Death in Winnipeg

Crazy Horses of the Apocalypse: Inside the Osmonds

Action! The extras start their teenybopper shrieking as directed. The imitation Osmonds go into their imitation singing. Suddenly, the lights go on behind a scrim at the rear of the stage to reveal a phalanx of gray-haired old men—it's the real Osmonds! Alan, Merrill, Wayne, Jay. Not-so-old Jimmy and Marie are there as well. The scrim rises, the fake Osmonds discreetly disperse, and these genuine articles make toward their rightful place at the front of the stage, goldfishing all the while to their own 30-year-old recording.

At this awful moment, some sadistic god swings a huge wrecking ball at me from behind that scrim. That we all must age I've always suspected, but never has this fact been taught more dreadfully. So quickly did time hiccup ahead 30 years and thrust at me these actual Osmonds—Osmonds left bent and trembling by decades of mixed fortunes. Thin-thatched and achy, they brandish their white and wizened faces like so many death masks, their old Osmond grins the only things unchanged from moments before. Survivors of heart disease, brain tumor, multiple sclerosis, wrecked marriage, and tithings—the terrors of the manifold earth—these Osmonds no longer dance, but hobble, creak, and drag themselves forward. They are unstoppable, like a tsunami of Time growing in fearsome height as they approach me.

Worst of all, these harmonists of the apocalypse are suffused with an intense love of performing—so clearly are they enjoying themselves in spite of their sudden aging—and an awesome love of each other, love for the skeletal ghost members of their cherished family, and a still unalloyed love for the old music which they joyously feign to perform. Somehow, it is all this enduring Osmond love that foreshortens my own life, frightfully so.

Unable to brake their momentum, the teenaged girls continue to shriek lustily at their suddenly aged idols, dizzy old semitransparent men who confusedly look about to find themselves reunited in Winnipeg, the last outpost. I stand gaping at my kindred spirits, the old, the infirm. I hear only the polar wind whistling outside. It whispers a death sentence in my ear. It sounds like "Puppy Love."

In the aftermath of this one shot, Osmonds real and ersatz mingle about on the stage awhile, hugging, kissing, reminiscing. Elderly George and Olive totter out to be together with all their offspring at once, perhaps for the last time. I find myself studying the slow progress old George makes from son to son, stopping to pose for pictures, to extend a trembling and veiny hand to a young actor, before shuffling offstage where darkness and silence merge.

I'm left to ponder the inscrutable auguries of George's footsteps, and the cryptic meaning of petrified bubble gum strewn across the decades like bird entrails. I wonder what undignified choreographies my own footsteps will trace upon the years left to me.

In the sky above frozen Winnipeg, with gum stuck to their hooves, and lashed into frenzies by colorfully beaded whips, the crazy horses rumble out of town, carrying Thomas with them.


Guy Maddin's feature films includeArchangel, Careful, andTwilight of the Ice Nymphs. His short The Heart of the World was recently named best experimental film of 2000 by the National Society of Film Critics.

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