Stump The Guessers (2020) – REEL Review

Director: Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, Galen Johnson | 19mins | Short, Comedy, Fantasy, Silent

The Guesser (Adam Brooks) works at a fairground, using his mind reading abilities to answer any question posed to him. After his act begins to fall apart, all in front of his long lost sister who he now wishes to marry by disproving the theory of heredity.

Guy Maddin has made a name for himself over many years by creating interesting and unusual films and art installations, most notably is My Winnipeg (2007), a mix of fantasy/documentary about his hometown. Outside of his feature work Maddin has had a substantial career of short films, the latest being Stump The Guesser (available to watch on Mubi), another co-directed film with Evan and Galen Johnson, and if the synopsis above sounds too strange for you, the rest of the film will likely be far too much.

It opens on a frantic montage of The Guesser performing in front of a sizable crowd, able to guess anyone’s age or how many fish they are ‘secreting’ upon themselves. It’s created in the style of old Soviet silent cinema, the sensibilities of Eisenstein’s films like Battleship Potemkin (1925) but with modern technology, imposing the text that would usually be on the intertites over the sequences instead. It’s hyper realised throughout, not just in the visual style but the cinematography and editing as well; every shot is framed in a way that doesn’t feel comfortable often with another person or object imposed on (as well as the text). 

His performances are wowing all that watch, but one night another guesser drinks all of the Guessing Milk (presumably where their mind reading abilities come from) to impress a woman, leaving The Guesser out to dry – just as the Guessing Inspector comes to see his show. This leads to his Guessing License being revoked, in front of the woman he has just fallen in love with who turns out to be his long lost sister. Now he must find a way to marry his sister and stop the betrothal she already has, and leaves the fairground. Shortly after he bumps into a scientist trying to disprove the theory of heredity, and discovers a way he could potentially marry his love.

There is much more to explore with Stump The Guesser narratively as the film moves at a lightning pace, but in reality most of the story is comedically lead, with the visuals taking a lead on the artistic forefront. Our guesser looks like he came straight from a carnival in the 1920’s, but heightened by the black and white style and a dreamlike hazy focus on everything but the centre of the frame. The production design is superb also, though sometimes it’s a tad obvious when CGI was used it doesn’t affect the quality of the visuals, but from the fairground itself to the Nuptial Challenge, and the backroom in which newly weds dance alongside REAL CRAPS! is all bizarre but wonderfully entertaining. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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