Broken Pencil commends My Winnipeg

Book review: My Winnipeg
By Sam Linton
Broken Pencil
August 1 2009

As a film, Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg, is a semi-stream of consciousness montage of images, stories and outright lies presented as a documentary tribute to Maddin's hometown. To see the script written out in book form, with footnotes by the author accounting for more than half the script's text, is more like reading an epic (or mock-epic) poem than re-reading a screenplay. Which seems odd somehow; I mean, by definition, a companion book should not be able to stand on its own merits. But somehow, My Winnipeg works well as a single, poetic narrative as it does as a film. Perhaps it's a transposition of elements; while My Winnipeg the film has movement, sight and sound, My Winnipeg the book substitutes the film's montage with a collage of images taken from both the film and made by Maddin's visual art collaborators, and where it may lack the texture and gravel of Maddin's actual voice-as-committed-to-audio, his numerous footnotes, asides and purposefully revealed omissions from the film give away more of the man behind the project than mere vocal cadence ever could.

However the case, My Winnipeg simply works. For whatever reason, Maddin's faux-documentary mix of slander, rumour, and occasional truth (for example, while Winnipeg did not, to my knowledge, actually stage 'If Day,' a Nazi faux-takeover of the town held to inspire citizens to buy war bonds on February 19th, 1942, it does have an actual Garbage Hill public park, where a mountainous landfill has been grassed over for winter tobogganing) on top of a healthy layer of Oedipal longing translates exceptionally well to the page. And that's no even getting to the 'DVD extras' in back. As if the annotated narrative of Maddin's disentanglement from his city of birth wasn't enough to entice his readership, Maddin also includes a detailed miscellany, featuring transcribed conversations between himself and Michael Ondaatje, writings on the making of the film by collaborators Andy Smetanka, Caelum Vatnsdal and Darcy Fehr, and a series of posters and further collage related to the film.

For followers of the director's work, Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg is a great find, showcasing perhaps that part of the man's authorial voice that comes from his writing as opposed to his direction. For those not so enthused about his work... well, it's still quite entertaining. Perhaps one would want to see the film first, if only to understand what Maddin is constantly alluding to in the footnotes, but My Winnipeg the book largely does manage to stand by itself. And for a companion book, that's saying something.

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