> Volume 6 > Number 17


Guy Maddin

Darcy Fehr
Melissa Dionisio
Amy Stewart
Tara Birtwhistle
Louis Negin
Mike Bell
David Stuart Evans
Henry Mogatas

Release: N/A

Cowards Bend the Knee


Sandwiched in between his successful hired gun project, Dracula: Pages from a Virginís Diary, and his upcoming Kazuo Ishiguro project, The Saddest Music in the World, Guy Maddinís Cowards Bend the Knee is the first feature from the amazingly talented and prolific postmodernist that strikes the same cord as The Heart of the World, his 6-minute opus to love and Kino. Cowards Bend the Knee, built around ten segments of approximately 6 minutes each, is like sitting through many performances of The Heart of the World spliced together. For anyone like me who has bought tickets to screenings of festival films just to watch Heart play at the beginning, this film could be one of the most satisfying achievements from Maddin.

Like Dracula, Cowards Bend the Knee was created in its current incarnation by the interests of others who hired Maddin to fill a particular position. In this case, it was the spot in an art exhibit, in which he could do some Janet Cardiff-style film showcase. Considering his own history of creating peepholes into the worlds of those heís close to (a possible reason for his extensive use of irises in nearly all his films), the exhibition of his 10 parts would be built around looking through 10 tiny peepholes where the film would be projected.

Keeping this in mind, the sexual rawness of Cowards Bend the Knee seems obvious. If the spectators are meant to be looking through a device forever connected to horny teenagers and lonely motel owners, the images seen should be lurid and off-putting for the everyday person. Indeed, the imagery found in Maddinís film are quite surprising at times, especially framed around Maddinís requisite faux silent-era filmmaking style. This is a film in which the protagonist, named Guy Maddin (Fehr), is caught poking the anus of his showering teammate whoís dropped the soap. Itís an absurd visual, but one that is predicated on the ideas behind Maddinís entire film, which deals with cowardly masculinity and the sexual urges of man turning into irrational actions.

Set in a reality literally under a microscope (Maddin establishes that all the events unfold in a single sperm), the director deals with his own background, often in increasingly disturbing ways. The salon run by his mother and aunt has now become a makeshift abortion clinic with two-way mirrors so patients can watch a woman get a perm during the operation. The hockey team his father once did color commentary for is now a madcap troupe of failures, all attempting to coalesce their own lacking masculinity in a sport built around male dominance over other men. The proxies for his parents arenít treated any better: his mother (playing herself) sits in a room as her granddaughter seduces Guy, forced to listen (which we cannot do -- the film is silent) but not see their coitus, and his father attempts to steal Guyís girlfriend.

Cowards Bend the Knee has a story -- which involves incest and murder, femmes fatales and severed hands -- bringing all these elements together, but completely describing them would undervalue their absurd richness. Maddinís film, likely his most personal to date, is unquestionably his best feature. His style, as always, is amazingly realizing, but this time heís saying volumes about himself and his gender through his sensationalistís lens. This ode to a voyeur may not be the most accessible film of the year, but it could be the best

©2004, David L. Blaylock,, 23 April 2004