Spiritismes: Guy Maddin revives lost films in Paris

The Blue Mountains Mystery (1921)
The Blue Mountains Mystery (1921)

“Over eighty percent of silent films are lost. I’ve always considered a lost film as a narrative with no known final resting place — doomed to wander the landscape of film history, sad, miserable and unable to project itself to the people who might love it. This absence haunts me. I need to see these films. It’s eventually occurred to me that the best way to see them would to make contact with their miserable spirits and invite them to possess me. And with actors quite willing to participate in some para-normal cinematic experiments … Every day my actors will plunge themselves deep into a trance, and open themselves up to possession by the unhappy spirit of a lost film. And every day my actors will act out the long forgotten choreographies that once lived so luminously on the big screen for thousands, maybe millions of viewers.” – Guy Maddin

Last weekend, I visited the set of The Blue Mountains Mystery, which was shot in Australia in 1921. The day before, I dropped by to see the same crew, and largely the same cast, working on an Erich Von Stroheim script, Poto-Poto.

The filming took place, not in another dimension, but in Paris, at the Pompidou Centre, where Canadian film director Guy Maddin has taken it upon himself to shoot an entire film each day, or rather to revive a lost film, in a series of “ciné-séances”. The filming takes place in public, in the basement of the arts centre and I elbowed through the crowds to glimpse the hanging around, whispering and brief bursts of activity that comprise the magic of movie-making. The set of Poto-Poto was very reminiscent of the second half of Queen Kelly, with a large, draped bed, but there was little happening when we swung by. We had better luck with Blue Mountains the next day, somewhere over the shoulders of the crew we may have witnessed a murder, or something that looked a lot like one.

Guy Maddin's The Blue Mountains Mystery séance, Paris 26/2/12
Action! Guy Maddin's The Blue Mountains Mystery séance, Paris 26/2/12. Maddin is in the black T-shirt, with the still camera

“Every day, Guy Maddin invites visitors of the Centre Pompidou to witness the making of a new film inspired by a long-lost movie. Summoning these wandering spirits of cinema in theatrical “séances”, Maddin and his actors inhabit their ghostly scenarios.” – Pompidou Centre

You can read more about the project, and watch a live stream of the filming, here on the Pompidou website. Spiritismes began on 22 February and runs until 12 March; the schedule includes films by Jean Vigo, Kenji Mizoguchi, Lois Weber and William Wellman as well as a few surprises to be announced along the way. Actors in Maddin’s rep troupe include Isabella Rossellini, Geraldine Chaplin and Udo Kier. The films will all apparently be edited and finished and made available to view at a later date.

Spiritismes has taken up residence at the Pompidou in the lead up to the French release of Maddin’s new film Keyhole and will apparently be repeated at other venues across the world, including New York. Let’s hope it comes to London. You can read more on this blog by Kim Morgan, Maddin’s wife and another of the actors involved. I leave you with some blurry phone snaps, and some more wise words from the director.

The set of Guy Maddin's Poto-Poto séance, Paris 25/2/12
The set of Guy Maddin's Poto-Poto séance, Paris 25/2/12. Could that be Geraldine Chaplin in the bed?
The set of Guy Maddin's The Blue Mountains Mystery séance, Paris 26/2/2012
The set of Guy Maddin's The Blue Mountains Mystery séance, Paris 26/2/2012

“This project made its way into my head for almost twenty years. During all these years, he moved my heart and even my soul, until I myself am possessed! I learned that there are lost films. Beautiful films, made for a very long, generally silent, popular films, glorified, loved, raised to the level of myth by millions of spectators, some obsessively. Films which, however, dying in obscurity. Since I realized this, I literally haunted. Some of these films were destroyed by the studios, simply because they needed shelves, some were thrown into the sea or burned in a bonfire at picnics countryside. Others were reduced to dust because they were poorly preserved, others perished in the flames in an accident of projection. Some of these films have simply disappeared from history.” – Guy Maddin

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4 thoughts on “Spiritismes: Guy Maddin revives lost films in Paris”

  1. Funny, reading this, i just finished visiting the set of the original Australian Film “The Blue Mountains Mystery” (1921) which was shot at the Lovely Majestic Carrington Hotel, in a doco we were filming “Unveiling Australia” which covers this topic of the old John Longford Lottie Lyell Silent Film which was shot there, going by stills we were able to trace the same frame shots of the stills and match the original rooms the film scenes were shot in and what it looks like today, remarkably the Hotel and it’s interiors are untouched by time, although the original film is now lost. …all that survives is a dozen Production stills taken at the Carrington Hotel Katoomba.

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