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Toronto 2011. Guy Maddin's "Keyhole"

For some, Keyhole is "considerably more than another exercise in Maddinalia." For others, not so much.

"Whispers that the latest from Winnipeg's favourite son had been rebuffed at European festivals before landing on Toronto's doorstep engender a suspicion towards it, as if it's typically Maddinesque gestures were just that: typical, tired, by the numbers." John Semley in Cinema Scope: "Granted, Maddin is once again working through his favorite hang-ups here: memory, family, and odes to forgotten film genres so consigned to oblivion that they never existed at all (in this case the Joycean gangster-haunted house picture). But Maddin finds new footing here, and his best leading man since Careful's Kyle McCulloch in Jason Patric, whose classic, rock-jawed good looks and tendency to play the silliness and surrealism totally straight, as if he's just happy for the job, make Keyhole feel like considerably more than another exercise in Maddinalia."

James Rocchi for the Playlist: "Maddin's usual fondness for the (soap) operatic and the melodramatic are both in play here, a gangland saga about crook Ulysses Pick (a mesmerizing Jason Patric, often the most stable thing on-screen to fix one's gaze on) dealing with a fight over power within the confines of a semi-haunted house containing both his estranged wife, Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini) and her captive father (Louis Negin). Ulysses is moving through shadowy territory, with time and place both permeable; Ulysses also meets Manners (David Wotner), a teen who turns out to be his offspring, and the lovely Denny (Brooke Palson) who has drowned and is both alive and dead. Lacking the narrative clarity of The Saddest Music in the World…, Keyhole instead works as pure atmospherics; a hallway full of genitalia and limbs sprouting from the wall ('This penis is dusty,' a character notes matter-of-factly) is a R-rated riff on Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast, while the gangland material is straight out of a 40s Warner Brothers gangster pic — if 40s gangster pics had rough inspiration from Homer's Odyssey while taking place in a haunted house right out of a LSD-soaked episode of Scooby Doo."

"Haunted in every sense and scene (not least by the ghost of the late George Kuchar), Maddin's latest makeshift folly is perhaps best described as a deranged remake of William Wyler's The Desperate Hours," suggests Michał Oleszczyk at Fandor.

"A theme is starting to develop in my reaction to certain rigid auteurists this year," writes the AV Club's Scott Tobias. "Familiarity is breeding contempt. Aki Kaurismäki, Bruno Dumont, and now Guy Maddin have come to Toronto with films that are unmistakably theirs yet wearing in their grinding predictability and creative stasis. Okay, maybe 'stasis' is the wrong word to describe Maddin's Keyhole... The mixing-and-matching of old-fashioned cinema and twisted, psychosexual melodrama has long been Maddin's stock-in-trade, but Keyhole never remotely came together for me."

"Coming off of his quite uncharacteristic, Jack Smith-esque short The Little White Cloud That Cried, it was a tad disheartening to see him abandon color, as he'd drawn up a distinct palette that was refreshingly vibrant," finds Blake Williams at Ioncinema. "Color makes a momentary appearance in an INLAND EMPIRE-inspired push into another universe by penetrating a rococo fabric, but that's the extent of it. Epitomizing a transitional film, Keyhole works best as a display of experiments that Maddin has been toying with, and might utilize to a more meaningful application in the future, squarely under the guise of a fully formed idea. It works as a stream of consciousness, but is forgotten for its lack of lingering substance."

Phil Coldiron at the House Next Door: "If last year's foolhardy Hauntings installation suggested a new route for Maddin by rendering his conflicted nostalgia in the spatial juxtaposition of his desire to reclaim these lost films, Keyhole only cashes the check on that project's weakest aspect, the overt genre play… that squeezes out the personal investment that in the past has made his affectations easier to forgive. As characters blink out like lost memories in the end, only the undefined space of this Freudian house remains, as empty as the film itself."

For Justin Chang, writing in Variety, "this head-spinning fantasia twists and doubles back on itself in a manner far trickier to follow than in such previous Maddin efforts as My Winnipeg and Cowards Bend the Knee. And if it lacks those films' overt autobiographical touches and silent-era flourishes, it's no less inventive or surreal in its engagement with the iconography of black-and-white movies…. Yet as agreeably unhinged as much of Keyhole is, the filmmaker doesn't seem to be as firmly in his creative groove as he has in his best work."

 



"The film was shot in 15 days in black and white," notes Screen's Dan Fainaru, "evidently in one location, and then feverishly cut to look like a furious and baffling whirlpool. The soundtrack sounds like an echo of horror movies and the chaotic, constantly changing shape of the house is a credit to the art direction." And he adds that "Udo Kier's presence is both an attribute and a reference to his many earlier parts."

Peter Knegt interviews Louis Negin for In Toronto while, in the Winnipeg Free Press, Randall King, talks with Maddin about Hauntings, on view at Platform through October 2.

Update, 9/12: Viewing (2'24"). Mekado Murphy talks with Maddin for the New York Times.

Update, 9/13: Maddin's "most widely seen films, such as Cowards Bend the Knee or The Saddest Music in the World, share some kind of internal logic to anchor their wild flights of eccentricity," writes David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter. "But the stubbornly cryptic Keyhole is literally a series of locked doors, dead-end corridors and nightmarish repetitions that becomes more laborious to follow the nearer Ulysses gets to his destination."

Update, 9/14: Michael Guillén at Twitch: "Myself, I admired the look of the film, its multilayered visuals, its sound design, and its oneiric approximations, but found myself wishing for more comic relief or at least one narrative tether to daytime logic."

Update, 9/18: Oliver Skinner gets a few words with Udo Kier for indieWIRE.

Updates, 9/20: Jonathan Marlow will be talking with Maddin all week long at Fandor's Keyframe.

Viewing (6'07"). Kevin B Lee and Matt Zoller Seitz's video essay on Cowards Bend the Knee at Press Play.

Update, 9/21: Viewing (35'48"). Maddin discusses Keyhole and his Wex Residency Award.

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