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Overall Rating
4.09

Awesome57.78%
Worth A Look: 20%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 17.78%
Total Crap: 4.44%

4 reviews, 21 user ratings


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Saddest Music in the World, The
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by Robert Flaxman

"The weirdest movie in the world."
2 stars

Some films, like the works of Charlie Kaufman, manage to take bizarre premises and turn them into stories that somehow make sense. Guy Maddinís The Saddest Music in the World does something of the opposite nature. Its most basic premise is relatively simple, yet the story spun out of that premise is unrelentingly odd, and the way in which it is told is no less strange. Filtering the narrative through the silent film aesthetics of 90 years ago, Maddin has made a film that feels like the result of a David Lynch screenplay directed by Sergei Eisenstein.

The plot, insofar as it can be easily explained, is exceedingly weird. Lady Port-Huntley (Isabella Rossellini) is a Canadian beer magnate whose legs were amputated in a bizarre accident some years earlier. With America in the depths of the Great Depression, she senses that Prohibition is about to be repealed and so sponsors a contest to determine which nationís music is the saddest in the world. That way, she says, when Americans can buy beer again they will see their sadness reflected and flock to her brand, or as she puts it, ďIf youíre sad and like beer, Iím your lady.Ē

Among the entrants into the contest is Chester Kent (Mark McKinney), a Canadian expatriate who has returned from New York, where he was evidently a Broadway producer. He and Lady Port-Huntley have a past that also includes his father Fyodor (David Fox), and there is also a connection between Chesterís current companion Narcissa (Maria de Medeiros) and his brother Roderick (Ross McMillan), who has lived in Serbia for twenty years or so.

The relationships between the characters would seem to be the most important part of the film, because the actual contest is pretty marginal within the plot. People play music and Lady Port-Huntley gives a thumbs-up to the better of the two, but thatís about it. That said, the relationships donít seem to matter all that much either. Really, very little in the film serves any direct purpose. Maddinís screenplay is based on a screenplay by The Remains of the Day author Kazuo Ishiguro, but itís never quite clear whether heís taking it seriously or doing a tongue-in-cheek adaptation. Parts of the film seem so self-consciously weird that the latter seems more likely; still, it could go either way.

The strangest thing about the film is probably its cinematography, though. Maddin chose to make the film look like a silent, which is an odd choice, to say the least. Perhaps he was merely trying to evoke the era in which the film was set, but the high-contrast lighting, sped-up footage, and shots that look like someone put a paper towel tube over the lens were at least a decade out of vogue even by 1933. The style evoked resembles both that of Soviet montage filmmakers, like Eisenstein and his Battleship Potemkin, and the work of German surrealists, such as 1920ís The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Much of the set design and shot composition, using funny angles and shadows, resembles films like Caligari in particular.

Itís certainly a very interesting way to make a film in the 21st century, but the choice doesnít make obvious sense. Films shot in black and white with the sensibilities of something out of the 1950s have a timeless class about them; films shot in black and white that look like they were just found in a warehouse and shown for the first time in a century with no restoration done first are a bit challenging to watch, and thereís little to reward us for our troubles besides the lunacy.

This is not to say thatís thereís nothing behind The Saddest Music in the World. There is the sense of a mild critique of American values, as Chesterís plan for winning the contest involves paying other countries to drop out, and his show-stopping production numbers seem to be less about sadness with each one he puts on. Maddin also suggests how much people can actually be affected by music, but he undercuts this by making everything so weird. The filmís message is hidden behind its bow to the absurd.

The biggest problem is simply that the film doesnít seem to take itself seriously. Thick with characters who have both gaping personality flaws and painful pasts, The Saddest Music in the World conspires to use them in as silly a fashion as possible. Whole scenes make no conceivable sense; sometimes the characters speak normally and sometimes they seem to have wandered out of Waiting for Godot. The philosophy behind The Saddest Music may not be all that deep, but it still could have had an effect had not the filmís choices rendered it completely pointless.

Playing like a silent film spoof dragged out to feature length, The Saddest Music in the World isnít completely without its charm, but unless youíre the sort of person who thinks there hasnít been a great director since F.W. Murnau, itís probably not worth the effort. Maddin clearly put a lot of thought into the visual style, but if that level of attention was devoted to any other aspect of the film, itís not so youíd notice.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=8245&reviewer=385
originally posted: 03/24/05 10:00:13
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sydney Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 San Francisco Film Festival. For more in the 2004 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Brisbane Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Brisbane Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/02/07 fools♫gold Entertainingly unfunny, though more unoriginal than some might suggest I think. 5 stars
7/06/06 T. Maj Huh? 1 stars
3/24/05 Colleen Goldrick Enjoyable 4 stars
10/19/04 Misty De Meo I absolutely adored this film when I was lucky enough to catch it in theatres. 5 stars
9/13/04 C Porter Exhausting but thought provolking and fun 5 stars
8/03/04 Russ Sapienza Original, well-acted work 4 stars
8/01/04 April The film was absoulutely brilliant, I just loved McKinney's performance. 5 stars
6/09/04 Paula Jeanine bad acting, self-indulgent, cheap filming techniques are tiresome, too violent 2 stars
6/03/04 Ciaran Forced forced forced forced forced forced forced forced forced. 2 stars
5/23/04 sandra The movie was horrible! After ten minutes we walked out, too difficult to follow script 1 stars
2/22/04 Tom Ronca Another triumph from Canada's reigning auteur! 5 stars
2/18/04 Nathan Andersen Wonderful reinvention of film history; a postmodern melodrama, made as if in the '30s 5 stars
2/04/04 Edith Maddin is a master! 5 stars
1/27/04 Erin The film was bizarrely hilarious, witty and artistically interesting. LOVED IT 5 stars
1/26/04 Lizanne 'Metropolis' and 'Brazil' meet...good stuff 5 stars
12/23/03 tom great! 5 stars
12/03/03 art pellman the usual genius 5 stars
11/26/03 Jeannette McGlone Magically transporting. Hilarious, gut wrentchiing emotional parody, with music. Loved it 5 stars
11/04/03 Elfrieda Jillson A unique and ground breaking masterpiece from a true visionary! 5 stars
10/27/03 Jean-Philippe Luckhurst An amazing poetic and artistic adventure through music 5 stars
10/21/03 Guilherme Esteves Inovating and of a very good Black Humor 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  30-Apr-2004 (R)
  DVD: 16-Nov-2004

UK
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