CABARET CINEMA: TALES FROM THE GIMLI HOSPITAL (Guy Maddin, 1988)
Rubin Museum of Art
150 West 17th St. at Seventh Ave.
Friday, May 9, free with $10 K2 minimum, 9:30
Series continues through August 29
In his first feature-length film, Canadian DIY master Guy Maddin reaches into Icelandic sagas for the ultra-low-budget Tales from the Gimli Hospital. In many ways a kind of Scandinavian Frankenstein as if directed by Ingmar Bergman and George A. Romero, the seventy-two-minute mostly black-and-white Expressionist film is a story within a story (at times within another story) that an old woman, Amma (Margaret Anne MacLeod), is telling her grandchildren (Heather and David Neale) in a hospital room where their mother lies very ill. The dark, lurid fairy tale, set in “a Gimli we no longer know,” is about Einar the Lonely (assistant director Kyle McCulloch), a shy fish smoker who does not know how to relate to other people, particularly women. Felled by an epidemic, he is brought to Gimli Hospital in Manitoba, where other men battle this dread disease, which leaves stitchlike scars on their face and body. Einar is discouraged that the patient in the bed next to him, the portly Gunnar (Michael Gottli), is treated much nicer by the nurses than he is, but he is helpless to do anything about it. Gunnar is soon telling Einar the story of his true love, Snjófridur (Angela Heck), a tragic tale with a surprising twist that brings everything full circle. A unique visual stylist who regularly pays homage to the early days of cinema, Maddin, who directed and edited the picture (and wrote the script on Post-it Notes), purposely keeps things low-tech, including poor sound dubbing and bumpy, awkward cuts, incorporating such oddities as a puppet show anesthetic, Glima wrestling, fish-oil hair gel, an ominous soundtrack, and an over-the-top minstrel in blackface (McCulloch also); Maddin (My Winnipeg, Careful) also plays the weirdo surgeon who operates on Gunnar and Einar in rather strange fashion. In 2011, Maddin, who is part Icelandic, reimagined the film in the special Performa presentation Tales From the Gimli Hospital: Reframed, a reedited version with a live score by Icelandic musicians. The amateur nature of the original work led to its being rejected by the Toronto International Film Festival for ineptitude; it went on to become an instant cult classic, holding the midnight-movie slot at the Quad for nearly a year. Tales from the Gimli Hospital is screening May 9 as part of the Rubin Museum Cabaret Cinema series “Movie Medicine,” held in conjunction with the exhibition “Bodies in Balance: The Art of Tibetan Medicine”; the festival continues May 16 with John Schlesinger’s Sunday Bloody Sunday and May 23 with Michael Bastian introducing Luchino Visconti’s Death in Venice.