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Case Number 20295

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The Quintessential Guy Maddin!

Archangel
1990 // 83 Minutes // Not Rated
Careful
1992 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Twilight Of The Ice Nymphs
1997 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Dracula: Pages From A Virgin's Diary
2003 // 75 Minutes // Not Rated
Cowards Bend The Knee
2004 // 64 Minutes // Not Rated
Released by Zeitgeist Films
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // December 10th, 2010

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All Rise...

Judge Mike Rubino gets Burt Reynolds to overdub his dialogue.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Careful (published March 9th, 2009), Cowards Bend The Knee (published October 20th, 2005), and Dracula: Pages From A Virgin's Diary (published May 18th, 2004) are also available.

The Charge

Geza: You saved my life!
Philbin: That's nice. Your father said he'd drive me to the aerodrome. Have you seen him?
Geza: He's dead!
Philbin: I can see that. Nothing seems to be going right today.

Opening Statement

Guy Maddin doesn't believe in the suspension of disbelief. If anything, this Winnipeg filmmaker does the opposite: his movies emphasize the artificiality of movies (and not in the way Ed Wood did). They're challenging, alright, but also distinctly original. The Quintessential Guy Maddin! features five films that run the gamut of accessibility from throughout this auteur's career.

Facts of the Case

The films in the set include:

• Archangel A small town in northern Russia is caught in the icy grip of the World War, even though it's been over for a couple of months now. Amidst the Cossack attacks and futile warfare, a young soldier falls in love with a mistaken identity.

• Careful An over-saturated Alpine village, constantly under the threat of avalanches, is home to disturbing family secrets involving incest and ghosts.

• Twilight of the Ice Nymphs Lust and confusion run wild in the woods when a newly freed prisoner returns home to his ostrich farm and gets caught in (surprise) a love triangle.

• Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary This made-for-TV movie features Bram Stoker's novel performed by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

• Cowards Bend the Knee Guy Maddin's autobiographical fever dream about growing up in the locker room of Winnipeg's ice hockey team and his mother's hair salon.

The Evidence

Guy Maddin is a cinematic time traveler, employing the techniques and theories developed during the early days of the moving picture. His movies are, at times, indistinguishable from classic German Expressionist and Russian silent films of the early 20th Century. They're packed with melodrama, cheap sets, intertitles featuring exciting fonts and exclamation points, and lots of hazy Vaseline lenses. Guy loves primitivity.

This exhaustive and well-packaged collection offers up a nice retrospective of the director's work and its evolution. While none of these films are as accomplished as his best stuff, Brand Upon the Brain! and My Winnipeg, there is more than enough here to satisfy art house cinema fans and Maddinistas alike (I assume they're called that).

Archangel is one of Maddin's earliest films and the best of the bunch. It's a homemade, wintry folk tale about a soldier looking for love. Maddin takes an interesting story, filled with plenty of incident, and fills it with absurd imagery and sound. Maddin almost never records his actors speaking their lines, and instead overdubs the dialogue later. The juxtaposition between the grainy, foggy picture and the crisp dialogue track establishes a technique Maddin will use in many of the movies in the set.

The film also sets up many of the thematic Maddin-isms found in much of his work: absurd and grotesque violence, amnesia, incest, and unreturned love. The effectiveness of these recurring themes waxes and wanes throughout the set.

Careful, for example, is a film that suffers from the over-reliance on love triangles and incest. Modeled after vintage German mountain movies (yeah, they exist), the film is a hand-tinted slog through some pretty bizarre, and occasionally boring, storytelling. A butler-in-training falls for his mother, but the mere thought of his possible dirty deeds causes him to go nuts. There are at least a handful of entertaining moments in the film, including a ghost dad with two eyepatches and the looming threat of a murderous avalanche, but this just didn't interest me in the way Archangel did.

With Careful, Maddin's visual style evolved into expressionistic color and it still worked. Twilight of the Ice Nymphs isn't as successful. Eschewing his usual lo-fi methods for fancier cameras and a bigger cast (including Shelley Duvall and Frank Gorshin!), Twilight doesn't feel like a Maddin film; the imagery is clearer and easier on the eyes (the world is experiencing perpetual twilight) causing the overdubbing stands out in a bad way. The story, another love triangle this time involving magic and mind control, is an uninteresting romp in Shakespearean territory.

If Twilight felt overly commercial and bland, Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary is the opposite: a rogue avant-dance picture masquerading as a TV movie. Made for Canadian television and featuring the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Dracula is an entertaining and imaginative piece of work. Maddin retains his lo-fi, black and white approach and adds splashes of expressive color (lots of reds and yellows) to highlight the good parts. The movie's sets are organic and open and the choreography is fantastic. And all of this for public television.

The last film in the set, Cowards Bend the Knee, is a twisted, rambling look into Guy Maddin's psyche. It's a precursor to Brand Upon the Brain!, and as such deals with a lot of the same themes and story elements: Maddin's parents, his sexual awakenings, voyeurism, and listening to stuff through vents. It's certainly the most challenging film in the set, with a very loose chapter structure and little story—beyond a plotline involving a cursed hand transplant and the Winnipeg Maroons wax museum. It's a strange one, with a lot of frank imagery and more incest, but it also features Maddin's style at its most raw and developed (if that makes any sense). He's a master at his craft, doling out blurry intertitles, strange audio cues, and imperfect editing transitions at every turn.

Zeitgeist Films has packed these five films on to four discs along with a staggering collection of supplements. Every film comes with a Guy Maddin commentary track featuring plenty of dry humor and insights. Other standout features include Waiting for Twilight, an hour-long documentary about the making of Twilight of the Ice Nymphs narrated by Tom Waits; Maddin's award-winning short film The Heart of the World; and a behind-the-scenes look at Brand Upon the Brain! and its connection to Cowards Bend the Knee. There are also a handful of production photos, featurettes, interviews, and recovered footage from a lost Maddin film. These supplements, combined with an audio/video presentation that seems about as accurate as the director would like, make for a truly great set.

Closing Statement

For fans of Guy Maddin and his crazed brand of vintage filmmaking, this is a set worth owning. Five endlessly creative films (of, albeit, varying quality) plus a ton of special features should fill any cinephile with exclamation points of happiness.

The Verdict

Not guilty!

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Genres

• Comedy
• Cult
• Drama
• Fantasy
• Independent
• Silent Films
• War

Scales of Justice, Archangel

Video: 85
Audio: 85
Extras: 60
Acting: 85
Story: 90
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile, Archangel

Studio: Zeitgeist Films
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 83 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Archangel

• Commentary
• Short Film
• Storyboards

Scales of Justice, Careful

Video: 90
Audio: 85
Extras: 90
Acting: 85
Story: 77
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, Careful

Studio: Zeitgeist Films
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Careful

• Commentary
• Documentary
• Short Film

Scales of Justice, Twilight Of The Ice Nymphs

Video: 92
Audio: 90
Extras: 80
Acting: 82
Story: 72
Judgment: 77

Perp Profile, Twilight Of The Ice Nymphs

Studio: Zeitgeist Films
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Twilight Of The Ice Nymphs

• Commentary
• Featurette
• Photos

Scales of Justice, Dracula: Pages From A Virgin's Diary

Video: 90
Audio: 93
Extras: 85
Acting: 90
Story: 87
Judgment: 88

Perp Profile, Dracula: Pages From A Virgin's Diary

Studio: Zeitgeist Films
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 75 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Dracula: Pages From A Virgin's Diary

• Commentary
• Featurette
• Interviews

Scales of Justice, Cowards Bend The Knee

Video: 87
Audio: 88
Extras: 90
Acting: 85
Story: 80
Judgment: 81

Perp Profile, Cowards Bend The Knee

Studio: Zeitgeist Films
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 64 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Cowards Bend The Knee

• Lost Footage
• Featurette
• Photos








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