-garde director and serve as an intriguing primer for the uninitiated. Following his rather reverential assessment of Michael Haneke, Michael H. — Profession Director, French film studies specialist Yves Montmayeur strikes a far more playful tone in keeping with his subject here, dancing in nimble, highly stimulating fashion between Maddin's discussion of his influences and inspirations, and evidence of them in his output.

No director working today has shown a more abiding fascination with early film than Maddin, and the opening words heard in this compact 65-minute survey — the whispered, obsessive refrain, "Let it come in" — hint at a kind of supernatural possession by the phantasmagoric images of the distant cinematic past.

That notion is borne out by footage of Maddin's Seances, a 2012 installation at the Pompidou Center in Paris, in which the director and his actors (Udo Kier, Geraldine Chaplin and Maria de Medeiros among them) attempt to summon the spirit of lost films that either never made it past the planning stage or were destroyed. However, it seems typical of Maddin's ability to speak seriously about his work without taking himself too seriously when he explains that he believes in ghosts only while making or watching a movie.

Maddin says both his supporters and detractors cite the defiantly non-narrative quality of his work as the reason for their passionate feelings. But with trademark irony and a nonchalant shrug toward those craving easier access, he likens what he does to creating music — designed more to plant a feeling inside the audience than to tell a linear story.

Montmayeur shows a perceptive eye for clips that precisely illustrate Maddin's points as he discusses his ideas about visual music, dream logic (he once wrote a manifesto saying the best actor is the sleeping actor), the power of memory and the transparent fakery of theater, with its artificial sets and costumes.

Kier makes a droll representative of the actors' point of view, while Isabella Rossellini — so divine as the double-amputee cracked glamour-puss with glass legs full of beer in Maddin's The Saddest Music in the World — reveals herself to be a more than willing accomplice in her own ritual humiliation.

Maddin reflects on his debt to Georges Melies, Fritz Lang (to whom Montmayeur owes this film's title), Luis Bunuel and the Three Stooges, among others, while correlating clips are woven in from both the inspirations and the acolyte. His genuflection to the late American underground filmmaker Jack Smith is hilariously evidenced in a "ghost fellatio" scene from the 2008 short Glorious.

John Waters drops in to reinforce the mutual admiration he shares with Maddin, both of them lovers of melodrama laced with subversive humor. That kinship is obvious in the pro-incest strain of Maddin's 1992 Careful, and even more so in the riotous orgy of 1995's Sissy-Boy Slap Party. Kenneth Anger and the Brothers Quay are also interviewed, revealing some of the shared motives and parallel techniques that link their work with that of Maddin.

The Canadian maverick's discussion of his upbringing will be familiar to anyone who saw the docu-memoir My Winnipeg from 2007. But there are pleasing recollections of childhood, during which he lived in a house behind Lil's Beauty Shop, run by his mother and aunt. "A gynocracy of women wielding cans of hairspray and scissors" is how he describes it, which explains a lot, as does the nugget that his Icelandic mother "spoke like a Von Sternberg character, with proper punctuation."

Maddin clearly enjoys planting a kernel of mystery as to whether he truly believes everything he says or if perhaps it's part of his performance art, spilling over from his film projects into his own persona. He likens his thought process to hornets swarming around his brain, and relates with a straight face how the neurological hangover from a head cold left him experiencing random sensations of touch, "like light molestation," which functioned in a ouija board fashion to direct the camera placement on his recent The Forbidden Room.

Montmayeur makes apt graphic and music choices that fit the subject, and crams a lot into a cornucopia-like hour and change, all of it effectively showing the extent to which Maddin is drawn to the expressionism of silent and early sound film. He says he wants to end his career being able to echo Bunuel's words about never including or removing a single shot against his will.

With: Guy Maddin, Udo Kier, Isabella Rossellini, Kenneth Anger, John Waters, Stephen and Timothy Quay
Production company: Brain Works, in association with Cine+, CNC
Director-screenwriter: Yves Montmayeur
Producers: Thierry Tripod
Director of photography: Yves Montmayeur
Music: Manorexia (Jim Thirlwell)
Editor: Fabien Bouillaud
Sales: Brain Works

No rating, 65 minutes