Guy Maddin tends to cram his retro-style films — like “Careful,” “The Saddest Music in the World” and “My Winnipeg” — silly with stuff: gags, old movie styles, anxieties. His latest, “The Forbidden Room,” directed with new co-conspirator Evan Johnson, is even more busy. It crams a dozen-plus stories — about submarines, caves, doubles, zeppelins and Udo Kier doing brain surgery — into over two hours, told in a nesting doll structure that keeps unfolding, segueing from one story to the next, then back again a la the Polish classic “The Saragossa Manuscript.” With many of these, the inspiration was a lost film that Maddin and Johnson reimagined their own absurdist way. There was so much they’re even spilling threads and bits that didn’t make the final cut into a web series, called “Seances.” Maddin and Johnson spoke at some length with Metro during the film’s stint at the New York Film Festival, just before its American theatrical release.
I didn’t, unfortunately, research this, but the Sparks song in the movie: is that an already existing song?
Guy Maddin: No, they wrote that for us. We had this film from Greece called “Fist of a Cripple.” We wanted to have as many genres in the movie, to give the viewers a chance to keep track of what stratum they’re on. We thought “Fist of a Cripple” could be edited into a musical number, music video-style. We tried a number of previously existing songs. We tried making sound sculptures, but none of us are songwriters. But I am friends of Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks, so we just hit some bullet points for them that they had to hit with their lyrics. And within a few hours they had written a song, recorded it and delivered it to us. We all love the song, it’s catchy as hell, but we debated if it belonged in this universe, because it’s so clean and poppy. Then we realized this movie has a kitchen sink, for crying out loud. Can’t it have a Sparks song too?
It does make the universe of the film seem more expansive.
Maddin: It says, “Hey, we’re allowed to do whatever we want now.”
I got the impression that some of these ideas were ones you had lying around for years, waiting to be crammed into one of your films.
Maddin: It’s certainly not beneath us. My very first movie, which was about my dream relationship with my dead father [called “The Dead Father”], maybe got re-used in a subplot about a dream about a dead mustache.
Evan Johnson: These feelings you were accessing you were re-using. We’re always recycling the same traumas.
Maddin: I’ll take anything from anywhere. We had plans to shoot even more. Thank god they were aborted. We’d still be in the editing room. And we’re still in the editing room for the companion piece, “Seances.” The notebook I keep on all these films recycles lots of things, not only from things I’ve already made but things from my family. I’m sure every filmmaker has a notebook of things they intend to jam in somewhere. There have been a number of things I wrote down very early that I’ve only jammed in in recent years. Sometimes I even shoot something but it will fall off, because it wasn’t meant to be jammed into that picture. Finally it’s like, “OK, cross that off the notebook.”