Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

The Critical Cinematic Cartography of My Winnipeg

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

The Critical Cinematic Cartography of My Winnipeg

Article excerpt

My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, 2007) is a poetic hybrid of fiction and documentary, an essay film on Winnipeg presented through the lens of personal and collective memory. Maddin's film operates in a register of poetic truth rather than historical accuracy. As Darren Wershler argues, the veracity of the film's account of Winnipeg's social and cultural history is beside the point;' from the city of sleepwalkers to the taxi labour wars, the film presents a series of urban legends, myths, apocryphal stories and half-truths. Yet this is still a film about Winnipeg. It is replete with markers of place, from the filmmaker's family home at 800 Ellice Avenue above Lil's Beauty Salon, to the Red and Assiniboine Rivers and the now demolished Winnipeg Arena and the newly built MTS Centre. What emerges is a subtle yet profound rumination on what constitutes a place, specifically in the context of cinema. This tension between the referential and the fictitious in the production of places in film is the central theme of this essay.

In his now classic essay "Narrative Space," Stephen Heath describes the ideological function of narrative in subsuming the film image's representation of spatiality.2 Classical narrative cinema, according to Heath, works to contain the excesses of spatial representation thereby creating an illusionary appearance of a whole social and spatial order. For Heath, the construction of "frame space" and "narrative space" determines the coherence of figures, action and movement in the frame. "It is narrative significance that at any moment sets the space of the frame to be followed and 'read'... Narrative contains the mobility that threatens the clarity of vision in a constant renewal of perspective; space becomes place- narrative as the taking place of film."1

Heath's conception of narrative as the site of ideological regulation and suture of filmic spatiality-from the profilmic to the spectator's gaze-remains a valuable and insightful conceptual model for an understanding of cinema as a profoundly spatial medium. However, its simplistic equation of place with the unified and centered image of perspective belies the experience of place-both geographic and filmic-as a multifaceted, contingent and incomplete project. Michel de Certeau's formulation of space and place provides a more flexible model in which the latter is defined by its indication of stability, singularity and authority while the former infers a consideration of vectors, trajectories and différentiation.4 Space, above all, delimits the movement or action of enunciation. Place, on the other hand, refers to a measure of legibility and stability. According to de Certeau, though, place and space are deeply interconnected. "In short, space is a practiced place."5 The identity of a place depends upon its shifting and fragmented landscape of memories, stories and legends; these are the spatial stories that make places habitable.6 Henri Lefebvre similarly develops a definition of space as a product of diverse practices and representations. For Lefebvre, place is continuously produced; it is a social product constituted by an articulation of perceptions, conceptions and practices.7

Inspired by Lefebvre's and de Certeau's dialectical conceptualizations of spatiality, this paper explores the meaning of place in the cinema. It argues that places are temporary and fleeting points of coalescence and consensus, always permeable to challenge, renewal and rearticulation. Filmic place consists of a crystallization of contingencies through the tentative establishment of a world. Like maps, films are involved in the production of place rather than merely the reflection or transcription the world. In its production of place, the cinema functions as a form of cartography, alternatively presenting and displacing its referent according to its textual and medial determinations. In what follows I examine the grounds for a cinematic cartography, drawing out its resources, strategies and implications in a reading of Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg. …

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