Keyhole (2011, Guy Maddin)

“I’m only a ghost, but a ghost isn’t nothing.”

Always great to see a new Maddin work, and this exceeded expectations. Exciting yet familiar, new with firmly recognizable bits of the old, and filmed in a different medium than usual (digital!), like Maddin’s Moonrise Kingdom. “I know a lot of people who follow me probably figured I’d be the last person in the world to switch to digital, and that I also sort of ride a penny-farthing with a bowler hat, but I don’t. I want to be a normal guy. I’m just an artist trying to make stuff that matters to me.” (AV Club)

In this post I quoted Maddin saying that his next feature would have footage from his shorts, “a Frankenstein feature film built together from a bunch of dead short commissions,” and there are two shorts since My Winnipeg that resurface in Keyhole: Glorious (Louis Negin as a ghost, penises growing through walls) and Send Me to the ‘Lectric Chair (Isabella and a homemade electric chair).

Nice, clear images, with relatively restrained editing, apparently because Guy could afford an art department so didn’t have to hide the cheapness of his sets. Great, unusual, moody music, and crazy amounts of lightning flashing from outside. But it’s not Maddin Lite by any means – he hasn’t grown up and made a normal movie. He and George Toles have come up with a haunted-house gangster flick/family psychodrama (it’s like The Six Hundredth Sense) full of enough insane details to rival any previous Maddin feature.

Ulysses (Jason Patric of Sleepers, The Lost Boys) appears late to the party, after his men have shot their way into a house surrounded by the cops. The movie pronounces its disdain for reality from the start, when he lines all the men against the wall, telling the still-living ones to face him, then sends the others outside. “Cops’ll make sure you get to the morgue.” There’s no glowing aura or translucency – the dead look and behave like the rest of us.

B/W Rossellini behind a colored curtain:

Ulysses seeks his wife Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini), who is locked in her bedroom at the top of the house with a lover named Chang, while her father Louis Negin is chained to her bed. Negin also acts as part-time narrator: “I am a part of the house you’re looking at. It would be misleading to say I LIVE here.” As Ulysses stalks the house, he gradually unlocks doors and begins to regain his memories.

“Something’s wrong. I can’t hear my own thoughts.”

The Men: Big Ed was in charge of the group before Ulysses arrives, wants to be in charge again, Heatly is Ulysses’ adopted son, sometimes-nude Rochelle (Ulysses’ mistress) only speaks French, Denton (Brent Neale, Renfield in Maddin’s Dracula) wears a hat, Milo has a scarf, Belview (Claude Dorge of The Saddest Music) is a deliciously overacting dapper dude in a tie, Denny is a wet drowned girl, and Ogilbe is Kevin McDonald.

Ulysses, who keeps changing the clocks in the house, warns everyone to stay away from the ghosts, but Kevin McDonald attempts sex with a floor-scrubbing woman in the hallway, sparks fly, and he continues riding her in death, whipped by Negin from behind, as she appears not to notice him.

Ulysses gathers all the guns and drops ’em down the trash chute, but when they’re heated by the furnace, one shoots Heatly dead. Someone drowns in the house’s indoor bottomless bog, and Big Ed fries in the makeshift bicycle-powered electric chair he built to trap Ulysses. “You can’t electrocute a man twice,” says Ulysses as he turns the tables, so perhaps he’s returned from death row. Meanwhile, the cops are still outside…

Big Ed strapped into his own invention:

Ulysses attends to Heatly:

Ulysses is sad when Heatly dies, but doesn’t seem to recognize that the hostage he drags all around the house is his real son Manners, supposedly his only surviving child, though we see the others in the house, Ulysses not recognizing any of them at first. Ned (Darcy Fehr, star of Cowards Bend the Knee) is drinking milk, the head of daughter Lota is in a flowerpot, and youngest son Brucie is masturbating (“playing Yahtzee”) under the stairs.

Manners:

Also, Udo Kier gets one scene (not enough!) as a doctor paying a housecall to examine the drowned Denny, despite the fact that his own child died that night in the hospital. Lots of family death in this movie.

More details of the house: furniture placement is important (Ulysses makes his men undo their arrangement alterations), and there’s a stuffed wolverine named Crispy and a pneumatic tube delivery system in the walls. Manners, who has fallen for Denny, is finally released, as is Louis Negin. Ulysses makes it to his wife’s chambers and shoots Chang, and at dawn all ghosts and signs of the police shootout quietly vanish.

Young lovers, one of them dead:

NYTimes:

Like his Homeric namesake Ulysses is seeking a way back to his wife, though there is not much evidence of love or loyalty between them. Nor is Keyhole, narratively speaking, a reimagined Odyssey any more than it is a ’30s crime drama. It’s more like a dusty attic full of battered, evocative cultural references.

Maddin again:

We just live in a space that’s just thronged with ghosts and I honestly think I’m even a ghost sometimes. I often wonder if when I die, and I don’t believe in ghosts, but if I’m going to haunt any place, it’s that childhood home that I keep falsely remembering. In my dreams now I very rarely dream of people. I just dream of that space. I’m walking around and I’m the only person in it. I’m actually haunting in the future, in my dreams anyway.

The dialogue George [Toles] and I write isn’t naturalism, but [Patric] knows how to give it a reading that makes it adhere to a character. If no one likes the movie, they should at least watch Jason, just to see how he’s taken lines that would be impossible to read naturalistically and how he puts them into his processor and spews them out. It’s kind of amazing.

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