Towards the end of this film, Broadway producer Chester Kent is stabbed in the stomach by shards of broken glass. While watching this scene, I was consumed with envy because having my abdomen eviscerated with broken beer bottles would have been a welcome alternative to watching this movie. And that’s without my knowing the whereabouts of the nearest hospital. Within 45 minutes I was ready to give up of this boring, pretentious waste.
The film takes place during the Great Depression in Winnipeg 1933. Isabella Rossellini plays Lady Port-Huntly, a double amputee beer baroness, who announces a contest to find the saddest music of the world. The winner will receive $25,000. Contestants from all over the world enter, including Chester Kent and his brother Roderick, who travels as a Serbian under the name, Gavrilo the Great, Europe’s Greatest Cellist.
It is a strange and incestuous group of characters that are all metaphoric creations rather than real people in a story. They are abstract ideas so there’s no reason for the viewer to care about any of them. When the movie starts, Chester is involved with an amnesiac nymphomaniac named Narcissa. We later find out that she is Roderick’s wife. She ran off and to cope with her son’s death she simply forgot about it. Before the film began, Chester used to be involved with Lady Port-Huntly. They were in a car accident one night and Chester’s father, Fyodor, who was himself previously involved with the Lady, amputated the wrong leg while in a drunken state.
Although he had been doing well in the competition, Chester begins to see the Lady again. Their motivations to rekindle their affections are unclear but why should this plot point be any different. To help deal with his guilt in crippling the Lady, Fyodor builds her legs made out of glass and fills them up with beer. During the climatic musical showdown, the Lady makes an appearance in Chester’s grand spectacle, showing off her legs to the crowds. Before anyone can argue about fairness and impartiality, Roderick’s cello hits such a high note that he shatters her legs. The film ends in a fiery blaze as the brewery burns to the ground, paralleling the viewing experience.
Sometimes people get too arty for their own good and this is a prime example. Maddin reminds me of everything that’s bad about David Lynch as a filmmaker while missing all of his good qualities. It’s a film that tries to be illusive and not make sense, coming from the Andy Warhol school of thought that if people can’t understand it, it must be art. Pre-production must have been comprised of people discussing what they thought was bunch of cool ideas over grass and red wine; however, the sum of the parts doesn’t amount to a hill of beans when put together. It has the feel of a graduate thesis, trying very hard to be art instead of just telling a story and letting the art flow naturally.
The cinematography is infuriatingly bad on purpose. The film is poorly shot in blurry black and white images, sure to cause headaches and possibly alter your vision permanently as your eyes try to focus. There are some scenes in color, but there doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason to them, because they all serve different functions. One is a fantasy, then another is during the big finale.
They had the talent and the equipment to do the job right, evident from some scenes, but the artistic choices made showcase the director’s lack of talent and the rest of the crew’s lack of power. Maddin does get points for being a good salesman because I can’t figure out how he convinced people that this was a good look for the film. He must have kept everyone out of the dailies.
The one saving grace is that all the actors fully commit themselves to their roles. This is a talented bunch that is willing to give themselves over to a director’s vision. It’s too bad their talents are wasted here. I hope they and others who worked on this project volunteered their time because there’s no way the investors make their money back.
This is the worst kind of film. It’s so bad that there is no pleasure derived in the mistakes. There’s nothing to laugh at. It just filled me with disgust and contempt. Why would the filmmakers want to waste someone’s time with this? Guy Maddin should be forced into community service, serving out his probation by having his scripts and ideas approved by a panel of experts before working on them.
The only way I could recommend this film is if you had serious drugs: either a heavy narcotic that would cause you to lose consciousness for 90 minutes or else hallucinogens that caused you to stop paying attention to outside stimuli, putting you into a self-reflective state. Although if you have either of those, there’s really no need to sit through the film.