Winnipeg, Winnipeg, wonderful Winnipeg!
Where I belong and joys redound
In one long, happy song.
Here are friends and kindly faces,
Folks I'm glad to know.
It's no Eden that you would seek,
Yet it's home, sweet home to me.
Independent Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba and (until recently) lived his entire life there. Now, Winnipeg was also my stomping grounds for 22 years, from my university days until middle age when I moved to Edmonton. So I understand very well the "love/hate relationship" that all Winnipeggers (and I mean ALL) have with that great prairie city.
When the Documentary Channel commissioned Maddin to make this 2007 film about his hometown, the producer reportedly said, "Don't give me the frozen hellhole everyone knows that Winnipeg is."
So you can predict, of course, a central theme of Maddin's masterpiece.
Filmed in Maddin's signature black-and-white palette, with lots of shaky or blurry handheld DIY-looking shots, plus a crazy mix of historical film footage and surrealist drama, Maddin calls My Winnipeg a "docu-fantasia" based on "personal history, civic tragedy, and mystical hypothesizing." The New York Times accurately noted that the film "skates along an icy edge between dreams and lucidity, fact and fiction, cinema and psychotherapy." It is one of this country's truly great mockumentaries, a style at which Canadian filmmakers excel in particular. Mockumentaries suit our dry, subtle and satirical sense of humour.
While the film's universally-applicable meditations on the "heinous power of family and city" can, of course, be enjoyed by all viewers no matter where they live, any Winnipegger who watches this film gets a special thrill. [Note: all the following references are viewable in the trailer]
We can spot the familiar thoroughfares like Portage and Main, Ellice Avenue and the World War I era back alleys of the Exchange District. We recognize the fleeting glimpses of instantly identifiable locations, like the University of Winnipeg, the North End rail yards and the old Winnipeg Arena.
We are aware of which true (if often mundane) historical facts are sprinkled throughout the narrative. We catch the iconic Winnipeg cultural references mixed together with their crazy alter egos, like the old Paddlewheel Restaurant in the downtown Hudson's Bay Company flagship store, where the salacious "Manitoba Man Pageants" are staged. Or the plaid skirts of the school uniform worn at Winnipeg's exclusive, private girls' school, Balmoral Hall . . . I mean, the "Academy of Ultravixens."
These receive our special belly laughs.
Tomorrow's Post: Those frozen horse heads!