Cowards Bend The Knee, Or The Blue Hands

  • 2003
  • 1 HR 03 MIN
  • NR
  • Comedy, Crime, Drama

Winnipeg auteur Guy Maddin created this hysterically overheated silent film as a museum installation to be viewed through a series of 10 consecutive peepholes, all situated below eye level, requiring viewers to bend their knees (much like the cowards of the title) to view the segments of a "10-part penny dreadful." Oddly, once removed from the museum setting...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Winnipeg auteur Guy Maddin created this hysterically overheated silent film as a museum installation to be viewed through a series of 10 consecutive peepholes, all situated below eye level, requiring viewers to bend their knees (much like the cowards of the title) to view the segments of a "10-part penny dreadful." Oddly, once removed from the museum setting and strung together into an hourlong feature, it's Maddin's most cohesive narrative. The setting is a glob of ejaculate, placed under a doctor's microscope; but instead of countless squiggling sperm, the lens reveals the lusty men of the Winnipeg Maroons hockey team and their rover, Guy Maddin (Darcy Fehr). After suffering two serious blows to the head during a game, Guy decides that the only solution to his girlfriend Veronica's (Amy Stewart) pregnancy is a late-night trip to the Black Silhouette Salon, a beauty shop run by the platinum-tressed temptress Liliom (Tara Birtwhistle) that also serves as a bordello and an abortion clinic. Midway through Veronica's procedure — performed by the Maroons' medic, Dr. Fusi (Louis Negin) — craven Guy allows himself to be lured away from his beloved's side by Liliom's daughter, Meta (Melissa Dionisio). A bewitching beautician in the grips of a crazed Electra complex, Meta is convinced that Liliom and her lover, Maroons coach Shaky (David Stuart Evans), murdered Meta's father (Henry Mogatas). But in a complication right out of a Tod Browning shocker, Meta refuses to allow Guy to touch her unless he first agrees to have the preserved hands of her slain father — once a hairdresser at the Silhouette, where the hair dye turned his hands blue — sewn on in place of his own. Guy must then murder Liliom. Dr. Fusi agrees to perform the surgery, but a serious complication arises when Veronica, who died as a result of the botched abortion, returns from the dead to haunt Guy and woo his father (Victor Cowie), the Maroons' announcer. As insane as it all sounds, Maddin claims that this is an autobiographical account, albeit one ghostwritten by Euripides. Indeed, most of Maddin's usual preoccupations are in evidence — guilt, incest, sexual obsession, voyeurism, early cinema and Maddin's greatest love, hockey — and as luridly entertaining as ever. Also on the bill: the Quay Brothers' "Phantom Museum," a beautifully eerie tour of Sir Henry Wellcome's extraordinary wonder cabinet of medical curiosa; and two Maddin short-shorts. "Sombra Dolorosa" is a crazed, seven-minute quickie shot in something called "Maxi-Mexi-Melancolour," and "Sissy-Boy Slap Party" serves as a hilarious red-cheeked homage to the all-male beefcake loops of the '50s and '60s. The title says it all.

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