Monday, September 16, 2013

Guy Maddin's "Keyhole"

Guy Maddin is a tough filmmaker to recommend. Even among cinephiles, there’s a quality to his work that can be off-putting to some, and enthralling to others. Even those that love his work, like I do, have trouble recommending it outright. Much like the films of Bela Tarr, you can’t just sit down and turn on a Maddin film. You need to be in the mood for it. They are movies best viewed in dark rooms, in silence.  Maddin’s films are also hard to come by, just like the films of Bela Tarr, though Tarr is usually harder to find. So, when it comes to telling friends to go out and see a movie, you need to also offer a bit of a warning; you probably won’t find it anywhere, and you really need to have a full attention span. Also? It may be a silent film.

Maddin is a filmmaker whose style is set in the techniques of the 30’s and 40’s; he films mainly using Super 8 and 16mm film, in black and white, and occasionally without sound. The editing, framing, and composition of his movies wouldn’t be out of place in a movie from the 30’s or 40’s, save for the nudity. His last film, My Winnipeg, was somewhere between a documentary, a memoir, and historical fantasy; it was one of the best films of 2008. Still, his films are an acquired taste. Not just anyone will want to sit down and offer up 90 to 120 minutes of their life for something that looks like a relic from the past. And there is a slightly autobiographic aspect to his films that can be blunt, and treads through territory that some might not want to follow.

That is why I was intrigued by the concept of his new film, Keyhole, which has a fun-sounding genre premise, and actors who are somewhat recognizable. On top of that, Maddin has switched to digital film, after shooting all of his previous films in Super 8 and 16mm. Ok, I’ll bite.

Of course, much like the house where all of the action takes place, things are not quite what they seem. Jason Patrick stars as a gangster named Ulysses, who brings his gang, a blind woman, and a kidnapped man back to his house in order to find his wife. Ok…that sounds a little strange, right off the bat. I did mention there were ghosts in the house, yeah? Lots of them. Also, one of them is an old naked man that is chained to a bed. You get a clear view of him, many, many times. Also, it’s pretty clear that most of the gangsters, if not all of them, are ghosts. Also, probably, the entire rest of the cast. Lots of ghosts.  Quite a bit of nudity.

The film is more like watching the dream of someone who binged on 1930’s silent films, gangster noire, and old Vincent Price films. If Dr. Mabuse decided to visit the House of Usher with his friend Al Capone, it would be something like this, but with more old man nudity. It is at times feverish and hallucinatory, leaving viewers to wonder what’s going on, and why they should care. It’s only around the midpoint that things start to clear up, as questions start getting answered. Thankfully, when answers come, they seem more like pieces of a puzzle falling into place, rather than odd contrivances. Still, the imagery and tone of the film will leave most viewers wondering what of that imagery, if any, has deeper meaning. It is possible that I’m completely overthinking it, while Maddin sits, somewhere in Canada, smiling.

In the end, though, everything comes back around to one of Maddin’s favorite topics; memory. This is all an exercise is exorcising the past. And while many of the reveals, if they could be called that, are telegraphed from miles away, the ending is still earned. There is a weight to the proceedings that isn’t quite apparent from the onset. Also lots of old man nudity. I may have mentioned that earlier.

But now comes the question: would I recommend this to the uninitiated? Actually, yes. If you can get past some of the more maddening aspects of Maddin - and the old man penis - it works as a good gateway into the filmography of an auteur that can be somewhat esoteric, and a bit eccentric. Still, I wouldn’t recommend this to everyone. It is a movie that requires a decent attention span, and it can seem somewhat impenetrable in the early onset. Also, there is quite a bit of old man dick. Still, if those are not deal breakers, I’d recommend giving it a shot. It is not one of Maddin’s best, but it is a decent gateway into one of the more original filmmakers of our time, even if most of his tricks stem from the 30’s. Oh, and old man penis.

Written by Mark Donovan