At the movies with Zombie Gene Siskel

I’ve been unhappy. I admit it. I just don’t feel satisfied withwhat I’m doing. At first it was a thrill, you know, free-for-allslaughtering zombie-style. But then the magic just sort ofdisappeared. One day I’m gleefully disemboweling soccer moms,middle-class gore dripping off my chin, and the next I can barelybring myself to tear the heart out of a drunk sorority girl. Shewasn’t even moving. It was a free lunch and I just left it lyingthere. It just didn’t seem worth the effort.

In the past, when I was a living, breathing movie critic and Ifelt myself getting a little down, I had some sure fire ways toturn things around. Sometimes, if I was real low, I’d pick up ahooker and make her dress up like Gene Wilder, other times I’d callTipper Gore and play NWA into the receiver just to hear hercry.

But the one thing that always made feel good was seeing sadmovies. It made the sadness communal. It reminded me I wasn’t theonly one who got down in the dumps sometimes.

Since I was feeling so gloomy this morning, I figured I’d tryout some old tricks. Seeing as there’s no way a zombie ridingTri-Met is going to get a hooker without going all the way out toHillsboro, I decided to try out a sad movie. The obvious choice fora tear-jerker seemed like “The Saddest Music In The World” byCanadian Guy Maddin. But golly, was I surprised. The film wasn’tsad at all. It was fucked up, brilliant and funny in a way, but notsad.

Maddin, who also directed the haunting “Tales from theGimli Hospital,” has made his name not by making movies merelyinfluenced by the silent-era German filmmakers, but by makingmovies that replicate them almost perfectly. In “Saddest Music,”Maddin’s formula of grainy footage, stilted performances andstylistically bold film effects creates a world as closely relatedto David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” as it is to D.W. Griffith. And itworks like a champ.

The film, set in depression-era Winnipeg, centers around aglobal contest sponsored by wealthy beer baroness Lady Port-Huntley(portrayed by a manic and sadistic Isabella Rossellini), the onlyperson prospering from the world’s desire to drown its sorrows. Sheoffers $25,000 to whatever musician plays her the saddest song fromtheir home country, a contest resulting in musical battles thedramatic magnitude of which hasn’t been seen since “8 Mile.”

Coinciding with her contest is the Winnipeg homecoming of twobrothers, each having adopted a new country to call his motherland.Chester (played with smarmy genius by “Kids In The Hall” alumnusMark McKinney) is now a failed, fast-talking New York producerwhile Roderick (Ross McMillan) is a wild-eyed Serb, lamenting thedeath of his son and searching for his missing wife. Throw in adrunk ex-army doctor as their father, a double amputation, a coupleof smart-mouthed contest announcers, a pool of beer and a pair ofglass legs and you still haven’t begun to scratch the surface ofMaddin’s jumbled world.

“The Saddest Music In The World” is one of those rarefilms in which the director’s heavy-handed aesthetic quirks work toaccentuate a compelling screenplay instead of merely overwhelmingit. While the Lynch comparisons are valid, Maddin makes a completefilm without relying on open-ended symbolism or obtuse creepinessto keep the viewer interested, a lesson Lynch could use onoccasion.

And while I didn’t find the empathy and solace I was looking forin “The Saddest Music In the World,” its brilliant and strangelyaffirming execution did give me a boost. After the film, I went outand finished off an entire troupe of Scottish folk dancers beforeretiring to my home below the Lloyd Center, center of the city. Mylife may be sad, but at least I went to sleep reminded it has itssurreal moments, too.