A musical of sorts set in Winnipeg during the Great Depression, where a beer baroness organizes a contest to find the saddest music in the world. Musicians from around the world descend on the city to try and win the $25,000 prize.
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It's the winter of 1933 in Winnipeg. In honor of Winnipeg being named the sorrow capital of the world for the Depression era for the fourth year running by the London Times, Lady Helen Port-Huntley, the legless owner of Winnipeg's Port-Huntley Beer, is hosting and judging a contest to see which nation has the saddest music in the world, the winner to take home a $25,000 prize. Seeing as to the current Prohibition in the United States, Lady Port-Huntley has ulterior motives for the contest. Father and son, streetcar conductor Fyodor Kent and New York based musical producer Chester Kent, who both have a past connection to Lady Port-Huntley (Fyodor, a WWI veteran and former doctor, has fashioned for her an unusual pair of artificial legs apropos to her business), want to represent Canada and the United States respectively in the contest. Despite Lady Port-Huntley's hatred for the Kent's, she does allow them to do so if only to advance her own priorities. As the contest takes place, the ... Written by
I just rented a warehouse. I got people lined up to build sets, make costumes. I got musicians, arrangers. But I gotta put out first, or they'll shut me down.
Maybe you should keep it simple.
America goes simple? That's a hot one. No, it's gotta be vulgar and obvious, full of gimmicks. You know, sadness, but with sass and pizzazz.
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What could only be titled as Cinema of the Ridiculous, Maddin's latest masterpiece, about a no-legged beer queen who hosts a Winnipeg-set competition to see which nation has the saddest music in the world, is filled to the gills with wacky ideas, but the reason it's a great film is because of the heartfelt feeling behind it. Maddin's genuine love for the silent cinema that he emulates (and attachment to the pathetic characters he creates) makes it possible for him to sustain a comic tone without it ever becoming mocking.
Maddin manages to balance the grotesque comic caricature of Mark McKinney as the shady mustached businessman who tries to win the competition, and Maria de Medeiros, who gets life advice from her tapeworm, with the pathetic goth character that's McKinney's brother, who's had to deal with the loss of a son, and the glamorous Isabella Rossellini, who's had to deal with the loss of her legs. (I wonder if the fact that Rossellini lost her legs in a car accident caused by her performing fellatio is a nod to the Myth of Murnau.) There's almost a subliminal melodrama taking place with the theme of loss and hilarious depression (during The Depression). It's an exciting movie visually, but unlike the best of the silents that Maddin loves, it's not poetic in that slow, beautiful way -- it's too fast-paced, kinetic, and rough to achieve any sort of traditional beauty -- but it is a feast. The few scenes of gaudy color -- reds, blues, and odd flesh tones -- are as grainy as the black and white. Maddin is truly one of the most imaginative of directors and he has a firm grasp of the medium. In fact, there is at least one scene of slow, beautiful poetry -- a purely silent moment, near the end, that comes alongside the bloody murder of Rossellini's screams. 10/10
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