The Presents of Film: Guy Maddin and John Waters in Conversation

No two filmmakers could be more closely associated with the cities where they were born and grew up in than John Waters and Guy Maddin. Waters has shot all of his films in Baltimore (cult trash classics like Pink Flamingos, 1972, Desperate Living, 1977, Polyester, 1981, and Cecil B. Demented, 2000), while Maddin’s feature-length musical, The Saddest Music in the World, 2003, and his docu-fantasia, My Winnipeg, 2008, have made his home city a place that enjoys more life and fame in the imagination than in fact. The cities inhabited by these two celebrated filmmakers, thanks to their preference for invention over documentation, have become mythic places. You have a sense in watching their films that what you are seeing is true, whether it happened or not.

John Waters was in Winnipeg in November as the opening night speaker for “My City’s Still Breathing,” a symposium on urban culture that was the culmination of the Winnipeg Cultural Capital of Canada Project for 2010. On the evening of November 4, he enchanted a sold-out audience in the Garrick Theatre with a customized version of his travelling stand-up comedy performance that corresponded to the dreamy contours of Maddin’s Winnipeg. Earlier that day, Maddin met Waters in his room at the Hotel Fort Garry for Border Crossings where they engaged in a freewheeling discussion about the films and personalities they have encountered in the Cinema Purgatorio they both seem to embrace. As you’ll recognize when you read their delightful conversation, their comedy touches on the divine.

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Top images: (Left) Udo Kier in the 2010 Guy Maddin-directed “Hauntings” adaptation of the 1919 lost film *Lilith and Ly, screenplay by Fritz Lang. Photograph: Steven Ackerman. Courtesy Guy Maddin. (Centre) Guy Maddin filming Nihad Ademi in Glorious, 2008, at the Neon Factory on Main Street in Winnipeg. Photograph: Richardo Alms. Courtesy Guy Maddin. (Right) Edith Massey and John Waters on the set of Female Trouble, 1974. Photograph: Bruce Moore. © New Line Cinema.

Lower images: (Left) Velma Von Tussle (Deborah Harry) in John Waters’s *Hairspray, 1988. Photograph: Henny Garfunkel. © New Line Cinema. (Centre top) Divine and Tab Hunter in John Waters’s Polyester, 1981. Photograph: Larry Dean. © New Line Cinema. (Centre bottom) Mary Garlington, Divine, Ken King in John Waters’s Polyester, 1981. Photograph: Larry Dean. © New Line Cinema. (Right top) Film still from the 2010 Guy Maddin-directed “Hauntings” adaptation of the 1920 lost film The Brute, directed by Oscar Micheaux. Photograph: Steven Ackerman. Courtesy Guy Maddin. (Right bottom) Guy Maddin’s adaptation of The Devil Bear (dir. Louis Chaudet, 1929, Canada). Starring Udo Kier with Teddy M. Zegeye-Gebrehiwot as the gorilla. Photograph: Steven Ackerman. Courtesy Guy Maddin.*