[box cover]

The Saddest Music in the World

It must seem paradoxical to describe the recreation of antiquated cinema technology "original," yet Guy Maddin's attempts to recreate the visual aesthetics of the silent era (warts and all) can only be called innovative. A unique visionary, Maddin has long been questing to recreate the textures of cinema's earliest forays, with blurry black-and-white photography, often chaotic editing, and surreal montages. The Saddest Music in the World (2003) is his most commercial effort to date. Kids in the Hall alum Mark McKinney stars as Chester Kent, a would-be Broadway showman/hustler who's moved back to Canada at the dawn of the Great Depression. Keeping company with nymphomaniac Narcissa (Maria de Mederios), he returns home only to find a contest for him to enter — to find "the saddest music in the world." It's the $25,000 in prize money he wants, but Chester stumbles when the host of the contest turns out to be Lady Helen Port-Huntley (Isabella Rossellini), a woman with whom he used to be intimate. Their torrid history is rife with familial drama as Chester's father, Dr. Fyodor Kent (David Fox), was in love with Helen, but she fell for Chester, which led Fyodor to drink. And when Chester and Helen suffered an auto accident, Fyodor drunkenly amputated both of Helen's legs in an attempt to save her life. To make the contest more interesting, both father and son enter it, while Chester's brother Roderick (Ross McMillian) also becomes a contestant, though he's been hiding out in Serbia under the handle "Gravillo the Great" — he feels he can win because he's engulfed by the sadness of losing his child, which caused his wife to desert him. Working with Helen, Chester does well in the contest (his sad songs have lots of razzle-dazzle), but another cog is thrown in the mix when it's revealed Narcissa is Roderick's lost wife. Helen and Chester revive their old ways, if only because Chester wants to win. And Fyodor crafts glass legs for Helen to prove his love for her. Borrowing its flavor from silent melodramas, The Saddest Music in the World is a film best appreciated for its technical merits more than its mawkish plotting. In keeping with the period flavor, the story is obviously rife with coincidences; the best reason to watch the movie is to sample Maddin's lavishly recreated world of early cinema. The story is engaging enough, but the technical audacity is its greatest triumph. MGM presents the film in a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (though it probably should be in 1.0 mono). Extras include three short films, all running four minutes: "A Trip to the Orphanage" and "Sombra Dolorosa" seem made in tandem with the film, while "Sissy Boy Slap Party" is from 1995. There are two "making-of" spots, "Teardrops in the Snow" (26 min.) and "The Saddest Characters in the World" (22 min.), the former focusing on the making of the movie, the later focusing on the cast. Nine teasers, the theatrical trailer, and bonus trailers round out the set. Keep-case.

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