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A coward bends the knee: The secret shame of my interview with Guy Maddin

Glenn Kenny
The typical Guy Maddin film more often than not portrays at least one central character suffering from a form of mortification, the result of oedipal guilt, maybe, or sexual insecurity, certainly. The big stuff, always. Which makes me all the more ashamed to report that my own Maddin-related trauma is not caused by any such thing, but rather, by an entirely more banal occurence. A technology failure—albeit a completely preventable one, had I taken enough care. So I suppose that's the big issue behind it all—my lifelong suspicion that behind all my bluster and fancy talk lies an inept, snivelling, fraud. Yeah, that counts.
I interviewed Maddin, the iconoclastic director behind such mind-melting fare as Careful (newly "Remastered and Repressed" by Zeitgeist, and the ostensible peg for the chat), the peep-show inspired Cowards Bend The Knee, and the recent multi-media (sort of), live-narrated extravaganza Brand Upon The Brain!, some weeks back...and the conversation went better than I expected. (If you've ever listened to one of his audio commentaries, or read any of his own writing on film, you understand how high my expectations were.) We discussed the inspiration for Careful, the German-produced "Mountain films" of the late '20s and early '30s, which, as I suspected, he had never actually seen before he and George Toles conceived the scenario for Maddin's film. We talked about his long term collaboration with writer Toles, who, Maddin says, "speaks in exactly the same way as he writes his dialogue, in long, fully-formed sentences with elaborate metaphors and no hesitations." We talked about the various luminaries who read the narration of Brand Upon The Brain! when it toured art theaters in the U.S. On the poet John Ashberry: "He deliberately tries to take all inflection and emphasis out when he reads his own poetry, delivering it as flatly as possible. But the night before he narrated Brand, he had watched Plan Nine From Outer Space, and inspired by Criswell, delivered the narration in a similarly florid style." On Lou Reed: "When I first met him he told me 'I don't do melodrama.' He was afraid that that was what this picture was. He fell asleep during our first meeting, and I he also fell asleep at some point during the performance of the narration." Could it in fact be that the creator of Metal Machine Music is succumbing to narcolepsy in his old age?
Maddin also discussed why he prefers the term "underground filmmaker" to "independent filmmaker," and yes, it does have something to do with the fact that the new breed of "independents" seems pledged to an idea of realism that Maddin's fevered low-budget extravaganzas want no part of. He answered one question by beginning "I'm completely infantile," going on to state "I'm also jaded, out of shape...and that's why I've given up on relationships." He told me why he did not end up playing the part of Roberto Rossellini's belly in his and Isabella Rossellini's My Dad Is A Hundred Years Old.
It was all good, good stuff. And I didn't get any of it on tape. The switch on my cheap but reliable Radio Shack phone tap was set between "Rec" and "Play," and thus, nothing got recorded. First time in almost thirty years of doing this that it had happened. This occurence turned me into as craven a character as Maddin ever envisioned (and that character is more and more frequently Maddin himself, or "Maddin," as witness the lead characters in Cowards and Brain and My Winnepeg). Nightmares plagued me. I spent days terrified of revealing my snafu to either my editor or Guy. When I contacted the latter, he responded cheerily enough: "I'm sure your memeory and my willingness to stretch the truth will make this more fun for you."
This forgiveness only gave more rigor to my paralysis. I only am able to summon myself out of it so as to alert those in the New York area that Mr. Maddin will be in town this Sunday, April 19th, 7:30 p.m., at the IFC Center (323 Sixth Ave. at West 3rd St., box office: 212 924-7771) to sign the book My Winnepeg and present an ace double feature: Vigo's Zero For Conduct and Ray's On Dangerous Ground. If you go, and you should (I'll probably still be too ashamed to turn up), ask him for the whole Lou Reed story.


Guy Maddin
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