BRAND UPON THE BRAIN
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In the weird and wonderful super-cinematic world of Canadian cult filmmaker Guy Maddin, personal memory collides with movie lore for a radical sensory overload. This eerie excursion into the gothic recesses of Maddin’s mad, imaginary childhood is a silent, black-and-white comic science-fiction nightmare set in a lighthouse on grim Notch Island, where fictional protagonist Guy Maddin was raised by an ironfisted, puritanical mother. Originally mounted as a theatrical event (accompanied by live orchestra, foley artists, and assorted narrators), Brand upon the Brain! is an irreverent, delirious trip into the mind of one of current cinema’s true eccentrics.
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everything is told in black and white, grainy and misprinted film, wobbly and erratically vignetted images, and a campy imitation of the silent film conventions of motion pantomine and text slides (but with punctuating sound effects, deliriously incoherent music, and a fiendishly arch narration by isabella rossellini thrown in).
i wasn't sure what to expect and now, well ... i'm not sure what to tell you to expect. you won't forget it, you won't always enjoy it (i found it dragged in places), but you will find it not quite like anything you've ever seen before -- unless it was by guy maddin.
I have been a fan of Maddin for a long time and absolutely loved The Saddest Music in the World (2003) but Brand Upon the Brain! is by far the best film I have seen by him (I have yet to see My Winnipeg which also got rave reviews).
Maddin is one of the few directors who still makes silent films. This film is in fact only partly silent. There was a short time when silent films had soundtracks (music and sound effects), and Maddin does the same thing here. He also uses a narrator, but they where sometimes used at the time of the silent films (then live), especially in Japan.
The film is pure surrealism. It is autobiographical in the same way as Kafka was is his books. It has the humor of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet and the horror of David Lynch. It is, in a nutshell insane and amazing. Strongly recommended to anyone interested in Avant-Garde cinema.
About the DVD. The Transfer is very good. It offers multi narration track, which is much appreciated. The documentary about the film was really good and informative. The same goes for the essay on Maddin, by film critic Dennis Lim. The two new short films are far from being the best I have seen from Maddin. "It's My Mother's Birthday Today" is some kind of music video and "Footsteps" is in fact just a documentary about the foley artists which worked on the film.
There is a story here really, too, if you're inclined to look at it. But it's all symbolic and surreal. I found it so intriguing as it was, with his dark shadows and blanched lights, I really didn't care to analyze the archetypes to delve into their deeper meaning. It was fun watching his imagination at work. The end product exists somewhere between dadaism and science fiction, embellishing an archaic medium with a darkly humorous panache.
I can't say, as some others have, how this fits into the Maddin canon. I've only seen one other of his films, and it didn't strike me the way this one did. I highly recommend this if you're interested to see what a film can be in the hands of an artist, of a man who treats the medium with no regard for the mainstream. And if you're not impressed the first time out, watch it a time or two more. It's something you really shouldn't miss. Then you can go back to normal life.
But if you have a DVD controller like mine, you can make a game of pushing the audio button and going through the 8 or so narrator audio tracks and hear different interpretations of the movie. You can also do it via the menu, there is a section to pick narrators, but I would rather change it on the fly.
The extras are wonderful too. Footsteps is a Maddin filmed look at the foley artists, there is a film based on a singer called the Manitoba Meadowlark. I am not sure if it is worth the $35 or so, but if you found a copy used, I would say go for it. I could watch this movie many times. I like how the actors look, the storyline which is a little lesbian and secretive, a little bit of a Victorian zombie fairytale and steampunk fantasy (the aerophone is one of the best steampunk tools ever if you ask me).
Sweet nectar! Romania! Romania Romania!
(You'll have to watch it to get that.)
I wonder why Maddin hasn't done some film with the girls from Rasputina yet. They seem evenly matched, but maybe that exists only in my dreams.
This brooding tale of misbegotten love and overbearing parents is told in split second edits, cutting in the occasional flash of color into the beautiful black & white. The action on screen lives in a world of its own though it's placed into another realm when screened. At various times and locations, Brand upon the Brain has been narrated by the likes of Isabella Rosselini, Crispin Glover, Eli Wallach, and more. Scored with live music and foley, the film becomes a cinematic event that will morph into something quite different for home viewers.
Playing like an O'Henry version of Lord of the Flies, Brand upon the Brain exemplifies Maddin's brilliant cinema.