My Winnipeg at the Dryden

I went to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg. Maddin described it as a "docu-fantasia" (or was it "docutasia") about his hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba (Canada, duh). And, barring a better word, it was exactly that.

It's hard to discern what was fact and what was fantasy — for instance, did Maddin (also acting as narrator) in fact rent out his family home to stage reenactments of his childhood? Were the events described real in any way? Does it matter? I had a similar reaction to the feverish dream of his former film, Brand Upon the Brain!. Winnipeg shared the poetic and metaphoric use of visual effects (rather than the more traditional use of creating a false reality).

My friend Christina has a theory about Rochester: that people don't leave because it's hard to move in winter, but when spring arrives, everything comes up green and beautiful, summers are fantastic, fall is beautiful in its own right, and before you know it, it's back to winter and you can't leave. Maddin shares a similar view of Winnipeg: that people are so sleepy there that they are unable to stay awake long enough to stay on the train that leaves town — to escape.

So I guess, in the end, it succeeds in being a documentary about Winnipeg — that which he was supposedly chartered to do (and evidenced by the title card announcing funding by The Documentary Channel) — albeit an extraordinarily personal one. But, nonetheless, one that appears to succeed in documenting the spirit of a city.

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Brand Upon the Brain! at the Dryden

I went to the Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Brand Upon the Brain!. It was amazing. Afterward I told a guy I knew that I now needed to stare at a blank wall for 2 hours to understand what I just saw.

It opens with a straightforward premise: a man, Guy Maddin (the writer's alter-ego) is contacted by his dying mother to repaint his childhood home — a lighthouse and orphanage — so she can visit it again. But then it was a little odd in that it was essentially a silent film with narration that's divided into 12 chapters. It was also shot on a mix of 16mm and 8mm film then enlarged to the 35mm print we got to see. And it's in black-and-white except for a few splashes of color. And, although most shots run in linear time, some are punctuated with repetition, slow-motion, or brief flash-forward glimpses.

So Guy returns to fulfill his mother's wishes. However, he's overcome by memories and the film flashes back to recall his childhood. The grainy footage, editing techniques, sounds, and narration affect the romantic imprecision of memory: especially the uniquely childhood memories, formed out of imprecise opinions and blended seamlessly with fantasy. His father toils endlessly in the shop while his mother keeps watch on all the children from her lighthouse perch (and through the fanciful "Aerophone" communication device). Guy's childhood proto-sexuality is a mishmash of lust, solitude, and gender ambiguity.

In all, the effect is stupefying, like distilled nostalgia. The discolored, muted memory of living the first time through — of things that were intended to only be experienced for the first time, well, once. So to try and live the emotions again has this dirty, cold grayness — a harbinger to leave … or to paint a new coat on the past to make it go away. It's like our memories are scabs, begging to be picked at, yet punishing us for doing so … until they're ready.

So I left the movie with that feeling. Life in the past, death in the present. Remembering, forgetting. Smells you'd forgotten, the new scent of loss everywhere.

You know … too much beauty to take in all at once.

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