Gone to Pompidou: A Few Questions for Guy Maddin

On Film / Interviews — Oct 16, 2009

Our favorite Manitoban, Guy Maddin, cheerfully grim chronicler of storybook psychosexuality and charmingly modest self-mythologizer, is in Paris now for a special event. Though just fifty-three and very much still working, the filmmaker is the subject of a complete career retrospective at the Centre Pompidou titled Guy Maddin: The Magician from Winnipeg, running through November 7. Before embarking on this voyage, Maddin—whose Brand upon the Brain!, the final installment of his cheekily titled Me Trilogy, is in the collection and who has written for us—answered some questions about the honor.—Michael Koresky

 

A complete career retrospective at the Centre Pompidou . . . not bad for such a young guy. How did it all come about? And you know, while you’re there, you can catch some Fellini at the Cinémathèque française—another complete retrospective. You’re in good company!

I have no idea how such things work, but it sure feels like an immense honor to be feted in this fashion. As I’ve grizzled I’ve learned not to look too closely at honors. Hairline cracks in any tribute can rupture into gaping fissures in a hurry. I remember being on a jury at a major film festival where my colleagues and I voted a prize to a film that was no one’s favorite, no one’s second favorite, nor third favorite. The movie also happened to be no one’s least, second, or third least favorite, so the title just sort of sailed through the middle without anyone noticing, and mediocrity won it all. Apparently, this is a common occurrence. Since that bizarre experience, I’ve vowed not to second-guess anything good or bad that’s been flung my way.

And as for Fellini, yes, I hope to catch I vitelloni, one of my all-time faves. And I won’t fail to visit the exhibit 400 Years of Cinema, also at the Cinémathèque.

I think I might prefer the titles Des trous dans la tête! to Brand upon the Brain! and Winnipeg mon amour to My Winnipeg. Any chance you’ll be titling all your films in French from now on?

French makes everything prettier. What do you want, a croissant or a crescent roll? I love the French practice of changing the titles, never translating them literally. Nick Ray’s Bigger Than Life, which you guys should have in your catalogue, by the way—I can never resist lobbying Criterion to take on my favorite hard-to-find titles!—is Derrière le miroir, or Behind the Mirror, in France. Derrière le miroir!!!!!! So beautiful! Yes, all titles in French from here on in!

Have the French ever been treated to the full Brand upon the Brain! live treatment, complete with castrato, orchestra, interlocutor, and foley artists? If not, is it scheduled at the Pompidou?

I’m excited to report that Brand will be getting the full deluxe treatment at the ridiculously palatial Théâtre de l’Odéon as part of the host city’s Festival d’automne. Even the ushers are jewel-encrusted and gold-leafed at this joint! Isabella Rossellini will be narrating in French; the castrato, Dov Houle, is Franco-Manitoban, so it’s no problem for him to switch over to français; and all the film’s intertitles have been translated into purest Parisian. Silent films always exported far easier than talkies—just a few cards to replace, no dubbing or subtitling needed! I felt it was high time we exploited this advantage again.

What’s next? Now that you’ve finished your Me Trilogy, is there any time left for You?

This winter I’m shooting Keyhole (or The Naked Ghost). I describe this film as the autobiography of a house. I hope to make it an online interactive choose-your-own-adventure movie labyrinth. I want the project to have a theatrical life as well, with live elements, and one foot in the gallery world, too. I think I’m going crazy, because the whole sprawling mess is insanely ambitious, but I think I know what I’m doing. Whatever! What difference does it make if I do or I don’t?

Guy Maddin and his daughter’s stuffed giraffe, Mats: “I especially love giraffes since they were the official mascot of the surrealists."