A musical of sorts set in Winnipeg during the Great Depression, where a beer baroness organizes a contest to find the saddest music in the world. Musicians from around the world descend on t... Read allA musical of sorts set in Winnipeg during the Great Depression, where a beer baroness organizes a contest to find the saddest music in the world. Musicians from around the world descend on the city to try and win the $25,000 prize.A musical of sorts set in Winnipeg during the Great Depression, where a beer baroness organizes a contest to find the saddest music in the world. Musicians from around the world descend on the city to try and win the $25,000 prize.
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.
- Jul 16, 2004