Brand Upon the Brain (USA/Canada; 95 min.)


directed by: Guy Maddin
starring: Sullivan Brown, Gretchen Krich, Maya Lawson
Brand Upon the Brain
 

Beth says: "Guy Maddin. His latest, a semi-autobiographical silent film, with a live musical accompaniment, a narrator and a foley effects crew. Pretty much unmissable, really, even if I don't always get Maddin - I love silent films shown with live music. Oh, and I forgot the castrato! Very bizarre - he looked like a Mongolian soldier, and then he'd open his mouth and sing out in this lilting soprano. The story was about a boy and his crazy parents who run a sinister orphanage in an island lighthouse. I felt it ran a little long, even with the whistles and bells - plus, the one clunker in the live element was the narration. Not the narrator, he had the perfect voice - but rather, there was too much of it. Maddin did use text and plot cards in the film, and the actors used the over-emphatic style of silent acting, so a lot of what he said was unnecessary, and I thought it was a wee bit of a crutch, really - to help ease the audience into a silent film, kind of thing.

"This film screened at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival"

 
Thom says: "I find it fascinating that the narrator went from male at the Toronto Festival to Isabella Rossellini in the released version. I easily gave the film 5 cats as it had a mesmerizing pace, spectacular editing, and Maddin’s usual wacky take on human idiosyncrasy!!! Rossellini, as always, was a masterful touch as raconteur. Maddin is one of my 5 favorite living directors!!!!!"
 
Michael says: "Guy Maddin’s latest film is a wildly entertaining and wacky faux(?) autobiographical portrait of the filmmaker. An adult ‘Guy Maddin’ is asked by his ailing mother to return to the island orphanage where he was raised to clean it up so she can see it one more time. Upon his arrival, his memories take over and through the phantasmagorical, hallucinogenic, stylized craft of Maddin, we learn of Guy’s bizarre, diabolical childhood raised in an orphanage run by his diabolical parents who harvest nectar from the children’s brains to keep themselves ever young. From her tower in the orphanage’s lighthouse, Guy’s mother keeps an eye on her son and teenaged daughter even as they become infatuated with the teenaged twin wonder sleuths, Chance and Wendy Hale, who are working on their latest case to investigate the mysterious happenings on the island.

"As I watched BRAND UPON THE BRAIN, I couldn’t help thinking about David Lynch’s masterpiece, INLAND EMPIRE. Both films provide glimpses into their creators’ minds, and while Lynch reveals a dark and frightening place, Maddin’s imagination, while filled with dark menace, is more fantastic and colorful. This despite the gauzy, black & white the filmmaker uses to tell his story. It would take a far more experienced psychiatrist or analyst to draw any conclusions about Maddin from BRAIN, but surely there are elements of himself strwn throughout this wild story. This silent film was originally conceived to be screened with a live orchestra including a child soprano, foley artists providing the aural effects, and a live narrator. Unfortunately, the Brattle Theatre could only bring the film, but Maddin has had the soundtrack, sound effects and narrations inserted into the film. Part of what makes BRAND UPON THE BRAIN so successful for me is the dramatic and entertaining narration provided by the talented Isabella Rossellini. Her beautifully expressive voice fills the film with emotion and color, and adds an exotic element that matches the fantastic themes. BRAND UPON THE BRAIN is a magical addition to Maddin’s beautifully imaginative body of work. 4 ½ cats."

 
Chris says: "This initially seems a tad less accessible than Guy Maddin's previous best work, THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD. The story is as deranged as ever, involving a marooned orphanage, a gender-bending teenage detective/harpist, and a sinisterly-derived fountain of youth nectar, among many other quirks. With intertitles and voice-over narration (by the incomparable Isabella Rossellini) in place of any spoken dialogue, it proceeds at a hallucinatory pace: the images often bleed into one another, the intertitles fly by rapidly and occasionally repeat as if we were watching remnants of long-buried films reels (at times resembling a cubist painting come to life), and the lurid action reaches multiple crescendos. It's no coincidence Maddin recently wrote about underground auteur Kenneth Anger in Film Comment—here he repeatedly injects his own sensibility into Anger's style, but the effect is neither tribute nor copy but its own excitable, idiosyncratic creation. Simultaneously pushing and pleasing his audience, Maddin reaches a great apex here: BRAND is far more involving and relatively easier to follow than his earlier films but thankfully, it doesn't compromise or dilute what made them so delightfully eccentric. 5 cats"
 
Bruce says: "Guy Maddin’s imagination never runs dry. In BRAND UPON THE BRAIN! the central character (Sullivan Brown), oddly enough also named Guy Maddin, travels to Black Notch Island, a remote island where his parents once had an orphanage in an ominous lighthouse that now is in dire need of a good coat of paint. Maddin’s adventure triggers memories which have been suppressed for years. The story of these memories is told in twelve chapters - with titles like 'Butter on the Wall' and 'The Undressing Gloves' - as he revisits the senses (touch, smells, sights and sound) of his youth.

"As in his previous films Maddin (writer and director) has a way of covering so much plot territory it is always difficult to follow and nearly impossible to describe. In BRAND UPON THE BRAIN! little Guy Maddin’s father is a mad scientist who does suspicious experiments. Most of the orphans have strange holes in the back of their heads. One of the orphans, Savage Tom, is a must to avoid as is Maddin’s own mother (Gretchen Krich), a monstrous woman without a trace of love. Poor little Guy, his mother keeps him on a very short leash scanning the dunes with a gigantic searchlight and calling him back to the lighthouse on the special aerophone. Guy learns to play spin the bottle and helps The Lightbulb Kids, a brother and sister (both played by Katherine E. Scharhon) detective act, solve a murder. Guy stumbles upon his first hero and role model; his sister’s (Maya Lawson) hormones kick in. With the bizarre happenings on the island, gender confusion, preoccupation with the map of Romania and the anxieties of preteen and teenage years, there is a never a dull moment.

"Maddin’s visual style employs the quick cuts of action cinematography and fuzzy out of focus shots in combination with a silent film format. His films are absolutely unique. BRAND UPON THE BRAIN! is such a wonderful cinematic experience I almost feel guilty complaining that Maddin’s writing could be tighter, less rambling. 4.5 cats"