The Green Fog ★★★½


First things first: this work is a commission by the San Francisco Film Society, celebrating their film festival's 60th anniversary. Jacob Garchik was also commissioned to compose an original score which was played live at the world premiere by the world-famous Kronos Quartet. (It is a recording of their performance that accompanies The Green Fog out into the larger world.) So this is a bit different than Maddin's usual métier.

It's also very different from The Forbidden Room, Maddin's first directorial co-credit with brothers Evan and Galen Johnson. The Johnsons are primarily editors and image-manipulators, said to be largely responsible for the faux-chemical warps and distortions that helped make Forbidden Room such a palpable labyrinth of interconnected narrative space. By contrast, The Green Fog mostly presents its source images as they were found, with the exception of an occasional encroachment of literal green fog.

Having said all that, I hope my point is clear. At this stage in his career, Maddin has mastered a particular form of filmmaking, and has garnered significant approbation for it. But instead of simply generating more of the same, his newest work finds him taking on new collaborators, trying radically new things, and broadening his formal repertoire. In every way, The Green Fog is the work of a bold, forward-thinking artist, and it's a great pleasure to see Maddin and the Johnsons going out on numerous conceptual limbs here.

The film is a found footage montage, something that Maddin has never to my knowledge done before. Using clips from various films and TV shows set in San Francisco, the Johnsons and Maddin have made a mostly wordless, abstract tone-poem version of Vertigo, the greatest San Francisco film of them all. Through the condensation and abrupt gestures of montage, The Green Fog actually covers the entirety of Vertigo in just over an hour.

The film's prologue is probably its most successful section, primarily because in it, Vertigo is evoked rather than retold. We get images of shipyards, wandering detectives, and lonely, bereft woman, all gently melded into a broad ideational field. After this, the narrative of Vertigo quite literally kicks in, with rooftop chases, dangling cops, and various Scotty stand-ins confined to chairs.

Granted, no one speaks. (In one of the film's odder affectations, lengthy scenes of conversations are often allowed to play out, only with the speech edited out.) But often there is a sense of frustration at just how easily a film as singular as Vertigo can be remade using other films, some of them not very good. It speaks to a reciprocity of genre, I suppose, how Hitchcock employed certain common tropes and embellished on them, while TV shows like "Streets of San Francisco" or "McMillan and Wife" simply imbibed Hitchcock as a basic style.

Nevertheless, The Green Fog is more than just a Vertigo-based version of Marclay's Clock. Maddin and the Johnsons continually highlight the trope of specularity that haunts Scotty, and by extension Hitchcock's whole enterprise, by breaking their own film open to comment on our watching of it. Certain key moments, for example, are transformed into police surveillance sessions, with cops pausing, rewinding, and fast forwarding the video, or actual film in some cases. The Green Fog demands that we see ourselves seeing.

And it also reminds us that our temporal distance from Vertigo and the instantaneity with which we can access virtually all of film history, puts us in an awkward but powerful position. For the Muir Woods sequence, Maddin and the Johnsons put two clips side by side: the "I come from here" scene from Marker's La Jetée and NSYNC's video for "This I Promise You." It would seem to be a case of the sublime meeting the ridiculous. But if Justin Timberlake were in that control room, he'd point just to the side of that video monitor, saying "I come from here."

And in fact, we all do.