J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Guy Maddin’s The Green Fog

We tend to forget it was the ungrateful citizens of San Francisco whom Inspector “Dirty Harry” Callahan so diligently protected. That alone makes the Golden Gate City one of the leading movie towns for mystery-thrillers. Yet, it’s still not as ubiquitous as New York or LA, so it had just the right degree of difficulty for Guy Maddin. His latest film “rhapsody” consists of excerpts snipped from other films and TV shows shot on location in San Francisco, or the surrounding environs. Along the way, it also became a pseudo-remake of the SF-set Vertigo, in spirit, rather than the beat-for-beat narrative. San Francisco looks appealingly noir as it gets the Winnipeg treatment in Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, and Galen Johnson’s The Green Fog (trailer here) which opens this Friday at the IFC Center.

If you do not know Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Maddin’s Fog will most likely leave you thoroughly confused. By the way, you really ought to know it, but conveniently the IFC Center will present the two films together as a double-bill during select screenings. Regardless, there are plenty of men hanging off buildings, just like poor Jimmy Stewart. There are also quite a few femme fatales, very much in the Kim Novak tradition. To further reinforce the Hitchcockian connection, Jacob Garchik’s score, performed by the Kronos Quartet, doubles, triples, and quadruples down on Bernard Herrmann nervy jangliness.

Frankly, while watching Maddin’s pseudo-narrative montage, it makes you wonder why more productions do not more frequently take advantage of the city’s distinctive landmarks. Obviously, some films were enormously helpful to Maddin and company, including classics like Vertigo itself, Dark Passage, The Lady from Shanghai, Sudden Fear, The Towering Inferno, The House on Telegraph Hill, They Call Me Mr. Tibbs!, and the Dirty Harry series.

Perhaps not so surprisingly Jagged Edge and Philip Kaufman’s 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers turned out to be especially useful. Maybe the happiest surprise is how often Chuck Norris pops up in clips from An Eye for an Eye. There are also moments of high camp or nostalgia (take your pick) when the Winnipeg filmmakers mine unexpected vanes, such as McMillan & Wife and The Love Bug.

The Green Fog is definitely a film for film buffs. The right kind of viewer will have jolly good fun trying to I.D. each film fragment (double points to anyone who picks up on Mr. Ricco, which sadly does not include any of Chico Hamilton’s groovy soundtrack). Essentially, you can consider it the most idiosyncratic Chuck Workman film ever. Recommended for Maddin devotees and adventurous Hitchcock fans, The Green Fog (and Vertigo) open this Friday (1/5) in New York, at the IFC Center.

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