THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD directed by Guy Maddin, written by Maddin and George Toles from a screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro, produced by Jody Shapiro, Daniel Iron and Niv Fichman, with Mark McKinney, Isabella Rossellini, Maria de Medeiros, David Fox and Ross McMillan. 99 minutes. A TVA Films release. Opens Friday (April 30). For review, venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 87. Rating: NNNN
Guy Maddin stands on the threshold of greatness, but he'll be damned if he'll let anybody push him through the door. The Saddest Music In The World is Maddin's biggest film to date, sending him scuttling from Sundance to New York to London, dazzling crowds with his abject Canadian charm.
He's been the subject of a fat, vinegary profile in the Globe and Mail. He's a semi-regular contributor to both New York's Village Voice and the high-toned Cinema Scope magazine. You can't turn around without running into his high forehead. Maddin is so big now that they hate him in Winnipeg.
"It's an important stage," he jokes. "It's very hurtful, but it's a rite of passage, so I'm quite excited about it."
Sitting in the Drake Hotel as staff sweep up bits of last night's hipness, Maddin reflects on the film that's been the vehicle for his swelling fame and how he made it his own.
He and co-writer George Toles adapted a screenplay by British writer Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains Of The Day). All they kept from Ishiguro's version was the "strong premise" of a contest to win the title of world's saddest music.
"In his script, the people represent countries," Maddin says, "more specifically, Third World countries and the indignities they're forced into by the competitive nature of the 'alms race.'
Maddin and Toles took Ishiguro's geopolitical satire and made it personal.
"What I believe is that people manipulate each other in similar ways," he says, "that they use sympathy and passive aggression. They act out plights to get something. I thought it might be kinda fun to design a family melodrama that would sit in front of the backdrop that Ishiguro designed."
Craven emotional manipulation has always been close to Maddin's heart as a filmmaker.
"I feel like I came out of the womb so late, like at about age 10, that I've had to make up for wasted time," he admits. "I've just always been kinda scared of things, and I've made it a very long-term project of my adult years to just be normal."
He also admits that as a young man he "did what a lot of spineless boys do," seeking out "practice relationships." For him that meant "you always get chosen as opposed to choosing someone, and often the people who choose you in situations like that are really aggressive, or people who are attracted to the weakness they can sense in you. You get involved in unhealthy dynamics, which results in a lot of cowering."
It's the source of Maddin's growing gallery of heroic cowards.
"Since I always work in broad strokes in my movies," he says, "I feel like I'm dealing with masochistically comic material."