The Heart of the World (Or, the Utter Bewildering Craziness of Guy Maddin)

Sunday’s entry made me realise that while I’d made a brief reference to Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin, it’s very likely that anyone who read that post would have just gone “huh?” as he’s one of those little-known cinematic eccentrics who very few people actually know about. So, needing no excuse to introduce anyone who wants to know to the stranger things in life, Guy Maddin is a writer-director who’s the absolute definition of ‘cult’ – he’s occasionally described as the ‘Canadian David Lynch’, but the only things they really share is an absolutely personal and distinctive way of doing things. He’s got his own very particular style, and his stuff is most definitely going to fall into the love-or-loathe category with most people. He’s made a variety of short films and features, during which he’s evolved a particular way of storytelling – basically, he hi-jacks silent movie filmmaking grammar, mixing ludicrous melodrama with German expressionism and the kind of completely nutzoid editing you only get in Russian propaganda, along with a whole selection of his own bizarre storytelling pecadillos and some of the most hilariously OTT silent movie-style intertitles that you’ll ever see. He even shoots his stuff in a way that perfectly captures the look of silent film – grainy, black-and-white, dream-like images that feel like they’re coming from another universe.

The first film of his that I saw – The Saddest Music in the World – is one that I didn’t quite enjoy – it was visually beautiful, but I wasn’t quite in the right mood for it (It was something I saw at a film festival, which can sometimes be very wearing experiences), and I simply didn’t get it. However, the next one I saw – on BBC2 one Christmas, at about 1 in the morning, was Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary, which is something that sounds utterly insane – a filmed version of a ballet adaptation of Dracula – and yet was absolutely brilliant. I was kind of amazed to find that out of all the versions of Dracula I’ve seen, it’s the one that’s most faithful to Bram Stoker’s original, capturing that really odd mixture of Victorian melodrama and sheer sexual panic, managing to be both oddly beautiful and absolutely hilarious at the same time. I also managed to track down Brand Upon The Brain!, which is his ‘autobiographical’ film, but also finds time for mad science, ghostly teen detectives and weird experiments. In a world where film can often be homgenous, it’s good to celebrate the absolutely strange – and while I need to track down more Guy Maddin stuff (especially his acclaimed psuedo-documentary My Winnipeg), I did find a short film by him on Youtube that’s one of my favourites of his. It’s an absolute distillation of his entire style, and crams a literally brain-melting amount into six minutes. It was made for a film festival in 2000, and it’s a celebration of the entire Silent Movie era (which is about the only explanation for the significance of the word ‘KINO!’ in the last minute or so) – it’s called The Heart of the World, and it’s one of the most deliriously mad things I’ve ever seen. It’s also extremely, extremely bizarre, with moments that rank as both slightly disturbing and completely inexplicable, so… WARNING: if a story involving morticians, actors, star-crossed love, orgies, apocalyptic destruction, mania, large sinister Russian men, phallic symbols, religious hysteria and SCIENCE doesn’t sound like your thing… well, don’t click on the embed below.

For anyone else who’s still left, here’s the sheer cinematic delirium of ‘The Heart of the World’:

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