Monday, May 22, 2006

Cowards Bend the Knee (Maddin, 2003)

Originally produced as a part of an art installation and viewed in ten separate peephole booths, Cowards Bend the Knee is, appropriately enough, the most overtly sexual Guy Maddin film that I have seen to date. It might also be his best, at least as far as his full-length features are concerned. The ten chapters have now been put together on DVD and, along with his earlier ballet work, Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary, make a compelling argument that Maddin is at his very best when he is freed entirely from spoken dialogue. A strange tale of treachery, paranoia, sex and ice hockey, Cowards centers on a man who is also called Guy Maddin, revealing the deeply personal nature of the events played out underneath a thin mask of absurdity. For reasons too complex to explain in brief, Guy is tricked into believing that his hands have been removed and replaced with those of a dead man. With this mistaken belief, he allows his hands to commit acts of both violence and sexuality, all the while seeming to believe he is driven by a force beyond his control. At just over an hour, Cowards is a perfect blend of all the best elements of Maddin: his remarkable editing techniques, his mastery of silent film conventions, his disarming kinkiness and his tendency to mix campy humor with a dash of grand guignol. I particularly enjoy the way Maddin takes snippets of an actor's performance or even a simple cutaway and uses repetition to convey the raw essence of a moment in a way that reaches beyond what we normally think of as language. Maddin’s film might be too arty even for the arthouse; however, it is evidence of a deeply gifted filmmaker who has learned great lessons from his past experiments and is now capable of creating powerful artistic visions that, to my knowledge, do not resemble the work of any other contemporary filmmaker in the slightest.


NOTE: Be sure to listen to Maddin’s audio commentary which is both thoroughly insightful and intimate.


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