Bruce McDonald is an interesting director. He was kinda like a Canadian Alex Cox or Jim Jarmusch back in 89 and 90 with Roadkill and Highway 61. His legend goes that when accepting his prize at a Canadian film festival for Roadkill he declared that money would be put to good use for some hashish. To tell the truth I haven't followed McDonald since those days but I can say that The Tracy Fragments is on hell of an interesting movie. Filled to the breaking point with style and substance it assaults the senses with multiple images (yes, fragments) on the screen at once. Sometimes more than you can possibly process. And not just static images but moving ones, naturally. Some are a peek into Tracy's (Ellen Page) memories, some are from her imagination and others are there to evoke her feelings at the moment. It's an impressive film making effort if not a complete success. Sometimes, as you might imagine, it can come across a bit music video-y, but Bruce McDonald is so masterful with his use of music in his films that even some of those moments gave me goose bumps.
What prevents this technique of having the screen split into multiple pieces from becoming filmic wankery is that it completely serves the story rather than the other way around. Watching Time Code was fun, but honestly at the end it seemed more like watching someone's experiment than watching a heartfelt story. The Tracy Fragments is an adaptation of a book and the experimentation that is up on the screen feels more like McDonald trying to get at those passages in the book that you normally cannot with a film. You find the reason in his distribution of the frames and how many fragments there are, and in the few occasions it opens up to only the one frame, the importance of image is immediate -- it's extremely effective.
Right, what's it about? Tracy narrates her own story of when her younger brother went missing and she ran away from her dysfunctional home and high school where her fellow students constantly tease her for her lack of breasts and overall androgynous appearance. At first, when the narration started I was worried that we might be in for 90 minutes of painful teenage diary musings and over emoting, but the ship is quickly steadied and the bleakness of Tracy's home life is balanced with some brilliant realizations of teenage daydreams and the welcome humor that comes with Tracy's vivid imagination.
The Tracy Fragments is a hardcore R rated movie simply for the language and subject matter that it delves into. This is not the Ellen Page from Juno even though I can picture it finding a warm reception in the heart of every misfit high school girl across the land. With Juno still ringing through the heads of many of these girls it could be a cult sensation but it's not an easy picture to absorb or sell or cross any sort of demographic. But then it wouldn't be a Bruce McDonald film then, would it? I think it's safe to say, like his early work, this film will find its audience for years to come.
Damn my lack of a segue.
The last film I took in on Monday night was easily my most anticipated. Guy Maddin's newest, My Winnipeg. Funded in part by The Documentary Channel (I'm guessing this is a Canadian thing) it chronicles the life of Winnipeg alongside the early file of the filmmaker himself. It's quite hypnotic and astonishing and hilarious and mystifying and wholly original. I mention The Documentary Channel because the stories that are told in My Winnipeg about Winnipeg seem so outlandish that you're constantly laughing and shaking your head in disbelief. It can't possibly be true that a stable full of horses broke loose from a fire and froze solid in the river with their heads sticking out and that this became a make out spot resulting in a child birth boom 9 months later. But Mr. Maddin's half hour Q&A that followed said that indeed every bit of the fantastical bits of Winnipeg and his own history was throughly researched and indeed true.
It wouldn't matter either way because the movie is amazingly put together in his usual style of different film stocks and sepia tones, but in this case mixed together with archival footage so that at times you're not sure if you're seeing recreations of Winnipeg's past or the real deal. He narrates the movie himself, and said that in future premiers he will do live narrations, and is pretty up-front about the recreations he creates to bring forth moments from his own past, but in sequences like the old ladies placing themselves in front of chainsaws to protest the destruction of Winnipeg's (and the world's?) smallest park -- a couple square feet of land with a tree growing out of it in the middle of a road, you have to wonder. Or, What If Day? Seriously?
The highlights of the movie are certainly these surreal archaic moments of Winnipeg's past brought to life but Maddin gets some good mileage out of dredging up some achingly true moments from his own. One of the funniest moments comes from his mother's reaction to his sister coming home in a panic after having hit a dear with her car. Instead of helping his sister cope with the situation she turns it into an inquisition, positive that despite the blood and fur on the grill of the car she was out having sex, "Was it the swim team or the man with the tire iron?", much to his sister's mortification.
Even thought the spine of the film is based around Guy Maddin trying to escape Winnipeg like it's the Corleone family, it's a very loving tribute to the city. It takes it's many digs at the sleepiness (the highest rate of sleepwalking is found in Winnipegers don't you know) and such, in the end you feel the love. Even though he said he has every expectation to get run out of town when he does the hometown premier. I have little doubt in saying that this is my favorite Guy Maddin film to date. It should be getting it's formal distribution in the coming months and I implore all to go check it out. It may be his most accessible, but in his case (and for the most part) I don't think that's a bad thing at all.
Here's how IFFBoston '08 breaks down for me -- best to least best:
1. My Effortless Brilliance
2. Mister Lonely
3. My Winnipeg
4. The Tracey Fragments
5. The Beaver Trilogy
I'll try and get the Frownland smackdown out there and Padraic is making me feel like I should give a write up to the three or four short features I vidied at the fest. So there may be some bonus features in the future. Also look for some youtube to be added to these posts in the next couple days. But for now, I'm checking out. It's been a great fest this year and with the summer at the door I feel like I can comfortably sink right into Iron Man without a trace of guilt. Not that I would anyway. Cheers.