Gangsters ghosts and weird sex

Looking through Guy Maddin’s Keyhole

Talking with Guy Maddin is a treat. Winnipeg’s foremost conjurer of black-and-white cinematic spectres makes the interview process feel like a conversation with an old friend cracking jokes and waxing philosophical about his process. Continuing in the vein of 2007’s My Winnipeg his latest film Keyhole blurs the line between surrealism and biography with a haunted house full of gangsters ghosts and all kinds of weird sex. Drawing loosely on the epic plot of The Odyssey Jason Patric stars as Ulysses a befuddled father battling against family and gang members including Isabella Rossellini Kevin MacDonald and Udo Kier. In Maddin’s eerie world all rules are off.

Fast Forward Weekly : Was it a challenge finding actors and actresses willing to do so much nudity?

Guy Maddin : Louis Negin is the guy who’s naked almost all the time and he’s my real muse. He’s a brave serious actor determined to do whatever the part requires so he had no problem. It saves a lot of money on costume fittings. He’s also in a short film that will be a bonus feature on the Blu-ray where he’s not wearing anything either and performs lots of semi-transparent head. [essentially Maddin is describing a ghost giving a blow job and you can see inside its cheek.] I originally made a number of short films that had been commissioned and in case I didn’t get enough money for a feature I was going to suture them all together to create Keyhole .

FFWD : I read that the Wexner Centre for the Arts commissioned the project. Did they ask for something specific or give you free reign?

GM : They gave me $100000 and a crate of lingerie because Les Wexner also owns Victoria’s Secret. I was told I could make something for $400 and keep the change if I wanted but I was so grateful I decided to raise more money and make a feature. I switched to digital because we had a very tight budget but I’m really glad. I was wondering if I’d ever screw up the courage to take the plunge but this time I had two hands shoving me off the diving board.

FFWD : I was really happy to see Kevin McDonald as well. Did you see a dramatic role hidden within The Kids in the Hall ?

GM : I just enjoy how he always has such an aggressive way of attacking a role. He also moved to Winnipeg into the same apartment I had when I was a young father working as a janitor. It’s a condo now so he hasn’t quite snake-slid his way down to my 1977 status. It’s nice to have him as a neighbour.

FFWD : Was it a conscious decision to have Isabella Rossellini play it somewhat straight since she’s known for her more manic performances?

GM : There was a misunderstanding about her schedule so we thought we would have her for eight days but only had her for three. I didn’t have time to go over her part with her much so I just let her do it however she wanted. Since she’s bedridden for most of the movie that alone took the energy out. Isabella is a Scandinavian-Italian hybrid so she can default to cool but also be a spicy Mediterranean with lots of hand gestures chopping the air into pieces. She’s got an Italian accent but sounds exactly like her Swedish mother. It’s strange.

FFWD : Jason Patric has also said he was baffled throughout the making of the film. Did you explain things to him or just leave him in the dark?

GM : He wanted to be left in the dark. I think Jason connected with this film in a number of ways. The original Ulysses is literature’s first deadbeat dad who left for 19 years. Jason had a very famous grandfather Jackie Gleason and a very famous father Jason Miller who starred as Father Damien in The Exorcist . That same year he also wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning play and abandoned his family. He told young Jason “You’re the man of the house now.” I think he took that to heart but never really forgave him for pulling a full Ulysses. For this film I think Jason felt it was consistent with his character that he didn’t understand the script completely. Shit even I don’t!