Saturday, 20 September 2008

Oh! My Winnipeg!

A couple of weeks ago, your Psycho-Babble On... team went to the lovely Showroom cinema in Sheffield to enjoy an evening of Guy Maddin's dramamentary, tragic love letter and noir homage, My Winnipeg. It was decided, by virtue of me being Canadian and the more strictly psychoanalytically-inclined, that I should be charged with the task of offering to you, our loyal reader (notice the singular -- I assume nothing), thorough analyses and commentary on this artistic endeavour. (Plus, it was my turn after a long holiday to add something to the blog.)

Well, let me start with the proviso that I've never been to Winnipeg, and while it is 'close' it is still a 25 hour drive from my hometown of Toronto. I did, however, get most of the ice hockey references, and yes, I've had my nose freeze shut when out walking in December (though that was in Montreal).

The problem with trying to write about a film like My Winnipeg is that it is so relentlessly and unrepentantly intelligent, and knowing, that it renders any analysis by critical hacks (almost) pointless. It's like reading Angela Carter: you start thinking to yourself, 'I know what this is! I know what this is! This is a panopticon she's describing here!' and when you turn the page your enthusiasm crashes to the bottom of your stomach when you read, 'It is a panopticon that I am describing here' -- and neither with Carter's novels nor with Maddin's film does this necessarily inhibit your appreciation or enjoyment of the offering, but it does crush the pretensions of we critics that think artists can't say anything without our explanations.

SO, what can I say about My Winnipeg? Or, what can I say about My Winnipeg that Maddin hasn't already? It is a brilliant examination of and play with Oedipus, even if I though there was one too many shots of Maddin's mother's naked lap to make the point. But the association of home with the mother, and how both are simultaneously longer-for and loathed, is brilliantly portrayed. Winnipeg's unique situation, as a city of slumbering numbness at a mythical junction of two rivers, inciting both passion and contempt, makes it a northern Thebes, and Maddin himself a winking (pre-eye gouging, obviously) Oedipus.

And these Oedipal pictures are drawn in neat black-and-white, the noir style both lovingly and satirically presented, but the overall effect is to heighten the tragedy, since noir is itself so steeped in the Freudian melodrama. Hitchcock, too, looms large, not only stylistically, but with small but overt links to Psycho, Vertigo and -- I think -- The Birds. Maybe others, too -- I'd have to watch it again, which I'll be more than happy to do one day.

Maddin's mother -- or, I should say, 'Maddin's' 'mother', because really I'm taking about the representation of her here, not the woman herself (who I've never met, even though, yes, we're both from Canada) -- is fantastically rendered: she is not only Jocasta, but also Freud himself -- the relentlessly interogator who pushes through the snowbanks of denial ('snowbanks of denial'? -- it works, watch the film) to expose those truths that her children would hide from her; but, more akin to Melanie Klein, she is a menace, a monstrous figure that haunts every unconscious frame.

My Winnipeg deserves a place on the psychoanaytic cultural shelf, right up along there with the Theban plays, The Oresteia, Hamlet et al. Go and see it.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Another event at the Freud Museum

Freud Museum and Anna Freud Centre
Evening Talk and drinks reception
Tuesday 23 September 7pm - 9pm

Elisabeth Young-Bruehl
will talk about and read from her acclaimed biography of Anna Freud.
ANNA FREUD: A Biography
(Second Edition)

The talk will be from 7pm-8pm, followed by a book launch & drinks reception 8pm - 9pm

This event is free, but please phone or email the museum to secure your place.
Tel: 020 7435 2002 Email:

“Young-Bruehl’s description of one of the most complex but brilliant lights in psychoanalytic history has stood as a beacon to students of psychoanalytic history. It is the best, most carefully crafted, biography of any psychoanalyst and it illuminates the entire tradition with a clarity that only the exploration of the life of the daughter of the founder of the movement could possibly provide. It is a beautifully written, insightful, and remarkably edifying piece of work. The best has just got better.” - Peter Fonagy, Chief Executive of the Anna Freud Centre)

This new edition of Elisabeth Young-Bruehl's definitive biography of pioneering child analyst Anna Freud includes a major retrospective introduction by the author, an updated bibliography, and new material on Anna Freud and Dorothy Burlingham at Hampstead.

Written with exclusive access to Anna Freud’s vast literary estate, it is the ultimate biography of this remarkable woman. Anna Freud (1895-1982) grew up vying with psychoanalysis for her father’s attention. She would eventually become his constant companion, professional collaborator and ambassador to the psychoanalytical movement. After his death she became the chief keeper of his memory and his science, as well as taking her own historical place in the development of psychoanalysis, through her work with children.

In this remarkable biography Elisabeth Young-Bruehl draws on access to Anna’s personal poetry, letters, dreams and prose writing to tell her story from her Viennese childhood to her last days in Hampstead, wrapped in her father's old woollen coat.

Freud Museum
20 Maresfield Gardens
London NW3 5SX
Tel:00 44 (0)20 7435 2002/ Direct Line 02074352098
VISIT our website:

Rita Apsan
Freud Museum Photo Library and Shop
20 Maresfield Gardens
London NW3 5SX
Tel:00 44 (0)20 7435 2002/ Direct Line 02074352098
VISIT our website:

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

A reflection on the film ‘Savage Grace’ dir Tom Kalin 2008

I went to this see this film last month and emerged from the cinema stunned by the graphic scenes of Oedipal triumph fuelled by the death instinct… or at least that’s a psychoanalytic interpretation of the driving narrative. For a more conventional summary of the plot try the following:

Based on Natalie Robins' non-fiction book, Savage Grace tells the tragic story of Barbara Baekeland, a middle-class woman who married into the Bakelite plastics fortune, but allowed her insecurities to poison her familial relationships and lead to murder.’

The fact that this film is based upon a true story makes it even more shocking. People were getting up and leaving the cinema during explicit scenes that smash every social taboo upholding the veeneer of civility, that we accept as ‘reality’, in contemporary western society. The title of the film depicts the problem the characters face, which is how to deal with the unconscious savagery that necessitates an etiquette of polite aggression to regulate societies sustained by greed and glamour. We observe how the materially ambitious use the trappings of glamour as a fragile container for narcissistic and paranoid modes of object relating. Such relationships are based upon trade rather than love. Everything is a business deal, a power move. Yet we are treated to visual scenes of sumptious beauty and elegance that permit complex power trade offs to pass as the ultimate in sophistication. However, when this fragile container of glamour fails, as it must, the result is devastation. This is the kind of film I expect to read a lot of essays about in the future! Go see if you have a strong stomach and enjoy thought provoking explorations of the social regulation of desire.


From the Freud Museum...


We are back with our Literary dialogues at the Freud Museum!
This time Amanda Craig will be in conversation with novelist and critic Michael Arditti.

Thursday 18 September 7.00pm: Amanda Craig

Amanda Craig is the author of five highly acclaimed novels, Foreign Bodies, A Private Place, A Vicious Circle, In a Dark Wood and Love in Idleness. She has been hailed in the Evening Standard as ‘the greatest novelist under the age of fifty’. Her new novel, Hearts and Minds, a sequel to A Vicious Circle and Love in Idleness, will be published this year. She contributes regularly to the Daily Telegraph, Independent on Sunday and the New Statesman and is the children’s book critic for The Times.

And the final one will be on

Thursday 23 October 7.00pm: Deborah Moggach

Deborah Moggach is a highly esteemed novelist, short story and screenplay writer. Her novels include The Ex-Wives, Porky, The Stand-In, Final Demand, These Foolish Things, the best-selling Tulip Fever and, most recently, In The Dark. Her TV adaptations include several of her own books, Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate, Anne Fine’s Goggle Eyes and The Diary of Anne Frank. Her 2005 screenplay for Pride and Prejudice earned her a BAFTA nomination.

The events will be hosted by Michael Arditti.

Michael Arditti is a novelist, short story writer and critic. His novels include Unity, A Sea Change and the award-winning Easter. He is currently the Leverhulme artist in residence at the Freud museum.

All talks take place at The Freud Museum
Entrance: £12 or £10 for Friends of the Freud Museum

Please apply online at using the secure order form, or phone the museum to secure a place. Payment should be made by Credit/Debit Card in advance.

20 Maresfield Gardens
020 7435 2002

Rita Apsan
Freud Museum Photo Library and Shop
20 Maresfield Gardens
London NW3 5SX
Tel:00 44 (0)20 7435 2002/ Direct Line 02074352098
VISIT our website: