Bright Lights Film Journal

The Eye Like a Strange Balloon (Guy Maddin 1995)

Canadian Guy Maddin is virtually unique among contemporary filmmakers in that despite having made nine features – including The Saddest Music in the World, Brand Upon the Brain, and My Winnipeg – he continues to churn out film shorts. Dozens of them. As he notes in this great interview, “I put all my shorts on YouTube. My distributors take them down now and then. I love my distributors, but I kinda think that shorts should be out there, even if I have to pirate them myself.”

The Eye Like a Strange Balloon was commissioned by the BBC. They invited Maddin to make a short film inspired by any work of art. He chose “To Edgar Poe: The Eye Like a Strange Balloon Mounts Toward Infinity” (left) by the 19th Century Symbolist artist, Odilon Redon. To catalog in detail all the influences on this 4½-minute film would take longer than it does to watch it.

Plot – Mainly, a condensation of Abel Gance’s La Roue (1923) in which a railroad engineer and his son are rivals for the love of the engineer’s adopted daughter. Maddin also borrows elements from Poe’s Berenice (the teeth).

Imagery – Redon and other 19th Century Symbolists. 20th Century Surrealists like Rene Magritte, Salvador Dali­, and Max Ernst.

Style – Gance’s Russian-style montage. Superimpositions and other techniques borrowed from the experimental films of the late 1920s and early ’30s (Dali­/Bunuel, Man Ray, and Joseph Cornell).

Caveat – Cannot be watched without a taste for Surrealism, and a well-developed sense of humor.