Guy Maddin rein­vents Al­fred Hitch­cock’s Ver­tigo as a dizzy­ing romp through a cen­tury’s worth of Bay Area film clips.

As­sem­bled by Guy Maddin, with Evan and Galen John­son, The Green Fog re­builds Bay Area Hitch­cock from spare parts

The Georgia Straight - - Contents - > BY ALEXAN­DER VARTY

“The Ten Com­mand­ments. Her­bie Rides Again. Portrait in Black. Arthur Hai­ley’s Ho­tel. The Lineup. The Lady From Shang­hai. Sans Soleil. In­nerspace. The House on Tele­graph Hill. Mrs. Doubt­fire. Pa­cific Heights. Patti Hearst. The Dead Pool. The Pre­sidio. The Woman in Red. Pal Joey. The Or­ga­ni­za­tion. Killer Elite. Sis­ter Act. Fear­less. Mr. Ricco. Sud­den Fear. Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble episodes. Jagged Edge. The Zodiac Killer. The Laughing Po­lice­man. Pe­tu­lia. Julie. Ex­per­i­ment in Ter­ror. Woman on the Run. In­va­sion of the Body Snatch­ers. The Birds. A Bucket of Blood. The Ter­mi­na­tor. Godzilla. Take Me Away. Mur­der, She Wrote episodes. Dog­fight. San An­dreas.”

On the line from his Har­vard of­fice, Guy Maddin takes a deep breath and laughs. “You get the idea,” he says, be­fore briefly re­sum­ing his litany. “Greed. The Rock. Any­way, lots of movies.”

This isn’t the syl­labus for the film­mak­ing course Maddin has been teach­ing in Mas­sachusetts, and per­haps that’s a good thing; as the Win­nipeg-born au­teur read­ily ad­mits, there’s an am­ple vein of dross run­ning through the Os­car gold listed here. What links these sundry films and TV dra­mas, though, is that they were all shot in or around the Bay Area— and that they’ve all con­trib­uted scenes to Maddin’s new col­lage-style trib­ute to San Fran­cisco, The Green Fog, which makes its Cana­dian de­but at the Van­cou­ver In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val this week.

The Green Fog is no mere mon­tage, how­ever. It’s also an ab­surd and ex­cit­ing homage to what many con­sider “the greatest movie ever made”, Al­fred Hitch­cock’s 1958 noir clas­sic Ver­tigo. Here, though, ev­ery scene has been re­placed by ex­cerpts from the pro­duc­tions listed above, with lit­er­ally dozens of ac­tors stand­ing in for Hitch­cock’s iconic stars James Ste­wart and Kim No­vak. And yet it’s ob­vi­ously a Maddin pro­duc­tion: dizzy­ing, sur­real, and of­ten swathed in un­canny light.

Ini­tially, the pro­ject was sim­pler, be­gin­ning when San Fran­cisco Film So­ci­ety ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor Noah Cowan ap­proached Maddin and his pro­duc­tion team to make a “city sym­phony” about the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s home and its cin­e­matic past. “You know, a lot of movies and tele­vi­sion shows have been shot in San Fran­cisco, and even be­fore cin­ema was in­vented, Ead­weard Muy­bridge lived in the Bay Area and was do­ing film­like things with his fa­mous nude mod­els pos­ing against grid­works, pour­ing buck­ets of wa­ter with their gen­i­tals dan­gling, or climb­ing stairs or run­ning or what­ever,” Maddin ex­plains. “And the Bay Area’s not just had its soul sucked out of it by cam­eras over ev­ery decade of film his­tory, but it’s also been the cra­dle of so many dif­fer­ent things: ex­per­i­men­tal film; a lot of ac­tivism; the Black Pan­thers were founded in the Bay Area; in the Sum­mer of Love it was the epi­cen­tre of hip­pies; earth­quakes.…all this stuff ap­pears and reap­pears.”

Maddin and his sib­ling codi­rec­tors, Evan and Galen John­son, knew they wanted to work with found footage, but thought they’d fol­low sym­phonic form, craft­ing their film as a se­quence of move­ments fo­cus­ing on fires, earth­quakes, the AIDS epi­demic, and so on. Then the idea of a Ver­tigo re­make struck.

“Of course, it’s all hubris,” Maddin says, laughing again. “But we’re pre­pos­ter­ous peo­ple and we know how ridicu­lous we are, so we know when we’ve set our­selves a pre­pos­ter­ous task.…you know you’re bound to fail, but in the fail­ure is where it gets in­ter­est­ing. Where some­thing is re­mark­ably unim­pres­sive, where things just fall mirac­u­lously way short of what we’re at­tempt­ing to em­u­late, is where it gets great. And then you put this spec­tac­u­lar prat­fall to mu­sic by Kronos Quar­tet, which is re­ally gor­geous, it re­ally makes for an in­ter­est­ing ten­sion.”

Kronos, by the way, will per­form Ja­cob Garchik’s score live at The Green Fog’s VIFF screen­ing, adding an­other level of com­plex­ity to what, de­spite Maddin’s self-mock­ery, is a tour de force of rapid-fire edit­ing. The film­maker com­pares the process of re-cre­at­ing Ver­tigo from snip­pets of plun­dered footage to the cre­ation of sam­ple-based mu­sic—with the caveat that he and the John­sons re­spect copyright.

“Our chief col­lab­o­ra­tor there was a fair-use lawyer that the San Fran­cisco film fes­ti­val hired,” Maddin notes. “I know that with most sam­pling in mu­sic they don’t bother with lawyers, but we just wanted them [the SFIFF] to feel com­fort­able with what we’re do­ing. But, yeah, we’re sam­pling. We’re putting in some­thing with a ’50s Tech­ni­color pal­ette at just the right mo­ment, and then some sort of tele­vi­sion-video­tape ’80s pal­ette. It was just a mat­ter of match­ing and lay­er­ing things so that there’s kind of a sym­phony of sam­pled emul­sions and pix­els and video noise.”

For the score, how­ever, Garchik is play­ing it straight.

“I love sam­pling cul­ture and love sam­pling, but the mu­sic re­ally doesn’t do that,” the San Fran­cisco–born com­poser and trom­bon­ist ex­plains, in a sep­a­rate tele­phone in­ter­view from his Brook­lyn home. “It lets the film do that, and the mu­sic sort of goes against that. The idea is that it cre­ates an il­lu­sion of all these dif­fer­ent cuts be­com­ing one thing. So that was my job: to sort of patch the gaps, if that makes any sense.”

The mu­sic, Garchik adds, is in­tended to ac­com­pany the viewer’s in­ter­nal nar­ra­tive, rather than to en­force one of its own. Any­one cine-savvy enough to be a film-fes­ti­val reg­u­lar will al­ready have an idea of what Ver­tigo is about, he sug­gests, not­ing that he re­cently took in a screen­ing of Hitch­cock’s mas­ter­piece in New York City’s big­gest theatre—after he’d started work on The Green Fog’s score, but be­fore Maddin and com­pany had de­cided on their fi­nal plan.

“That was serendip­i­tous,” he says. “And it could be fun, for some peo­ple, to watch Ver­tigo just be­fore see­ing the film. Or not: you can just ex­pe­ri­ence it on your own. But it is kind of fun to have Ver­tigo re­freshed in your mind, so that when you watch The Green Fog you can catch all the ref­er­ences go­ing back and forth.”

Maddin wouldn’t dis­agree, call­ing The Green Fog “a movie about Ver­tigo as if it has ex­isted as long as San Fran­cisco”. Slightly less durable is his po­si­tion as guest lec­turer at Har­vard, which comes to a close at the end of this se­mes­ter.

“I like teach­ing a lot, but it does cut into my mo­men­tum as a film­maker,” he says. “Still, it’s been a hi­lar­i­ous ex­pe­ri­ence. I’ll prob­a­bly come up with a movie or a Tv-se­ries pitch out of it, some­thing like The Stupi­dest Man at Har­vard. That’s a big pro­ject—and you heard it here first!”

Guy Maddin’s The Green Fog screens at the Cen­tre in Van­cou­ver for Per­form­ing Arts on Tues­day (October 10), as part of the Van­cou­ver In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val.

Kronos Quar­tet will be here to per­form Ja­cob Garchik’s score for The Green Fog dur­ing a special pre­sen­ta­tion at the Van­cou­ver In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val.

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