Sometimes I really don’t know enough about a movie before I start to watch it (but that’s not always a bad thing). Before watching The Saddest Music in the World (2004), I knew that it was about a legless brewery proprietress in Winnipeg* during the Great Depression who decides to host a contest to see which nation in the world can create the saddest music. What I didn’t know until the credits rolled was that this movie is a creation of Guy Maddin who also made Brand Upon the Brain! Fortunately, this movie was not as much of a mind-f–k as that Brand Upon the Brain!
Kind of the best way to sum up The Saddest Music in the World is to think of a combination of a vaudeville musical with a Louis Brunel surrealistic film crossed with Bob & Doug McKenzie’s Strange Brew. I think what caught me most off guard is that I don’t expect dream-like art films in soft-focus black & white to be so damn funny. The movie is full of great one-liners, many of which make it into the trailer.
Isabella Rosellini as beer baroness Lady Helen Port-Huntley gets the line the made me bellow out loud: “If you are sad and like beer, I’m your lady.” There’s also a great part where listeners in Prohibition America hear about the victorious musicians sliding into a vat of beer and being jealous. Rosellini is great as is Mark McKinney of Kids in the Hall fame portraying the producer of vulgar Broadway-style music numbers. The music in the movie is pretty good, and surprisingly not all that sad. I particularly like how the songs of competitors from different nations are merged together.
I don’t think this movie is for everyone, but I got a kick out of it.
* Unfortunately, the Weakerthans’ sad song about Winnipeg “One Great City” does not make it into the film, as appropos as that would be.