The Forbidden Room (2015)
Written by Evan Johnson, Robert Kotyk, & Guy Maddin
Directed by Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson
A bespectacled man hosts an aged and worn instructional film on how to take a bath. After explaining the opening procedures, the camera dives beneath the murky water, and we see a submarine float by. We cut to inside the submarine where the crew is in dire circumstances. They carry onboard an incredibly volatile substance that, if they were to surface, would combust due to air pressure killing them all. They find a portal in one of the dank, humid chambers that should lead them out into the waters, allowing them to abandon ship and swim to the surface. Instead, when they open a door, a lumberjack soaked to the bone tumbles forward. He begins to tell the tale of his quest to save a maiden from a band of cave-dwelling barbarians only to find the maiden is their den mother. In her sleep, the den mother dreams of another life, as a noir nightclub singer…and so on and so on. The Forbidden Room is a Matryoshka doll of short films, one nested within the other, moving up and down the ladder of stories until they become intertwined and lost within each other.
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My Winnipeg (2007, dir. Guy Maddin)
If you aren’t familiar with Guy Maddin’s style of film making, then viewing one of his pictures can be a very jolting experience. Narrative is secondary to a more stream of consciousness style of storytelling. I’ve been very familiar with Maddin’s work, starting with Twilight of the Ice Nymphs, and this oddity of cinema lead me to watch Tales of the Gimli Hospital, Careful, Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary, and The Saddest Music in the World.
Maddin has an affinity for German expressionist and Soviet propaganda films from the early days of cinema. As a result, he typically makes black and white pictures that utilize the actual technology of the time period he attempts to recreate. In My Winnipeg, Maddin uses rear-projection and obvious sound stages to create a film that will be unlike anything you see in the theaters. The premise is that Maddin is attempting to psychologically break free from his frigid hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba. The best way he decides upon doing this is to recreate moments from his childhood, focused around his cold and controlling mother.
Interwoven with these recreations are bizarre, Winnipeg legends. Maddin tells us about the First Nation (would be Native Americans for us) belief that beneath the forks of the rivers that converge in Winnipeg, are a second “forks beneath the forks” that are mystical in nature. This image of a parallel existing underneath what can be seen is crucial to understand what Maddin is doing in this film. All of his anecdotes about Winnipeg involve the idea of a darker side of things, and the world of myth and fable.
Many of Maddin’s claims about Winnipeg are suspect (10 times the number of sleepwalkers than any other city, a city hall built as part of an occult Mason rite) but they act as conduits into the subconscious and representations of the unseen nature of things. The fact that this entire film is a one long poem taking place in the mind of Maddin plays into the examination of a seedy underbelly to things. The film is also able to evoke strong emotion, particularly when Maddin laments the destruction of the city’s professional hockey stadium, a temple to him as he grew up.
What started as a commission by the city of Winnipeg to make a documentary of their city, evolved into an amazing exploration into one man’s psyche. Maddin is a director more interested in making what he likes to see and, if an audience happens to enjoy it, that is simply an added bonus. What Maddin creates as an end result is very similar to the film art created by David Lynch. This is not cohesive story with beginning/middle/end, but is an expression of the artist’s mood.