This is the final installment of Guy Maddin’s production diary for The Saddest Music in the World (opening April 30).
DAY 20 Been too sad to write the last few days. We’re all laid low as if by a plague of sadness. It all started on day 12 when sound man Russ Dyck perched himself on the lip of a beer vat with his furry boom to record the noises rising from tub bottom, where Isabella Rossellini was being stripped of her buffalo-hide panties by Mark McKinney amid a blizzard of eider feathers. Just as Mark slid the bison pelt into business position, a dying pigeon dropped from the rafters and landed on Isabella’s lap, where it warbled its last. The combination of this avian liebestod, the swirling duck down, and sundry buried traumas gave Russ a boner so sudden and violent that he burst into tears and fainted boom-mic-first onto the make-believe lovers, whom he drenched in his unconscious sobbings until we were able to haul the grief-wracked technician out.
Soon after, I noticed the Slovakians blubbering so heavily they could no longer practice their dirges. The Poles were weeping hard as well. At first I was pleased, since this Eastern European display of melancholy seemed to prove my film’s thesis that while North Americans bury their unhappiness in commodified popular distractions, Old World people unearth and exalt their sorrows openly though their art. But then I saw the Dixieland band slumped over with quivering lips, the Bolivian panpipers positively red-eyed, and I knew something was terribly wrong.
Even the children, hired to execute snow angels for a musical number, couldn’t be bothered to make their arms shoot out at the same time as their legs, and this tiny problem, of all things, completely crushed me. I collapsed into a snowbank and watched as those still capable of standing bent over the useless children and offered choreographic pointers to the supine depressives.
DAY 21 For this last day of shooting, all of us were bent painfully beneath our burdens of misery, with heterogeneous and incurable dolors. Isabella was paralyzed by the conviction that Ingrid Bergman faked her famous pregnancies and was not her real mother. And I couldn’t get past the shock of yesterday’s snow-grave realization that for the last 30 years I have been displacing all sexual urges onto the lake in front of my family cottage, and that only by drowning myself in those waters would I ever find the love my soul seeks. Luckily, we were filming some pretty pangy stuff—lots of on-camera lamentation. By the time we wrapped, we had watered the soil of our sets with garden hoses of eye water. Now, may the movie grow fecundly in post-production! And may it bloom up in great glistening blossoms of sadness for the viewer to pick from the screen—a nosegay of the sweetest tristesse for every customer!!
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 20, 2004