|Interview with Guy Maddin|
Guy Maddin with orchestra introducing the live show at a film festival.
Q.When did you think about presenting this film as a "live show"? While
you were making it? Or after? And what about the "reading material" for the
narrator? Did you write it after the shooting?
A:It has always been a dream of mine to give a spectacular, crowd-pleasing,
live-music presentation of a silent film. I guess I had it in mind secretly
while shooting, but I didn't dare mention it to anyone on the set, except
maybe as a joke. Poor silent film, it needs all the help it can get. Silent
film was once a real pop cultural force, featuring swoon-inducing stars
adored by millions round the world, something gobbled up by the masses in
virtually all the globe's time zones, something imbibed easily and with
pleasure, and yet even most hardcore cinephiles -- myself included -- have
to be in a special mood to watch silent film today; it seems somehow like it
might be work to watch a silent. Illiterates used to watch these things, but
now it's work? But I've noticed that if there is a live element to a show
the audience gives the night so much good will, the picture is suddenly
embraced as if it were its own premiere and the year were 1927! Well, I
wanted to throw so much "live element" at this thing I would guarantee
myself a ton of audience good will!!! It's worked beyond my wildest dreams.
For the first time in my career I feel like a showman, a P.T. Barnum, not
JUST a filmmaker! I love the feeling. I feel the movie is my most
uncompromising and yet it's been going over with audiences better than
anything else I've ever made!!!! I'm getting hooked on this feeling.
I was emboldened to use a narrator because I read in Luis Bunuel's
The lines weren't written until the actual editing had begun. That's when
Q:In what ways do you think this type of presentation (I've seen in it in
Mexico, two weeks ago) make the viewing experience different? Aren't you
afraid that the spectator might lose the concentration in the film from
watching the sound effect guys or the narrator?
A:Well, it's live, which means that things can screw up, and they almost
always do. This creates a certain amount of tension in the house. But I find
that even if things do goof up, like a microphone going dead for a while, or
some feedback deafening everyone like it did for a few seconds in Mexico
City -- that was the first live performance of Geraldine Chaplin's career by
the way and she started out with a mute mic! -- that all these disasters
just put the audience on your side. They feel sorry for you, which is good
because I'm getting tired of feeling sorry for myself. They are soon pulling
for you, for the picture. You can feel this in live shows.
I'm not afraid the live performers -- the orchestra, conductor, sound
I must say, though, that it has also always been a dream of mine to pull the
Guy Maddin on set with Gretchen Krich as Mother.
A:The film is 96% literally true. It's a little Grand Guignol melodrama about
abusive and self-absorbed parents sucking the life out of their children
just as the kids are growing too strong for their elders with puzzling
surges of adolescent sexuality. I set the story in a lighthouse. That's the
only part I made up. I realized while writing this why I've always loved the
Grand Guignol -- the gory, hysterical and horniest of melodramas -- and
that's because my childhood could be accurately described as a gory,
hysterical and horny childhood. Something always beyond belief to my friends
when I tell them of it. Now I get to show it to you.
Q:If you have to pick which one of the influences you have as a filmmaker
were the most important for "Brand Upon the Brain", who would you choose?
I would have to say the great Finnish composer Sibelius. My editor John
Q:What are the different challenges you face as a filmmaker when you make
a silent film instead of a "talkie"? And what do you think are the
differences between this film and the rest of your work? Director Guy Maddin with cinematographer Ben Kasulke. Photo: Alan L. Weintraub.
The silent film is pure joy to make! What a shame there is so little call
Compared to the rest of my film work, this really stands apart for me. I
Q: It is well known that you have a sort of "Guy Maddin Film
which you pick and choose some films from your private collection. Which
ones would you be choosing next and why?
A:I just tonight saw a film on DVD called SHOCK, with Vincent Price, a
wonderful noir from 1946 about a woman who sees her own psychiatrist murder
a woman, then get treated by the same doctor for the shock she suffers as a
result. I also love a noir called THE LOCKET, which is a story, within a
story, within a story within a story, all of these concentric narrative
circles built up like pearly layers around a little vaginal locket -- a
Pandora's Box source of all the troubles in the film -- once owned by the
film's femme fatale. It's so good. Those two would headline my personal
Q: Why the castrato? Why do you think it adds to the experience of
A: I met this wonderful singer, Dov Houle, in a steam bath back home. He was
singing in a thick steam, such a gorgeous unearthly voice!! I thought I was
somehow in the women's steambath by mistake. Then the fog cleared and there
was Dov, warbling away. He's known around home as the Manitoba Meadowlark!!!
And he has no body hair at all!!!! I can vouch for that!
Q:You've been experimenting with different type of stocks, techniques,
styles, length and colors. Do you see the possibility of, one day, make what
a regular filmgoer would call "a regular film"?
A: Well, what constitutes a regular film keeps changing, evolving. I'd rather
wait and hope that regular films change enough to meet me halfway. That was
always my plan. And it's sort of working. I haven't really changed much, but
more people are checking me out. Maybe if I just keep waiting, the
mainstream will come to me and I can die with mass appeal. At least my death
will be a big hit!!!
Q: Are you
working in something new?
A:I am just finishing up a new TV documentary about my hometown of Winnipeg,
Canada. It was commissioned by a TV network in Canada. It's been really hard
to make. I don't ever want to make a documentary. Not only are they way too
much work, but your story keeps changing the deeper into editing you go and
that's frustrating, tiring. You have to respect the subject so much and I'm
not use dot the kind of discipline it demands. I'm more used to following a
script. Still, I'm having a lot of fun doing it, and the journey into myself
(that I made as an unexpected side trip while on my journey into the city in
which I've spent my entire life) was really quite emotional, at times
depressing. I can't believe I live here, and how much time has gone by while
I've done so. Time that I'll never get back no matter how nostalgic my
movies get. All that was really draining and yet ennobling. I feel spent,
but great. Still, never again!!!
Q: Is Geraldine Chaplin coming back to Buenos Aires? Is she going to
narrate it in Spanish or English?
A:Geraldine Chaplin is narrating in BA and she's doing it in Spanish -- her
own translation, in fact. Wow, I love how supportive she has been. If one
needs a narrator for a silent film, what better link to the silent era than
a Chaplin?!!!! Her diction is incredible. When speaking English, she has the
same mid-Atlantic accent and singular cadences as her father. My skin was
creeping up and down in excitement while she read for me in Mexico City.
There she read in English -- there had been technical delays with the
translation -- but she is so committed to this project that she personally
adjusted her lines until she was completely happy with the, I'm so grateful
because I don't speak Spanish of any sort. She sounds so beautiful, another
musical instrument!!! So much good will! So much love!!! She has so much
occult chemistry with the projected images, with the cabalistic musicality
of all the live performers, that there is a real invocation of something
magic. I really hope the spell works in BA as well as I've seen it work
before. As a newly made showman, I feel I must guarantee it!!!!
# # #