I offer this clip as follow-up to my post re The Eye Like a Strange Balloon (Guy Maddin 1995). It shows the degree to which Maddin’s style and thematic concerns have evolved in the 12 years since the earlier film was made.
Note the differences. Most obviously, Eye Like a Strange Balloon is a photographed dream. Spanky: To the Pier and Back is photographed real life. Eye Like a Strange Balloon is heavily dependent on mise-en-scène – artificial sets and carefully storyboarded compositions supported by brilliantly orchestrated sound effects – while Spanky: To the Pier and Back is silent and achieves its effects through rapid-fire editing, an impressionistic montage of dog, trees, ocean and sky. Style-wise, Eye Like a Strange Balloon takes it cue from the surrealist and avant-garde films of the late ’20s and early ’30s. Spanky: To the Pier and Back is more like the personal home-movies-as-art created by Stan Brakhage in the 1950s and ’60s. (Compare to Brakhage’s Sirius Remembered here.) One could say that Spanky: To the Pier and Back is like Brakhage’s Dog Star Man without the Star and the Man, or – to put it less facetiously – like Dog Star Man without the painting/scratching on the film and cosmic superimpositions.
Some critics and reviewers get miffed whenever an artist ceases doing the kind of thing he or she was doing before. To note a recent example, Kenneth Turan, writing in the Los Angeles Times, seemed deeply and personally offended that the Woody Allen who made Vicky Cristina Barcelona is not the same person who made Manhattan and Annie Hall three decades ago. Hey Kenneth, I’ve seen Manhattan and Annie Hall, and I can see them again any time I want. I’m glad that Woody is using his remaining years to do something different.
As for Maddin, his problem is the opposite – many reviewers assume that he is doing the same kind of thing he was doing all along when, in fact, he has evolved quite radically. Yes, his style is still “weird” and “quirky,” but in very different ways from his great early features (Archangel, Careful). Those early works were primarily inspired by other films. Maddin’s most recent work, his “Me Trilogy” (Cowards Bend the Knee, Brand Upon the Brain! and My Winnipeg), is primarily autobiographical. I expect – and hope – that what he comes up with next will continue to surprise us.