Guy Maddin vs. deco dawson
From Winnipeg Free Press September 19, 2003
Maddin-dawson split plays like a film tragedy
When Guy Maddin’s movie The Saddest Music in the World premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this month, Maddin’s former artistic collaborator deco dawson was there at the Elgin Theatre, though he wasn’t sitting with Maddin’s entourage of friends, cast and crew.
Dawson, whose real name is Daryl Kinaschuk, was also a no-show at the party afterwards.
Maddin and dawson haven’t actually spoken for months.
Yet that didn’t prevent dawson from appreciating Maddin’s film on its own merits.
“I thought it was great,” he said a few days after the screening. “I really love the first half of the movie. I thought the first half was as good as you can get in a movie.”
Kind words such as these haven’t been the norm between the two, whose past collaborations included the Emmy Award-winning telefilm Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary, and Heart of the World, a commissioned short for Toronto’s 2000 festival that effectively put Maddin back on the Canfilm map following the tepidly received 1997 feature Twilight of the Ice Nymphs.
It was the nature of their collaboration that ultimately drove a wedge between the two.
“We had a permanent falling out,” Maddin acknowledges.
Dawson, whose short films bear the same retro-expressionist black-and-white style of Maddin’s work, has been praised for invigorating Maddin’s work with a dynamic editing style and his keen cinematographer’s eye, which complements Maddin’s own esthetic sensibility. The trouble between the two, as Maddin sees it, stems from dawson’s desire for recognition.
“I think he really resented not getting enough credit for the work he did on Dracula,” Maddin says. “And he did do a lot of work, and he’s a good editor, and the editing is what really propels that movie.
“He also got an associate director credit, which is what we agreed to call it.”
Maddin says he even increased dawson’s salary, out of his own pocket, to lure him from a teaching offer to work on Dracula. That wasn’t enough, eventually.
“He did too good a job, in his own mind, to be given the associate director (credit) so with about a month to go in editing, he started sulking and he threatened to quit, because he wanted to be called co-director,” Maddin says.
Maddin emphasizes that dawson may have technically deserved the title of co-director.
“He thought of a million great ideas, and did many things and I did other things. We sort of divvied up,” Maddin says. “I read the book, I adapted it, I got the focus of the thing but he did most of the shooting of the dance.
“But he agreed to that associate director credit and the editor credit and I wasn’t about to take a demotion,” Maddin says. “I was at a time in my career when all I’d had recently was Twilight of the Ice Nymphs and now I was making something for television and wasn’t all that interested in taking a demotion to co-director. I just thought he should stick by his word and be patient and that I would admit, in public, as I’m doing right now, that he was for all intents and purposes, a co-director.
“I had no idea (Dracula) would end up being as successful as it was,” adds Maddin, who received his own Emmy Award from producer Vonnie Von Helmolt at a ceremony at the Manitoba Legislative Building on Wednesday.
“I thanked him every chance I got in interviews and in public, but he just got angrier and angrier and then he just started taking it out on me, personally.”
Maddin says it was bad when dawson accused him of “stealing his style,” but he was particularly annoyed when dawson featured Heart of the World at a retrospective of dawson’s work at Toronto’s Cinematheque.
“He felt he could call it his movie, and he showed a couple of reels of Dracula in his retrospective, and they aren’t his,” Maddin says. “And he was telling everyone how he was the person who did them.”
For his part, dawson seems eager to put the collaboration behind him, like a briefly fruitful, but ultimately irreconcilable bad marriage. After all, dawson himself had two new shorts playing at the festival — Fever of the Western Nile and Defile in Veil, as well as the segments he filmed for Calgary filmmaker Gary Burns’ feature A Problem with Fear. While none of those films were as warmly received as Maddin’s, dawson is content to be seen, from this point on, as a separate filmmaking entity.
“Having too similar an interest in the same projects is not healthy, so I think it’s the best possible thing,” he says. “I’m always going to exist under his shadow as long as I’m working for him.
“As long as I’m editing and shooting stuff that makes his movies look the way I like my movies to look, comparisons will not only be immediate but will be granted,” dawson says. “So I think it gives us distance and freedom to ensure separate career paths.”
Guy Maddin’s Heart of the World