Frequently referred to as "the Canadian David Lynch," Winnipeg-born filmmaker Guy Maddin's surreal, dreamlike works are often cited for their striking visuals and obscure sensibilities. Whether he is recreating the look and feel of a frantic silent film in the acclaimed short The Heart of the World (2000) or basking in the over-saturated hues of Twilight of the Ice Nymphs (1997), it seems slightly unfair that, due to Maddin's strikingly unique talent as a filmmaker, critics and audiences still find the need to define him through the talents of another filmmaker. Given the decidedly primitive aesthetics of his celluloid universe, though, his work may demand it.
Maddin's father was a prominent hockey coach and manager, and his mother the proprietor of a local beauty shop, and both of his parents' careers had a profound effect on the young filmmaker. Whether watching the teams practice at Winnipeg Arena or playing with his friends at his mother's salon, Maddin's unique take on everyday eccentricities was fueled by numerous unforgettable childhood experiences. Two of these, in particular, were a piggyback ride from Bing Crosby and the advancement of a common cold into an intense neurological disorder that resulted in strange physical sensations; these experiences gave the imaginative youngster an acute and unique view of the world. Childhood memories and stories passed on by his parents have frequently found their way into Maddin's unique films as well, with the tale of how his grandmother accidentally poked out his father's eye memorably recreated in his first feature, Tales From the Gimli Hospital. As for his education, Maddin received a degree in economics from the University of Winnipeg, and his following years were spent as a bank teller and a house painter. His film education came not with any formal training at a trade school, but with endless weekends of watching films with close friends John Paizs and Steve Snyder. Soon realizing that Paizs was making films and Snyder was teaching production at the University of Manitoba, Maddin eventually decided that he needed to put his own knowledge to work and step behind the camera.
Encouraged by his participation in a local cable access show in addition to the films that Snyder had produced while in film school, Maddin put light to celluloid for his darkly comic freshman effort, The Dead Father. Soon developing his own style in regards to camera movement and lighting aesthetics, Maddin was quickly on his way to filming his first feature, Tales From the Gimli Hospital. An expressionistic voyage that found two hospitalized patients embarking on a bizarre competition and which took viewers into "a Gimli we no longer know," Maddin's surreal and humorous freshman effort gained the burgeoning filmmaker international attention, and the film continually played as a midnight feature in the theaters of New York in the years following its release. Reluctant to abandon short films for features as many filmmakers do, Maddin subsequently averaged one short per year while preparing his next feature, Archangel (1990). Once again filmed in stark black-and-white and taking on the crackling texture of a film released at the turn of the century, the film held true to Gimli's promise, and fans certainly couldn't accuse Maddin of a sophomore slump. Dipping his toes into color for his third feature, Careful, Maddin's departure from black-and-white showed a filmmaker as adept at creating lush, over-saturated images as he was at re-creating the desaturated images of an age long past.
In 1995 Maddin was honored as the youngest ever recipient of the Telluride Film Festival's Lifetime Achievement award -- an event which ultimately marked the beginning of one of the most creatively stifled periods in the young director's career. Though his critical acclaim was at an all-time high moving into the new millennium, it seemed that many of Maddin's works were not coming to fruition as originally envisioned. Though Maddin had collaborated with writer George Toles to pen what was to have been his fourth feature, entitled The Dykemaster's Daughter, the withdrawal of a major financier would ultimately result in the project reaching a standstill during pre-production. The disappointment resulted in a five-year hiatus from features, and Maddin spent his downtime refining his skills with a series of acclaimed shorts.
Though he would emerge in 1997 with Twilight of the Ice Nymphs, the fourth feature from Maddin ultimately proved somewhat compromised and unsatisfying to all involved despite its admirable stylistic flourishes. Even though the film itself would prove something of a disappointment, Maddin's developing relationship with numerous Manitoba-based filmmakers began to find the generally neglected regions' filmmakers receiving some long overdue recognition. While Maddin was teaching film at the University of Manitoba and pondering his own future behind the camera, a film student named Deco Dawson caught the eye of the downtrodden filmmaker and proved just the inspiration he needed to get his career back off of the ground. In 2000, Maddin was commissioned to make a promotional short film for the Toronto Film Festival, and the resulting The Heart of the World not only stole the honor of being proclaimed one of the best films of the festival, but was also included on many critic's top ten lists for the year.
Maddin's fifth feature, a filmed version of a Royal Winnipeg Ballet production of Dracula entitled Dracula, Pages From a Virgin's Diary (2001), proved that the renowned experimental filmmaker had lost none of his remarkably unique vision in his period of soul searching. In addition to serving as co-editor of The Heart of the World, former student Dawson also joined Maddin for the production of Dracula, Pages From a Virgin's Diary. Following an experimental autobiographical art exhibit entitled Cowards Bend the Knee, in which viewers could only witness the film through strategically placed peepholes in a museum wall, Maddin was back at work for his sixth feature, The Saddest Music in the World (2003). A dramatic musical fantasy revolving around a worldwide competition to create the eponymous composition, the film retained all of the typical Maddin surrealism of his best works -- including a stunning turn by Isabella Rosselini as a brewery baroness with beer-filled prosthetic legs.