Thursday, 11 March 2010

Film: Dream Logic & My Winnipeg

This might sound weird but bare with me - I was wondering whether the second you wake up, when you’re in the realm between dream and reality, do you often find two or more concepts harmoniously coalesce, but a second later the harmony is gone completely and now the two or more concepts could not be more disjointed? Which leaves you left wondering: how could something that was making perfect sense suddenly become a full-on surreal oddity?

Does that make sense to you? I hope so.

Anyway, I’m disclosing this to you because I watched a film recently that, for me, perfectly captured this strange state of (morning) mind; the film is Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg (2007).

Described by the director as an autobiographical ‘docu-fantasia’, the film is about a Winnipegger attempting to escape the region by filming his way out. It's heavily narrated by a man who's possibly the same man frequently seen drifting in and out of sleep on a train riding through the night.

Maddin’s shtick of recreating the look of silent era film is done brilliantly here, seamlessly splicing recreations with real archival footage. At once the film is personal autobiography, then historical documentary, then wayward fantasy, then a heady mix of all three. And it blends all three of these so effortlessly that it begins to capture the state of (morning) mind I attempted to explain above, albeit in reverse.

For example, Maddin melds together sequences about the history of Winnipeg's buildings using real archival footage then surreptitiously slips into bravura fantasia sequences about, among other outlandish occurrences, a gay bison stampede, and bizarrely, they blend harmoniously together. This skipping from factual to fantastic, with no warning, creates a strange delirium: is the narrator awake or dreaming?

For me, the most memorable sequence in the film, and one which perfectly demonstrates this dreamy switch from fact to fantasy, concerns a yesteryear winter when a lake freezes over and people begin skating on the ice (cue archival footage), but this weather tied in with a band of loose horses that got caught up in the lake as it froze, only becoming visible above their necks they looked ‘like 11 Knights on a great white frozen chessboard’ (cue mock footage + see pic below); conveniently, people used them as seats, apparently.

There is so much more to the film and I can’t wait to revisit it. If you haven’t visited it yet, I urge you to do so, just make sure you’re alert when you watch it or else it will catch you out and you'll wonder whether you've dreamt it!


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Andy. I must put this one on my film list. It sounds captivating.

    Have you managed to read the Little Black Book of Stories yet? When you do, let me know which is your favourite.

    Hope all is going well.

  2. Hi Carol,

    All's going well, thanks.

    I haven't read Byatt's book yet, I'm reading The Lovely Bones at the moment (hardcover!).

    I hope you do see the film, it's a unique experience, I only wish I'd wrote about it earlier, that way I could have wrote about its themes with a bit more clarity!