DATE May 21, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Guy Maddin discusses his career as a filmmaker
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
There's a new version of the "Dracula" story. This one is a silent film
adaptation of a dance by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet to the music of Gustav
Mahler. "Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary" was directed by Guy Maddin.
He was commissioned by the CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, to
adapt the "Dracula" ballet for TV. It won an International Emmy Award. The
movie has just opened in a New York theater and will soon begin opening in
Guy Maddin is a Canadian filmmaker with a cult following. His movie "Tales
From the Gimli Hospital" was a hit on the midnight movie circuit. In 1995, he
became the youngest person ever to receive the Telluride Film Festival's Medal
for Lifetime Achievement. In a New York Times Review of "Dracula," Stephen
Holden described the film as voluptuous, whimsical and exceedingly strange.
He wrote: `"Dracula" suggests that silent movies and ballet may have always
been natural dancing partners; at least they are when folded into each other
by a quirky visionary like Maddin.'
If someone were to have said to you a few years ago, like 10 years ago, `Your
next project will be a silent film adaptation of a ballet version of
"Dracula,"' what would you have said?
Mr. GUY MADDIN (Filmmaker): Jeez, I think I would have assumed that I'd gone
off to ballet school or that I'd, you know, gone to Paris and had spent 10
years making documentaries or something, but I certainly never would have
expected my life, lazy as it is, to have led me to this point.
I didn't spend a lot of time watching ballet; didn't have an inclination to.
I kind of felt like I should perhaps, but, you know, never got around to it.
And so it kind of came--if you had told me this a year and a half ago, I'd
have been just as surprised actually.
It was a project that was offered to me. I resisted, because I didn't feel I
was the right director for the job. I resisted and resisted and resisted, and
finally, basically strictly from hunger I accepted, and I'm really glad I did.
I thought, `Well, at least I'll get a paycheck and a learning experience out
of it,' but I didn't expect to get a picture that I was actually proud of from
the deal, too. So it all worked out--really exciting--I think perhaps because
I was so terrified and respectful of how much I needed to know that I just
went into it just bristling with fear and energy.
GROSS: I suppose fear is a good way to enter a "Dracula" story.
Mr. MADDIN: Yeah. I don't know how much fear I managed to produce in the
viewers. It is a ballet, after all, and I don't know how frightened you can
be of ballet dancers, unless you're actually in amongst them filming and
they're kicking horribly close to your camera, which is just bolted back into
your eyeball, which has happened to me a number of times; finish the shoot
with two black eyes.
But it ended up being pretty atmospheric, I feel, but I don't know how
spine-tingling the ballet is.
GROSS: What did you think of the "Dracula" story before you started the movie?
Mr. MADDIN: It's funny. I was a real horror movie buff, especially those old
universal ones, you know, the Karloff and Lugosi pictures, but not the
"Dracula" one. It took me a long time to catch up with it, and it wasn't
until I assigned it to myself as homework when I accepted this job I watched a
whole bunch of vampire pictures and read the Stoker finally as prep. And of
all the myths and fairy tales and allegories that are embedded in those horror
movies, that one had never appealed to me as a kid. I think it took a life
experience of--I had to go through the adult years of being horribly jealous
and in love and rage-filled and delirious with unrequited love and various
hatreds to fully understand the story and what it's really about, or at least
that's what it's about for me.
GROSS: Do you have a favorite version of the story on film?
Mr. MADDIN: I kind of like Carl Dreyer's "Vampyr," because you can't figure
out what's going on in it. It's very atmospheric and dreamlike. And as a
child, I kind of enjoyed certain aspects of Christopher Lee, Hammer "Dracula"
pictures. I really liked the sound effect of the stakes going through the
vampires' chests. I just liked all that penetration. It just sounded so
amazing, and I didn't know why. And (technical difficulties) but it was
GROSS: So what does the "Dracula" story say to you now about either sex,
religion, sexually transmitted disease?
Mr. MADDIN: Bram Stoker maps out the heart of a male in love and how
hate-filled it can be when rivals arrive on the scene, and a man needs to
propagandize for his own sake against his rivals, against unknown rivals
especially. There's an old Juna Barnes' quote that I can only paraphrase
about only the jealous person knows perfect love; it's in the bed of his
rival. And all these men in "Dracula" can sense that they're beloveds, these
girls. Once they start sleepwalking, they kind of perceive that the
sleepwalking out to the cliffs yearning for someone to arrive in a ship--they
interpret that as sort of unattached sexual fantasies, subconscious sexual
fantasies, and they really seem to get upset that their women are thinking of
someone else, not them. And so they almost precipitate out of thin air, and
an imaginary immigrant, an outsider, that's come onto their shores to steal
their women. And even in Stoker's pages, the vampire not only steals their
women, but he steals British money. And you half expect to hear them complain
that these vampires are taking our jobs somehow. It's just packed with
xenophobia and propaganda.
And for the women's part, I think "Dracula" precipitates out of just
unobjectified lust, and the men sure don't like it. So they blame the victim
quite a bit; these women with bites on their necks take a lot of the blame,
and thus the cures they cook up for vampirism--cutting the heads off women so
they can't think of vampires; driving a stake through their heart so they
can't fall in love with them; putting garlic in their mouths of the
decapitated heads so they can no longer speak of vampires--you know, you don't
want to hear your women speaking of your rivals ever, so it just does seem
like just a maelstrom of jealousies, hatreds, propagandizing; not just men
against men, but it's tribe against tribe, country against country. And I
think these sort of passions will never go away--we're human--and you see them
roil up now and then and then subside for a little while.
But I guess the reason the novel is so durable, it's never been out of print
since the 1890s, is that Stoker fluked on some kind of template for the way
men act when they fall in love, when they're campaigning for a woman's hand.
And it'll just never change.
GROSS: When you were asked to do the film adaptation of the Royal Winnipeg
Ballet's version of "Dracula," did they expect that you would do it as a
silent film? Is that what they wanted? Or was that just your decision, your
Mr. MADDIN: It kind of evolved a little bit slowly. My first intention was
to be a good little director for hire and just obey everyone's wishes and film
it in HDTV color. I just thought, `Well, maybe I'll learn a bit about digital
photography.' But I sat down with the choreographer and he and I watched
together some black-and-white Super 8 footage I'd taken of his dance, and he
said, `That looks amazing. Strangely enough, I choreograph in black and
white.' He doesn't even think of colors when he's choreographing.
And it occurred to me after the recent reading of the novel that there really
are only a few colors that matter in the story, black and white because it's
so full of propaganda, and black and white also because it's Gothic and full
of shadows, and shadows in color never seem to have the same weight as they do
in black and white, and red, of course, the color of blood and then green and
gold, the color of money.
So I finally convinced the CBC, the broadcaster that commissioned the project,
to allow me to shoot it in black and white on film, which would seem more
organic, more consistent with the period, and just allow me to throw some
splashes of color in it, hand-painted blood and money.
GROSS: And you also do it in--you know, borrowing a lot of the language of
silent films--the title cards, the kind of dreamy and mysterious lighting,
some of the gestures even...
Mr. MADDIN: Yeah.
GROSS: ...you know, the focus on the eyes, which are so particularly
important in silent films.
Mr. MADDIN: Yeah. And it's not something you see very often in ballet,
actually, especially live. The dancers really loved getting close-ups. I
thought they would resent having their bodies cropped off for all the
close-ups I give them. I mean, I give them a lot. I sort of shot the movie
ignoring that it was a dance. It just happened to be a drama that was danced.
Of course, with narrative ballet when the dancers sort of ease out of the
dance and into the pantomime, they're actually doing silent movie acting. And
so it was a simple matter of adding intertitle cards, a silent movie
convention, just to keep the narrative a little more clear than it was on
stage, because I was making this for television after all and I'm well aware
of the ADD itchy remote-control finger...
Mr. MADDIN: ...that rules what's watched in any household. So I just thought
I would try not to risk the viewers getting lost in abstraction and just bring
on intertitle cards usually culled from the pages of Stoker himself, some of
his more beautiful passages, and there really aren't that many. I don't
really like the book that much, but I tried to get the most evocative little
passages or the most spite-filled or alias.
GROSS: But you start with a passage from Stoker: `There are bad dreams for
those who sleep unwisely.'
Mr. MADDIN: Yeah. I like the warning to viewers to sleep wisely, an
impossible suggestion to follow, I guess. But I think he might even have been
either intentionally or ironically, and I can't figure out how much of his
effects are intentional, warning women to sleep just a little more purely and
not dream so sensually.
GROSS: My guest is Canadian film director Guy Maddin. His new film is
"Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary." More after a break. This is FRESH
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Canadian film director Guy Maddin. His new film is a
silent movie adaptation of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's "Dracula."
When you started working with dancers, what did you think of dance on film?
Had you seen much of it? Had you seen much, you know, like public television
or CBC dance on film?
Mr. MADDIN: I'd seen enough to know that I didn't like it that much. It
wasn't my favorite species of performing arts.
GROSS: Yeah. What were the things you didn't like that you wanted to avoid?
Mr. MADDIN: Well, right away, it seemed like there were too many long takes
and that the camera was too far away, because naturally, one would feel
obliged to show the dancers from head to toe and not cut up the dance much.
You want to show the dance. And that really works for me with Fred Astaire
and Ginger Rogers; somehow, that kind of purity leads to awe in me when I'm
watching. But with ballet, somehow, where the dance is more unnarrative
sometimes and full of digressions and longer, I found my mind wandering off.
And I know this sounds horribly Philistine. So I quickly took my Philistine
doubts to the actual choreographer and the ballet dancers, each and every one
of them, and I asked them what their favorite dance films were. And each and
every one of them said they didn't like dance films at all and they hadn't
seen one they really liked, one that really represented what dance meant to
And I got a chance very early on to find out what dance meant to them. It was
great because I hadn't seen the ballet. The choreographer performed it with
the entire dance company for me. And I went right up onstage with my Super 8
camera, and he held me by the scruff of the neck and he sort of steered me
around to the interesting parts of the ballet as it was happening. I had just
recently read the book. And so I was starting to see, very close up,
individual sentences from the book that would have been lost from the 20th row
of the theater, facial expressions.
I was surprised to see how well the dancers acted melodramatically, certainly
not method actors. They're more athletes and melodrama performers. But I was
able to see just how expressive the dancers were facially. And then every now
and then, the choreographer would yank me by the scruff of the neck out of the
way because a dancer I wasn't expecting would come hurtling through the space
I was occupying with an upraised toe that would have taken my head off. You
know, I was always put into mind about what an ostrich kick can do to you or
something. And I found it quite exciting. I also heard the dancers thumping
to the dance floor, which gives a little bit and jiggled me and my camera.
And they didn't thump in perfect synchronization. And then some sweat would
spray off their faces and land on me or patter onto the floor, and you could
hear their tendons and tutus ripping a little bit.
And so it was more like the middle of being in a vortex of a lot of great
athletes, but with great melodramatic music surging through your body and
rattling your molars. So it was really more immediate and more exciting, and
I knew right then that I wanted to film the dance in a very immediate,
up-close way, capture all those things that excite dancers and choreographers
and don't get a chance to excite regular theater viewers.
GROSS: So what did the choreographer think of the final version of your
Mr. MADDIN: Well, he told me he liked it. And I know he had some
reservations because I had to do some cutting, and he told me initially that
he was happy with cuts, but I know once we started filming and he was there to
help me film it, that he started falling in love with this thing all over
again. And I don't blame him. It's very lovely. And so he became a little
more reluctant about cutting, and it was very natural. But I was doing them
And then I was learning as I went along that ballet has its preparations, it
has its secret techniques, much like a magician does, and that if you view
them from the wrong side, from the side that isn't aimed straight out at the
house for a live performance, it's tantamount to filming a magician from the
wrong side and catching him stuffing doves up his sleeves. And so whenever I
decided--we agreed, the choreographer and I, that we'd smash the presidium
arch and just sort of film this in a 360-degree world. But every now and then
when I placed my cameras at a 90-degree angle from where the dancers were
aimed, I noticed he would just sort of go over and whisper to the dancers, and
they'd all shuffle around 90 degrees to the camera. So, luckily, we had a
number of cameras going at once.
And I don't know if he's forgiven me for this, but quite often I'd hide a
camera behind a big potted plant, and we'd film the dancers' behinds and
include them. At a recent Rotterdam Film Festival, I had a very angry
ballet purist scream at me for seven straight minutes. She just kept
screaming at me that I was betraying the preparations, that I was showing
things that shouldn't be shown. And I had a few minutes to formulate my
answer, and I finally rationalized this quite innocent betrayal. I didn't
realize I was doing it.
But my movies are so primitively put together, and I think in a good way, that
I feel I betray my own preparations; that you're always aware you're watching
a movie when you're watching my stuff. The jump cuts and just the film grain,
that's just so present. And you know you're watching film. You know how it's
put together. I don't use really sophisticated techniques. It's a real
very--I always like to think of myself as a child in a day care just working
with finger paints and very sloppy finger paints at that.
GROSS: Let's be honest, if somebody wanted a more conventional film
adaptation of the ballet, they came to the wrong guy.
Mr. MADDIN: Yeah, and that's what I kept telling them. So they had to
grudgingly admit that it was their fault if they didn't like what they were
GROSS: That's right. They asked for it.
Mr. MADDIN: Yeah.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is filmmaker-actor Guy Maddin.
And his new film is called "Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary." And it's
a silent film adaptation of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's version of "Dracula."
You grew up in Winnipeg. In fact, you live in Winnipeg now as well. Describe
what it's like there. How cold is it? How remote is it?
Mr. MADDIN: Well, first of all, I love it and not for any perverse reason.
It feels like a big city. Its population is only 600,000, but it's urban.
It's got all the things that big cities have, just not a great variety of it.
It is remote, though. The things that make other big cities bigger, like a
big hinterland and suburbs and things like that, are non-existent in
Winnipeg's case. The population falls down to zero as soon as you hit the
city limits, and the nearest city is Minneapolis some eight hours' drive away.
So there's a few small towns along the way.
And as for its coldness, it does have the coldest winters of any city over a
hundred thousand population in the world. January and February are especially
cruel. Everyone there is so excited about global warming. The winters have
been a little bit milder.
GROSS: That's so selfish.
Mr. MADDIN: I know, I know. But this winter was very bad. And I shot a
feature film there this winter in a very huge studio. I usually make movies
in the summer. I reused a studio that I've used very happily in the past.
But it turns out that it's unheated and unheatable. It was so large with such
high ceilings, and even with bringing in flame throwers, we weren't able to
heat this building. And so I shot a feature film involving nude scenes and
lingerie scenes and bathtub scenes in a studio that was -45.
GROSS: Oh, God.
Mr. MADDIN: It was unbelievable. Bathwater was freezing faster than we could
shoot it. And so some of the kind of sexy gossamer, flashes of skin that I
had storyboarded just got X-ed out before they even materialized before the
camera. So it's not as sexy as I'd planned. Big deal. Anyone can make a
GROSS: Guy Maddin. His new film is "Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary."
It opened in New York and will soon open in other cities. He'll be back in
the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: Coming up, creepy family stories. We continue our conversation with
film director Guy Maddin. His new film "Dracula" is a silent film adaptation
of a ballet. And David Bianculli reviews the series finale of "Buffy the
Vampire Slayer" and the season finale of "24."
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with film director Guy
Maddin. His new movie "Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary" is a silent
film adaptation of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's version of "Dracula." Maddin
has lived in Winnipeg most of his life. His films have a cult following. In
1995, he became the youngest person ever to receive the Telluride Film
Festival's Medal for Lifetime Achievement. His 1998 movie "Tales From the
Gimli Hospital" was a hit on the midnight movie circuit.
You first became known for your film "Tales From the Gimli Hospital," which
has a lot of scenes of just like mysterious plagues, sick people with
mysterious afflictions laying side by side. It's a very bleak vision. What
are some of the images that stuck with you as a kid, you know, images that you
thought were particularly creepy or repulsive or frightening but that you
Mr. MADDIN: Jeez, I don't know. I think about my childhood all the time. I
think what found its way into my first movie, "Tales From the Gimli Hospital,"
is just my Icelandic relatives' endless complaints about how hard their lives
were and how hard their parents' lives were. They were true pioneers in a
very harsh climate, but it seems that they were so ill-prepared, almost
boneheadedly stupid about settling in that territory and especially at the
time of year that they did. I think Icelandic Settler Day(ph) is October
21st, and usually the first snowfall is right around that time of year. And
so they landed without any winter clothing and got smallpox. I don't know,
the accumulation of--and then when the ice finally melted and most of them had
died of smallpox and starvation, they started fishing with their ocean fish
nets when they only had a lake, and so all the fish just happily swam back and
forth between the holes in the nets. I don't know. They were just a
GROSS: These are the family stories you grew up with about smallpox and dying
of cold and...
Mr. MADDIN: Yeah, but they were never told with any sense of humor or no
sense of just how--the ridiculously high accumulation of misery was actually
so high that it was now funny. You know, obviously, there's nothing funny
about smallpox. But just to hear the versions slowly mutate over the years,
as they became even more entrenched in legend of just--and sung in that
ridiculous Icelandic singsong that my relatives always conversed in. It's
kind of a high--you have to speak Icelandic in falsetto for some reason, I
don't know why, or some sort of language police descend on you. The
Icelanders are very fussy about language purity. The language hasn't changed,
after all, since the year 1000. And so Icelandic children, the instant they
learn to read, can actually read millennium-old sagas and things like that.
So they're just so humorously proud of their hardships and their literary
prowess. They actually boast that when they left Iceland in the great
immigration of 1874, brought on by volcanic eruptions, that Icelanders are
so literate that some of them chose to bring their libraries instead of their
children. And so...
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Is that a good thing?
Mr. MADDIN: Well, I don't know. These people are just so preposterous. And
they're my family, you know, so I really felt obliged to just go at my
family's jugular with my first film. So I just tried to make it as bleak as
possible and hope that the accumulation of bleakness would be kind of funny.
GROSS: I bet your family saw that movie and didn't see themselves in it at
all, didn't get the connection at all.
Mr. MADDIN: No, no, you're right. You're right. And there were a few
complaints from the mayor of Gimli, this small Icelandic settlement of
unkillable Icelanders, now that--because in natural selection terms, the one
that survived all those incredible hardships literally are unkillable. They
have to--they kill themselves. They drown drunkenly in one-inch-deep puddles
and things, which they fall asleep in now and then. But they never die of
GROSS: Did you see movies that struck you as kind of strange or creepy as the
family stories that you grew up on?
Mr. MADDIN: Every now and then--it's this kind of like installation art or
something--I had some experiences with just late shows, tuning in halfway
through something and not understanding what was going on. I had a great
encounter with "The Swimmer," the Burt Lancaster picture, that way, trying to
figure out backwards what was going on. And that one really stuck with me as
"Midsummer Night's Dream," the Max Reinhardt, the really beautiful,
black-and-white one with Mickey Rooney in it, I just sort of tuned in during
the long, wordless stretch, where a bunch of woodland fairies are dancing
around to Mendelssohn. And I thought that was a blast, a bit like just
stumbling home very high as a teen-ager and discovering Busby Berkeley on
late-night television and just not knowing where this amazing trip, which is
better than anything you could buy on the street, was coming from. And so
those are pretty formative. And then those early Hammer film penetration
sounds, they all just sort of swim around in my head. And those are things I
just try to re-create with just little illogical frisson for, you know, the
viewers that stumble into my things.
GROSS: Your films are sometimes called `dreamlike,' in part because of the
surreal and mysterious and disjointed quality about them. What are your
dreams like? Are your dreams like your films?
Mr. MADDIN: Actually, my very, very first movie, a short movie, was an
attempt to duplicate my dreams. I love my dream life, but it may sound kind
of strange that I would love such dreams. I'm very haunted by dead relatives
in my dreams all the time, I think, 'cause I have trouble relating to people
at the appropriate times. Because I led such an inactive childhood, life just
sort of passed me by. I had this strange notion that I would always get a
better chance to grieve someone's death later, as if they would die a second
time, or that I would have a second chance to celebrate a happy occasion
later, as if something would come by a second time. I don't know why I always
had this notion. I would just always tell myself, `I'll act more
appropriately next time.'
And so when some really important people to me died, my dad and this aunt that
raised me, I didn't even cry. I had to fake tears at their funerals, for
crying out loud. And I really loved these people dearly, but maybe I was just
in fuse-blowing mode. At the time maybe it was just too much for me. So my
dreams are, I think, frequently populated by return visits from my father, my
aunt, my grandmother, even my dead dog. And I get a chance to tell them how
much I love them, something I never did when they were alive. And I get a
chance to just be emotional about their returns. And then they get a chance
to complain to me about what a lousy son or nephew I was. And, basically,
they get impatient with me, and they leave before too long. Their stays in
the dreams are usually only about two or three minutes, and then they hustle
off to another family that was better at loving them or that they found
somewhere else. And, for some reason, in my dreams, my dad always goes to
Minneapolis, where there's a better family, one that remembered to love him
while he was alive.
And so the dreams are very bittersweet, and they're very realistic, and I get
a chance to see these people one more time. I never know if I'm ever going to
have another one, although I think I can pretty much count on them now.
They're like train schedules, and my aunt comes squealing into the station
right on time every night around 2 AM.
GROSS: When you wake up from one of these dreams, do you feel like you've
actually communicated with your dead relative?
Mr. MADDIN: Yeah, it kind of stays with me till late morning. It feels good,
even though they've argued with me. After all, I just argued with them while
they were alive anyway. So it feels like they were back for a little while
and that they haven't been gone so long. I can't believe my father's actually
been dead for a quarter century now, and I still have these things now and
then. And I've actually got to know him a lot better in the last quarter
century, and we're ironing a few things out. I get along a lot better with
GROSS: You said you had a very inactive children. Was that because of the
cold weather or something else?
Mr. MADDIN: Ah, I don't know. I won't blame my parents, but they were very
old when I was born. And I think they were tired out. They'd already raised
three kids, and I think they just put me on the floor with a new dog and a
television set and hoped that we'd just take care of each other. And we did.
You know, I really loved my childhood, but it really was a matter of a young
boy just perfecting idleness. And I had a lot of daydreaming time and I
prized. And I didn't like it when friends came over to play with me or
anything. So I was just very inactive, but it resulted in me not being very
proactive, sorry to use that word, about addressing things when they popped
up. When something broke the tranquility of my idleness, a demand--you know,
going to a funeral or a birthday party or something--I didn't like it. I
didn't like any change in my schedule. I still don't really like changes in
my schedule much.
GROSS: My guest is Canadian film director Guy Maddin. His new film is
"Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary." More after a break. This is FRESH
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Canadian film director Guy Maddin. His new film is a
silent-movie adaptation of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's "Dracula."
You said you were raised by your aunt. Why were you raised by an aunt?
Mr. MADDIN: Well, I wasn't just raised by my aunt, actually. My mother and
my aunt, Lil, both ran together in our house a beauty salon. And I just spent
half my spare time lying around in a pile of curlers that had hit the floor
and sort of half stuck to the hair spray that coated everything in our home.
And the other half of the time my dad would take me over to the Winnipeg
Arena where he was the treasurer and manager of Canada's National Hockey Team.
And there were plenty of little shadowy, musty hockey-player, sweat-drenched
piles of hockey gloves and things like that, and I could lie on those things
with my dog and just daydream and occasionally make...
GROSS: Oh, man, this is a sitcom. Don't you see it? You know, like, the
women in the family run a hair salon, how very female. And the father in the
family manages the hockey team, how very male.
Mr. MADDIN: I know I'm trying to pitch this as a TV series, but I'm having a
little bit of trouble. Actually I did make an installation picture recently
that's autobiographical, and it is set in a beauty salon and a hockey arena.
And, gosh, if someone could pick that up as a TV series...
GROSS: Oh, yeah.
Mr. MADDIN: ...I'd be so happy.
GROSS: Absolutely. You know, some men really don't like having to walk into
a women's hair salon. What was it like for you growing up in one?
Mr. MADDIN: That's a very great question because it was a lot of agony for
me. Just walking home from school twice a day--I came home for lunch, coming
home at 4:00--I had to go into a beauty salon to get up to my bedroom. And,
oh, it was awful. I didn't want any of my friends to know I lived there, and
then I didn't want to have to walk, you know, past. If there was a younger
girl getting her hair done, oh, that was awful. I'd rather just walk around
the block until her hair was dry and coiffured properly and she'd left, and
then I'd go in 'cause most of the clientele were elderly women actually. So I
was more comfortable with them.
GROSS: What were your haircuts like?
Mr. MADDIN: Oh, horrible, horrible. I know my mom doesn't listen to NPR, so
I can say that. But I never got anyone else to cut my hair till I turned 18,
I don't think. And, I don't know, I'm still traumatized by the whole thing.
GROSS: Your next film is called "The Saddest Music in the World." What's
Mr. MADDIN: It's about a contest to determine which country has the saddest
music in the world, and the contest is held in Winnipeg in 1933 on the eve of
America lifting Prohibition. And the contest is held by a woman, played by
Isabella Rossellini, who is a beer baroness. And I guess she just wants an
excuse to broadcast this music contest into America. And somehow, just
through--because the winner of each round gets to take a giant beer bath, and
the beer bath is miked and broadcast down into America, just to really make
America thirsty for her beer product. And it was originally written by Kazuo
Ishiguro, who wrote "The Remains of the Day," made into that Anthony Hopkins
movie about a decade ago and has won a few Booker Prizes.
And it was originally conceived as some sort of political satire on the way
nations try to play a limbo dance game with each other to illicit sympathy from
the world and, therefore, win the charity sweepstakes for the year. I guess
the best example I could give is that Ethiopian drought in the mid-'80s that
suddenly became a sexy commodity. Songs were cut about it, and it had the
world's attention and sympathy. And a lot of charity poured into Ethiopia for
a season. The drought never went away, but its sexiness did. And so he just
wanted to write something about how a sympathy is subject to trends and
And I've never been much of a political satirist, so when I got the script, I
started changing it around a lot more than I did the "Dracula" choreography
actually. And with my screenwriting partner, George Toles, we decided to set
the story in the epicenter of the Great Depression, Winnipeg, the saddest city
in the world, arguably. And it just seems to be a black hole for happy
thoughts and set, of course, in the winter as well and just make all these
musical competitors from around the world come to Winnipeg in the winter and
freeze their behinds off.
GROSS: What kind of music do you use in it?
Mr. MADDIN: Well, it's a big dog's breakfast of music from around the world.
And, you know, Mexico has to compete against then-Siam in one round.
GROSS: Do you use real old song?
Mr. MADDIN: Yeah, we used traditional sad songs. I auditioned a lot of
ethnic groups that live in Winnipeg. And we just got them--literally, the
auditions were hilarious. They were a "Saddest Music in the World"
competition. And I got, you know, Serbia to play against Scotland, and they
were literally playing at the same time, which is really fun. Just got them
to really get low down, and each competing one moment at a time for tears of
the judge, me. And it was really something to see people just desperate to
illicit sympathy through music. And so I managed to, through the audition
process, find some really strange performers and some of them very brilliant
performers and then stick them into the movie and then just let them get
desperate and compete and then throw them into a beer bath as a reward at the
end, just to drench them in beer and let them swim around and drink it. And
it was a lot of fun.
GROSS: You are what is often described as a cult filmmaker, a filmmaker with
a cult following. Would you like to break through to a more mainstream kind
of following and get some of the perks that come along with that: bigger
budgets, more recognition?
Mr. MADDIN: I've always had just the right amount of money for each movie.
"The Saddest Music in the World" is my biggest budget yet. It's maybe $2 1/2
million US. But I made a feature just before that was only $20,000 US, and I
had a blast making that. So that was appropriate for that script, and it was
really liberating, and there was no pressure to deliver anything. I was sort
of my own producer on that one. And I ended up doing some of the best stuff
I've ever done, I felt.
And so, no, I'm not that greedy, although I'm at the point now where I'd
really like to make it a full-time job, filmmaking. So at least on the
larger-budget movies, you can get a salary enough to live off of till you make
your next picture. And that's keeping me pretty happy. I feel really lucky.
GROSS: So are you the best-known filmmaker in Winnipeg?
Mr. MADDIN: There are a few others, strangely enough. And for a while there,
I wasn't even considered the best filmmaker in Gimli, which is my summer home.
It's a population of 200. There's quite a good filmmaker there named Norma
Bailey, and she consistently beats me in the local film awards ceremonies
and things. She makes a lot of really accomplished MOWs and some theatrical
release pictures. And she's been doing it a little longer than I am; that's
my excuse. But it felt bad that after all these years in getting
retrospectives in museums around the world, I'm very proud of them, that I
consistently get beat out for best filmmaker in Gimli.
GROSS: Well, Guy Maddin, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. MADDIN: Oh, thank you.
GROSS: Guy Maddin's new film is "Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary." It
opened in New York and will soon open in other cities.
Coming up, David Bianculli reviews the series finale of "Buffy the Vampire
Slayer" and the season finale of "24." This is FRESH AIR.
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Review: Season finales of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "24"
TERRY GROSS, host:
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" ended its seven-year run on TV last night. And
another series, the Fox action drama "24," served up its second season
finale. TV critic David Bianculli was impressed by and grateful for both
DAVID BIANCULLI reporting:
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" has been on top of my own list of must-see TV ever
since it premiered in 1997. All that time when anyone has asked me to name my
current personal TV favorites, I've always started the list with "Buffy."
That's usually gotten me a lot of strange stares and even some looks of pity.
But if you were one of the show's other loyal fans--and near the end, there
were only about four million of us--you know just why I loved it. "24," which
I also watch each and every week, has been an easier sell. Not only does it
have a title that's harder to ridicule, but its ratings have gone up
significantly in this second season, thanks to its hugely popular "American
The audience for "24" has spiked. "Buffy," on the other hand, only has Spike,
and in the finale, that heroic vampire sacrificed himself for the good of the
group and to help save the world. So did Anya and some other characters,
whose names will mean nothing if you weren't caught up in the "Buffy" spell.
I should tell "Buffy" fans, if they don't know already, that Spike will
survive to fight another day. He's been added to the cast of the "Buffy"
spin-off "Angel" next season.
My real message, though, is to those who avoided "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"
these past seven years. You know who you are, and it's probably because you
could never get past the show's goofy title. All I say is you missed a great
TV show, great from start to finish up to and including the scene in the
finale, in which Buffy, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, strengthened the
small army of young women she was training and protecting by literally
(Soundbite of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer")
Ms. SARAH MICHELLE GELLAR: (As Buffy) So here's the part where you make a
choice. What if you could have that power now? In every generation, one
slayer is born because that bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made
up that rule. They were powerful men. This woman is more powerful than all
of them combined. So I say we change the rule. I say my power should be our
(Soundbite of thunder)
Ms. GELLAR: (As Buffy) Tomorrow Willow will be the essence of the sky to
change our destiny. From now on, every girl in the world who might be a
slayer will be a slayer; every girl who could have the power will have the
power; can stand up will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your
choice. Are you ready to be strong?
BIANCULLI: I also loved the scene that ended the second season of "24." Sure,
you had to suspense some disbelief to imagine that Jack Bauer, played by
Kiefer Sutherland, could beat up a trained killer, engage in a gun duel at the
LA Coliseum and save the ex-president's ex-wife, all within a few hours of
being tortured and, for a few minutes, killed. Then again, maybe it was my
enthusiasm for "Buffy" that made it so easy for me to root for heroes who come
back from the dead. But on "24," after a seemingly happy ending, there was a
postscript that threw the entire narrative into a new direction. The
reinstated President Palmer was felled by contact with a toxic substance,
which means that next year's dramatized 24-hour day will begin right after
this season's all-nighter ended for poor Jack Bauer. Talk about no rest for
But viewers who stuck with these shows witnessed some of the best that TV has
to offer. One of the strengths of a compelling weekly TV show, when it takes
advantage of the forum, is to tell narrative stories that evolve like a novel.
Characters change, grow, even die. Some very popular series are going in the
opposite direction, though. "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and "Law &
Order" and their respective sister shows present generally self-contained
stories. This makes it easier for the shows to be seen out of sequence and in
reruns and is partly the reason they're both among the most popular shows on
television. I like those shows, but I don't love them the way I'm addicted to
the involved, season-long TV dramas that serve up so many twists and turns.
I'll miss "Buffy" a lot. Even though "24" just ended its second season, I
already can't wait for season three to begin. And even the reality variety
series "American Idol," which ends its season-long drama tonight, is proof
that continuing storylines can be hugely successful, too. I'm rooting for
Clay, but not necessarily against Ruben. Both those guys have won already,
and if you've been along for the ride on "American Idol" and "24" and "Buffy,"
so have you.
GROSS: David Bianculli is TV critic for The New York Daily News.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of music; sponsorship of FRESH AIR)
GROSS: On the next FRESH AIR, we talk with TV producer Tom Fontana about the
new DVD box set which collects the first two seasons of "Homicide: Life on
the Street" with episodes in the order their producers originally intended.
I'm Terry Gross. Join us for the next FRESH AIR.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.