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.

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