Directed by Guy Maddin and written with George Toles based on a script by Kazuo Ishiguro, The Saddest Music in the World tells the story of a beer magnet who creates a contest to find the saddest music in the world during the Great Depression. A comic musical that is presented in the style of early 20th Century cinema of silent films, it is a film where Maddin brings an old cinematic style back to the 21st Century. Starring Isabella Rossellini, Mark McKinney, David Fox, Ross McMillan, and Maria de Medeiros. The Saddest Music in the World is a cosmic yet enriching film from Guy Maddin.
It’s 1933 during the Great Depression in Winnipeg as a beer baroness named Lady Port-Hunley (Isabella Rossellini) holds a contest to find the saddest music in the world. The prize is $25,000 as she hopes to get people to buy her beer once Prohibition ends as joining the competition is a failed American producer named Chester Kent (Mark McKinney) who hopes to win with help from his amnesiac girlfriend Narcissa (Maria de Medeiros). Also entering the contest is Kent’s father Fydor (David Fox) who plans to represent Canada as he is carrying the guilt over what happened to Port-Hunley’s legs as she was once Chester’s lover. Even as Chester has been seeing Port-Hunley hoping to get back in her good graces by charming her.
Also entering the contest is Chester’s older brother Roderick (Ross McMillan) who is to represent Serbia as he is still in mourning over the loss of his son as well as his wife’s disappearance. Roderick is happy to see his father though neither are very happy to see Chester who often serves as the brunt of their own issues. Chester gloats about the idea of winning as the Kents compete with Chester and Roderick playing different styles of music. Chester with lavish productions and Roderick playing his cello as they teach the finals while Chester buys out the countries he’s beaten. Yet, Roderick is haunted by Narcissa’s presence as she sings on Chester’s performances while Fydor creates glass legs filled with beer for the baroness in hopes for her forgiveness.
Roderick presents the legs to the baroness as she is overjoyed but it only furthers the wedge between the brothers. Even as Roderick hopes to win even more not just for himself but for everything he had lost.
The film is about a contest to find the saddest music in the world prompting three men from the same family to compete for the money. Yet, two of the family members have more honorable reasons to win while the youngest brother is more interested to wipe his debts and win back the baroness for selfish reasons. The film begins with Chester meeting a strange medicine man (Louis Negin) who casts a strange premonition about Chester’s fate. Yet, Chester scoffs this premonition as he continues to be this happy yet arrogant man that wants to win money while juggling two women at the same time.
The screenplay by Guy Maddin and George Toles is truly mystical in its setting while creating lively characters with elements of satires about these contests. Yet, it’s in Maddin’s direction that gives the story something far more imaginative than what the script could suggest. Since Maddin presents the film in a period of 1920s/1930s style of cinema with grainy film stock as if it’s making a film in the 1930s. There is something to the look of it that is truly out of this world as Maddin even creates something that is dream-like to the film with a lot of black-and-white and some color shots. Setting it in his home of Winnipeg adds a more personal feel as the compositions and shots he creates is very engaging. Overall, Maddin creates what is definitely a dazzling film to watch.
Cinematographer Luc Montpellier does a phenomenal job with the film‘s cinematography by taking in different film stocks from Super 8mm, 16mm, and 35mm to create a film that is dream-like. While the majority of the film is shot in black-and-white, some of it is presented in grainy color where some parts of the film is shot like a home movie. Editor David Wharnsby does an incredible job with the editing in creating a stylish approach by using jump-cuts to play up with the music and for some of the dramatic moments of the film.
Production designer Matthew Davies, along with set decorator Stephen Arndt and art director Rejean Labrie, does a spectacular job with the creation of 1930s Winnipeg along with the look of the contest and the beer pool Costume designer Meg McMillan does a fabulous job with the costumes from the black clothes that Roderick wears to the lavish look of the baroness along with her beer-glass legs that is the highlight of the costumes. Sound designer David Rose and sound editor David McCallum do a great job with the sound work to by capturing the energy of the contests along with the sounds that is more in tune with what films sounded like back in that period.
The film’s music by Christopher Dedrick is superb for its melodramatic orchestral music that is mixed in with upbeat pieces that is true to that period of the Depression. The rest of the music soundtrack that supervised by Brenda Blake features show tunes from Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II to play up the lavishness of Chester’s performances along with a classical piece from Frederic Chopin for Roderick‘s piece.
The casting by John Buchan is brilliant as the film features memorable small roles from Jeff Sutton and Graeme Valentin as the young Chester and Roderick, respectively, along with Claude Dorge and Talia Pura as the broadcasters commenting on the contest. Other notable small roles include Louis Negin as the medicine man and Darcy Fehr as the baroness’ lover Teddy. David Fox is excellent as Fydor Kent, the recovering-alcoholic father haunted by his own actions as he hopes to win the baroness’ forgiveness while helping out Roderick with his own issues. Ross McMillan is superb as Roderick Kent, a musician still dealing with his son’s death as he is haunted by the presence of Narcissa while becoming determined to defeat his arrogant younger brother.
Maria de Medeiros is wonderful as Narcissa, an amnesiac who has a gorgeous voice while wondering about the Kent brothers as she becomes interested in Roderick. Mark McKinney is great as Chester Kent, the arrogant brother with lavish ideas as McKinney brings a winning smile throughout the film as he creates a character that is un-likeable yet very charming. Finally, there’s Isabella Rossellini in a fantastic performance as Lady Port-Hunley, the beer baroness with no legs as she holds a contest while dealing with the Kents. Rossellini’s performance recalls some of bits of her legendary mother Ingrid Bergman in look as there is also a wonderful sense of radiance to her complex yet larger-than-life character.
The Saddest Music in the World is a magnificent film from Guy Maddin that features amazing imagery and ambitious ideas that is topped by a wonderful ensemble led by Isabella Rossellini. Audiences who are new to Maddin will find this film as a wonderful place to start where they even get to see how he takes old 20th Century film style and make it vital again in the 21st Century. In the end, The Saddest Music in the World is a dazzling yet spectacular film from Guy Maddin.
Guy Maddin Films: (Tales of the Gimli Hospital) - (Archangel) - (Careful) - (Twilight of the Ice Nymphs) - (Dracula, Pages from a Virgin’s Diary) - (Cowards Bend the Knee) - (Brand Upon the Brain!) - My Winnipeg
© thevoid99 2011