The films of Guy Maddin are a dream for cinephiles. Filtering his unique vision through a wealth of cinematic history, his movies are filled with endless references and allusions to other films. This style has now found an end-point in the fascinating The Green Fog, which remakes Vertigo via tens of different movies and TV series set around San Francisco.
Sounding like the kind of wacky idea people get when they are still awake in the wee small hours of the morning, it is one of the most purely entertaining films released in recent years. Think of it like constantly changing TV channels, only everything you switch to is based in San Francisco.
It’s its style it shows that certain cities become a genre in itself. The iconography of San Francisco is easily recognisable — with signifiers such as trams, steep roads, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz —and through a constant repetition of these things, The Green Fog builds a meta-text so exhaustive it should be shown on a constant loop at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
We see the same street corners, local monuments, and impressive skyline over and over again, showing off the cinematic quality of the town. There are of course shades of Hitchcock here — even clips of The Birds — but the true star is the city itself.
Any genre you want is used to tell the story — from film noir to romance, action thrillers to comedy — the only thing that remains absolutely consistent is that they are all set in the City by the Bay.
Using countless clips from films such as Dirty Harry, Bullitt, The Game, The Lady from Shanghai and The Rock, as well as countless b-movies and poorly transferred primetime TV shows, The Green Fog creates a dreamlike reverie that is as humorous as it is mesmerising. He was smart not to do remake of a film set in LA or New York, otherwise he may have had too many clips to choose from!
It is not a literal adaptation of Hitchcock’s classic, more a re-imagination that could only be completely explained by Guy Maddin himself. It takes its time to go off into weird tangents — including a montage of close-ups on Chuck Norris’ face, and characters watching themselves being played back on tape.
It’s not enough to merely remake Vertigo, Maddin recreates that iconic spiralling effect through a nesting doll structure, in which films fold into themselves, making it a perfect marriage of Hitchcock and Maddin’s styles.
It is only an hour long, serving a perfect introduction to Guy Maddin’s strange and beguiling style. He is a true auteur, a lover of silent movies who twists the genre to his own devious ends.
Complementing this silent movie vibe is the string-heavy soundtrack, provided again by his regular collaborators, The Kronos Quartet. Silent film humour is found in cutting out dialogue from the scenes he uses, conveying emotions from faces alone. When we do get voices, they are brief snatches of words that sometimes seem unrelated to what we are watching.
The effect is off-kilter and strange, but nonetheless fascinating. But this is not merely cinephilia cranked up to the eleventh degree, his use of juxtaposition and the random appearance of actors such as Nicolas Cage, Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone and Donald Sutherland somehow making this the best outright comedy of the Berlinale so far.
Vertigo was voted as the greatest film ever made in the 2012 Sight and Sound Poll, which is considered the most authoritative of all Best Film lists. To see it remade through a variety of films, all of massively differing quality, is to acknowledge that film culture is not based upon masterpieces alone. Even Vertigo, for all its brilliance, is not a purely original film — it just happens to use classic film tropes in the best way possible.
For fans of the Hitchcock movie, there is a great satisfaction to be had in seeing how these strange clips align with the original, and just how clever Maddin is in finding the correct corresponding clips. Hitchcock himself would’ve been proud at the pure mastery of cinematic form on display here.
Taste of Cinema Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Author Bio: Redmond Bacon is a professional film writer and amateur musician from London. Currently based in Berlin (Brexit), most of his waking hours are spent around either watching, discussing, or thinking about movies. Sometimes he reads a book.