Saddest Music



Director: Guy Maddin

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Three Guy Maddin Films

There is scarcely any plot in this jumbled surreal film, but if a plot were dredged out of it, it is about the repercussions of a beer baroness (Isabella Rossellini) announcing a contest awarding $25,000 to the composer who can write the saddest music in the world. Because it is the Great Depression, tragedies are put in motion a la They Shoot Horses Don't They (1969).

Saddest MusicOr, the film is about eccentric starcrossed lovers or haters, a cellist & the woman (the baroness) whose legs he accidentally cut off.

Or, it's a film about a beautifully erotic & vindictive madwoman (the baroness) & how she copes with having had her legs cut off (her beer-glass artificial limbs provide the best silly visuals of the film).

If judged for the quality of the performances & for its visual oddness, The Saddest Music in the World would be a highly rated film. It might still be regarded, with a big shrug, as moderately good if viewed as absurdist comedy, intentionally ridiculous, pointedly pointless.

It's unfortunately also a film which will help those with 20/20 vision understand what people who can't see well have to contend with. It views like a smart-alecky junior college experimental film, by students who hadn't learned even how to focus, yet by some bizarre miracle were able to convince some real actors to pitch in.

If it were the practice-run of beginner filmmakers it'd be more of an achievement, but it is sadly the work of a middle-aged filmmaker who has been trying to get it right a good long while, the Ed Wood of laughing experimentalists.

It sometimes seems as though Guy Maddin has not matured artistically even a baby-step since he failed to thrill me at the midnight premier of Tales of the Gimli Hospital in 1988.

Maddin is often compared to David Lynch, but that would be apropos only if Eraserhead had been something David Lynch was still trying to get right instead of something that was perfect the first try. Yet there's something compelling buried in a mess, which is true of most everything Maddin has done, something that will keep me watching his films hoping not to be too often bored.

The film has brilliant moments, but they're only moments, & it is overall a patience-testing failure. Still, I'm glad I saw it just for the faultlessly peculiar performance by Isabella Rossellini.

Sissy Boy Slap Party Maddin is best in small doses & his short film Sissy Boy Slap Party (1995) is simply laugh-out-loud funny. It's a joke, but no mere joke, as it's very artful in its peculiarness, like Kenneth Anger back from the grave, but with talent.

A white-haired sugar-daddy at an all-boy orgy tells his hunky lads they're getting fat & should get to the gym. He then gets on his bicycle to go fetch condoms, warning the lads not to slap each other while he's gone.

Well, they do slap each other, & it becomes an amazing tribal event, with appealingly primitive drumming & a stunning soundtrack of amusingly agonized whines & slapping sounds. There's lots of witty, clever editing that helps build the slapping orgy to a crescendo of action.

Anyone who loves "punch & block" kung fu films had better watch this little film for a better understanding of their own fetish! It's not just brilliantly funny, but it's a brilliant film, with the look of something that could've been filmed near the beginning of the age of cinema.

Isabella Rossellini wrote & narrates My Dad is 100 Years Old (2005), a sixteen-minute fantasy documentary of her Papa, i.e., Roberto Rossellini, at age one-hundred. He did not live to be a hundred years old literally of course, but as a symbol, he stands in for the history of cinema afer one hundred years.

Isabella is credited with having written the script herself & at times it comes off as a junior college essay on cinema. So it's not the verbal content of the film that has value; it's the oddness of delivery & Guy Maddins trademark surrealism that surrounds the Rossellini performance.

My Dad is 100 Years OldPapa we learn is a fat lazy loony asshole genius fool artist filmmaker saint demon & one wonders here & there how much of the expressionist documentary isn't as much autobiographical for Maddin as it is biographical for Isabella's love, remembrance, & attitude toward her filmmaker daddy.

She plays her own father in male drag, as well as other roles (i.e., Fredrico Fellini, Charlie Chaplin, etc), having conversations with each other as though they weren't great filmmakers but only kids riding to junior highschool on a bus. Isabella asks the fundamental question: Was her father a genius or not; were his neo-realist film's brilliant, or lousy.

Rather than biography, however, it turns into a fantasy argument between Chaplin, Rossellini, Hitchock, Selznik & Fellini on whose films are great & whose films are stupid.

The little pieces of Film Criticism sprinkled into the dialogue, about Roberto Rossellini &am everyone else, are strictly junior league observations every beginner film student has already said, & has got to get over if they're ever to have an observatioin of merit. So don't look for anything deep here, look merely for the oddball delivery of the lines by Isabella in sundry guises.

When Momma appears in the story, this little film takes a leap forward for a few moments, as who never noticed that Isabella indeed looks like Ingrid Bergman. She looks less like her now than ten or fifteen years ago of course, & too damned bad someone didn't have her make a biopic of her mom when she was younger & a deadringer double for her mom. Too late now.

From a theater auditorium Isabella converses with the ghost of her mother who appears projected upon the screen. It's a strangely heart-tugging moment though Isabella drags it down by asking her mom the twenty-five-cent question that never needed to be asked & getting the ultra-predictable reply, which is again mere beginner level film student stuff.

It's not one of Maddin's finer short films, but he wasn't working with the best material, & Isabella's antics in male drag are just too silly without being particularly funny. It's certainly not good acting on her part to flick a cigar about & pretend to be sundry fellow. It's short enough, however, to be worth watching even so, as it's a fairly warped take on the meaning of biography or documentary.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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