Guy Maddin’s The Green Fog is a San Francisco oeuvre made from approximately 100 movies and TV shows set in the city. Along with his The Forbidden Room collaborators, Evan and Galen Johnson, the Canadian director assembles a meta-fiction loosely based on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 masterpiece Vertigo. Commissioned by the San Francisco International Film Festival for its 60th anniversary, the work is an ode to the city’s cinematic qualities.
The editing borrows from Hitchcock’s film by achieving a sense of suspense, intrigue and romance. The montage reveals scenes from Greed, The Lady from Shanghai, The Rock and Basic Instinct, cleverly juxtaposed by B-movie faces that connect different styles of filmmaking. Vertigo’s opening scene is recreated in a comedic ladder-climbing collage, and the transforming male-gaze is featured in a scene that remodels a woman’s looks to a man’s taste. The indefinite plot occasionally features the green fog — a CGI effect applied to some images — which heightens the film’s dream-like feeling. This artifice sheds a different light on the production, setting the tone for a surreal atmosphere. More thematic than classically narrative, the film is divided in chapters and alludes to a supernatural menace (which is probably the film’s highlight). The urban landscape images surrounded by the green smog feel sinister when someone speaks about the “San Francisco of the future,” and a police investigation turns out strange when a young Michael Douglas watches his naked self from Basic Instinct on a television screen. The fact that Maddin chose different genres to build his story — from film noir to action thrillers, comedy and romance — only enhances the feeling of being under surveillance.
The film’s oddities are amplified by reaction shots that leave the characters fish-looking, with their mouths open and sounds cut before they form a word. Their puzzled looks and the abrupt transitions leave them in a void of incommunicability, reshaped by the mismatched body language. Conveying a silent film type of humour, the minimal sound design consists of scratches from the chopped words and a gripping original score by Jacob Garchik, who does an excellent job honouring Bernard Herrmann’s legacy. Maddin doesn’t pretend to offer a postmodern remake of Hitchcock, but to explore the limits of cinematic expression, suggesting that cinema is the copy of a copy, and that its originality lies in its endless possibilities to adapt. The Green Fog will likely please cinephiles, with its satisfaction consisting in the recognition and confirmation of taste, although its constant sabotage of climaxes through modern inserts leaves room for surprises. Despite resembling My Winnipeg’s surreal docu-fiction, The Green Fog isn’t as personal, but uses similar means — such as the recycled footage and shock editing. Similarly to the comical absurdism of Raul Ruiz’s The Wandering Soap Opera (another montage-oriented, genre-parodic work), Maddin follows a surreal, rhizomatic structure of melodrama composed from external sources that he meticulously appropriates.
Coherence is the last concern in The Green Fog, whose beauty is comprised in the hidden connections between the city-film tropes. This well-executed pastiche raises questions about reality and representation by melting factors such as time and space. Like one of the few spoken line suggests — “I think you’ll find our offer very generous” — the melange of endless possibilities rewards the imagination.
Andreea Pătru (@andreeapatru89) is a Romanian film critic and programmer who resides in Spain. Apart from taking part in the 2015 Locarno Critics Academy and Talents Sarajevo in 2016, she has written for Indiewire, Desistfilm and collaborated with Romanian outlets such as Film Reporter, Observator Cultural and FILM magazine. Andreea is a programmer at Tenerife Shorts – Tenerife International Short Film Festival and has previously worked for Romanian Film Promotion.