One of the distinctive quirks about Guy Maddin is that he makes all of his films in his hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba, having only ventured forth to the USA to film for the first time in 2006 with Brand Upon the Brain!. Ostensibly, My Winnipeg was a work made for the Documentary Channel where Maddin explores his hometown and his relationship to it, partially through the towns history and partially by looking at his own childhood. At face value, My Winnipeg is a documentary and should have no place on this site, which is dedicated to fantasy and the surreal. On the other hand, Guy Maddin conflates what should be a standard documentary into something entirely surreal that at the same time as it covers the same places as a standard geo-ethnic biography might also becomes a dream-like quest where real details of Winnipegs history blur into one big shaggy dog story that Maddin is pulling on us. The result is a work that behind the lip-service of a documentary is something as fantastical as Guy Maddins outrightly surrealistic depiction of Winnipeg in The Saddest Music in the World.
Without being a native Winnipegger, it is hard to work out what parts of the story are true and at what point Guy Maddin is pulling our leg. Some aspects of the film are undeniably true the General Strike of 1919, the demolition of Eatons Store and replacement by a stadium, the demolition of the Winnipeg Arena and parts that have enough face-value plausibility that you wonder if they might be true the ladies who handcuffed themselves to a tree to prevent its demolition, or where the city staged an imaginary Nazi invasion as part of a drive for war bonds. These sit also alongside parts of the film where Maddin is slyly indulging his fanciful imagination stories of horses that fell into a lake, which then froze over with their heads protruding out of the ice and became a local lovers retreat; claims that Winnipeg has the greatest number of sleepwalkers in the world such that the city has had to enact laws requiring home-owners to let any sleepwalkers that end up at their homes to spend the night; or stories about secret arterial back routes through the city and wars between taxi companies over the ownership of these; claims that Maddins mother was the lead actress of Winnipegs only native tv series entitled The Ledgeman about a man who ends up about the jump off an apartment ledge each week until he is persuaded down by his mother. At other times, Maddin drops the shaggy dog stories and vents unadorned vituperation at the politics of Manitoban major league ice hockey, the demolition of the arena that holds a great deal of his childhood memory and the replacement of a city landmark with a white elephant arena that he scathingly likens to a zombie in a new suit.
In the last few of his films, Guy Maddin has begun to blend fiction with a peculiar quasi-autobiographical subtext both Cowards Bend the Knee and Brand Upon the Brain feature heroes named Guy Maddin, for instance. Cowards Bend the Knee wound many of Maddins autobiographical details into a highly fictionalised story. Overbearing mother figures also feature in most of Maddins films. This reaches an apotheosis in My Winnipeg where Maddin went and (supposedly) rented several rooms of the home where he grew up and then hired actors to play himself, his mother and siblings in recreations of several events from his childhood. It is these scenes that come the closest to the hysterical melodramatic deadpan of Maddins fictional films like the decision to represent his father as a corpse covered by the carpet in the middle of the room and to keep an elderly woman there because she lived in the house and wouldnt go away.
Everything is wrapped up by Maddin who also acts as the films narrator. Uniquely, Maddin frames the film in terms of his own quest to escape from Winnipeg, constantly asking the question of what it is that keeps him imprisoned there. There is much in the way of flashbacks to scenes of an actor standing in for a sleeping/dreaming Maddin on a train constantly travelling through the back-projected streets as he tries to wake up. Throughout Maddins narration comes in a stream-of-consciousness, frequently made up of staccato, single-word sentences. Here Maddin is constantly conflating metaphors and similes, both preposterous and powerful, and fusing imagery (like that of the river Forks that the city lies on with imagery of a pair of naked female thighs). The result is a documentary that takes place as a stunning frozen dream-like fugue, the conjuration of a world that seems as much dreamed as it is real.
(Winner in this sites Top 10 Films of 2007 list).