Guy Maddin (BSS #293)

Guy Maddin is most recently the author of My Winnipeg, a book version of the film of the same name. For listeners who are fans of reading and watching films, this conversation accounts for all experiences and contains more than a few prevarications.



Condition of Mr. Segundo: Reconsidering the veracity of his topography.

Guest: Guy Maddin

Subjects Discussed: Whether living in Winnipeg for many year makes one an expert of Winnipeg, expertise and confused feelings, the importance of not straying from your methods, pleasant feelings and hellish depictions of Winnipeg, the strength one obtains from retellings of Icelandic sagas, the difficulties of laughing at smallpox plagues, “My Winnipeg” vs. “My New York,” Marcel Dzama, artists doing their bit for Winnipeg, being murdered by a puck, Winnipeg purse-snatching, being indoors in Winnipeg, Canadians who are being unduly rattled by Americans, James Frey and the problems with American memoirs, finding the disclaimer, naked laps, getting a nude model in Winnipeg and Manhattan, quick cutting in Maddin’s films after 2000, title cards and Godard, walkout ratios in Maddin’s films, smelling the mildew in the tableau, live elements to Maddin’s films, J. Hoberman’s assessment, Maddin reading his own press, the IMDB, Internet ego searches, getting rid of obsessions, having to live with Guy Maddin the character, Darcy Fehr as the only actor to play “Guy Maddin” twice, the Seattle Guy Maddins, having an actor impersonate Guy Maddin at a Chicago event, why Guy Maddin hasn’t played himself, whether or not Darcy Fehr is Maddin’s Jean-Pierre LĂ©aud, similarities between Brand Upon the Brain‘s Sullivan Brown and Antoine Doniel, redacted dialogue in My Winnipeg, Ann Savage, the OCD quality that Winnipeggers have, recurring handshakes, ramming the audience over the head, editing lessons learned from Cowards Bend the Knee, title cards, actors who performed scenes in several different languages in the early sound era, Maddin’s shift from storyboards to spontaneity, editing speed and cramming ideas, good actors vs. bad actors, George Toles’s dialogue, the official report on the Guy Maddin Casting Couch, hockey locker rooms, chorizo metaphors, walking and coming up with ideas, Guy Debord, W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, how walking gives you courage, the advantages of sleeping in hallways and on ladders, time travel and peregrinations, the grim nature of the future, and not being a great planner.


Correspondent: If I were to say My New York, you would look at me and declare me the world’s ultimate narcissist….

Maddin: Yeah.

Correspondent: …and yet, when you say My Winnipeg, you can get away with that. And I think that you have a little bit of advantage being in Winnipeg and being able to say that. I really wish that I could say My New York, but I would just be looked at as if I had the biggest head in the world.

Maddin: Well, so many people have done New York too.

Correspondent: Yeah.

Maddin: I’ve got the advantage of just being among a small handful of artists doing it. The artist — the now New York-based artist — Marcel Dzama from Winnipeg has been doing Winnipeg quite a bit. I was out for drinks with him last night and we were chatting about how we’re doing our little bit to keep Winnipeg on the map. But things happen there on their own. They’re always kind of remote outpost kind of things. And stark and grizzly things. You know, someone murdered by a puck. Or Susan Sarandon’s jewel theft turned into a disembowelment. And I don’t know, a bus riding decapitation. Most recently, I just returned to Winnipeg for a couple days and the first story I read in the paper was about a gang of teenage girls who roam the streets and hack with a hatchet the purse strings of women walking around near them. One purse snatching was foiled by the purse holder flinging a cup of molten hot Tim Hortons coffee in the assailant’s face. I don’t know. There’s just this kind of stuff going on all the time. And obviously, it’s not unique to Winnipeg. But it seems like the headlines are being written by a 19th century translator of Brothers Grimm stories half the time.

Correspondent: Or perhaps some of the people who commit these crimes are doing so to alleviate the intense indoorsdom of being in Winnipeg six months of the year.

Maddin: Yeah, exactly. Cabin fever. It’s that kind of year. And they’re just writing their own legends. We don’t really — Canadians don’t really talk about their history. They don’t really boil down legends or folk tales the way every other country does. Possibly because we’ve been dwarfed so badly — rattled so badly by our presence right next to America.

Correspondent: I’m sorry about that. Really.

Maddin: No, no, no, no. It’s kind of good.

Correspondent: You don’t deserve it. There’s a lot of great things that come out of Canada.

Maddin: No, no. Whatever. You know, my temperament is part of that whole thing. And I kind of like it. I kind of like feeling like when you roll over, I should look out.

Categories: Film

Mark Kurlansky II (BSS #292)

Mark Kurlansky is most recently the translator of Emile Zola’s The Belly of Paris and the editor of The Food of a Younger Land. He previously appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #220.



Condition of Mr. Segundo: Pushing past the patois of a forgotten linguistic formation.

Author: Mark Kurlansky

Subjects Discussed: Wanting to be Zola as a kid, thorough food research, the difficulties imposed by lawyers, racist patois, Don Dolan’s failure to understand the burrito, why so many unqualified people got jobs with the Federal Writers Project, Nelson Algren, Richard Wright, manuscripts that were never intended for publication become published thanks to Kurlansky, investigative anthropologists, Coca-Cola parties, lost culinary rituals, Brunswick stew and the original recipe involving squirrel, Kurlansky’s obsession with recipes involving beaver tail, Vermont maple trees, “Nebraskans Eat the Weiners,” corroborating dishes and rituals that made it into the present day, the Nebraskan Popcorn Queen, trying to whittle down Library of Congress material for a book, food conflicts, regional gaps in the America Eats project, Kenneth Rexroth, Basque inaccuracies, Claire Warner Churchill’s extraordinary fury concerning mashed potatoes, World War II’s effect on the WPA, editorial oversight with the Federal Writers Project, geoducks, rarefied cuisine, drying meat over an open fire, hoecakes, low-class and slave forms of cornbread, an altogether different notion of Texas chuck wagon, sheriff’s barbeque, and the mint julep controversy.


Correspondent: First off, just a general question to tie in Zola with the Federal Writers Project book. In an introduction to The Belly of Paris, you confess that, in fact, you wanted to be Zola when you grow up. And this is very interesting because Zola, of course, was a serious investigator. And, of course, going through the endnotes of The Belly of Paris, I see all these references to sausage and meat, and simultaneously I’m thinking in terms of the investigations in this book, The Food of a Younger Land. I’m curious if you think that investigation of that particular time is comparable with Zola and the Federal Writers Project and whether you think perhaps that there’s something that is missing from that type of investigation today. What are your thoughts on all this? Just to start off here.

Kurlansky: Well, Zola was — especially as fiction writers go — a very thorough researcher. This book takes place in the Les Halles market. And he spends a lot of time in the Les Halles market and actually followed wagons from the entry of Paris to the Les Halles market. And when he did Germinal, he spent weeks and weeks in the mines with the miners. I don’t know how much writers do that now. I certainly do. And I think other writers must. Of course, there’s a lot of things where it’s getting more difficult in America to do these things. Because lawyers won’t let you.

Correspondent: (laughs) Yeah.

Kurlansky: There are all these legal issues if it’s a dangerous workplace.

Correspondent: Is this why the time of the past is better then?

Kurlansky: (laughs)

Correspondent: Because you have the statute of limitations.

Well, the concept of “proceed at your own risk” has been lost through lawyers. I’m married to a lawyer. I understand this.

Correspondent: (laughs)

Kurlansky: I mean, part of the reason I admired Zola, outside of the fact that he was such a great writer, was that he had deep political commitments. And those commitments can be found in his writing. But his writing never descends into political diatribe. He always had it very clear in his mind that art was above that kind of thing. That in art, you could show society with all its faults, but you couldn’t rant about it. And, in fact, in The Belly of Paris, he has characters who he probably very much agreed with who he makes look ridiculous. Because they go into these rants all the time.

Correspondent: But in terms of this level of investigation, also in the anthropological folklore component of many of the Federal Writers Project’s writers, I mean, there is something interesting in reading an entry or an article in a particular dialect and essentially listening on the page to someone essentially listening a recipe. The question though is whether this is entirely accurate of the patois at the particular time or whether there are problems. I mean, you allude to a lot of racism that you uncovered and that you didn’t put into the book.

Kurlansky: Yeah, well, some I did. My original reaction was not to put any of it in. But since my whole idea of doing Food of a Younger Land was that I wanted to give readers the experience that I had when I looked through these boxes and accidentally falling into another time into 1940 America, and how different it was, and different in a lot of positive ways. And why cover up the negative ways? This was pre-civil rights South. Black people were referred to by their first name, comma “a Negro.” And a lot of the dialogue sounds like master and slave. And the black dialect is stretched to absurdity. To a point where it’s clearly racist.

(Photo: Lawrence Sumulong)

Categories: Ideas

Laila Lalami II (BSS #291)

Laila Lalami is most recently the author of Secret Son. She previously appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #11.



Condition of Mr. Segundo: Unpersuaded by fictive convictions.

Author: Laila Lalami

Subjects Discussed: Interviewing enthusiasm, similarities between Secret Son and Richard Wright’s Native Son, Invisible Man, the original title of The Outsider, Ayelet Waldman’s similar title, the maximum number of story and title configurations, the Brooklyn titular fiasco, depicting scenes from multiple perspectives, character restrictions, masculinity and swagger, fiction and personal experience, blogging and silly distinctions, not having time to pay attention to the publishing industry, violence and representative characters from the slums, subverting terrorist expectations in fiction, brown falcons with twigs in their beaks, symbolism vs. emotional and psychological signs, not having a sense of home, censorship in Morocco, the Western Sahara Separatist Movement, TelQuel, questionable freelancing circumstances portrayed in Secret Son, questioning acts of generosity in the novel, inconsistent character qualities and financial transactions, Chekhov’s gun, personal experiences with paperweights, the problems with making things up, Nadeem Aslam’s Maps for Lost Lovers, being more comfortable with the least strange aspect of invention, government bailouts, legalized pot, and truth vs. believability.


Correspondent: Do you view Youssef stealing the paperweight as a financial transaction?

Lalami: Do you know, to this day, I have no idea why he does that?

Correspondent: Really?

Lalami: Yeah, I was just in the middle of the scene. And before I knew it, he was walking down the elevator with it. And it just…I don’t know.

Correspondent: I kept thinking it was like Biff from Death of a Salesman or something.

Lalami: Oh my god. (laughs)

Correspondent: But instead of the fountain pen, it was a paperweight. I don’t know.

Lalami: Very clever. No, no. I wasn’t thinking of that. You know, to this day, I don’t know why he does that. I mean, I think — I don’t know. And the fact that it turns up later on in the book, that again. I mean, literally, two lines before it happened, I didn’t know it was going to be on that desk.

Correspondent: Maybe you needed Chekhov’s gun.

Lalami: (laughs)

Correspondent: Maybe that’s what this is all about.

Lalami: Yes, maybe.

Correspondent: I mean, intuitively, when you introduce a character or an element or an object along these lines, to what degree is your subconscious saying, “Hey, I’ve got to go ahead and put things in here that I can follow up later, and resolve, and wrap things up.”

Lalami: Honestly, yes. Honestly, it really did happen at the level of the subconscious. And I couldn’t tell you why he steals it. Or why? I mean, it seemed fitting to me that the friend would convince him to sell it. I mean, that was just something that fit with the character. But why it would then turn up on Hateem’s desk, I don’t know. You know, honestly, it just seemed to be intuitive. I was just following my intuition with that. Maybe there is a larger symbolic subconscious meaning to it.

Correspondent: Or maybe you had a really painful, cathartic, and emotional experience with a paperweight.

Lalami: No.

Correspondent: That you’re just not going to share.

Lalami: (laughs) Then the story would be a lot more interesting.

Categories: Fiction