Many of us describe him as the Canadian David Lynch, or as I like to describe his work -- comedically Lynchian. But listening to his cinematic passions, it quickly becomes clear that his approach is more classic than strange. Maddin seems drawn to two very distinct aspects of old cinema -- what's left out of a film (whether it be art installations that remove dialogue from a film, or a distinct lack of sound effects), and more importantly, moments that are exacerbated to melodramatic extremes, what he calls "uninhibited truth." Surrealist cinema, Italian divas, over-acted silent films -- lumped with any of these, and Maddin's work almost seems -- I shudder to type -- normal.
In one case, a classic film that inspired him seems to have a direct link to one of his most fantastically strange screen moments. In 1920, Lon Chaney starred in The Penalty. As a young boy, his character suffers an accident, and a doctor decides that both of his legs must be immediately amputated to save his life. Unfortunately, another doctor arrives after and tells him he was flat-out wrong. The young boy overhears, but the adults don't believe his protestations. Scarred both literally and figuratively for life, the boy grows into a sinister mob leader desperate for revenge.
Fast-forward 83 years, and we get The Saddest Music in the World. Isabella Rossellini's Lady Port Huntley gets into an accident with Mark McKinney's Chester Kent. His father, Fyodor, is at the scene, and a terrible, drunken mistake leaves the Lady legless. However, in Maddin's universe, that doesn't culminate into sinister mob ways. The Lady becomes an iconic beer baroness and leader of the Saddest Music in the World competition. But ultimately and importantly, she is finally given a new set of limbs -- glass legs full of frothy goodness.
You'll have to rent Saddest yourself -- and you should -- but you can catch The Penalty at YouTube. The first part, which details the poor boy's unfortunate surgery, is below.