Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin injects a cocktail of nostalgia, fairy-tale mystery and existential terror into a highly stylized world that recalls the herky-jerky dreaminess of early twentieth-century cinema. A fan of “aggressive artifice,” he cautions that viewers who seek realism should “be careful what they wish for, or they’ll end up watching a security camera endlessly in HD with Odorama or something. We’ll all just end up being security guards.” His works include Tales From the Gimli Hospital, Cowards Bend the Knee, The Saddest Music in the World, Brand Upon the Brain! and, most recently, the documentary My Winnipeg.
You’re working on a screenplay with John Ashbery. What’s it about?
It’s called Keyhole. It’s an adaptation of Kleist’s Penthesilea, which is a mad love story. It’s the Amazons versus the Greeks, and there’s an Amazon warrior that’s pretty hot, and Achilles. I’m setting it in a twentieth-century gang situation. These guys are all holed up in a big house, more like a massive apartment block that I grew up near. My other obsession right now is houses and architecture. I don’t even dream of people anymore, I just dream of places. Haunted homes. And I always just try to follow my dream life.
Are you an insomniac?
No, I can sleep anywhere. Back in my house-painting days I used to literally sleep on top of the ladder. I’d learned how to lock my knees straight and sort of lock my elbows around the top rungs, so if I started to fall off when I was sleeping it would hurt my elbows and I would wake up.
That’s like on Cheers when Woody falls asleep with his eyes open at the bar.
I can do that. I can do that. And I’ve literally sleep-driven. I am a sleepwalker. I’ve sleep-driven up to the lake. It’s a route to the cottage that I’ve taken over a thousand times, but I drove up there late one Tuesday night after a fringe play–and was not just kind of drowsy. I had my eyes open the entire time, but I was dreaming about the things that people dream about–not driving things–and woke up when I got there.
My Winnipeg seems to mix fiction and the fantastic, like Garbage Hill–the sledding hill that’s made out of garbage that breaks through the snow and impales children. What’s real, and what isn’t?
It’s all real. The movie’s more or less broken up into three things: emotional rants; accounts of legends, so it’s real that they’re legends; and facts.
What about the TV show in My Winnipeg that your mom was on, Ledgeman?
No. That one’s kind of a legend… That one’s kind of true ’cause there’s public access TV and my mother used to appear on things like that. My earliest childhood memory is that this thing that she did once or twice was on every day.