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53rd NYFF. THE FORBIDDEN ROOM BY GUY MADDIN (ENG)

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By Tanner Tafel​ski

Now is the time for excess, for mania, for Guy Maddin has made a new film, The Forbidden Room. If you were skeptical before, The Forbidden Room erases any lingering doubts: Maddin is a hauntologist of old and lost films. Working with the “Bro Joes,” Evan (co-director) and Galen Johnson (production and sound designer), Maddin resurrects films, calling them forth, but what appears are mutants, bits and pieces of films chopped, sliced, diced and spliced back together. According to Maddin, about 17 fragments are jammed into The Forbidden Room.

Now is the time for excess, for mania, for Guy Maddin has made a new film, The Forbidden Room. If you were skeptical before, The Forbidden Room erases any lingering doubts: Maddin is a hauntologist of old and lost films. Working with the “Bro Joes,” Evan (co-director) and Galen Johnson (production and sound designer), Maddin resurrects films, calling them forth, but what appears are mutants, bits and pieces of films chopped, sliced, diced and spliced back together. According to Maddin, about 17 fragments are jammed into The Forbidden Room.

​Maddin and Johnson’s work began as something slightly different. For the Centre Pompidou and Montréal’s Phi Centre, they worked on an interactive Internet project, Seances (formerly called Hauntings and soon to materialize on the Interweb). The Forbidden Room is a byproduct, the refuse of the Seances project, yet the film is its own entity as well. Maddin and Johnson revive the dead, giving life to lost, lost, lost films. They looked at plots and titles, making brief narratives out of them. They revived evocatively named films like Dwain Esper’s How to Take a Bath (1937) (New York poet John Ashberry writes the monologue for this fragment, which weaves in and out of the film) and Mikio Naruse’s The Strength of a Mustache (1931).

​The Forbidden Room begins in a room: men, surviving off of flapjacks, are trapped in a submarine underwater. Their life depending on it, they’re trying to unlock a sealed door, one that leads to the inner recesses of the vessel. Out of the blue and to everyone’s surprise, a woodsman crawls out of a compartment and proceeds to tell the men his sordid tale. And from that tale another is told, and another, and another. The Forbidden Room is not merely a chain of stories, for the film pulls in and out of them. They’re more like gauzy layers peeled and revealed before the film dives back into them. So polymorphous is the film that, at one point, it becomes a musical in which a crooner—his face scratched out of the sequence—belts a Sparks-penned tune, “The Last Derrière,” in which a man, even after countless lobotomies, cannot stop his thirst for bottoms. Like object oriented ontology gone gonzo, we’re privy to a mustache dreaming and a narrative contained in a broken pelvis.

Thanks to Ashbery, Maddin and Johnson became hip to the French poet, Raymond Roussel, known for discursive work like Impressions of Africa. Along with Wojciech Has’ The Saragossa Manuscript, Roussel’s work influenced the looping structure of the film. With its fragments upon fragments, The Forbidden Room is similar to the stories upon stories of Miguel Gomes’ Arabian Nights too. Maddin and Johnson’s film, however, is like Arabian Nights’ little brother on a sugar high with no come down in sight. Besides, there’s an interconnectedness, of higher and lower levels to the bits of stories in The Forbidden Room. With Arabian Nights, once a story ends, it ends. There’s no return to the material.

​Maddin shot the film with raw digital footage, which the Bro Joes in turn, altered by using (and abusing software). They created a film that has a foot in the past as well as in the present by using digital technology to evoke delirious depictions of past modes of filmmaking, not only early 20th century cinema, but also underground filmmaking of the New York stripe—the Kuchar brothers, Jack Smith, and Ron Rice. Maddin and the Johnsons create a buckling, shimmering, morass of images. They come and go at a spastic clip, a rhythm that hasn’t been felt in Maddin’s previous work except in shorts like Sissy-Boy Slap-Party, which makes sense since the film is a collection of them. Forbidden Room changes with every fragment, with every shot, textures shifting before your eyes. “You can almost smell the chemicals,” Maddin said at the press conference, talking about tweaking digital tools for filmic effects. Watching The Forbidden Room is like smelling one too many chemicals.

Canada 2015, 130 min

Director:Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson

Cast: Roy Dupuis, Clara Furey, Louis Negin, Céline Bonnier, Karine Vanasse, Caroline Dhavernas, Paul Ahmarani, Mathieu AmalriC, Udo Kier, Maria de Medeiros, Charlotte Rampling, Geraldine Chaplin

Evan JohnsonGuy MaddinThe Forbidden room

desistfilm • 5 octubre, 2015


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