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The Saddest Music in the World
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39 out of 49 people found the following review useful:


Author: desperateliving from Canada
2 August 2004

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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37 out of 47 people found the following review useful:

So funny I immediately bought another ticket

Author: Paul Klenk (paulklenk) from New York, NY
1 May 2004

The credits rolled last night at 11:50 PM at the Sunshine on Houston Street in NYC.

Outside the theatre, I glanced up at the box office board: There was another viewing at 11:55 p.m. I impulsively bought another ticket and saw it again.

This is one of the funniest, most original and absurd movies I have ever seen. I feel like I can't believe I've actually seen it -- waking up dizzy at 2 PM today on a Saturday and pondering this movie.

All I remember is the wonderful music, the great one-liners, and those fanciful legs. Oh, for legs such as those!

Everyone must be forced to sit through this film as punishment for watching any television, ever.

Isabella Rossilini should be so proud of forging through the offers of banal roles and accepting roles such as this. It is not a surprise that the same actresss who allowed David Lynch to strip and bruise her in Blue Velvet would embrace such a role as Port-Huntley. If you're sad, and like beer, she's your woman!

The audience last night was howling with laughter and delight at the absurd and brilliant lines in this movie. There was so much to like about this spectacular musical.

But most of all, there were those intoxicating legs.

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31 out of 38 people found the following review useful:

Visually fascinating, but somewhat empty.

Author: colonel_green from Charlottetown, Canada
24 June 2004

I had always been told that director Guy Maddin did nothing conventionally, and so I approached The Saddest Music in the World with anticipation and hesitation. I am a great fan of Isabella Rossellini and Maria de Medeiros, both of whom do well in this picture. Maddin delivers a picture that is quite beautiful visually; all in black and white, and edited in such a way as to recall something resurrected from the 1930s. There are a few occasions when colour is allowed in, and those moments dazzle. One of the most striking images I have seen all year is Isabella Rossellini posing in Technicolour standing on glass legs filled with beer. It's something that has to be seen to be believed. However, once you get past the visuals, the film is rather empty and lacks heart. I do recommend it, though, because everyone should see something new and different (and for Isabella and Maria).

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22 out of 26 people found the following review useful:

Terrific Satire-Comedy

Author: FlickeringLight from Boerne, TX
16 July 2004

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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20 out of 24 people found the following review useful:

funny, original, intriguing.

Author: ( from Toronto, Canada
30 December 2004

Don't be scared away by people who warn that this movie is too difficult or bizarre. This film will appeal to more than just the usual cabal of obscurantists and nerdy cultists. The plot is quite straightforward: a depression-era beer baroness commissions a contest whose aim it is to find the saddest music in the world. As a result, scores of zany musicians from around the world descend on frost-bitten Winnipeg to win a $25000 prize. Hilarity ensues.

That's not to say the movie doesn't have its fair share of the absurd, the bizarre, and the dark (it *is* a Canadian film, after all). Lines are delivered with strange inflections, characters' motivations are screwy, filmic styles are mixed. None of these, however, comes off as pretentious or forced.

The film explores the interesting paradox that despite the reality and ubiquity of real sadness, authentic expressions of sadness are difficult and rare.

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19 out of 25 people found the following review useful:

Remarkable filmmaking

Author: Lawrence ( from Astoria, NY
12 May 2004

Guy Maddin just gets better and better. In this, his latest film, he's outdone himself. The fusion of content and style is so brilliant, clever, and emotional, the film has to rank as one of the best of 2004 even with the year not yet being half over.

Set in 1933, "the depths of the Great Depression", the location is Winnipeg, Canada, home of Lady Port-Huntly (Isabella Rosselini), the astoundingly wealthy beer baroness of Canada, who decides to hold a contest to select the saddest music in the world--for business reasons, of course. Among the entrants are her former lover, Chester Kent (Mark McKinney), his current lover Narcissa (Maria de Medeiros), Chester's estranged brother Roderick (Ross McMillan)--separated from Narcissa, and the men's father, Duncan (Claude Dorge). Duncan represents Canada; Chester, America; and Roderick, Serbia (of all places).

The prize is $25,000, a fortune in those days, so naturally there are entrants from all over the world--among which are Mexico, Siam, and Africa. The music is inspired, but eventually converges on the lilting popular American tune The Song is You, for which there are diverse renditions in the course of the film. The show-stopper is the version by Chester near the end, a big band production that fuses influences, in typical American fashion, from all over the world.

Familial tensions converge with unrequited love, and with the most peculiar prostheses anyone has ever seen--either in real life or on film. Lady Port-Huntly is a double amputee, and he whose reckless mistake resulted in her unfortunate current condition fashions for her a pair of legs that must be seen to be believed.

The entire film is shot using a blue-haze filter, with a faux stereopticon effect that narrows the viewing screen to that resembling what one would see from the early days of film, and with the faintest, subtlest and tiniest of lags in action-speech synchronization that makes this uncannily resonate as a work fusing a 30s setting, a pre-20s style, and a contemporary sensibility that knows how to combine these elements in the first place. This is a truly brilliant--I would even call it genius--approach to filmmaking that noone else in the known world even remotely approaches. Maddin is one of the contemporary masters of cinema and this is the proof.

As soon as this is available on DVD, I will buy it immediately. I suggest you do the same.

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21 out of 31 people found the following review useful:

`The still, sad music of humanity.'

Author: jdesando from United States
17 August 2004

And I thought `Dogville' was stylized. Canadian writer/director Guy Maddin ("Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary,' "Archangel') has created a film like no other this year except possibly `Triplet's of Belleville.' `The Saddest Music in the World' is a `musical' set in Winnipeg in 1933, where Lady Port-Huntly (Isabella Rossellini) is holding a contest to award $25,000 to the saddest music performer. In `Depression Era dollars,' no less.

Winnipeg has been declared by the London Times `the world capital of sorrow' for the fourth year in a row. What happens in the film can be categorized as surrealism of the sort that marries the Melies brothers in their `Trip-to-the-Moon' wackiest to `The Twilight Zone' in Rod Serling's most hilarious (and that's pretty unusual) moments. Shot in distressed mode with 8 mm blown up to be grainy and silent movieish, `Saddest' has blue-grays and silvers and occasional bursts of washed-out color that give it an otherworldly cast meant to satirize the old movies and create a new look built on nostalgia and freedom from convention that some call expressionism.

Some of the bizarre acts vying for the prize are Fyodor (David Fox), a veteran of World War I representing Canada, who plays a deathlike version of ''The Red Maple Leaves'' on an upright piano he has turned over, and Indian singers in Eskimo costumes, who dance to ''California Here I Come'' with sitars and banjos commemorating a 19th-century kayaking accident. All the time an iris lens blurs the edges of the film to recreate the ancient look of film found in a vault after 50 years.

That Lady Port-Huntly needs artificial legs is not as bizarre as the back story of how she came to need them, and that the new glass legs have local beer coursing through them is just another creative and absurdist touch. With a resemblance to the robot in `Metropolis,' she is an amalgam of strange and prophetic moments in film and culture. I know I'm not making much sense here-Trust me that this film is bizarre enough to satisfy the geekiest cultist in our audience. For the rest of us, just trying to appreciate all the signposts Maddin constructs to further his absurd and funny vision is exhausting. Wordsworth's thoughts apply because we at least hear `the still, sad music of humanity.'

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10 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

Visually interesting but the style wears thin

Author: rosscinema from United States
12 June 2004

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

If your a fan of the director than you have a head start than most viewers but for others this exercise in style seems to wear out pretty fast despite a unique approach to it's look and story. Story is suppose to take place during the Depression in 1933 where in Winnipeg a legless beer baroness named Lady Port-Huntley (Isabella Rossellini) has created a contest where contestants from each country will try and win $25,000 by playing the saddest music in the world. America is represented by Chester Kent (Mark McKinney) who has his nymphomaniac girlfriend Narcissa (Maria de Medeiros) accompany him. Chester's father Fyodor (David Fox) is representing Canada and his brother Roderick (Ross McMillan) is representing Serbia.


All of them have a history with Lady Huntley and years earlier they were involved in a car crash where a drunken Fyodor amputated the wrong leg and the end result was her having both legs cut off. Fyodor has been trying to get her to forgive him and he has built prosthetic legs made out of glass and filled with her own beer. The contest begins with two countries going at one time with one being eliminated and the other going on to the next round. During the contest Roderick discovers that his brothers girlfriend is actually his wife that has disappeared after their son died but she has amnesia and has forgotten it. The contest ends with brother against brother, Serbia versus America!

This film is directed by the incredibly imaginative Guy Maddin who makes films like you have never seen before and this is another visually interesting effort. This is filmed mostly in black and white in 8mm and video and has a look that seems truly inspired by F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang. Both "Metropolis" and "Sunrise" came to mind as I watched this and this may be Maddin's homage to those filmmakers. Rossellini seems perfectly cast in her role and her strongest moments come as she wears her glass legs filled with beer but her performance seems overshadowed by the overall style of the film. While I appreciate what Maddin was trying to do I do think that the style grows quickly tiresome and the whole effort becomes a very tedious viewing. This is interesting for the first 20 minutes or so but to sustain the visualizations for an entire length of a film seems a tad much to ask of viewers.

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11 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

Experiments, madness, comedy, drama, musical and some more...

Author: vdg from Vancouver, Canada
6 May 2004

Experiments, madness, comedy, drama, musical and some more.

I was unaware of Guy Maddin movies until I saw this one, so from the start to the end I was in awe about a director that came to me from nowhere and managed to surprise me. I am saying this as I have seen quite a few (1000's maybe) movies, and I am very hard to be surprised by something.

Without any doubt the movie IS one of the most original ones I've seen in years, and beside the strange techniques used (black/white grainy film, alternating with color-grainy as well, theater-like sets, etc..) the originality of the director is never the less amazing.

Of course quite a few people left the theater during the movie, but that's understandable, as this is just for the die-hard fans of good/art films. If you thought SALLO was a good movie, beside the cruelty on the screen, or if you actually understood Satyricon, then this movie might appeal you, otherwise don't waste your time on it.

I can't find a movie that can be related to this one, I just cannot!!! Great actors, great music and even a greater director: food for the soul.


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5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

one of a kind: a romantic comedy about the darkest and most tragic things known to man + beer and music

Author: MisterWhiplash from United States
19 December 2008

Guy Maddin is a master in at least one respect: he knows how to use 8mm film. Very few filmmakers attempt to use it at the length he does, or to such seemingly limitless invention, and all the while he has in mind an aesthetic somewhere in the middle of an expressionist silent film director and someone looking to break a little ground with a music video. In fact two of his films specifically, Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary and Brand Upon the Brain, work better just as they appear to be: stories told in pantomime, without dialog, but also with all of the heavy emotions that come with. The Saddest Music in the World is a sound film, and must be in order to include such music and some occasionally really funny dialog. But its aesthetic is so bizarre and, indeed, eclectic to tastes of modern and pre-WW2 cinema that it has to be seen and heard to be believed.

The premise is that a "Lady" in Winnepeg (Rossellini) is hosting a contest for everyone around the world to come to Winnipeg to sing the saddest songs known anywhere, and the winner will receive 25 grand (in "Depression-Era" money). But there are complications- a devilish entrepreneur (Mark McKinney in a sly and convincing dramatic performance) comes into town to bring back old memories- the legs that Rossellini no longer has due to a horrible accident stacked upon a huge blunder by McKinney's father- and there's other troubles in romantic entanglements (i.e. McKinney's brother sees that Narcissa, played by Medeiros, is with him now and may have a talking tapeworm). There's this and more, plus the brothers' father in his attempt to resolve the situation with glass legs full of, yes, beer, plus the various competitions between countries with their own styles and vibrations and sorrowful melodies (there's even "Africa" at one point).

But a lot of this is, in fact, really crazy. So crazy that it takes a guy as smart and dedicated to his own warped craft like Maddin to make it make any kind of sense. But it does make sense, beautiful sense at times, and it's helped a lot out by the striking acting and the sense of morbid comedy that pops up from time to time (even just the announcers, who have that depression-era sensibility to them are funny). And watching the quixotic montage, the dazzling camera angles that sometimes go by in blinks or feverish moments in the midst of despair, make it all the more worthwhile. If I might not recommend it as overwhelmingly as Brand Upon the Brain it's only for a lesser connection emotionally with the material, of being pulled in inexorably to its conclusion. Nevertheless no one who wants to miss a challenge, take on something just this side of insanity and poetry, owes it to watch this- experience the songs, the romance. 8.5/10

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