Twilight of the Ice Nymphs


This is the second installment of Guy Maddin’s production diary for The Saddest Music in the World. Click here for Part I. The movie premieres in New York at MOMA Gramercy March 4. It opens April 30.

DAY SIX: Held a meeting with Isabella Rossellini and Maria de Medeiros and we agreed our film desperately needs some silvery flash of skin, even as briefly glimpsed as a leaping brook trout, that will run against the lightless melancholic current and boost the boner quotient. The trouble is no one wants to be the nudie.

It’s not because my stars are shy. Isabella has made one of the most startling nude appearances ever, in Blue Velvet, and continues to romp for photographers with all or most of her birthday suit showing, and I feel I’ve known Maria for years after downloading from a really nifty website a binder full of her early artist’s model work. No, it’s because the abandoned ruin of a steel mill we’re using as a studio is absolutely unheatable in mid winter, and it’s 45 Celsius below all day long. All of our damned sets are in this place! We’ve got days of boudoir seductions to film, at temperatures that would have killed Amundsen! Some crew members have spoken of hypothermics who strip off all their clothes in delirious confusion just before expiring of frostbite. I fear this possibly mythic syndrome is my only hope of getting these girls to peel.

Sparing no effort to grant my actors their naturist wishes, I’ve had powerful propane heaters brought in. These screeching maws of hell blast out 15-foot torrents of pure flame, but at these surreally low temperatures might as well be the cheap lighting trick in a fake fireplace. I actually dipped my face into the business end of one of these belching furnaces, experiencing only a slight tickle before every precious calorie of our thermal investment shot straight up to the rafters, where it sustains in chirpy happiness a flock of colorful parakeets that escaped during rehearsal of the Burmese funeral march at lunch.

Our schedule is too tight for us to move our sets to warmer quarters—I feel all this nudity slipping between my fingers. Can it be done in post? Is it morally correct to remove an actress’s clothing using digital technology, especially if she gave her consent months earlier? My lawyer says yes. My mother says no. I’ll sleep on it!

DAY SEVEN: Turns out we can’t afford CGI anyway, but I think I can videotape Isabella and Maria nude in any old pile of bedding at their hotel, and project it onto a rear screen erected on the boudoir set. Leading man Mark McKinney, scripted to be fully dressed, will simply interact with the projected images. He will be standing up while pretending to be lying down—no sweat—and pawing away at his mistresses while their clothes, tugged off by invisible monofilament, fall away beneath his “touch.” Problem solved! Somewhere, I’ve got to find the energy to head up the second unit for tonight’s overtime shift at the Shady Plains Motor Hotel.

DAY EIGHT: Back to the drawing board. How can I clear up the misunderstanding that has left our shoot in tatters? How can I make good again with all the people who have been inexplicably irked in some fashion? The night clerk I don’t care about, but Isabella and Maria, and their agents? My stars are no-shows this morning. We can’t afford to waste another second! No time to brood! Bring on the Burmese funeral marchers!