Academic journal article Criticism

Guy Maddin's the Night Mayor, Imaginary Media, and Contemporary Melodrama

Academic journal article Criticism

Guy Maddin's the Night Mayor, Imaginary Media, and Contemporary Melodrama

Article excerpt

What is the structure of contemporary melodrama, and how does that structure relate to imaginary media? These questions are the residue from the research that I conducted for my last book, Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg (2010),' when I began to consider the frequent appearances of imaginary media in Maddin's other films, and the astonishing range of media techniques deployed in their production. Maddin is one of contemporary cinema's premier melodramatists, so the regular appearance of imaginary media in his work deserves some consideration. Fanciful devices such as the giant scope that the heroine uses to observe the world's beating heart in Heart of the World (2002)2 and the Aerophone in Brand upon the Brain! (2008)3 play supporting roles in Maddin's films, but, in The Night Mayor (2009),4 a fictional device called the Telemelodium takes center stage. Through the fabrication of its history, and the history of its inventor, Nihad Ademi, Maddin depicts Canada as a melodramatic nation sutured together by the broadcasting of its dreams.

The Telemelodium presents an apposite allegory for the ideological function of the Office National du Film du Canada/National Film Board of Canada (NFB or ONF/NFB). The Night Mayor was commissioned in 2009 for the NFB's seventieth anniversary (founded 1939) by Cindy Whitten, Director General of the NFB English Program. What Maddin produced, slyly, is a film about the difference between the cultural armature of the Canadian government as it might have been, a kind of technological armature that aids and abets the creation of an Imaginary utopia, and the grim alternative, an instrument of cultural policy weighed down by its own bureaucracy and instrumentalist requirements for official communication. This is where the imaginary media forms that manifest in the thematic content of the film (the Telemelodium itself) and the material effects of the Real (the flickering film, the odd murky sound track) merge, producing a film that celebrates noise over signal as a political as well as aesthetic choice. In the process, it also suggests that one of the differences between the structure of twenty-first-century melodrama and that of early-twentieth-century melodrama is the way that each is articulated with specific media technologies.

On 4 March 2009, the NFB issued a press release announcing that, as part of the celebrations for their seventieth anniversary, Guy Maddin had been commissioned to begin work on The Night Mayor.5 The official synopsis of this film reads as follows: "Winnipeg, 1939: Inventor Nihad Ademi harnesses the waves of the Aurora Borealis and uses the power to broadcast images of Canada to its own citizens from coast to coast. The unregulated imagery enrages the government, who send a crack team of federal agents to shut Nihad's project down."6 The entirety of the film, approximately fourteen minutes long, is available for viewing on the NFB's website (http://www.nfb.ca/film/night_mayor).

The Night Mayor is a nonlinear barrage of short shots stitched together with a stream-of-consciousness, dreamy first-person narration from Bosnian émigré Nihad Ademi, interspersed with short expository interjections from two of his six adult children: Dado/David and Selma. Maddin s work is anything but plot-driven, but, for those who have not seen the film, here is a brief summary: Obsessed with the night sky, Ademi, a tuba-playing musician, falls in love with the sounds of the Northern Lights. Abandoning his tuba, he invents a new instrument he dubs the Telemelodium, which he constructs and perfects with the help of his children. At first, Ademi only wants to share the music of the Aurora with the rest of Canada, but he soon discovers that the music has optical powers. For Ademi, the images that his invention creates from the light of the "false dawn" epitomize a specific sort of knowledge: "Mine is the peculiar truth which comes from the false," he says. Dado/David describes the Telemelodium as "a kind of natural television, which converted the music made by the Aurora Borealis into moving pictures. …

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