Guy Maddin’s understated, slightly clipped accent crackles over a long-distance phone line. “I still often go out on a Friday night with my popcorn and coke and watch the opening night of a movie,” the filmmaker says, chatting from his native Canada. “And I get quite excited about it. But after I’ve brushed my teeth, in most cases I can’t remember the movie anymore.” Maddin’s sentiments aren’t an isolated case of amnesia but a growing sense of disillusion with contemporary cinema – a feeling shared by many.
Julian Schnabel, director of the recent adaptation of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, is another filmmaker rewriting the rules of documentary. A former avant-garde artist on the New York scene, his broken-plate paintings gained international notoriety in the late ’70s and ’80s – he only came to movie making relatively recently. His latest work is about Velvet Underground founder Lou Reed. Together, they decided to make a film around the first concert performances of his 1973 opus, Berlin; an album about break-ups, jealousy and other dark and disparate machinations conceived while strung out on drugs. A commercial flop, Reed and Schnabel had the guts to resurrect the music despite the obvious risks to respective reputations. “It broke my heart,” Schnabel told one reporter. “I loved it. I listened to it all the time.”
What Lou Reed’s Berlin successfully shows is the way attitudes can change over time. Even the world’s greatest films weren’t always gratefully received, after all. Take risks and stick your neck out because no one is going to remember perishable bubblegum blockbusters. Maddin agrees: “It’s like when you’ve finished a crossword puzzle – you’re very unlikely to laminate it and keep it. I try to make movies that are worth keeping. That’s the idea, anyway.”