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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