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The Green Fog

Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, Galen Johnson
2017, 62 min. English

The prologue to The Green Fog shows a dial being turned from “Talk” to “Listen”. In a studio cinema, a man in handcuffs is held at gunpoint as he watches the images on the screen. A map can be seen, with a finger pointing to San Francisco. Reporters stand in front of a building, poised to deliver news by loudspeaker; the public wait in fear. The Golden Gate Bridge appears, bathed in green light; a storm rises, the steep streets of the city are entirely deserted.
The structure of this film by Guy Maddin, Galen Johnson and Evan Johnson pays homage to Hitchcock’s Vertigo: a dizzying assemblage of film and TV images both familiar and unknown, all from the Bay Area. From this trove of found material, they have created a cinematic fantasy that pulls the viewer in and never lets go.
The short film Accidence is hardly less rich in images, though they are spread across the screen in just one single shot. A murder has been committed on a balcony. But it is only one of the many balconies attached to a large apartment block. Strange things are transpiring of each of them on loop. As the eye attempts to take them all in, the murder soon seems entirely unimportant. (Stefanie Schulte Strathaus)

Guy Maddin was born in Winnipeg, Canada, in 1956. He studied Economics at the University of Winnipeg. He is an autodidact and shot his first short film, The Dead Father, in 1985. Maddin is an installation and Internet artist, a lecturer at Harvard University, a writer and filmmaker. He has also mounted numerous live performance versions of his films around the world, featuring live music, sound effects, singing and narration. In 2016 he and co-director Evan Johnson launched their major Internet interactive work, Seances.

Evan Johnson has been working with Guy Maddin since 2009. Johnson lives in Winnipeg, Canada.

Galen Johnson was born in Winnipeg, Canada in 1981. He earned a degree in Architecture at the University of Manitoba and worked for several years in the architecture industry before working as production designer and composer on the film The Forbidden Room by Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson. He lives in Winnipeg, where he works as a composer and designer.

Like a fried egg in the pan

Whether or not you’ve seen VERTIGO, Hitchcock’s internecine engagement with the male gaze, we want you to get lost in the mysteries and delights we found in making our own adaptation. Our medium is footage repurposed from movies and television shot or set exclusively in San Francisco. Our version, shaped for our own pleasure out of newly defamiliarised material, is more a VERTIGO ‘shape’ that somewhat rhymes with, occasionally reconfigures, and sometimes flips like a fried egg the savagery and victimhood of the annihilating original. Sit back and let the emulsions, pixels and taxidermy dust wash over your eyeballs! (Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson and Galen Johnson)

‘Leave a little fallow corner in your heart’

“Let mystery have its place in you; do not be always turning up your whole soil with the ploughshare of self-examination, but leave a little fallow corner in your heart ready for any seed the winds may bring, and reserve a nook of shadow for the passing bird; keep a place in your heart for the unexpected guests, an altar for the unknown God.” (Henri-Frédéric Amiel)

Conversation with the directors: “We were looking for ways away from the male gaze”

Joshua Encinias: Do you consider THE GREEN FOG an essay of sorts, vivisecting Hitchcock’s use of the male gaze?

Guy Maddin: When Noah Cowan at the San Francisco Film Festival approached us to make a closing night film featuring footage of films shot in San Francisco, we initially started thinking of city symphonies; we weren’t quite sure what to do. Pretty quickly we realised that operating from a position of adapting VERTIGO, using footage of other movies shot in San Francisco, gave us the freedom to riff on VERTIGO the film, and do the kind of things good cine-essays do without the voiceover of a cine-essay.

Evan Johnson: While we were making it I thought of it as something that was making an argument the way an essay might. Like a thesis and antithesis and a synthesising of arguments with the shot colliding together, saying something about VERTIGO and what it meant and what’s dangerous about it. I wasn’t making totally clear arguments in my head with words. Whatever THE GREEN FOG is saying or arguing is kind of mysterious to me still.

Watching THE GREEN FOG, I would say Hitchcock’s use of the male gaze is your thesis and the quote you use by Henri-Frédéric Amiel is the antithesis. Can you talk about the dialogue you create between the two?

Evan Johnson: That quote was from SUDDEN FEAR (1952, directed by David Miller) and Jack Palance is speaking it. To me it’s like a guide to watching the movie itself, almost like a manifesto. For the first poster design, we had used a part of the quote on it: ‘Let mystery have its place in you’. It’s exhorting us not to have too much literal-mindedness about what we were creating. It’s also a conversation about whatever we were trying to say about the male gaze in VERTIGO. Which again isn’t entirely articulated. VERTIGO itself is so self-critical, very honest and cruel about what the male gaze is and does, but at the same time we were thinking it might be nice to make a movie about the male gaze that wasn’t so stifling to the female characters. We were looking for ways away from the male gaze.

Guy Maddin: I loved the scene of the two women discussing the trips to the museum. It’s a peek into Madeleine Elster’s [the main character in VERTIGO, played by Kim Novak –Ed.] life, what her off-hours might be like and how concerned she might be about what she’s doing. It’s offering a point of view there that Hitchcock doesn’t offer. It’s still doing the same thing that VERTIGO is, while being self-critical; it offers up a few more points.

How did you decide the breathing between words, facial gestures, background noise and orchestration by Kronos Quartet would set the tone and act as dialogue for the project?

Galen Johnson: Initially it was a practical thing for me to find our version of VERTIGO. We had all these scenes filmed in San Francisco that were totally irrelevant to what we were trying to say. The thing to do seemed to be to take it all out. [Laughs]. I wasn’t thinking at the time how cool the breathing would sound.

Guy Maddin: Once you get the dialogue out, suddenly people aren’t talking to each other, but looking at each other. That’s a big difference and that’s more in line thematically with what we were thinking about. Also, people were listening. Listening is a motif that sounds like a broad motif, but since we brought on a composer and a live string quartet, we needed a means of articulating that people should be listening while they were watching the movie. It shouldn’t be underestimated that it made us laugh to take people’s dialogue away from them.  The television actors got better! Where they may have had a hard time delivering haphazardly written, cheese-ball dialogue, it suddenly became really powerful and erotic when you took their words away.
They were saying so much more with their faces. Instead of adding something to collide with the face, we subtract and just have you look at the face. All those faces are so familiar to you. The lighting styles of so many different eras all loaded into those faces. There’s that sequence with Chuck Norris. When you isolate Chuck Norris without dialogue, he has a Bressonian quality. The movie was EYE FOR AN EYE and he’s basically grief-stricken. His partner or mentor has been killed at the beginning of the movie. The mentor was played by Terry Kiser, who played Bernie in WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S.

Did you create the background noise for the scenes you used?

Evan Johnson: Yes, we added a lot. There are certain scenes where we have to match the ambiance of the scene and re-layer it over the entire scene. Cutting out the dialogue isn’t always so simple. In half of the shots of someone’s face where they’re listening to someone else’s dialogue, we had to replace the ambient restaurant or street noise, and we would have to re-add or add sound effects that weren’t there. In the shot in THE GREEN FOG from THE TOWERING INFERNO, Paul Newman slams a car door but it didn’t make that sound, so we added it. It’s the perfect slam, so we were fixing the mess-ups of other, lazier editors. [Everyone laughs]. We had to do a lot of work to make the dialogue cutting as seamless as we want it to be.

How did you secure the rights to seemingly hundreds of TV shows and films?

Guy Maddin: One other major collaborator was a fair usage lawyer in San Francisco. My job was to talk to this fair usage lawyer while Galen and Evan were editing in Winnipeg. I had to describe to her how much we were using and how we were using it. I learned a lot about fair usage. It’s just the matter of a lawyer drawing up a letter of plausible arguments for a judge, then the movie can get insurance and proceed. According to contemporary conventions of fair usage, we didn’t use too much from any one source. I talked to Bill Morrison about DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME (2016) where he was paying for rights to things and he told me recently he regretted doing that because he found out later he could have used it under fair usage laws.

Did you have any nervousness about releasing the project beyond the San Francisco Film Festival? I read Tippi Hedren compared Harvey Weinstein to Alfred Hitchcock.

Evan Johnson: It didn’t occur to me to have those kind of nerves. I felt a couple of layers of defence. VERTIGO as a movie is critical of Hitchcock’s entire method and his male gaze issue. On top of that, we were trying to intensify that criticism and find ways around ‘male gaziness’. And we weren’t trying to be heroes about it, either. We had a quick deadline and not much time and were just concerned with small formal problems and then suddenly the film was finished. We wanted to delight ourselves; we wanted to make ourselves happy. Tippi’s probably right about Hitch. Sounds like he was a dubious character in a lot of ways. I don’t feel defensive of Hitchcock in any way. His films have taught me and I think I’m at a place where I’m ready to criticise VERTIGO and complain a little bit. I’ve seen it so many times now, its initial devastating effect on me has worn off and it’s sort of fun to complain about it. [Laughs].

Guy Maddin: It has crossed my mind a little bit. I don’t want to joke about it, but like Evan said, everyone has an opinion on VERTIGO in regard to the male gaze. This one does play with that in ways I don’t think are obvious but at least is a step back from that dangerous territory. We’re not really interested in that stuff. We had lot of movies we could have pulled from and intensified the male gaze but it didn’t occur to us to do it.

(Interview: Joshua Encinias, thefilmstage.com/features/guy-maddin-on-reinventing-vertigo-with-the-green-fog-male-gaze-and-the-bressonian-qualities-of-chuck-norris/)

An endless loop of crime and punishment

A feature film in nine minutes: A mysterious murder is observed, over and over again, from a distance of some 300 metres, as events leading up to the commission of the crime transpire over a gridwork of apartment block balconies, each containing its humdrum everyday life activities, all shot in one long continuous take from another apartment block across the way. Since the film‘s frame contains thirty balconies, each the frame for its own narrative, the viewer must choose which storyline to follow most closely, a choice that makes for a species of interactive filmmaking. As a result, though not one detail changes in the entirety of ACCIDENCE from viewing to viewing, the film is a completely different movie – for better or worse – each time it‘s watched.  
Based on the metaphor that we are each our own victims, each of us the worst perpetrators of our own worst traumas, and each the most tireless prosecutors of the crimes we commit against our-selves, ACCIDENCE follows the nightmarish cycle of a man who hurls to his death a doppel-ganger of himself from an apartment balcony, and is then pursued by a detective who is yet an-other doppelganger. The perpetrator is pursued from apartment to apartment, to the homes of his parents, and of his girlfriend, flats where he seeks sanctuary from persecution. By the end of the film, the perpetrator joins his victim in death as he is hurled from the balcony by his lookalike pursuer of justice, who promptly considers himself a perp, and who is promptly dogged by yet another lookalike agent of justice. An endless loop of crime and punishment is thus established. Everyone else living in the apartment block, at least those visible out on their balconies, is also caught in their own personal loops of varying activities. We all live in loops, each of us con-demned to repeat ourselves in essential ways. (Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, Galen Johnson)

Juliette Hagopian. Production company Juliette Inc (Winnipeg, Canada). Written and directed by Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, Galen Johnson. Director of photography Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, Galen Johnson. Editing Evan Johnson, Galen Johnson, Ryan Simmons. Music Ensign Broderick. Sound design Andy Rudolph. Sound Andy Rudolph, Kelsey Braun. Production design Galen Johnson. With Adam Brooks (Detective MacMillan), Jon Stebbe (The Perp), William Bond (Detective Weif), Xander Boulard (10 Year Old Boy), Brent Neale (Dr. Jekyll), Mike Maryniuk (Mr. Hyde), Rhayne Vermette (Echo), Ash Sealgair (Handsome), Ming Hon (Pet Photographer), Micaella Stone (Young Woman Host).

Evan Johnson, Guy Maddin. Production companies Evan Johnson (Winnipeg, Canada), Guy Maddin (Winnipeg, Canada). Directed by Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, Galen Johnson. Editing Evan Johnson, Galen Johnson. Music Jacob Garchik. Sound design John Gurdebeke.

World sales The Festival Agency


Guy Maddin: 1988: Tales from the Gimli Hospital (72 min.). 1990: Archangel (90 min.). 1997: Twilight of the Ice Nymphs (91 min.). 2002: Dracula – Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (73 min.). 2003: The Saddest Music in the World (100 min.). 2006: Brand Upon the Brain! (95 min., forum 2007). 2007: My Winnipeg (80 min., forum 2008). 2015: The Forbidden Room (130 min., Forum 2015, co-directed by Evan Johnson). 2017: The Green Fog. 2018: Accidence.

Evan Johnson: 2015: Bring Me the Head of Tim Horton (30 min., Forum Expanded 2016, co-directed by Guy Maddin and Galen Johnson). 2016: Seances (co-directed by Guy Maddin and Galen Johnson). 2018: Accidence (co-directed by Guy Maddin and Galen Johnson). 2017: The Green Fog. 2018: Accidence.

Galen Johnson: 2015: Bring Me the Head of Tim Horton (30 Min., Forum Expanded 2016, co-directed: Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson). 2017: The Green Fog. 2018: Accidence.

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