Seen at the Movies:

Canadian director Guy Maddin has made a one-of-a-kind career filming hallucinatory evocations of movie history, such as his award-winning short The Heart of the World and the recent Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary. His latest feature, The Saddest Music in the World, continues the eccentric tradition in style. The story, based on an original screenplay by Remains of the Day author Kazuo Ishiguro, is of a competition in Depression-era Winnipeg to determine the titular saddest music in the world. The contest is sponsored by legless beer baroness Isabella Rossellini, who is also coping with ex-lover Mark McKinney, a down-on-his-luck Broadway impresario who has returned to town with amnesiac girlfriend Maria de Medeiros.

The Saddest Music in the World: IFC Films

As the contestants and romantic intrigue mount, we are treated to the weird spectacle of female Scottish bagpipers, Mexican-Siamese standoffs, and dirges from a tipped-over upright piano; the winners of each round are tipped into a vat of beer. All of this, including forced-perspective exteriors created by production designer Matthew Davies, was shot in a huge Winnipeg bridge works factory that for verisimilitude’s sake was not heated. Fortunately, costume designer Meg McMillan provided the actors with lots of woolens and furs, as well as supplying Rossellini with beer-filled glass legs. The whole thing is captured in Maddin’s trademark visual style by DP Luc Montpellier, who uses black-and-white stock, color filters, and iris lenses to give a glamorously decayed, swathed-in-vaseline look to the images.

Moving from the sublimely ridiculous to the merely ridiculous, Nick Hamm’s Godsend takes on the hot-button topic of cloning and proceeds to squander it with cheap horror-movie theatrics. Greg Kinnear and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos play a couple who lose their eight-year-old son (a seriously creepy-looking Cameron Bright) in an accident, and in their grief assent to a cloning experiment proposed by devilish doctor Robert De Niro. Cut to eight years later, when the new Adam starts to experience nightmares and personality changes after reaching the age at which his predecessor ceased to exist. Or rather, don’t cut to eight years later: walk out when you get the chance. The Canadian-shot production is given a moody though somewhat dreary look by DP Kramer Morgenthau. Production design is by Doug Kraner, and costume design Suzanne McCabe. Hamm is former resident director of the Royal Shakespeare Company; is this what he left the theatre for? —John Calhoun

Godsend Photo: Lion’s Gate Films

Seen on Broadway: The first thing one notices when walking into Studio 54 to take in Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins is Robert Brill’s striking and stark set of a carnival side show’s shooting gallery that is apparently located below an old wooden roller coaster. Assassin presents an unusual commingling of presidential killers and those who failed at the effort. It’s almost like a macabre version of Putting it Together, this time featuring killers and wannabes instead of cocktail party guests. The silhouettes shaped like the intended victims reminds the audience that this is really serious subject matter we’re witnessing onstage. However, such grim realities are offset by the shooting gallery’s “prizes” lowered from the fly space early on. One particular prize offered to goad John Hinckley into taking a pot shot at Reagan is a doll dressed like Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver. Well played.

Assassins. Photo: Joan Marcus

It must have been a kick for costume designer Susan Hilferty to have virtually every period of American clothing on stage at once. From John Wilkes Booth’s southern dandy suit and Sarah Jane Moore’s 1970s polyester pantsuit (she tried to shoot Gerald Ford) to Lynette Fromme’s “hippy chick” robes (she too had it out for Ford), Hilferty’s costumes put each character in his or her own time period. When they were all seen together, it was a little jarring, but that was the point. Especially jarring was Samuel Byck’s disheveled Santa Claus suit (his goal was to crash a 747 into Nixon’s White House) which pretty much sums up the mental state of anyone so desperate to commit such a crime.

The biggest challenge for sound designer Dan Moses Schreier had to be coordinating a band that was split in half; some members were in the box area stage right, while others were in the boxes stage left. Also effective was altering certain actors’ voices to make it sound as though they were speaking through a megaphone. And of course, the number of gunshots in Assassins rivals the barricade scenes from Les Miserables.

The lighting by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer relishes the carnival atmosphere on stage without distracting from the dire action and the consequences of most of those actions. One of the most striking scenes involves John Wilkes Booth pleading his case in the barn where he killed himself. As he sings and speaks, a random puff of smoke appears behind him and slowly dissipates above his head. A stark white light is aimed squarely at the smoke creating an ethereal environment as it brightens and then slowly, like Booth himself, fades away. When the elements dictate it, the lighting rises to the occasion to capture the garishness of a carnival midway. When the rear wall and the wooden beams are illuminated by hundreds of incandescent bulbs, the assassins are suddenly backlit in a manner that seemingly projects them into the audience. However, the most jarring scene of the evening occurs immediately after Lee Harvey Oswald fires his famous shots (but only one shot was fired in the show…maybe Oliver Stone was right!). He stands alone at the rear of the stage expressionless as the Zapruder film is projected onto his white T-shirt while the rest of the stage is almost in complete darkness. It’s an image that no theatergoer will soon forget. —Mark A. Newman

Now playing in New York: Tom Stoppard’s verbally agile play, Jumpers has jumped the pond from London to New York where it is now playing at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on Broadway. This production, directed by David Leveaux, originated at the National Theatre last year. Stars Simon Russell Beale and Essie Davis have come along for the ride and provide two outstanding performances as a slightly befuddled professor who is straining mentally to write a coherent essay on morality and his wife, a once-famous chanteuse, who is wrestling with mental problems of her own. The production provides the opportunity to see the excellent work of four British designers including Vickie Mortimer, whose sets cleverly morph from the professor’s study to the bedroom where the body of an athlete is found in the closet, and Nicky Gillibrand, whose contemporary costumes help define each of the characters —including the professor’s uniform of tweed trousers and cardigan to uniforms for a jumping team that inexplicably appear as part of the mental gymnastics in the play. Paule Constable designed the lighting, and the sound design is by John Leonard of Aura Sound. One of his challenges is an on-stage band. This is a very good production of a difficult play, and the producers should be thanked for taking the chance of bringing it over. —Ellen Lampert-Gréaux

Jumpers Photo: Hugo Glendinning