Daily Archives: May 14, 2004

The Water Magician

Also known as White Threads of the Waterfall, this 1933 film by the sublime Kenji Mizoguchi is one of his two silent features to have survived intact. The plot concerns a female entertainer, whose act involves juggling jets of water, and her romantic relationship with a shy young man; years later the man has become a judge and presides over her trial for murder. A major reason why sound films came later to Japan than almost everywhere else was the figure of the benshithe explainer who acted out all the parts and added commentary of his own, and whose popularity was such that audiences often went to hear and see their favorite benshi rather than the film stars. 110 min. (JR)… Read more »

Cecil Taylor All The Notes

Any musician of Cecil Taylor’s caliber deserves sustained attention, but the jazz great doesn’t get it in this rambling assortment of alternating sound and music bites. Taylor is a nonstop pontificator of varying interest as well as a brilliant and virtuosic avant-garde pianist, but director Christopher Felver treats his music and his remarks as equally relevant, cutting between themor away to still photographsas if determined not to focus too long on any one thing. On piano Taylor employs an idiosyncratic technique, sometimes using his elbows as well as his fingers, and I’d hoped the camera angles would reveal this; apart from a brief shot behind the final credits, however, Felver shows almost everything except the keyboard. At least the other talking heads have things to say, including Elvin Jones, Amiri Baraka, Nathaniel Mackey, and Al Young. 71 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Butterfly

Much as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind can be traced back to Alain Resnais’ Je t’aime, je t’aime, this poetic South Korean SF feature by Moon Seung-wook (2001)set in the present and including the same theme of characters who seek memory lossis one of the many stepchildren of Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville. As in the earlier film, the sound periodically drops off, with a similarly chilling effect, but the sources of melancholy here seem less technological than ecological and psychological. It’s interesting that the movie’s butterfly tours, which expose patrons to the oblivion virus, are closely associated with the U.S. (all the TV ads are in American English), while the forced abortions of teenagers suffering from lead poisoning seem tied to the acid rainthe American legacy of the greenhouse effect. More impressionistic than scientific, this sad poem lingers. In English and subtitled Korean. 116 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Saddest Music In The World

From the Chicago Reader (May 14, 2004). This is probably my favorite Maddin feature to date. — J.R.



Mannerist film antiquarian Guy Maddin takes a bold step forward with this 2003 feature, a comic/melodramatic musical enhanced by his flair for expressionist studio shooting (in grainy black and white, with selected scenes in two-strip Technicolor). The project originated as a script by novelist Kazuo Ishiguro; revising extensively, Maddin and George Toles, his usual collaborator, turn it into an allegory about Canada’s colonial relationship with the U.S. In the depths of the Depression, a Winnipeg beer baroness (Isabella Rossellini) launches an international contest to come up with the saddest music in the world. Competing for the U.S. is her former lover (Mark McKinney), a brassy Broadway producer; for Serbia the producer’s older brother (Ross McMillan), who grieves for his dead son and vanished amnesiac wife (Maria de Madeiros); and for Canada both men’s father (David Fox), a surgeon who’s drunkenly amputated Rossellini’s legs. Not to be missed. 99 min. (JR)


thesaddestmusic-legRead more »


I can’t vouch for its fidelity to Homer, but this version of the Iliad, scripted by David Benioff (25th Hour) and directed by Wolfgang Petersen, is clearly more than a prequel to O Brother, Where Art Thou? It has plenty of visual sweep, fine action sequences, and, thanks especially to Brad Pitt (as Achilles) and Peter O’Toole (as King Priam), a deeper sense of character than one might expect from a sword-and-sandal epic (even if Pitt’s character has some of the beefcake accoutrements of Leonardo DiCaprio’s in Titanic). Far from lost among the zillions of extras are Eric Bana (Hector), Brian Cox (Agamemnon), Diane Kruger (Helen), Orlando Bloom (Paris), Sean Bean (Odysseus), Rose Byrne, and Julie Christie. R, 165 min. Burnham Plaza, Century 12 and CineArts 6, Chatham 14, Crown Village 18, Davis, Ford City, Gardens 1-6, Golf Glen, Lake, Lawndale, Lincoln Village, Norridge, River East 21, Village North, Webster Place.… Read more »


This appeared in the May 14, 2004 issue of the Chicago Reader, and occasioned one of the few thank-you notes I’ve received from a filmmaker for a review. I hope both Guy Maddin and those reading this will forgive me for immodestly reproducing his email: “Dear Jonathan: I usually try to avoid setting precedents that violate what should be a no-fly zone between critics and filmmakers, but I must say that your review of Saddest Music left me feeling understood at last!!! What a feeling. Thank you for supplying this euphoria. You also win bonus points for the Laura Riding discovery — I always liked her characters’ names. George Toles, who is terrified of reading reviews, will be thrilled to see his unsung name given its proper due. Not only that, you disabled Anthony Lane’s stinkbombs. A million thanks, Jonathan!!  Warmest, Guy“  – J.R.

The Saddest Music in the World

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Guy Maddin

Written by George Toles, Maddin, and Kazuo Ishiguro

With Mark McKinney, Isabella Rossellini, Maria de Medeiros,

David Fox, and Ross McMillan.

To Guy Maddin, every contemporary story that feels true is at bottom an amnesia story. — screenwriter George Toles

When all the archetypes burst out shamelessly, we plumb Homeric profundity.Read more »