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 saw Guy Maddin's film last weekend, not really knowing much about it other than it's premise, which was too absurd to pass up. A double amputee parapalegic beer baroness with glass legs filled with her own beer holding a contest during Prohibition to find the saddest music in the world? Where do people come up with this stuff?
The film is an interesting conglomeration of styles from films before and around the era in which it is set. The 8 mm footage with the stereopticon lens is reminiscent of the earliest films, and the distorted sets created in a studio are reminiscent of the German expressionist films. This is combined with a 30's musical and conversational style, including bits of "Technicolor" thrown in for good measure. I would have to see the film again, but I would like to go back and see it again to determine the link between the scenes which are suddenly shot in color as compared to the grainy black and white images that grace the rest of the film.
Despite the quizzical looks from the three fellow moviegoers who occupied the theatre, I found myself laughing out loud quite a few times at the film's caustic humor. The matches between the music from each country are like something out of a gangland film, with each side advancing toward each other menacingly during their performance. Some of the countries who perform in the competition reflect Maddin's satirical side, including a winning performance from Serbia (of all places) and an entry from the "country" of Africa (as if we in North America don't know any of the individual nations on the continent).
The entwining of satire and comedy continues in the musical performances and the competition's radio commentators. Maybe it's just me, but the funeral dirges from some countries (most notably "Africa" and Scotland) are not really "sad" at all, as they are a bit loud and a bit too upbeat. The greatest offender is the American entry, who turns the competition into a showcase for his Broadway ambitions, eschewing the premise of the competition with the blessing of Lady Port-Huntley, who incidentally is his former-current lover. The idiotic commentators obnoxiously chatter over a loudspeaker even as the musicians are performing, delivering such priceless wisdom as "Siam is known for its dignity, twins, and cats."
The themes of the film revolve around the separation between the rich and the poor (one character enjoys a psychic connection with her tapeworm), American excess, Canadian self-loathing, humanity's relentless desire for the trivial and superficial over the meaningful and spiritual, the global domination of American pop culture, how the mass media controls the world, etc. However, none of these are really fleshed out in the film, but rather touched on briefly then tossed away in favor of the next idea.
Though the film is more style over substance, it is still thoroughly enjoyable for anyone who loves the cinema in all its forms.
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