Best short film ever: The Heart of the World

My freshman year in college, my adviser encouraged me to take a film class instead of french literature because I needed to do something “fun.”  So I signed up for the gateway course into the film major, which was a history of cinema to 1945.  Joke was on that adviser, because film studies turned out to be one of the most selective, competitive majors in the school, and my “fun” class was a crapton of “work.”  But I was introduced to films like Journey to the Moon and Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and M. and Golddiggers of 1933, and we learned to take them apart an examine how, exactly, they told their stories.  I was hooked, and I ended up majoring in film.

I first learned about Guy Maddin in another film class.  The professor introduced his feature film “Careful,” by showing us his short “The Heart of the World.”  Afterwards, she confessed that she thought that, really, this was his finest film.  Heart of the World is a mesmerizing, impossibly concentrated piece of work.  In six minutes Maddin fits in sibling rivalry, a beautiful scientist, a lusty industrialist, the end of the world, and its salvation.  Instead of simply riffing on the strangeness of early cinema, not to mention the dream-like feeling of watching a partially decayed print, Maddin uses those things, plus manic, breakneck cutting which I associate as much with action movie trailers as I do with Eisenstein, to create a film that is not only strange and arresting but profoundly urgent.  I have watched this film more times than I can count, and I still spot something new, even on crappy youtube quality.  It may be a sin to see this via the old youtubery for the first time, but, hey, that’s what the internet is for.  Sin


  1. says

    Thanks for this! I loved The Saddest Music in the World but most of the people I’ve tried to turn on to it have been less than thrilled–it’s “too artsy” for some and “too silly” for others. Maddin’s balancing of humor with tragedy is really what struck me about that film; well, that and his Blue Angel sensibilities.

    Research time. The Saddest Music in the World is, from once source, Maddin’s most accessible film? I wonder how it relates to his other work, and how much impact Kazuo Ishiguro’s original screenplay had on the finished product. I have yet to check out any of his other films, although my Local just got Brand on the Brain, so I’ll watch that sometime soon–but this puppy’s going on when I get off work and can give it the attention it deserves. Again, thanks!

  2. Meghan McCarron says

    Hey Jesse —

    Saddest Music did feel much more accessible than, say, Tales from Gimli Hospital, or even Careful. There’s more of a narrative, for one. I actually, bizarrely, got the chance to see it premiere at Sundance, so I think that heightened the experience as well. I liked it a little less the next time I saw it. I have not seen Brand Upon the Brain yet! Wish I had seen it in theaters, now stuck with netflix, alas.