April 29, 2005

Maddin hosts viewing for theater-going crowd

Guy Maddin, a Canadian film director visiting the University on a Nuveeen Visiting Filmmaker Fellowship, introduced and answered questions about his 2003 work, The Saddest Music in the World, Wednesday night at Max Palevsky Cinema before a crowd of 400 moviegoers. Earlier that day, Maddin, recognized for his silent film aesthetic, held a private workshop for the committee on Cinema and Media Studies and Fire Escape Films.

Attendance was "really good," said Lily Cunningham, a co-chair of Doc Films and a fourth-year in the College. "Sometimes the more independent films we show do really well. There's a niche for that on campus," she said.

The evening began with Thax Douglas, known around Chicago for reading spontaneously written poems as introductions at independent rock venues, who recited a short piece in honor of the director's visit. Maddin was then introduced by Miriam Hansen, professor in the English department and committees on Cinema and Media Studies and the Visual Arts, who called him "one of the most important and original filmmakers working today."

Speaking without notes about his film, Maddin discussed melodrama, a style often associated with his own work. "So many North Americans tend to get uncomfortable at the mention of melodrama…I tend to think of melodrama in far more dignified terms," he said.

The film, based on a screenplay by Kazio Ishiguro, features Isabella Rossellini—a rarity for Maddin's work, which usually does not have any well-known actors—who plays an amputee beer baroness organizing a contest to find the saddest music in the world.

Maddin answered questions for 30 minutes after the screening, responding to audience members on the use of color in the film, and the influence human cloning could have on filmmaking, amputation, literary influences, and sex. Discussing his vast adaptations on Ishiguro's original work, he explained why he moved the setting from contemporary London to Depression-era Winnipeg.

"For me to get involved in the movie, I had to set it in my own hometown," he said. "I just thought I'd like to give my own hometown the Hollywood treatment. Not that I could ever mythologize Winnipeg as much as Chicago or New York or L.A. is mythologized, but I thought I could bring it up to at least a Cleveland level."

Students, many unfamiliar with Maddin's work, were largely mesmerized by the film. "I hadn't heard of Maddin before, but this was one of the few times I knew from the opening scene that the film was going to be great," said Scott Neff, a first-year in the College. "The whole film seemed cast in an uncomfortable nostalgia, somewhere between a foggy memory, a nightmare, and Dr. Seuss. If nothing else, Maddin's jarringly original style appealed to me the most and I will definitely look into his other films in the future," he said.

"It reminded me of German expressionism at times, which is a film style I really enjoy," said Daniel Sefik, a first-year in the College. "I'm not sure that it was intended to be as humorous as the people sitting around me found it, but I guess that's what melodrama will tend to do to people, as Maddin himself said."

Maddin's visit came appropriately before a silent film festival to be hosted by Fire Escape on May 13. "There's no one else [currently making silent films] better than Guy Maddin," said Jon Hersh, a former committee member of Fire Escape and a fourth-year in the College. "He has a distinct visual style."

Doc Films will present a Guy Maddin double feature this Saturday at 2 p.m., with screenings of Cowards Bend the Knee and Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary.