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96. THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD (2003)

“I’m actually trying for something a little bit different this time. I’ve always used, as a safety net, dreamlike delirium, confusion among the characters. On this I don’t really have a safety net. It feels good to remove the safety net…  I really need to tell a story the way my idols had to tell a story. Still, it will, perhaps, I hope, strike people as ‘different’ than most of the other pictures made today.”–Guy Maddin on The Saddest Music in the World

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DIRECTED BY: Guy Maddin

FEATURING: Mark McKinney, , , Ross McMillan, David Fox

PLOT: During the Great Depression Lady Port-Huntley, a legless beer baroness from Winnipeg, organizes a contest to discover which nation produces the saddest music in the world, offering a $25,000 prize.  Musicians from across the globe descend upon the city, including three members of a Canadian family: a father (representing Canada) and two brothers (one a Broadway producer representing America, the other an expatriate cello virtuoso playing for the honor of Serbia).  It turns out that the family has a twisted history with each other, and with the contest organizer, involving amnesia, medical malpractice, broken hearts, betrayals, and beer.

Still from The Saddest Music in the World (2003)

BACKGROUND:

  • The Saddest Music in the World was based on a screenplay by novelist (The Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go), but was extensively rewritten by Guy Maddin and his writing partner George Toles (for one thing, the setting was moved from 1980s London to Canada in the Great Depression).
  • With a budget of 3.5 million Canadian dollars, this was the largest budget Maddin had ever worked with.  Unfortunately, the film made back less than $1 million at the box office.
  • Maddin sent Rossellini copies of the “legless” performances of in West of Zanzibar and The Penalty to watch in preparation for the role of Lady Port-Huntley.
  • The Saddest Music in the World was the second Maddin feature released in a busy and amazing 2003; Cowards Bend the Knee (also Certified Weird) debuted at the Rotterdam Film Festival in January, while the relatively more mainstream Music was first shown in August at the Venice Film Festival.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Isabella Rossellini’s bubbly new gams, which she proudly displays while dressed as Lady Liberty as dancing girls dressed as Eskimos lie on their backs kicking their heels in the air, all set to the heartbreaking strains of the melancholy ballad “California, Here We Come!”

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Guy Maddin’s promiscuous mix of retro-film techniques, including iris lenses and a primitive two-strip Technicolor process, that drops us into an artificial, alternate movie world that never really existed.  These visuals illustrate a preposterous plot packed with the delightfully absurd coincidences that were the coin of early melodrama—everyone of importance in the movie has a dark, hidden history with everyone else—all interrupted by screwball one-liners and absurd Busby Berkeley-style production numbers.  It’s as if random selection of melodramas and musicals made between 1915 and 1935 had been carelessly stacked on top of each other, and over the years the degenerating nitrate gradually melted into a single filmstrip.


Original trailer for The Saddest Music in the World

COMMENTS: The Saddest Music in the World is the strangest, and funniest, movie about Continue reading 96. THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD (2003)