From Weimar to Winnipeg: German Expressionism and Guy Maddin

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The films of Guy Maddin, from his debut feature Tales from the Gimli Hospital (1988) to his most recent one, The Forbidden Room (2015), draw extensively on the visual vocabulary and narrative conventions of 1920s and 1930s German cinema. These cinematic revisitations, however, are no mere exercise in sentimental cinephilia or empty pastiche. What distinguishes Maddin’s compulsive returns to the era of German Expressionism is the desire to both archive and awaken the past. Careful (1992), Maddin’s mountain film, reanimates an anachronistic genre in order to craft an elegant allegory about the apprehensions and anxieties of everyday social and political life. My Winnipeg (2006) rescores the city symphony to reveal how personal history and cultural memory combine to structure the experience of the modern metropolis, whether it is Weimar Berlin or wintry Winnipeg. In this paper, I explore the influence of German Expressionism on Maddin’s work as well as argue that Maddin’s films preserve and perpetuate the energies and idiosyncrasies of Weimar cinema.

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