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December 03, 2005

Cowards Bend at the Knees

Guy Maddin - 2003
Video/Performance Installation

Cowards Bend at the Knees is unusual, even in comparison with the other works of the idiosyncratic Guy Maddin. Although this silent film has been presented as a traditional narrative film, it has also been presented as an installation piece. Additionally, while the installation pieces have taken the motif of a peep show, no two installations are the same.

In my case, I was able to watch excerpts at the Miami Beach Cinematheque. A square area inside the cinematheque was blocked off on three sides with black plastic sheeting. Every few feet there were eye holes at different levels for viewing either standing or kneeling. The different viewing angles of course altered how much of the film was viewable, but also recreated the experience of viewing a movie through a kinetoscope or similar, hand cranked viewing device from the very early silent era. In addition to Maddin's film projected on the screen, the inner area included a nude performance by Julie Atlas Muz, with a partially dress actor and a manniquin. Muz, with a blonde wig of puffed up hair, looked somewhat like some of the women who have appeared in Maddin's pastiches of old movies. Because the performance moved around within the area, this meant the viewer would occassionally have to choose between viewing the performers or the film.

Given that the setting and situation was different than that for traditional passive viewing, I would not be able to discuss Cowards in the same way that I could discuss Maddin's other films. The biographical information in Senses of Cinema, plus naming the main character Guy Maddin, indicate autobiographical elements. Even as part of an installation, I am not certain if Maddin's intention is for the viewer to watch the entire narrative, or to view excerpts at will. In my own experience, a little bit of Maddin usually is best, which is why my favorite work of his is his short Heart of the World. Even though I am mixed about Maddin, viewing Cowards as an installation piece could not be passed up.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 3, 2005 10:36 PM


Hi, sounds like fun. me I am here in internet cafe and waiting for rain to stop. Today is king of thailands' birthday and most things were closed so I visited some of steve's friends with him. Wednesday back in bangkok. Lots of cool things going on with that. I may even be able to get a short into the bangkok experimental film festival. I have been accepted into some group of artists and I may move to a small apt in bangkok with about 50 of them in the building. lots more but paying by the minute so I will write later in more detail as things become clearer.
stuck in asia.

Posted by: lumena at December 5, 2005 11:45 AM