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Book Reviews

From the Atelier Tovar: Selected Writings

by Guy Maddin

Film director Guy Maddin is a cunningly sweet megalomaniac whose self-loathing and proclaimed laziness are matched only by his romantically overblown perception of himself. He is just the sort of guy I fall for every time, and I do feel like I’ve spent time with the acclaimed art-house filmmaker after reading From the Atelier Tovar.

I had expected the book’s fan base to be limited to serious filmheads wanting to know the finer points on say, how the king of cult classics keeps his 8mm from freezing in frigid Winnipeg. There is some of that insider talk. Maddin also writes about his collaborators, like Isabella Rosellini, who stars in The Saddest Music in the World – a sensation at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. But really, Maddin writes mostly about Maddin. He even writes reviews of his own films because, he says, critics write without “grace of line” or “awareness of harmony.”

His compulsive personality is writ large with journal entries dated from 1987 to 1999. These are written with a self-conscious awareness of being material for a future publication. There is also a selection of film treatments that give a clear idea of how resistant Maddin is to traditional storylines. The best part of this collection, though, is his observant articles on other films and filmmakers.

His topics are broad. He pens a delicious take on Tom Cruise’s perfect face being pitifully void of emotion in Minority Report, gushing appreciations of Lars von Trier and Italian film divas of the 1910s and 20s, and includes an extended article on the making of the Osmond family reunion movie, shot in Winnipeg! And, yes, Maddin is one of the few writers whose metaphor-saturated prose actually suits a goofy amount of exclamation points. He is baroque and funny, even when compiling to-do lists – “Buy some clothes for UK or at least scrape mud from shoes” – or obsessing over archival footage.