It used to be that only old people whined about today's cinema, nostalgic for an earlier time when movies mattered. Lately, it's practically everyone, youthful and aged, irked that filmgoing in the year 2001 is sour and unsatisfying.
How to shake the celluloid blues? Get a hit of something passionate, rousing, inventive, that will knock your booties off and shake your socks: I recommend the comic and visionary cinema of Guy Maddin, whose marvelous features include Tales from the Gimli Hospital (1988)and Careful (1992).
Never heard of Maddin? Get in line. His pictures were too wild and bizarre to have been exhibited in provincial Boston at their release. You had to travel to New York for midnight screenings at places like the Bleecker Street Cinema. Who is Maddin? One of cinema's true originals, who makes his delicious comedies, Monty Python meets Sergei Eisenstein, on elaborate sets built on a sound stage in his frigid home town of Winnepeg, Canada. While it dips below zero outside-often!!-Maddin shoots away, utilizing a peculiar cast of snowed-in locals.
Careful, a claustrophobic farce of incestuous desire, occurs in a mountain village where a loud noise-a hacking cough?-could unleash a fatal avalanche. Tales from the Gimli Hospital is an expressionist fever dream, set among hospital victims of a smallpox epidemic. Both are howlingly hilarious, with eye-popping visuals informed (Maddin is a movie freak) by the early history of cinema, from Nosferatu to Triumph of the Will.
Maddin's latst work is the great short, Heart of the World (2000), perhaps the best film made anywhere on earth last year. As all Maddin, it's damned hard to describe, except that the cast includes a heinous, obese capitalist and dueling Jesuses, inspired by passion plays. "It's the most fun I've ever had," Maddin told me at the Rotterdam Film Festival. "I've always wanted to use a montage style, and I did 800 shots in five days, a blizzard of celluloid, and there are about 650 cuts in the 5 1/2 minutes of the movie. No shot lasts longer than thirty frames."
Unlike Moulin Rouge, the cuts mean something, and there's content in every setup. Maddin's next project? "An original ballet, based on Dram Stoker's Dracula. I hope to make a real film of it, the way Michael Powell did with The Tales of Hoffman."