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Cowards Bend the Knee

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Adapted from a ten-part peephole installation, COWARDS BEND THE KNEE is jam-packed with enough kinetically photographed action to seem like a never-ending cliffhanger...In this twisted and poisoned wish-fulfillment, director Guy Maddin (THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD) casts 'himself' (actually, Darcy Fehr) as a hockey sniper made lily-livered by mother and daughter femme fatales, and resurrects his father as as the team's radio broadcaster and his own romantic antagonist. Set in a shadow-suffused hockey arena and a Mabuse-like beauty salon-slash-abortion clinic, the plot drips with Grecian formula, as sordid family secrets spawn unintentional murder most foul. This Special Edition features six new short films by Maddin created especially for this DVD release.

Originally designed as a peep-hole installation for an art gallery, Guy Maddin's Cowards Bend the Knee represents another entrancing work from the Canadian surrealist's fecund imagination. Shot in black and white and altered to look dated, the silent film progresses through ten episodes punctuated by witty interstitial titles. Allegedly it's Maddin's most "autobiographical" work, concerning the erotic fixations of members of a Winnipeg hockey team and the employees of a beauty salon/abortion clinic in the 1930s. Darcy Fehr plays "Guy Maddin," a hockey player who falls for the beautiful Meta (Melissa Dionisio) and her mother Lilliom (Tara Birtwhistle). Meta won't let Guy consummate their passion until a doctor (Louis Negin) grafts Meta's dead father's hands onto Guy's arms. From this deliciously bizarre set up spins a tale of murder and deceit, a ghost undergoing an abortion, and a wax museum in the rafters of the hockey stadium. As with Maddin's previous work, there is considerable angst driving these sexual entanglements, with wry humor cropping up in the most unexpected places. Perhaps given its genesis as a gallery installation, the film feels considerably faster paced than Maddin's recent feature length work, more in line with his madcap short "The Heart of the World." While the Canadian auteur often gets compared to David Lynch (much like any vaguely surreal writer gets compared to Kafka), such comparisons should stop here. His inspiration taps a well far deeper than Eraserhead, drawing on both the origin of cinema and the origin of consciousness.

The extra features on the DVD include a glimpse at The Brand Upon the Brain, an upcoming feature-length project Maddin shot in Puget Sound. The DVD also allows one to view the film as a whole, or as individual episodes. Liner notes are typically not worth mentioning, but the ones included with this edition include some intriguing statements by Maddin, which should only help further the mystique surrounding this singular creator. --Ryan Boudinot

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Darcy Fehr, Melissa Dionisio, Amy Stewart
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, Full Screen, NTSC, Silent, Subtitled
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Zeitgeist Films
  • DVD Release Date: September 20, 2005
  • Run Time: 64 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000AA4HG8
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #142,528 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Cowards Bend the Knee" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By PolarisDiB on December 7, 2005
Format: DVD
Understand that I'm getting a bit tired of people comparing every strange movie that comes along to a David Lynch film too. Unfortunately, Lynch is the norm and just about one of the most accessible strange filmmakers out there, so sometimes the comparison is needed for a starting point, like in this case.

This movie is, roughly speaking, the story of a swinging hockey player who gets entrapped in a bunch of relationships, including most prominently one with a scarred daughter who wants her father's death revenged. Her father's killer? Her mother. It includes but is not limited to perverse sexuality, weird psychoses, and severed arms.

It's shot in black and white and is a silent film, which creates for it a sort of removed surreality/abstractness which is, honestly, reminiscent of Eraserhead and Lynch's Lumiere and Company short.

What makes it Maddin's, though, is the use of imagery from his childhood (the barbershop, the hockey players, etc.) set to a blatant sexuality which goes beyond just being blatant but enforces it: you see the sexual image, and then the words follow saying exactly what you were thinking. No more subtlety and deranged fetishes, this is straight-forward Freud and primal scene.

Because of this, this film as a whole remains true to itself and never lets go of its own private Universe, one that we could never live in and yet, terribly, can relate to, figure out, and eventually even understand.

Beyond that, there's not much that can be talked about this movie besides the fact that it there's no common approach to it. It has no genre (besides maybe Silent film) and is disconcerting, requiring a certain level of viewer interaction that most movies don't ask for. For fans of strange and insane cinema, it's great; for anybody looking to be entertained, this is most definitely not for you.

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Muzzlehatch VINE VOICE on November 24, 2009
Format: DVD
This struck me from the first when I originally saw it in 2007, as I'm sure it will many people, as possibly Maddin's most personal - and subversive - film to date. That title may now belong to MY WINNIPEG, but consider: COWARDS is his first solo-written screenplay in over a decade; he acts as his own cinematographer here; the main character is called Guy Maddin, plays hockey on the Winnipeg Maroons (fictional, though there was a minor-league baseball team by that name decades ago) and much of the action revolves around a hair salon - Maddin's mother was a hair stylist. Still, unless Maddin is hiding some awfully creepy and weird secrets, the film's descent into really far-out madness and murder is probably not entirely lifted from life - at least, one would hope not! You see, Maddin (Darcy Fehr) has a girlfriend, Veronica (Amy Stewart) who he's knocked up. The hair salon doubles as a brothel and abortion clinic/hospital and the two take a visit there. As things go horribly wrong on the operating table presided over by creepy Dr. Fusi (Louis Negin), Maddin meets the eye the salon owner's daughter, Meta (Melissa Dionisio) and is instantly drawn into a fatal seduction.

Stop a moment. Re-read that: Maddin and Meta meet in the operating room as his girlfriend is getting an abortion. That weird enough for ya? How about Veronica dragging herself bloody out of the operating room and dying in the come back later and romance Maddin's father? How about Maddin getting drawn into a revenge scheme of Meta's to kill her mother, who with Maddin's captain on the hockey team has been having an affair and killed her father?
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By N. K. Presley on December 12, 2007
Format: DVD
I agree with much of the last review, especially on the point of Lynch, but the last viewer had a couple things wrong that I would like to clear up. Though Maddin takes some clear liberties, the film can more easily be classified as a melodrama than one at first thinks. The points of sorrow, and coincidence are overly exaggerated and all human emotion is exploded onto the screen. Maddin's films are very typical of this extreme irony, especially Saddest Music in the World. One thing that most people don't know about this film is that it was originally designed as a ten part video installation, not a short film. If you view it as such, and try to look at it as you would other visual arts, and not film, I think that you will enjoy it a lot more and truly get a sense of the avant-garde flavor this film has to offer.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By mr. contrarian on May 9, 2013
Format: DVD
I gave this director's next film "The Saddest Music In The World" 5 stars but would give this one a turkey, grenade, or a cow patty if Amazon offered one. I would bet my life no written script exists. A class of film or art students just threw on whatever costumes the school had and cranked up the super 8. "Everybody pretend a hockey game injury, then a fake hand transplant, then pose like wax dummies. I'll come up with random title cards later." Even the vintage music is slapped on with no artistic sensibility whatsoever.
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