Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Spiritismes: Guy Maddin at the Centre Pompidou

Image (L): Galen Johnson/Spiritismes
Images: Martin Parsons

Sometimes in the life of a Wandercat, we stumble upon the most unlikely things. Our most recent find caught us completely unawares. We had gone to the Centre Pompidou in Paris to listen to a paper by Erik Bullot on ventriloquism and film as part of the Centre’s Nouveau Festival, only to discover that another part of the festival involved quirky Canadian director Guy Maddin (Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary, My Winnipeg) making 17 short films in 17 days, right in the heart of the Centre.

The set

The films chosen by Maddin for the project are from the 1920s and 1930s - some from even earlier - and all have one thing in common: they are lost. In some cases these films have literally disappeared, crumbled away into celluloid dust or gone up in smoke in studio fires, while in others they never actually made it to the screen and exist only as unmade scripts. Among the names associated with these disappeared or unrealised films we find legends like Jean Vigo and Alfred Hitchcock.

Maddin calls a start on Day 11

Maddin has spoken of feeling the acute sense of loss that the absence of these pictures brings about, and in this project he seeks to raise them from the dead. Before each day of filming he assembled the actors to perform a séance, calling forth the spirits of the film so that it might be recreated in the present.

Maddin on set

The actors for the project were an impressively eclectic bunch. Headliners included 60s icon Charlotte Rampling, Von Trier favourite Udo Kier, indie queen Elina Löwensohn and recent Bond baddie Matthieu Amalric. Beyond these were a host of other familiar names, comprising both up-and-coming talents and veteran stars. There were a few whose presence brought more than just their acting talents: Luce Vigo, Geraldine Chaplin and Mathieu Demy’s participation showed a respect for cinematic heritage, given that they are the children of, respectively, Jean Vigo, Charlie Chaplin and Jacques Demy and Agnès Varda.

Rudy Andriamiharinosy, Elina Löwensohn and Udo Kier
Mathieu Amalric and Charlotte Rampling (Below)   

The crew was similarly made up of a rather diverse range of talents, with Guy Maddin’s regular gang rubbing shoulders with France’s finest and a gaggle of enthusiastic interns, several of whom were studying at Paris’s premier film school, La Fémis, which counts among its alumni such names as Louis Malle, François Ozon and Marina de Van.

The team at work, here improvising a horse using shadow

This was a fascinating opportunity to see the inner workings of a film set – everything was on show to the public from the time taken to achieve the correct lighting to actor’s tantrums at being forced to hang around while shots were set up. People were allowed to take pictures (though the occasional overzealous ‘flasher’ was asked to be a tad more subtle) and the cast and crew answered questions whenever they could.

The project will continue with another installation in Maddin’s native Canada, and then in the MoMA in New York, but the impressive freshness of the concept won’t be repeatable. Maddin and his team and the actors created something truly special at the Centre Pompidou, and we are happy to have been there to watch it all happen.


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