Friday, February 9, 2024


Guy Maddin is a unique mixture of a wholesome amount of Canadian pride and immense self-depreciation due to what he feels is always being in perpetual second place to the Americans (his words, not mine). Maddin’s films are sometimes so specifically Canadian that I often need someone from there to explain some of the humor or references I felt like I didn’t catch at first. That isn't a complaint. The relationship between Americans and English-speaking Canadians has always been fascinating to me. We're essentially like bickering first cousins always taking jabs at each other.

Over a decade ago I interviewed Guy Maddin and his self-depreciation crept it's way out of nowhere when answering a question that had nothing even do with Canada or the Canadian/American relationship:

PINNLAND EMPIRE: Who, in your opinion, is the best active filmmaker working right now?

GUY MADDIN: Without a doubt, Sokurov. Then Malick, for those of us, like all Canadians, interested in second place finishers.

Most Guy Maddin interviews are full of half comical self-hate like the exchange above. When asked about Fritz Lang’s influence on his work he had this to say:

Fritz Lang had his own voice; sometimes it’s too cynical. I have mine, all lugubrious self-pity interlarded with a weird species of self-loathing narcissism - Guy Maddin, Vice

Knowing this about Maddin adds a whole other layer to this films. A lot of his self-deprecation manifests itself through a lot of the weird kinks & kink-shaming found in his work. Often times when we see something sexual in his movies it borders on a cuckold fantasy or some weird obsession with parts of the female body that isn't as openly accepted. Russ Meyer was a boob guy. Tarantino is a foot guy and Maddin appears to be very obsessed with the legs & thighs of his actors (both men and women) in a an almost masochistic kind of way...

The Saddest Music In The World / Keyhole
The Forbbidden Room / Cowards Bend The Knee

Maddin himself has name dropped Busby Berkeley as an early influence on his work so perhaps that explains some of the leg obsession?

I wanted to be Busby Berkeley, for crying out loud! I wanted to have chorus girls stomping their heels in my casting office - Guy Maddin, Quietus

Gold Diggers / The Saddest Music In The World

He also had this to say about Berkeley’s films:

I used to get really turned on watching Busby Berkeley movies, maybe because the configurations of females in them reminded me of my own bowels, I’m not too sure. But I think it was because I was always viewing them through a keyhole drilled through a door that was seven or eight decades thick. It wasn’t until I shot Cowards Bend the Knee in 2002 that I had really explicit nudity, big flapping penises and breasts that the camera held on for a long time - Guy Maddin,

It’s also important to note that Guy Maddin is also heavily influenced by Luis Bunuel. Long before Tarantino was even born, Luis Bunuel was the original foot (and leg/thigh) worship director and that stuff is all throughout Maddin’s films...

The Young One / Cowards Bend The Knee

This one scene alone on the right from his feature debut paid homage to multiple Bunuel moments in one shot...

L'Age d'Or / Tales From The Gimli Hospital

El / Tales From The Gimli Hospital

Simon Of The Desert / Tales From The Gimli Hospital

Guy Maddin is one of those filmmakers that’s difficult to pin down with just one movie but if I had to suggest a definitive film - it would be between My Winnipeg and Cowards Bend The Knee. I’d give the edge to Cowards because My Winnipeg is not only very autobiographical (much like Cowards) but it's incredibly specific to a certain region of Canada. If you watch that movie cold without knowing much about his fimlography - it almost feels like doing homework. You almost have to do some research on Winnipeg, Canada before and after watching it. Normally that sounds like the kind of thing you’d watch to get to know someone and where they come from but it’s so personal and sometimes so uncomfortable that you need a buffer film before diving all the way in. 
This is where Cowards Bend The Knee comes in. It highlights everything that makes a Guy Maddin film what it is - kinks, shame, regret, grief, dark humor, fast-paced chaotic editing, hockey and lots of Bunuel homages.

And not just homages that highlight the legs, thighs & feet I mentioned earlier. Maddin tips his hat to Bunuel in so many ways in Cowards...

Un Chien Andalou /
Cowards Bend The Knee

L'Age d'Or / Cowards Bend The Knee

The Exterminating Angel / Cowards Bend The Knee

The Exterminating Angel / Cowards Bend The Knee

Un Chien Andalou / Cowards Bend The Knee

L'Age d'OR /
Cowards Bend The Knee

In the film, a star hockey player (“Guy”) has to deal with his ailing mother and the disappointing news that he’ll be a father. 
Cowards The Bend Knee also taps in to Maddin’s obsession with David Lynch’s Eraserhead. I mean - the autobiographical reluctant fatherhood angle in Cowards comes right out of Eraserhead

ERASERHEAD really hit me hard. I was really impressed. It was a big influence - Guy Maddin, Fandor

Eraserhead /
Cowards Bend The Knee

There’s something I’ve learned about myself, and it goes back to when I first saw ERASERHEAD - Guy Maddin, criterion

Eraserhead /
Cowards Bend The Knee

It goes back to when I first saw Eraserhead and started looking up every interview possible with David Lynch - Guy Maddin, criterion

This is a chaotic yet beautiful look in to the mind of a talented yet self-loathing Canadian with a twisted sense of humor that I can’t recommend enough. Make sure to follow it up with what I consider to be the unofficial sequel: My Winnipeg (which we’ll delve into to later this year).


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