The Saddest Music in the World

Infobox Film
name = The Saddest Music in the World

amg_id = 1:293229
imdb_id = 0366996
writer = Original Story: Kazuo Ishiguro Screenplay: Guy Maddin George Toles
starring = Isabella Rossellini
Mark McKinney
Maria de Medeiros
David Fox
Ross McMillan
music = Christopher Dedrick
caption = "Tagline: If you're sad, and like beer, I'm your lady"
director = Guy Maddin
producer = Niv Fichman
Daniel Iron
Jody Shapiro
Executive Producer Atom Egoyan
distributor = IFC Films (US theatrical)
MGM (North America DVD)
released =
runtime = 99 min.
language = English
budget = CAD $3.5 million (estimated)

"The Saddest Music in the World" is a 2003 Canadian film directed by Guy Maddin. It stars Mark McKinney, Isabella Rossellini, Maria de Medeiros, David Fox and Ross McMillan.

Set in Winnipeg, Manitoba during the Great Depression, it is a comic musical about a competition announced by a beer magnate to find the saddest piece of music in the world.

Musicians from across the world come to Winnipeg to try their luck in the competition, but the contest eventually boils down to a battle within one family: a patriotic Canadian father and his expatriate sons, one of whom represents the United States, the other Serbia.


Like most of Maddin's films, "Saddest Music" is filmed in a style that imitates late 1920s and early 1930s cinema, with grainy black and white photography, slightly out-of-sync sound and expressionist art design.

A few scenes are filmed in colour, in a manner that imitates early two-strip Technicolor.

Guy Maddin and co-writer George Toles completely rewrote the original screenplay by Booker Prize winning author Kazuo Ishiguro. Ishiguro had set his story in a more recognizable 1980s London. Before Maddin's involvement, Atom Egoyan was at one time signed to direct from Ishiguro's original screenplay.


During the Great depression in 1933 in Winnipeg, Canada, an old fortune teller is predicting the future for arrogant Chester Kent (Mark McKinney), a failing Broadway producer, and his nymphomaniac amnesiac girlfriend Narcissa (Maria de Medeiros). The fortune teller predicts doom, but Chester laughs it off, and rides a train into Winnipeg.The baroness Lady Helen Port-Huntley (Isabella Rossellini) announces a competition to find the saddest music in the world; she hopes that the competition will raise the sales of her beer, especially since Prohibition is about to fall. Chester decides to enter the contest representing America. It emerges that Lady Port-Huntley, who has no legs, was once Chester's lover; and saying that "of all the people in the world, you know the least about grief," she orders him to try to make her cry by retelling how she lost her legs. It emerges that his dad Fyodor Kent (David Fox) was also in love with her. Since she preferred Chester, Fyodor became an alcoholic. One day as they were driving as Helen preforms oral sex on Chester, they accidentally crashed into Fyodor's car, and Helen's left leg was trapped in the wreckage. A drunken Fyodor, determined to save and marry his beloved, amputates her leg but removes the wrong one accidentally. In the present, Lady Port-Huntley tells Chester he can try, but she doesn't think he'll succeed.

Musicians are streaming into Winnipeg, including Roderick Kent (Ross McMillan), representing Serbia. Roderick is swathed in mourning and hypochondria, because his young son died (he carries the child's heart in a jar, preserved with the tears shed by his guilt) and his wife is missing. As soon as he arrives, he and Chester begin grating on each other. A sober Fyodor also reveals that because of his tragic mistake, he has been making prosthetic legs for Helen. She's allergic to metal and leather, so he uses glass ones, and fills them with her brand of beer.

The contest begins, with various countries pitted against each other. Fyodor's melodramatic piano ballad is soon defeated, but Chester's glitzy "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" act wins over the audience. Unfortunately Roderick sees Narcissa singing from a swinging seat, and collapses in horror realizing it's his wife singing. Roderick manages to do his act, and defeats everyone with his heartbreaking cello music. After, Roderick gives his father's glass legs to Lady Port-Huntley, who is able to walk for the first time in years. Overjoyed, she reunites with Chester and constantly sleeps with him, but when Fyodor begs her for forgiveness, she refuses to give it. Shattered, Fyodor returns to drinking, and on falls through the glass ceiling into a pool of beer and dies.

Meanwhile, Roderick has reunited with his wife. But since Narcissa doesn't remember him or their son, she simply regards him as a one-night stand, and sings a tragic love song as if it were a showtune. Roderick's heart-in-a-jar falls from a window and shatters.Roderick becomes determined to crush his heartless brother, and plays his most plaintive music ever, while Chester manipulates the audience with his positive showtunes, often buying out other countries he's defeated in the contest to "join America" in his performance. Soon the brothers are the only ones left in the competition, and Lady Port-Huntley -- with her glass legs -- is part of Chester's final act. But a few jagged notes from Roderick's cello are enough to spring leaks in the glass, and the legs collapse. Horrified and humiliated, she orders her gigolo to carry her back to her office.

Roderick plays his most tragic piece, and Narcissa sings sadly to it as her memories return. Chester goes to comfort Helen, but she stabs him with a giant piece of glass from her shattered legs. The bleeding Chester staggers out smoking a cigar, dropping a match in a puddle of spilled beer. Soon the entire building is going up in flames. Helen is carried out by Teddy, and Roderick and Narcissa escape, embracing each other. Chester staggers to a piano and plays Narcissa's ballad -- the saddest music in the world as he burns in the fire.


*Chester Kent: A sociopathic Broadway producer, he proudly announces that he's never cried, has no pity and has no shame about anything in his life. Chester describes sadness as "happiness turned on its ass. It's all showbiz!" He considers himself the epitome of an "American" and makes large bombastic production numbers. Years ago he was Lady Port-Huntley's lover when she was a dancer, but is currently having an affair with a nymphomaniac amnesiac named Narcissa.

* Lady Helen Port-Huntley: A strong-willed beer baroness, who wears exotic makeup, a platinum blonde wig, and opulent clothing. Both of her legs were amputated in mid-thigh, which made her bitter and angry. She wheels herself around on a little furry dolly, with a pair of sticks to steer herself. Lady Port-Huntley dedicates her life to making "obscene amounts of money," and has loveless sex with her servant Teddy.

*Roderick Kent: Chester's morbid, guilt-ridden brother. Roderick is a hypochondriac, who can't stand noise or bright light, and hates to be touched by anyone but Narcissa. He wears an enormous hat and veil, which he doesn't remove even when playing the cello. Roderick went to Serbia and married the beautiful Narcissa. They had one child who died at a young age. Roderick blames himself for the boy's death, and carries his heart around in a jar preserved with his own tears. Roderick enters Lady Port-Huntley's contest in the name of Serbia.

*Fyodor Kent: Fyodor is a former doctor, bus driver, and a lifelong music-lover, as well as a patriotic veteran of World War I (he wears his Lieutenant's uniform for a performance). Fyodor is the father of Roderick and Chester. As his wife has died when the boys were young, he became an alcoholic. Fyodor is madly in love with Lady Port-Huntley. When trying to save her from a horrible car accident, he accidentally cuts off her leg in a drunken state. Fyodor enters the contest in the name of Canada.

* Narcissa: An amnesiac nymphomaniac from Serbia, she married Roderick some years ago, and the two had one child. But when her boy died, Narcissa's memory slowly vanished until she wandered away, unable to remember anything but her name. Narcissa eventually got involved with Chester Kent, she claims to have a tape worm inside her that gives her advice.

*Teddy: Helen's hired sex toy. Teddy is a handsome young man who has a wife and two children but because of the Great Depression, he has to have sex with Helen whenever she wants, to keep his job. Teddy is deeply ashamed and miserable about this, and does his duties without any signs of enjoyment.

*Medicine Man: A wizened old blind man, wearing an antlered hat and living in an igloo. He tells Chester his fortune but is laughed at when he predicts potential doom. Chester also seems to believe the medicine man is an old Gypsy woman.

Awards and nominations

Directors Guild of Canada:
*Win: Outstanding Achievement in Production Design, Feature Film - Matthew Davies
*Nominated: Outstanding Achievement in Direction, Feature Film - Guy Maddin
*Nominated: Outstanding Achievement in Picture Editing, Feature Film - David Wharnsby

Genie Awards
*Win: Best Achievement in Costume Design - Meg McMillan
*Win: Best Achievement in Editing - David Wharnsby
*Win: Best Achievement in Music, Original Score - Christopher Dedrick
*Nominated: Best Achievement in Direction - Guy Maddin

U.S. Comedy Arts Festival
*Win: Film Discovery Jury Award, Best Director - Guy Maddin

External links

* [ Maddin's production diary for "The Saddest Music in the World"]

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