Half-Truths and Reflections on Home

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If it hasn’t yet been made clear to my regular readers, I’m on the verge of moving to Hong Kong, maybe for only a year, but likely for much longer than that. What this means, of course, is that I’m going to leave Montreal. (I would take my beloved city with me, but the South China Sea is a poor substitute for the Saint Lawrence.) Lately, as I contemplate my impending move, I have been coming to terms with the memories I will leave behind in the city I have, over the past six years, deliberately fashioned as my home.

At night, when I lie awake, unable to sleep, my mind floats through the laneways I have strolled at night, past the mountain, its cross, the silos on the Lachine Canal, the sign blinking Farine Five Roses and down to the St. Henri bedroom in which I first lived as a new Montrealer. I think of those first nights I spent here, listening, as I lay in bed, to the sound of trains coupling in the distance. I think of the six years of memories and experiences, all of them linked inextricably to the life and landscape of the city around me.

Guy Maddin, the maker of eccentric films best known for his 2003 movie, The Saddest Music in the World, has a somewhat different relationship with his hometown. While I left the city of my birth at the age of 17, in search of a place that better suited my outlook and personality, Maddin has spent all 52 years of his life in Winnipeg, one of the coldest and most isolated cities on the continent. Now he has made a movie—ostensibly a documentary—about the city in which he has spent his life.

“Always winter, always sleepy… Winnipeg, Winnipeg, Winnipeg. Snowy, sleepwalking Winnipeg,” he intones in the opening sequence of My Winnipeg, which is currently playing in Montreal at the Cinéma du Parc as well as at various arthouses and small cinemas around North America. In his inimitable style, drawing heavily from the aesthetic of silent films and the kitschy melodrama of b-movies, Maddin creates an image of a city propelled by drowsy inertia, its inhabitants’ attempts at escape foiled by the heavy pull of memory and nostalgia.

Maddin blends historical fact, personal history, half-truths and amusing fiction to create his portrait of Winnipeg. A dispute between the city’s two taxi companies was resolved, he explains, by relegating one of them to the “phantom grid” of the city’s back alleys; children play on “Garbage Hill,” a park made of landfill through which a fender will occasionally protrude, impaling an unsuspecting tobogganer; people in Winnipeg sleepwalk at ten times the rate of any other city in the world, stumbling thrown snowdrifts, propelled only by their subconscious.

It leaves me thinking that our cities exist largely in our imaginations, the way we relate to them informed by our own perceptions, fantasies and delusions. In two weeks, when I leave Montreal without a fixed date of return, how will it live on in my mind? When I lie on the bed at night, listening to the sounds of my new home, how will I reconstruct the streets, places and characters of my old one?

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Sunday July 13 2008at 12:07 pm , filed under Canada, Film, Video and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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