Guy Maddin’s bizarre yet wonderful “docu-fantasia” My Winnipeg gets an actual release in the U.S.A. from Criterion, after being released previously on DVD as a “Blockbuster Exclusive” (which obviously worked out well for the former rental chain). Criterion presents the film on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of about 1.33:1 on a dual-layer disc with a new 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer.
The film is heavily stylized, good chunks of it made up to look like vintage silent film footage, quickly edited in with what is obviously newer footage shot on film, archival footage, home movies, and standard-definition digital. Damage has been purposely applied so there are a number of scratches and marks, though they’ve probably been added there by computer in a few cases.. Frames can constantly jump or shake, and film grain can get heavy. But all of this is intentional, somewhat of a trademark of Maddin’s style: this is how it’s supposed to look.
The digital transfer itself looks fine. Where allowed (mostly during Maddin’s family reenactments) detail is strong, textures look fairly nice, and film grain (which again can get very heavy) looks quite natural. Some of the standard-definition digital footage that makes its way in can look a bit noisy and blocky, with a few sequences appearing to be interlaced with heavy jagged edges. Though these sequences are glaring and obvious it’s again intentional and just part of the film’s look.
Getting past the quirks of the film’s look the digital transfer as a whole is stable and pleasing, keeping a filmic look. Contrast is nicely balanced with distinctly rendered levels of gray and rich blacks with excellent shadow definition. The film’s style is heavily applied but this transfer does handle it rather nicely. 8/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Criterion loads on a number of supplements starting with four items labeled as cine-essays, which the notes in the included “About” option state are “Winnipegiana” created by Maddin and friend Evan Johnson, who are apparently still putting these together. The four, titled Puberty, Colours, Elms, and Cold are heavily styled experimental shorts, complete with an ominous soundtrack and voice-over narration, running between over 1-minute and 4-minutes each, for a total of just over 10-minutes. I’m not sure what they really mean by the term “Winnipegiana” since the films (or at the very least, the first two) could be considered more universal and apply to other areas of the world (or at least Canada) but they’re obviously rather personal films reflecting the home town of Maddin and Johnson.
Criterion then includes a rather large supplements, a 52-minute conversation between Maddin and author Robert Enright. This fairly in-depth interview features Maddin talking in-depth about the film’s origins and making, starting with how it came to be: he called up Michael Burns after he heard Burns was thinking about making a film with him. It almost seems like the film’s subject matter, Maddin’s hometown of Winnipeg, was sort of made up on the spot during that conversation, though Burns gave him the stipulation that he doesn’t present the city as the “frozen hellhole that everyone knows” it is. This got Maddin thinking and he was excited by the prospect of a documentary, though of course the film somewhat veered off of that track. Though Maddin actually did do research, he cheated the system of making a documentary by scripting out everything he wanted, which meant he could film less material than the average documentary required. From here Maddin and Enright talk about the various topics covered throughout the film, somewhat alluding to what is real and what isn’t (amusingly, especially to Enright, one of the film’s more preposterous sounding events is actually 100% true, and probably the most straightforward portion of the film). They also talk about the autobiographical elements, having Ann Savage play his mother, what it was like to work with her, and then also touch on his style. It’s long but it goes by fairly fast, and is fairly funny, especially a rather surprising and sudden conclusion.
”My Winnipeg” Live in Toronto is exactly 9-minutes’ worth of footage from a screening of the film in 2008, where Maddin was in attendance doing a live narration. The footage briefly shows some rehearsals followed by the introduction to the screening and a sampling of Maddin’s performance. A rather cool way to present the film (though similar to how he has screened a few of his other films) it’s an interesting feature though I’m slightly disappointed it wasn’t included in this set as an alternate audio track, similar to Criterion’s DVD release of Brand Upon the Brain!
Criterion then includes five short films by Maddin: Spanky to the Pier and Back (approx. 4-minutes), a 2008 film chronicling the last walk Maddin would take his girlfriend’s dog Spanky on (Spanky does appear in My Winnipeg); Sinclair (approx. 4-minutes), a 2010 film made in response to the racism he feels exists in Canada against the Native population, recreating the death of Brian Sinclair, a Native who died from a treatable infection while waiting for help in an emergency room for over 30-hours (it’s a distressing film, effectively creating a sense of loneliness that Maddin assumes Sinclair felt); Only Dream Things (approx. 19-minutes), a 2012 film incorporating filmed footage and audio recordings made by his older brother before his suicide; The Hall Runner (approx. 4-minutes), from 2014, which appears to be a deleted scene from the film, focusing on the hall runners that would have run through his home; and then Louis Riel For Dinner (approx. 3-minutes), a 2014 animated short that’s just as surreal and odd as Maddin’s other work (and anything that has the line “Louis Riel tastes good” is a-okay in my book).
Madding and Enright provide brief video intros for the first three, with Maddin going over the origin of the projects, while the last two get simple text notes with Maddin explaining his works. It’s a fantastic collection of films, and they’re inclusion here is a great touch.
The release then closes with the film’s original IFC trailer. The fold-out insert then features what appears to be a poster on one side, and an essay by Wayne Koestenbaum, going over the film’s structure, Maddin’s style, humour, and imagery.
For those new to Maddin Criterion puts together an excellent set to introduce one to the filmmaker and his work, piling on a number of his recent short films and then an extensive interview with the filmmaker. 8/10