Skip to content

My Winnipeg Revisited

Last week, I called an old time friend in New York whom I only knew within the context of my immediate past life. He was not aware that I have moved to Canada. When I told him I live in Winnipeg, he said, “Oh! Maddin’s sleepy city.” And he went on to talk about the movie, “My Winnipeg,” How he liked it and how he had told his son he had to go see it. He watched it twice and discussed it afterwards and I was interested in knowing what they thought about it. Why they had liked it. Why it was interesting to them and what motivated them to go see the movie in the first place, and him, a second time. I didn’t know my friend to be someone interested in “travel” genres, or documentaries such as Maddin had created. But his likeness of the movie was quite welcoming.

This was a week after I had seen it so our discussion was interesting as I could relate to aspects of the movie that struck a chord with him. I wanted to know whether the movie aroused some interest in him wanting to visit Winnipeg someday. He said it actually did. His response caught me off guard somewhat as the style of Maddin’s cinematography using old black and white photo technique; his depiction of Winnipeg as a sleepy city and of the chug chug of the train throughout the movie did not exactly paint a picture of the traditional flashy documentaries that would usually accompany a tv ad from the tourist board to attract tourists to its city. What also struck me was his remembrance of scenes within the movie that otherwise a casual viewer would not pay that much attention to. The scenes of the MTS center and the frozen horse heads. It made me realize that somehow, the non flashy nature of Maddin’s style left indelible marks on people’s memories. My Winnipeg is not a movie to be forgotten. The images remain for much longer.

It took me a while to secure the movie. I had visited my local library and requested for it. I was put on a wait list that eventually lasted one week instead of the one month that I was initially told. I realized that the movie was in high demand and quite a number of Winnipegers were fascinated by it. I had thought it was a movie that would remain on the shelf and would be immediately accessible to whomever would want it and at whatever time, just like most books in the library. But alas, My Winnipeg was in high demand. I was lucky to be next in line after just a week.

I watched it with a partner and wanted to know what impression it created in her. I specifically wanted to know if Winnipeg’s winter as depicted in the pictures were viscous enough to make her leave the city for another more weather friendly one giving her dis-affinity to the cold. She didn’t think the movie made her sleep nor did it want to make her ‘up and go’ at the next possible moment but rather provided her more knowledge as a recent immigrant to understand the city and its dwellers; why perhaps they behave the way they do; how that the city has its influence on them in some way, but mostly, a desire to stay. The winter was not negative a factor enough.

I personally wanted to watch My Winnipeg again and again simply because there are certain undertones that can only be gleaned after several watches. Hidden messages exists within the lines that Maddin described. Perhaps Maddin, in his depiction of a sleepy traveler wanted the viewer to see how much control the city had over its inhabitants. Perhaps he wanted us to see that our efforts for wanting to leave would always translate into an unflinching love and desire to remain. It is as if he was saying that you can dare how much you want, the city would always have its hold on you. The city controls you, the city overwhelms you. The city rules its inhabitants and makes them its subjects The city does its pleasing and its royal subjects must comply. Dare how much you want, to leave or otherwise, but your threats are just empty.

Maddin painted Winnipeg all black and gray with shades of white perhaps so you could conjure up the colors yourself. He teasingly told us to fill in the rest of the gap with our imagination. For you could only do that if you identified with the city itself. You could paint it in the colors that was most pleasant to you. That resonated with you and that would make you own the city by the colors you painted it (when in actual fact it owned you).

Maddem made it sleepy so you could stay awake in the city. In fact your wakefulness is your sleepy submission to the city’s controls. And because you do not have the strength to wrest your will back you give into the city’s desires and exclaim, “My Winnipeg!” You own it, it owns you. It is non other’s but mine. Mine in whose control I belong. Mine in whose hands I am helpless. Mine in whom, no matter how hard I tried, I could not wish it off my sleepy head but to succumb to its viscous icy embrace.

My Winnipeg made me love the city and drew me into it than pushed me off. The force of its embrace made me want to search more – the city’s history. A search that should lead me to loving it. Identifying with it and becoming a part of its sleepiness.

My Winnipeg.

Published inDocumentaryGuy MaddinMy Winnipeg

One Comment

  1. Garry Garry

    Hello, Ben…

    Quite a reflection. So, now, does the film suggest to you that technology can be like Winnipeg, hard to leave? If Winnipeg kind of casts a spell over people, can technology too?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *