I grew up hearing tales of people passing out and fainting at the cinema for years, usually during ‘The Exorcist’, ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ or thinking the train is going to come out of the screen and run them over. Yet despite my delicate frame I have a pretty robust constitution when it comes to cinematic excess so always thought these stories of people passing out at the movies were either exaggerated or urban myths, usually created by the studio’s publicity department.

That was until last night when someone fainted/collapsed/died(?!) during the screening of Guy Maddin’s ‘Cowards Bend The Knee’ (The Blue Hands).

It was three quarters through the film and, during a scene in which a character is having their falsely sutured hands removed by a saw after looking at his father’s penis, someone in the audience stood up to leave, got as far as the aisle and then BAM!, slammed straight into the floor. My friend Graham, whom was sitting closest to the incident, said that, apparently, it was the sight of the hands being cut off that did it for them. But considering how intense Maddin’s editing is and the fact that the film was accompanied by a live musical performance that was as crunchy, crazy and overwhelming as the visuals then the candidates for causing sensory overload were many and varied.

Several people immediately got up to help and gathered round the poor person, making them as relaxed and comfortable as possible as behind them, up on the large screen, limbs were severed, penises unsheathed, violent fisting engaged in as the live musical accompaniment blasted us with savagely intense digital noise. If the poor guy had come back round he more than likely would have immediately passed straight back out again waking up to all this going on.

Afterwards, the contrast of emerging from the back and white world of Maddin to the blazing red and blue of De Palma-esque lights of the ambulance illuminating the CCA lobby through the windows only helped emphasised that we’d been at a cinematic experience that resulted in a medical emergency. We hoped the guy was okay and we engaged in a 25 second long moment of concern for our fellow man before hitting the pub. The only time I’d heard of something like this actually happening was when an ex-girlfriend went to see ‘The Lion King’ live and somebody in the audience had a seizure. Being a dental nurse and hence, medically trained, she was obliged to help, although she did state that all she could do was give them a scrape and cleanse.

And the film itself? ‘Cowards Bend The Knee’ was good, very good in fact, but it didn’t blow me away like ‘The Saddest Music in The World’ did, which is a film of delirious, Monty Python style lunacy and humour. ‘Cowards Bend The Knee’ is still fantastical but is more a sort of autobiographical account of Maddin’s life in Canada and revolving around sex, sperm, memory, fertility, masturbation, guilt and hockey and how these have effected Maddin’s psyche with Greek overtones (the archetypes of the mother and father etc) thrown in too. There is a story here but it is viewed through the prism of not just a dream but the memory of a dream.

Shot on super 8mm on a low-budget yet highly imaginative visual aesthetic and with quite a few sexually provocative moments, ‘Cowards Bend The Knee’ bore a striking similarity to James Bidgood’s ‘Pink Narcissus’ and with a healthy dose of the work of Bill Morrison too.

However, myself and my friends all felt that the best part of the experience was the live score by Ela Orleans which was, quite simply, absolutely stunning and made a perfect counterpart to Maddin’s visuals with a brooding intensity and Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble style staccato bursts and information dumps of sound. Orleans studied composition under David Shire in New York which testifies to the high standard of her work. She has also composed a score for Carl Theodor Dreyer’s ‘Vampyr’ which I am now dying to experience. Maddin’s film was great but, for me, Orleans’ music was the highlight.

‘Cowards Bend The Knee’ at the CCA was a pretty overwhelming experience and, to be honest, I’d like to revisit it again as there was a lot to take in. Although my abiding memory will be hoping that guy who passed out is okay. I mean, he really hit the deck hard and I feel kinda bad making light of it and I still don’t know exactly what happened to them. I just hope he doesn’t wake up with blue hands.

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