The Saddest Music in the World Reviews
Since taking this class, I've developed an odd pleasure in picking out experimental technique in conventionally narrative films. Being aware of the genesis of many of these techniques and how mainstream cinematic culture has reappropriated them has really enhanced my comprehension and appreciation of the form overall. The Saddest Music in the World, in this regard, was the perfect capstone for this semester's screenings; its artful blurring of the line between a knowingly sentimental, almost maudlin narrative and unabashed avant-garde aesthetic sensibility extends a hand to an audience familiar with both worlds, inviting us to share in a celebration of the specific elements that make film so great.
Even without its unique visual approach, The Saddest Music in the World would be a suitably bizarre movie. Its story, full of larger-than-life quirks and flourishes, suggests a certain magical realism, right down to its talking tapeworm and its prophetic medicine man in the snowy wilderness of Canada. It is wound, however, around a core of human loss and tragedy recognizable to any viewer - the challenge of the film is that Guy Maddin makes us work strenuously through his vision to reach that core. We must first swim through the often grainy, blurred picture, the rapid-fire editing, and montages of images that seem to make very little sense. These stylistic devices almost serve as layers of protection, as if Maddin was reluctant to surrender the emotions of his story right away. The movie teases in a playful way, conveniently strapping the emotional linchpin of the film with amnesia (and nymphomania), and it never truly divulges all its secrets, such as the ultimate fate of Roderick's son. Audiences accustomed to more commercial films may find this lack of closure unsatisfying, but the movie quickly makes clear that Maddin's definition of satisfaction is different than normal.
The Saddest Music in the World is most interesting when its concept is dismantled fundamentally: what is it that makes music sad? Ultimately, a song boils down to a collection of resonances, sonic symbols that have more meaning to some than others. It is an immensely abstract art form, especially when its role in cinematic aesthetics is considered. Music is highly cultural, and American film culture has strictly regimented ideas about what constitutes appropriate music, which is what makes the concept of this film so exciting. In exploring the "sad" music of other countries around the world, we are thus invited to look at what we consider objectively sad and contrast it to the vastly different sounds that we hear. It serves as something of a metaphor at large for the film's idea of tragedy, because no matter how it is presented, or how we've experienced it, sad occurrences invoke the same universal sensations.
However, Isabella Rossellini as the beer baroness Lady Helen was fabulous. Ultimately her character is just a tragic and wounded soul, as are most of the characters. They are all a bit emotionally damaged.
I'll give it credit that it's a great dark comedy with these elements: glass legs, talking tapeworms (wtf), and a quirky score all in all. The dialogue is funny and enjoyable - emulating screwball comedies of the 30's but it falls a bit flat on the wittiness. I personally wish it could have gone into another direction, maybe more emphasis on the actual contest and the depression era. I think it would have made it a far more interesting story.
It's definitely worth the watch for the nice execution of many experimental ideas. The world Guy Maddin has created is really like nothing else. There are obvious silent film influences & effects. At some points of the film Isabella absolutely GLOWS and it's enchanting, much like you would see in F.W. Murnau's work. The entire look of the film is antiquated and feels many years old. It's mostly in grainy black and white but there are some scenes in gorgeous technicolor.
It's definitely an original and one of a kind experience. I applaud it for that.