|The Saddest Music In The World - DVD|
Directed by Guy Maddin
Through his films Guy Maddin creates a whole new world. It is built on nostalgia, absurdity, and dreams. But mostly, it is the result of an intense amount of respect for the art of filmmaking. Having never before seen a Maddin film, I was enthralled from the opening scene of his sixth full-length feature, The Saddest Music in the World, to it's climactic ending. Maddin's style reflects a long passed era in film, the silent film (although it's not one). But he also combines it with the dreamlike eccentricity of modern day filmmakers such as David Lynch.
For The Saddest Music in the World he used 8mm film and video. The film is mostly black and white but occasionally color. It's exceptionally grainy, faded, and cryptic with weird fast edits and crackling sound. Incorporating age-old camera tricks to achieve the look, Maddin and his crew would first apply Vaseline to the lens and then rub out the center so their subject could be seen. The result is a film that recalls the silent film era in a way that pays tribute to it's flaws as wells as it's beauty.
Set in Depression-era Winnipeg in 1933, the film begins with the announcement of a contest. Legless local beer baroness Lady Port-Huntly (Isabella Rosellini) announces that her company will sponsor a contest that will celebrate her city's reputation as "the world capital of sorrow." Open to all nations, contestants will compete for 25,000 Depression-era dollars in her search to find "the saddest music in the world". Contestants come from far and wide for a chance to win the prize. Among them are the remaining members of the Kent family who, long estranged from each other, find their stories intertwined.
Representing America is Chester Kent played by Mark McKinney of Kids in the Hall. In defiance of his own sorrow, Chester wears a huge fake grin that when combined with his oily, slicked back hair and moustache makes him look like the most repulsive cliché of a used car salesman. He brings with him his amnesiac lover, Narcissa, a sweet but aloof sleepwalker who has a talking tapeworm dwelling inside of her. His brother, Roderick (a brilliantly expressive Ross McMillan), has come to represent his adopted country Serbia on his cello. Performing under a black hat and veil, Roderick has a dead son, a missing wife, and enough exaggerated grief to cover both himself and his brother. David Fox portrays their father, Fyodor, a proud Canadian veteran and former doctor. In his own grief he performs the sorrowful lament Red Maple Leaves. Fox's performance is so convincing that he nearly steals the film but is in a close race with McMillan for best performance. As Maddin says, he looks as if he has been preparing for the role with a lifetime of smoking.
The screenplay was written by Maddin and George Toles but originated with a work by novelist Kazuo Ishiguro (Remains of the Day). Within the screenplay lies an abundance of social commentary and bold statements to interpret but, while those can certainly incite some stimulating conversation and thought processes, it is Maddin's creativity and style that has captured my intrigue.
Even his casting was brilliant, as it had to be for an endeavor that relied so heavily on style. Portuguese film and stage actress Maria de Medeiros (who portrays Narcissa) is amazing. With huge fluttering eyes, a waif-like presence, and the perfect voice to match she could easily pass as a silent film actress from the by-gone era. De Medeiros is also known as having played Bruce Willis' girlfriend in Pulp Fiction.
For the picture Rosellini donned a beautiful blonde wig and wrinkled stumps for legs that end at her knees. A passionate character, she is at one moment the femme fatale, angry and bitter, and at another joyful and complete. At the point where Rosellini's Lady Port-Huntly first stands in her beautiful new legs (made completely of glass and filled with her own beer), she portrays pride and sexiness with convincing grandeur. She too could easily be transported to the silent film era to portray her character. Not coincidentally, Maddin based the character of Lady Port-Huntly on silent film star Lon Cheney who appeared both legless and armless in film.
The Saddest Music in the World, though it's main subject is grief, is really more of a comedic venture than an agonizing tale of woe. Maddin has found the perfect balance between not taking his characters too seriously and treating them with the utter most respect. Moments of absurdity abound, as do periods of confusion and irrationality. It seems at times, that the film jumps in and out of a dreamlike state where plotlines don't matter and the focus can turn on a dime. It's an absolutely mesmerizing tale in terms of story, style, and performance. It's definitely a must see.
Included in the DVD release of The Saddest Music in the World are several bonus features including the three short films from director Guy Maddin, A Trip to the Orphanage, Sissy Boy Slap Party, and Sombra Dolorosa. All are stylistically similar to The Saddest Music in the World. A Trip to the Orphanage, the shortest of the three, features Maria de Medeiros and is the most serious of the three. A short, operatic piece it reminds me of the art films that play on museum televisions. The other two take all the absurdity of The Saddest Music in the World and cram it into a short film.
Also featured on the DVD are the documentaries Teardrops in the Snow: The Making of The Saddest Music in the World and The Saddest Characters in the World: The Cast of The Saddest Music in the World. Both are interesting and very informative, considering that the full-length film made you a fan of Maddin's work, as it did me. It also includes teasers, the theatrical trailer, and the trailers of several other MGM films.
This DVD release is definitely worth your money and if you happen to have been so lucky as to have seen The Saddest Music in the World on the big screen, the documentaries will merit your purchase.
- Stephanie Haselman | 2004-11-23