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A Swirling Vision of Otherworldly Colors: Careful

Maddin warps his viewers’ sense of perspective with great effect in all of his films, but he does so with particular skill in “Careful.”

By Simon Abrams September 20, 2011
careful-guy-maddin-movie

Beauty painted in pastel: Guy Maddin used hand-tinting techniques to create the eye-popping colors in "Careful"

While Guy Maddin’s films famously combine various stylistic elements of silent films and early talkies, he does not try to replicate the look of these films, but rather their sensation of heightened melodrama. Since it’s the extreme nature of these stories that interests him, Maddin exaggerates the quality of his images so as to give his viewers an expressionistically distorted vantage point. Maddin warps his viewers’ sense of perspective with great effect in all of his films, but he does so with particular skill in Careful.

Careful is one of Maddin’s most evocative films for several reasons, but especially for his atypical use of color. Here, pastel color gels were applied by hand to grainy black-and-white Super-8 photography in post-production, magnifying and accentuating the film’s brand of fabulism. As a result, the film, set in the ultra-nervous mountainside community of Tolzbad, looks more artificial than many of Maddin’s other films. For Maddin, looking aggressively chintzy is an aesthetic strategy. Here are some ways that Maddin’s avant garde approach complements Careful’s mix of slapstick comedy and campy romance.

In many shots, Maddin forces objects in the background of his camera frame to appear to be in the foreground of his film. He relies on forced perspective in the above still to make his lead protagonist Johann (Brent Neale) look as big as a mountain peak. A dandelion yellow tint makes the air surrounding Johann look sickly. The yellow filter also serves to accentuate Johann’s fey blonde hair and the brass buttons on his uniform.

You can also see from Johann’s expression the way that Maddin conveys his film’s extreme emotions through pantomime-style acting. His exaggerated body language and heavy make-up accentuates his rigid character with the way Maddin. Compare that with the way Maddin manipulates lighting to make it look like Johann’s mother has a halo surrounding her lace bonnet:

careful-guy-maddin-movie-Happymama

WATCH GUY MADDIN’S FILM CAREFUL ON FANDOR.

Combined with how close she is to the camera, the blush, eye-liner and lipstick that Maddin’s actress is wearing makes her radiate an unnatural warmth.

careful-guy-maddin-movie-GelPanoramaThe sense of abundance and diversity in the above shot is further accented by Maddin’s liberal use of gel packs that colorize black-and-white photography. The use of ruddy colors like these pastel yellows and blues gives the film a flushed look, accentuating the rosy cheeks and idyllic, frilly period dress that characterize the Tolzbad residents.

careful-guy-maddin-movie-FlatSoundIn Careful, Maddin tries to recreate the primitive hyper-realism of early sound pictures. Whispers are magnified to the point where they sound just as loud as, if not louder than the film’s orchestral score. This helps to bring out the absurdity of the magical Tolzbadian landscape, a mountain range where lovers’ conversations can purportedly be heard from miles around. Pronounced foley sound effects put a humorous accent on what might otherwise be seemingly innocuous sounds, like the noisy patting of hands on flesh when one character tries to manually correct a blemish in a corpse’s make-up.

careful-guy-maddin-movie-CobwebsMaddin’s camera also frequently represents events through a series of frames within frames. His use of grainy Super-8 photography, as well as his mise-en-scene that frequently accentuates negative space, reminds the viewer that they’re actively looking at events from a distance. Here the cobwebs in the extreme foreground of the shot give the viewer a voyeuristic perspective, as if Maddin’s camera was hidden just out of view. This is similar to the way that our hero Johann watches the girl he loves undress from a hole in her wall.

careful-guy-maddin-movie-DoubleExposuresFinally, Maddin’s use of dissolves and double exposures in Careful contributes a uniquely cinematic kind of otherworldly presence. It’s fitting then that double exposures are used to represent the ghost of Johann’s father. The fantastic concept of seeing a dead man walk amongst the living is made to look much more surreal. Maddin further distorts the footage of Johann’s father by stretching it out so that it looks like a quivering, porous phantom image within an image. Combining all of these effects makes the outmoded technology that he liberally employs both unsettling and funny.

WATCH GUY MADDIN’S FILM CAREFUL ON FANDOR.

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