-live music with the film of Guy Maddin-

On this page you find informations about the project and music to download. The idea of the project is either to do screenings of the film with live music, with different group setups in different cities; or to create the music without the film but with the intention to use it for this project, researching Evan Lurie's saying: "The truth of film composing is that every piece of music works with every piece of film. But—and this is a big but—every piece of music changes every piece of film." The ten episodes of the film have exactly the same lenght of six minutes and nine seconds, and so does all the music presented here. The spectator can use this choice to create her/his own soundtrack(s) for the film.

related links:
Zeitgeist Films


Cowards bend the knee is a wholly mute black and white film that came out in 2003. It is 64 minutes long and consists of 10 chapters, each of them 6 minutes and 9 seconds long. It was originally designed to be a peepshow installation, with each of the film's chapters housed in a separate machine and was shot for the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto. It was later turned into a full length feature for the theatre showings.


"Maddin's masterpiece! Wildly tawdry. (An) evocation of forbidden desire and monstrous repression. The murky ambience, and even some of the motifs, suggest early-'30s horror films like The Mystery of the Wax Museum or Mad Love. What's truly extraordinary is that it not only plays like a dream but feels like one."
"There is something rather splendid about this extended-play peep show, as if Mr. Maddin had stumbled across a hitherto lost archive of cinema's less-than-innocent past."
Manohla Dargis, THE NEW YORK TIMES
"Maddin's unlikely odyssey continues with COWARDS BEND THE KNEE, which might be his masterwork. Like all movies that earn the right to be called art, COWARDS succeeds on multiple levels and withstands repeat viewings."
Matt Zoller Seitz, THE NEW YORK PRESS
"Freud would have a field day. And we're betting you will, too."
Pat St. Germain, WINNIPEG SUN

COWARDS BEND THE KNEE peepshow at the Rotterdam Film Festival
by Jessica Winter in THE VILLAGE VOICE
Musings of an Actor: On the set of Cowards Bend the Knee
by Jon Ted Wynne
Purple majesty: James Quandt talks with Guy Maddin - Interview
by James Quandt


While his girlfriend Veronica lies dying in the back room of the local hair salon/whorehouse, hockey star Guy abandons her for a mysterious beauty named "Meta". Although Meta returns his affection, she won't let him touch her until a surgeon replaces Guy's hands with those of her dead father – which are blue from his years of dyeing hair at the salon. The corset-clad, cigar-smoking surgeon fakes the transplant by painting Guy's hands while he's under anaesthetic. Guy, thinking his hands to be those of Meta's father, can no longer bring himself to touch her in a sexual way. Seemingly possessed by his hands, he becomes a murderer, choking friends and foe alike, vaguely seeking to revenge the death of Meta's father. Meanwhile, a new hairdresser joins the staff – Veronica's ghost. Unaware of her true identity, Guy falls for this new beauty. Not interested in Guy, she falls for his father. Once Guy completes his revenge by strangling Meta's mother, she cools towards him and demands the return of her father's hands. She and the surgeon forcibly remove them. All this comes to a climax when a handless Guy attempts to conjure the help of forgotten hockey heroes in a wax museum to force his father away from Veronica's ghost, who has just accepted his marriage proposal. The figures come to life and instead chase Guy. There is a brief reconciliation between Meta and her father, one of these temporarily-resurrected figures. The nearly delirious Guy now learns that the museum was not for heroes but for cowards, men who were not brave enough to face the prospect of living a day-to-day life with a wife and children. The film closes with Guy now part of the museum himself, one wax figure among many.


"I work under the banner of primitivity," Maddin has proclaimed, and for the past two decades he has invoked the codes and forms of silent cinema and early talkies, of the film noirs and color-coded melodramas of the '40s and '50s, in his search for the cinematic sublime. Such Maddin classics as Tales from the Gimli Hospital (1988), Archangel (1990), and Careful (1992) aim to look exhumed, their tales of amnesia, incest, death, and transfiguration decked out in low-rent expressionism and dime-store surrealism. Whether shot in high-contrast black and white or aggressively artificial color (as in the exquisitely tinctured Twilight of the Ice Nymphs [1997]), the films rely on such superannuated devices as the iris, the lap dissolve, and superimposition, and on the cheap, dreamy blur provided by Vaseline, store-bought fog, and fake snow. The radical anachronism of this style is wedded to empurpled dialogue, crackly, muffled sound tracks, and a playhouse aesthetic in costume and set design, in which everything looks handmade, outsize, and illogical, keyed to the (soap) operatic passions and masochistic emotions of Maddin's bushy-browed characters. Non sequiturs and convolutions proliferate in both narrative and style, until one is left adrift in an obscure, obsessive spectacle conjured up from disinterred art forms and private compulsions. (Though Maddin is frequently compared to David Lynch and the Quay Brothers, his funny, puzzling, and often overstretched first films have surprising affinities with the early work of German director Werner Schroeter.) Maddin insists that no matter how outlandish his films are, they are all in some way autobiographical. Born in 1956 in Winnipeg, he escaped the laconic, Lutheran culture of the prairie Icelanders by watching films in the local cinemas, on late-night television, and, later, at home after he discovered a trove of 16 mm silent films. This mock-Canuck Cinema Paradiso account of his childhood underscores the semi-apocryphal nature of Maddin's biography, whose formative events--his father's Willy Loman life and early death, his brother's suicide on the grave of his girlfriend, his own youth as a slacker surrounded by equally slothful male friends called "drones"--sometimes sound "heightened," to use a favorite Maddin locution. An artist who invents the traditions that inspire him, is influenced by films he hasn't seen, and makes versions of films that don't exist and whose stock-in-trade is imagined memories and fake nostalgia, Maddin often rebuffs analysis, leaving the true believer in the sorry role of chump or g ull. So it is with Cowards Bend the Knee, 2003, his first foray into installation art. Structured as a ten-chapter film projection viewed through sequential peepholes in a wall, it recounts the life of one Guy Maddin. The director claims, with disarming sincerity, that this lurid work about a botched abortion, a ferocious Electra complex, and transplanted murderous hands contains the "poetic truth" of his life story. (written by James Quandt)

Filmography: My Winnipeg (2008) , Brand Upon the Brain! (2006) , The Saddest Music in the World (2003) , Cowards Bend the Knee (2003), Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary (2003), Twilight of the Ice Nymphs (1997) , Careful (1992), Archangel (1990), Tales from the Gimli Hospital (1988)


The film is wholly mute, with an original film music to it, which won't be used for this project. The music of the live screenings is fully improvised. The only limit for the music is to respect the structure of ten episodes of the film, in order to create ten pieces, each of 6'09'' length. All screenings/concerts will be recorded to set up an archive of possible soundtracks for the film. This collection should enable the spectator to create his own personal version of the film music, either by choice or randomly. As a possible future extension of this concept a wide range of musicians should be asked to contribute one track that will be added to the collection of 6-minute-long pieces.


Up to now the following musicians have participated:
Chris Abrahams, Burkhard Beins, Dave Bennett, Martin Brandlmayr, Tony Buck, Paed Conca, Clare Cooper, Mike Cooper, Hans Falb, Hans Koch, Christof Kurzmann, Magda Mayas, Christine Sehnaoui, Derek Shirley, Martin Siewert, Luca Venitucci, Michael Zerang


Download the music, then put it into your mp3 player (computer, etc..) and create a playlist of ten songs, either on purpose or randomly. If you make a fixed list you can also add an ending track after the tenth episode, the ending tracks are of varying length and were played during the credits section in the end of the film. The downloads are more or less listed in chronological order of the recordings, this order doesn't intend to be the order for the playlist. Take care that the songs will follow each other without a pause (the usual 2 seconds pause on CDs for example) or without crossfading the endings and beginnings of the pieces. In this way you make sure that the timing of the beginnings of the songs will go simultaneous with the beginnings of the film episodes. Get the DVD with the film, mute the original film music, and start the film. Start the playlist as soon as the the writing with the film titel "Cowards Bend The Knee" appears (ca 6 seconds after the film started) and leave it going for the rest of the film. Viel Spaß!

If you prefer you can also download a complete soundtrack. Get the DVD with the film, mute the original film music, and start the film. Start the soundtrack as soon as the the writing with the film titel "Cowards Bend The Knee" appears (ca 6 seconds after the film started) and leave it going for the rest of the film. Again, viel Spaß!



consists of episodes COWARDS#001-COWARDS#010 in mixed order, plus ENDING#001
download SOUNDTRACK#01 as mp3


Luca Venitucci accordion
Mike Cooper guitar
Michael Thieke clarinet, zither
download COWARDS#010 as mp3

Luca Venitucci accordion
Mike Cooper guitar
Michael Thieke clarinet, zither
download COWARDS#009 as mp3

Luca Venitucci accordion
Mike Cooper guitar
Michael Thieke clarinet, zither
download COWARDS#008 as mp3

Luca Venitucci accordion
Mike Cooper guitar
Michael Thieke clarinet, zither
download COWARDS#007 as mp3

Luca Venitucci accordion
download COWARDS#006 as mp3

Burkhard Beins zither
Michael Thieke zither
download COWARDS#005 as mp3

Chris Abrahams piano
Clare Cooper guzheng
Michael Thieke zither
download COWARDS#004 as mp3

Chris Abrahams piano
Clare Cooper guzheng
Michael Thieke zither
download COWARDS#003 as mp3

Michael Thieke laptop (with a little help from some old vinyl)
download COWARDS#002 as mp3

Chris Abrahams piano
Clare Cooper guzheng
Michael Thieke clarinet, zither
download COWARDS#001 as mp3


Luca Venitucci accordion
Mike Cooper guitar
Michael Thieke clarinet, zither
download ENDING#001 as mp3

Luca Venitucci accordion
Paed Conca clarinet
Hans Koch bass clarinet
Burkhard Beins drums
Michael Thieke clarinet, zither
download ENDING#002 as mp3