a seemingly random journey through cinema's heart of darkness. so to speak.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

My Own Jolly Corner

Today I am thinking of Guy Maddin's Cowards Bend the Knee (2004), a remarkably raw, ejaculation of psycho-sexualism and purely Canadian fixations from the famed retro-stylist, that most gonzo of irrepressible movie fanatics-turned-filmmakers. Made during his intimidating 2000-2004 period when he was finally crawling out from under the rockpile that is obscurity (but still not quite emerging), this picture offers up an agressive army of repressed folks acting out their melodramatic and insane delusions for an already baffled audience. Maddin tells of himself (Darcy Fehr, who either is the filmmaker or just really looks like him), re-imagined as a hockey player in what is most likely '20s Winnipeg. Very quickly, he gets tangled in a murder plot hatched by an Asian femme fatale (Melissa Dionisio), who is seeking revenge for the murder of her father; to really set this aflame, she asks a crooked doctor (Louis Negin) to sew her father's dismembered hands (stored, like the son's heart in The Saddest Music in the World, in a jar) onto Maddin's so the symbolism of the murders can be concrete. Karl Freund, at least the Freund of Mad Love, would have approved of the movie's jarring surgical gimmick, espcially since the doctor, in a fit of laziness, went and threw the father's hands in the garbage pail, opting to paint Maddin's hands so they only look like they've been replaced. Freud, too, would have approved, in his own wacky way - it's worth noting that immediately after the "surgery," there's a scene where Dionisio has Fehr rub the hands over her body, fooled, of course, into thinking the hands originated somewhere else. "But Hands Have Memories!" goes one of the intertitles.

Indeed, sexual images are prevalent -- Maddin Sr., the hockey announcer, is often seen stroking a single ice breast; Maddin more than once cuts to a close-up of an un-clad penis; and why is the doctor, presumably while doing a little gynecology, not wearing any clothes? (This to address the concept of Canadian repression.) About halfway through the 60-minute film, Maddin swipes from one of the great tricks of silent-through-'30s films: when Behr is about to pleasure a female using his balled-up hand, he cuts instead to a shot of a hand punching the mouth of a horn. That filmmakers ever dreamed of actually showing these acts, rather than finding ways to substitute for them, is a deeply felt shame in this corner.

Unlike the Maddins from this era - the 5-minuter Heart of the World; the features Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary and the previously alluded-to Saddest Music -- Cowards possesses few, if any, connections for mass audiences. Its original design, in fact, was as an installation piece, with the gimmick being that patrons had to watch it through peepholes while bent on their knee (hence the title). Ironically, it's his most streamlined -- that is, if you can follow its ADD-infused, almost Simpsons-esque larks. Piece together the shards strewn about by the frenetic cutting and there's an unnerving portrait of servitude, and an ending happy enough to let most of its characters continue living even while one of them now must play hockey without hands. That, and it would make for an enlightening quadruple feature with Zardoz, Irreversible and Demy's Lola in a night of films that feature Beethoven's 7th. Anyone know of any others that do that?

Don't you now wish you read Film Comment?


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