Movies Are My Wife

Married to the Movies — Mdino's Blog


With an expected dose of anti-Americanism, Canadian director Guy Maddin serves up an otherwise very unexpected brew with THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD (Canada, 2003).  The anti-Americanism is expected because this is an avant-garde film and artists the world over are known for their distaste for America.  However, the disdain here is a decidedly gentle disaffection, at least in the early portions of the film (it turns darker toward the end), done with a wink and a nod to even the most jingoistic, right-wing Yankees.  For who among us isn’t aware that there is a certain amount of hubris in our belief that we Americans are the happiest people on earth.  In THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD this particularly American obsession is personified in the character of Chester Kent, portrayed by Mark McKinney.  Even during the depths of the Depression, he hasn’t a care in the world.  Yet he has no doubt that his American contingent will emerge victorious from an international competition devised by a legless beer baroness, Lady Port-Huntley (Isabella Rossellini), to find the saddest music in the world. (The missing appendages are a clever touch as she has a wobbly moral compass and is without a leg to stand on until she gets her beer legs – quite literally).  In this film set in an eternal Winnipeg winter, (Maddin’s favorite milieu), Chester is sure that American showmanship will rule.  Of course it doesn’t hurt that he has bought off much of the competition, convincing them to become part of his spectacle.  Here again is another dig, this time at the American people’s usurpation of foreign cultures and happily claiming them as our own.  There isn’t anything we can’t buy, or so says the world arts community.  But all of this is said and done with such verve and wit, that it is nearly impossible to be offended.  Even from its portentous opening in which the ultimate doom of the pompous American is predicted (in a splendid scene where the principles are seated around a block of ice rather than a crystal ball), we know this is going to be quite a film experience. 

This American truly comes from a varied background.  He has a Canadian war hero, alcoholic father, a Serbian cellist brother who carries his dead son’s heart in jar, and an amnesiac, nymphomaniac girlfriend who unknowingly is the brother’s wife.  All of these disparate individuals represent their respective countries in the music competition and things are complicated further by the former romantic triangle of Chester, his father and Lady Port-Huntley.  The twisted pedigree of the characters and their relationships provide enough fascination, but even more startling is the visual design of the film, for this is perhaps the most unusual looking film since ERASERHEAD (1977).  This is due in no small part to the expressionist production design by Mathew Davies and the photography by Luc Montpellier.  The latter is often achieved with super eight film cameras, the lenses of which have been smeared with vaseline.  Montpellier and Maddin employ a myriad of silent film techniques, such as irises, speed up action and grainy black and white film stock to create their effects.  Another area of delight is the original music by Christopher Dedrick, which adds just the right touch in this most musically inclined film.  Of course the tree on which all of these ornaments are displayed is the screenplay.  Originally conceived by Kazuo Ishiguro and brought to fruition by Maddin and George Toles, the script snaps with witty dialogue, bizarre characters and situations that along with all the other ingredients bring to life a world unlike any visited in recent cinema.

November 27, 2009 Posted by | film directors, George Toles, Guy Maddin, independent film, Kazuo Ishiguro, screenwriters | , , , , | Leave a comment