Tuesday 9 February 2021

Short short Guy: "Stump the Guesser"

A full feature from the cult Canadian fantasist Guy Maddin (Careful, Twilight of the Ice Nymphs, Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary) might have been too much to ask in 2020: Maddin tends to construct closed-off worlds of a kind our scientists have advised us not to spend too much time in while the germs are raging. But we have a new short, Stump the Guesser, which Maddin has co-directed with his regular collaborators Evan and Galen Johnson, and releases via MUBI this week. This is a mock silent melodrama, in the established Maddin house style, about a professional guesser employed in a (Soviet-looking) "State Carnival" to field questions from the public - ranging from "How old am I?" to the more off-piste "How many fishes do I have about my person?" - who gets sent into a tailspin upon falling for his own long-lost sister. Around this scrambling figure, Maddin and the Johnsons erect extra-imaginative scaffolding: timecards for the Day and Night Guessers to punch in and out with; private guessing booths for extracurricular activity; a Guessing Milk swigged as snowboarders swig energy drinks, to enhance performance; and a Guessing Inspector who sporadically shows up to ensure the integrity of the whole operation. (One especially choice, not to mention practical detail: the hand-stitched labels showing which way up a blanket should be slept under. We know our hero is out of whack when we see his head where the label showing "FEET" is.) Cinephiles, meanwhile, are invited to gorge themselves on a buffet of scattered allusions and retro effects: double exposures, irises, Expressionist compositions, the gauziest, softest lit close-ups. (The cinematographer was Ryan Simmons, and he was surely the busiest individual on set.) It was always astonishing that Maddin should have troubled to make such self-consciously throwback cinema even in the Nineties, many, many decades after these tricks and tics were last in cinematic circulation; those same tricks and tics appear no less perverse for being exhumed a further twenty years into the 21st century, nearly one hundred years after they were first settled upon. If Stump the Guesser can't shake off the inbuilt thinness of pastiche, it's notably inventive and precise pastiche: even streaming digitally and watched on a laptop, you could freeze-frame the activity and fool any passing guessers into assuming they were evaluating a work of 1917 vintage.

Stump the Guesser will be available to stream via MUBI from tomorrow.

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