The geographical dead center of North America and the beloved birthplace of Guy Maddin, Winnipeg is the frosty and mysterious star of Maddin's "docu-fantasia." A work of memory and imagination, Maddin's film burrows into what the filmmaker calls "the heart of the heart" of the continent, conjuring a city as delightful as it is fearsome, populated by sleepwalkers and hockey aficionados. Take part in Winnipeg’s annual epic scavenger hunt! Pay your respects to the racehorses forever frozen in the river! Help judge the yearly homoerotic Golden Boy pageant! What is real and what is fantasy is left up to the viewer to sort out in Maddin's hypnotic, expertly conceived paean to that wonderful and terrifying place known as My Hometown.
"I want to break free." -- Freddie Mercury
As someone who was born, raised, and currently resides in the great Canadian town of Winnipeg, I can tell you firsthand that this sleepy and often frozen wonderland is a strange and mysterious place. Spend any amount of time here, even just a little, and it will soon find a way to wriggle its way under your skin, burrow into your bones, and latch onto your heart and soul. And once its hooks are deep within in you -- good luck trying to shake yourself free.
But back in 2006, renowned filmmaker and fellow trapped Winnipegger -- Guy Maddin, devised his own crazy escape plan. If he couldn't leave this seductive temptress willingly, as he has tried so many times before, perhaps he could film his way out of dodge. This last-ditch escape pod of his was 'My Winnipeg' -- a surrealist's dreamscape that is equal parts mockumentary, twisted docudrama, and distorted memory in what Maddin calls "docu-fantasia."
In kind of a reverse, alternate reality version of 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,' the film follows a very weary, groggy man (Darcy Fehr, portraying a younger version of Maddin), desperate to find release from the icy grip his birthplace has on him. We join him on a mesmerizing train ride through this mostly flat prairie landscape as well as his semi-conscious mind, revealing a melting pot of "personal history, civic tragedy, and mystical hypothesizing" at every stop. We are constantly bombarded with trippy imagery and off-the-wall digressions, and even get to meet his domineering mother (played by cult star Ann Savage). It's a fragmented, hodgepodge of ideas from far left field, but when it all boils down, 'My Winnipeg' ends up being more like a love letter than anything else.
Maddin himself provides the narration throughout the film, which comes off more like rant-ish ramblings dripping with satire. What I also found interesting about this was that according to Maddin in the interview segment provided in the bonus features, he mentions that he had originally planned to use a script but then decided against it. Instead, he chose to improvise, going into the recording studio with a blank slate and letting it flow freely from his thoughts. The end result plays out like one hypnotic, 80-minute long beat poem, and it sure complements the hallucinatory surrealism on display in nearly every frame -- whether it was his intention or not.
'My Winnipeg' premiered in 2008 to much acclaim, receiving numerous award nominations (winning a few), and was even hailed by Roger Ebert as one of his top 10 films of the decade. It's not just a charming, comical, and downright bizarre piece of cinema, it's a masterful work of art in a class entirely of its own -- and an experience you'll likely never forget.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
The Criterion Collection proudly brings Guy Maddin's "My Winnipeg' to Blu-ray on a Region-A locked BD-50 disc housed inside their trademark clear keepcase. Following the usual "C" logo, the disc boots up straight to the menu screen. The spine number is 741.
My Winnipeg' is presented in 1080p in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. According to the liner notes, Criterion's Blu-ray transfer "was created on a Spirit DataCine film scanner from a 35mm interpositive" and supervised by director Guy Maddin and director of photography Jody Shapiro.
This is one of those releases where it's really tough to fairly pin a star grade on the video quality. 'My Winnipeg' is a patchwork of various source materials, from old standard-definition archival footage to the newer, crisper scenes provided by Maddin. As a result, the quality varies as there are plenty of nicks, scratches, pulsing, and the like, but much of it -- as in Maddin's re-enactments of his life for example -- are actually deliberately added as an artistic effect.
The newer footage shot by Maddin looks the sharpest and has the strongest definition and detail, while the few bits of color stock footage is heavily faded and in pretty rough shape. Contrast is usually stable, and black levels stay true for the most part. But again, these often waver due to the age and condition of the content or just by design.
"My Winnipeg" likely won't awe audiences with its video presentation, but any faults here probably shouldn't be blamed on Criterion's Blu-ray transfer.
'My Winnipeg' features a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack. The documentation provided states:
"The original 2.0 soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the original digital audio master files. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, AudioCube's integrated workstation, and iZotope RX 4."
Maddin's narration is the main focus in the film, and it always comes through clear and crisp. The background music and effects like a horse stampede or a train whistle are also well-balanced in the mix. Dynamics have their limitations, although that is to be expected with this type of production. The track doesn't have any pops or hissing or other noticeable defects that may disrupt the viewing experience.
As with the video, the audio presentation isn't what I'd call "demo-worthy" by any means, but it is about as good as we can hope for.
From the creative genius of Guy Maddin, 'My Winnipeg' is a lovingly made, fascinatingly weird mockumentary infused with the kind of gonzo flair we'd expect from Hunter S. Thompson or David Lynch. Criterion's Blu-ray release arrives with a faithful video/audio presentation and an intriguing array of supplements, making this release deserving of a recommendation.