THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD
The Saddest Music in the World was Guy Maddins biggest budgeted film to date ($3.5 million) it even came co-produced by Atom Egoyan and the original script idea is from award-winning novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, author of works that became films like The Remains of the Day (1993) and Never Let Me Go (2010) and received the most widespread release. It is very much a renaissance of Guy Maddins preoccupations the obsessive fascination with the recreation of silent or early sound cinema shots are masked out so as to look like a silent movie camera iris, while it looks like Maddin has used the entire Canadian supply of Vaseline to gauze out his lens; the sets recall something of F.W. Murnaus Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) and the Expressionism of Fritz Lang; there is the contortedly melodramatic plot involving incest, love triangles and a person who has lost their memory (themes that regularly reappear in Archangel, Careful, Twilight of the Ice Nymphs, Cowards Bend the Knee and Brand Upon the Brain!).
It is all delivered with the hysterical deadpan banality of a Maddin film the films funniest moments are surely Isabella Rossellinis rapture at being able to walk and dance again with a pair of prosthetic glass legs filled with beer. And of course there are the weirdly surreal pieces of Maddin-esque dialogue Maria de Madeiros makes the hilariously cryptic comment early on in the show: Im not an American, Im a nymphomaniac, and the show commentators deliver lines like: Nobody can beat the Siamese when it comes to dignity, cats or twins.
On the other hand, The Saddest Music in the World does feel ever so slightly like Guy Maddin is warming over material that we have all sat through before. Careful, Twilight of the Ice Nymphs and the same years superior Cowards Bend the Knee did the contorted family dramas, incest and love triangle plots and Maddin never enervates the story here with the same kind of surreal melodrama. There are certainly some impressive sets that make Winnipeg look like a desolate shantytown, with its single bus something like a mobilized metallic scorpion but Maddin has also done these Expressionist sets before. Both Careful and Ice Nymphs do the surreal deadpan melodrama and kitsch Expressionism much more distinctively than The Saddest Music in the World does.
It is certainly a funny film in a very quiet way Maddin throws in numerous barbs at US-Canadian relationships and Mark McKinney shines as a vulgar Broadway producer. However, what The Saddest Music in the World comes out looking like is Guy Maddins most normal film yet you could almost imagine the same story being conducted by another director as an ordinary drama in straight-face minus the stylistic flourishes. The film itself ranks enjoyably but seems lesser Guy Maddin.