Guy Maddin’s dreamlike and often surreal films are mostly in black and white and contain a lot of echoes of films of the 20ies and 30ies. He is mostly known for his feature film The Saddest Music in the World (2003), featuring a mesmerising Isabelle Rossellini, and his personal documentary vision of his home town My Winnipeg (2007) . Maddin also made a lot of experimental short films.
The Heart of the World was made in 2000. For the 25th anniversary of the Toronto Film Festival, several directors were asked to create a short film that would be screened prior to feature films during the festival. When Maddin heard that other directors planned films with a small number of shots (Cronenberg’s Camera for example has less than sixty shots in its nearly 6’40 minutes), he planned to make a film with about 100 shots a minute.
This film not only features lots of characteristics inspired by silent film and early sound film, such as the experimental camera angles, irises to focus or blend, actors either over-acting, either under-acting. The film was also digitally manipulated to give it the look of an old and fading print, and last but not least, this fascinating short film is full of allusions and references to German expressionism as Murnau’s Metropolis or Von Sternberg’s Der blaue Engel ; surrealist film as Dali & Buñuel’s Un chien andalou ; or Lotte Reiniger’s shadow animation. The most explicit one – and mentionned by Maddin himself – is the connection with Russian constructivism. This reminiscence of Russian constructivism is enhanced by the use of music by the Russian composer Georgy Sviridov (1915-1999). The theme used here was written for the film Time, Forward!, a Russian propagandistic drama film from 1965, and became a sort of calling card for the Soviet Union itself. Since 1986 it was used as the signature tune of Vremya, the TV news program on USSR Central Television and Russian Channel One. Filmic influences from Russian constructivism are also palpable, from Eisenstein’s dialectic montage in Potemkin to Vertov’s The Man With the Movie Camera and Pudovkin’s Mother for example, and most of all the proto-science-fiction of Aelita, a 1924 film by Iakov Protazanov that in its turn inspired Murnau’s Metropolis.
As such, The Heart of the World not only functions as a fine introduction to Maddin’s universe, but as a condensed trip into film history as well.