The Saddest Music In The World: A Surreal Melodrama

2236 words - 9 pages

Canadian filmmaker and cinephile, Guy Maddin once said, “I do feel a bit like Dracula in Winnipeg. I’m safe, but can travel abroad and suck up all sorts of ideas from other filmmakers… Then I can come back here and hoard these tropes and cinematic devices.” Here, Maddin addresses his filmmaking saying that he takes aspects from different film styles and appropriates them into his own work. In The Saddest Music in the World (2003), Maddin uses a combination of French Surrealist filmmaking and classical American Hollywood cinema, specifically melodrama, to create his own style. In an article by William Beard, Steven Shaviro talks about Maddin’s filmmaking, and he links Surrealism and melodrama together saying, “Maddin’s films are driven by a tension between romantic excess [melodrama] on the one hand and absurdist humour [Surrealism] on the other.” In regards to The Saddest Music in the World, the relationship between Surrealism and melodrama is not one of tension, as Shaviro suggests, but one of cooperation. This paper will analyze two films by filmmakers Maddin was familiar with —Un Chien Andalou (1929) by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali on the Surrealist side, and All That Heaven Allows (1955) by Douglas Sirk on the melodrama side—to showcase the important elements of each, concluding with an analysis of The Saddest Music in the World in conjunction with both film styles. Ultimately, it will be shown how Guy Maddin combines French Surrealist cinema and Hollywood melodrama in The Saddest Music in the World, to create his own unique film style.
Un Chien Andalou (1929) by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali is the quintessential Surrealist film, including shocking imagery, non-linear time, black humour, oddities and a specific editing style. Surrealism is a film style created to attack the audience’s expectations, although this film begins like a Hollywood film with opening credits. Next, a title appears saying “Once upon a time” directing the viewer to believe that this film will be linear with a beginning, middle and end. This is false, beginning with the shocking image of the man slicing the woman’s eye open with a razor, an image meant to disturb, and assault the viewer’s ideas of film. Another way Surrealism plays with the viewer’s preconceived notice of film is through the destruction of chronological time exemplified in the titles. For example, at the end of the film “In Spring” is displayed, followed by a black humour image. Black humour is another Surrealist element, and at the end of the film, the man and woman are seen as corpses buried in the sand. Right before the title, the couple was frolicking happily on the beach, and now they are dead, which plays with chronological time and expectations. Another important aspect of Surrealist filmmaking is what will be referred to here as oddities. Essentially oddities are instances that are unusual and unexpected, like the ants crawling out of the man’s hand. All these film elements are important,...

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