Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Movie: The Saddest Music In The World (2004)

Guy Maddin’s THE HEART OF THE WORLD (2000) is one of the most amazing films of recent years. A joyous celebration of cinema itself, it recasts the birth of the medium in both mythic and political terms and lovingly employs every visual trope from the earliest days of the movies.

It’s also a silent film. And it’s only six minutes long.

Applying this approach to a feature yields considerably diminished returns. SADDEST MUSIC looks extraordinary, unlike any film I’ve ever seen. Except, of course, for Guy Maddin’s. Again he uses the visual language of the silent era – filters, irises, stylized sets – along with artfully added print scratches to give the impression that you’re watching a recovered artifact, an insanely ambitious epic from a film pioneer. As a recreation, it can’t be faulted.

As a movie, it barely hangs together. The script is co-written by Maddin, based on an original screenplay by novelist Kazuo Ishiguro. (Beware the complicated writing credit.) At the height of the Great Depression, Winnipeg has been named “world capital of sorrow” four years running. Legless beer baron Isabella Rossellini decides to hold a contest to determine which country’s native ditties are tops in lachrymosity. Sorry about that. I lapsed into the language of Rossellini’s former lover, a down-at-the-heels Broadway producer (Mark McKinney) who offers to lead the American effort. He gets staunch competition from his own father, representing Canada, and brother, a vagabond who has reinvented himself as the vessel for all of Serbia’s remorse for starting the Great War.

The movie’s look demands a suitably operatic story, but Maddin gives us one that is simultaneously half-baked and overcooked. It’s bad enough that all of the characters already know each other. But to have three contestants in an international competition be members of the same family? The same Winnipeg family? And a lot more groundwork has to be laid before I’ll buy into glass prosthetic legs filled with beer, much as I like the idea.

The actors flail around for a style to match the visual flourishes with limited success. McKinney ends up resorting to a caricature better suited to his KIDS IN THE HALL days. Only Maria de Medeiros (PULP FICTION) comes close to pulling it off, but she has a luminous face made for silent pictures.

Maddin seems to be going for some barbed political commentary in having McKinney add each losing country’s entry to the American number, but if he is, his message is hopelessly muddled. I doubt the intended effect is the swell of patriotism it engendered in me; give us your brass, your woodwinds, your percussion, and we’ll make ‘em part of the biggest show on earth! But the musical numbers on the whole are affecting. I’ve gained a whole new appreciation for Jerome Kern’s ‘The Song Is You.’

TV: American Movie Classics

I remember a time when a double bill of D.O.A. and A KISS BEFORE DYING on this network meant the originals and not the lousy remakes.

Miscellaneous: Link

The FAHRENHEIT 9/11 frenzy continues to build. Courtesy of the indispensable GreenCine Daily, here’s Armond White’s scorching take. Blaming Quentin Tarantino and the rest of his Cannes jury for Abu Ghraib is excessive, but his point about Jean-Luc Godard’s reaction to the Michael Moore film – and the lack of coverage it received in the American press – deserves attention.