BRAND UPON THE BRAIN!
Brand Upon the Brain! is an extension of what Guy Maddin did with Cowards Bend the Knee. Like Cowards, Brand Upon the Brain! is an actual silent movie. (Brand Upon the Brain! was designed to be performed live at film festivals accompanied by a narrator, an orchestra and foley artists providing the sound effects at some screenings, Isabella Rossellini appeared in person to conduct her narration live). Maddin also divides both films up into twelve chapters. Similarly, he also conducts the peculiar quirk of naming the protagonist in either story after himself. There are also many of the usual recurring Maddin themes of love triangles, thwarted desire, incest, bizarre childhoods and identity confusions that play throughout the film.
Brand Upon the Brain! is the first time that Guy Maddin has filmed outside of Canada and indeed his native Manitoba. The finance comes from the Seattle-based non-profit production company known only as The Film Company. Brand Upon the Brain! appears to be made with a lower budget than many of Guy Maddins other films one of the things it seems to be missing is the wonderful cod-German Expressionist sets that Maddin usually constructs.
The Guy Maddin film with its stylistic homages to silent cinema, its contorted melodramas and deadpan dialogue is an acquired taste. That said, Brand Upon the Brain! delivers the expected Maddin goods. There is an hysterically convoluted plot involving to wit:- a parody of the child detectives out of 1930s films, including the female detective who poses as her brother by adopting a gender disguise and engages in unrequited love affair with both Guy and his sister (including, at one point, a secret marriage ceremony to the sister who does not realize that she is marrying a girl); Guys father conducting mad science experiments in the basement, drilling holes in the orphans necks to extract fluids to rejuvenate Guys mother; the father being revived from the dead by the mother (via heart-to-heart stimulation) in an amazingly kinetic scene that resembles an old Frankenstein movie; occult ceremonies held by the orphans in the woods; caper antics with masked and top-hatted spies, which have clearly been modelled on the silent serials of French director Louis Feuillade; the mother (Gretchen Krich) who spies on the children via a sinister looking telescope situated in the lighthouse eyrie; hilarious little devices like The Gloves of Chastity or The Aerophone (which the film even conducts a cod commercial of sorts for during what it charmingly refers to as an interlude).
This is all played with customary Maddin deadpan melodrama to hysterical effect. A great deal of amusement can be had in the various intertitle cards or in some of Isabella Rossellinis deadpan narrations: Mother could read into childrens hearts with her eyes/But preferred to use a searchlight; Mother used suicide threats as a teaching aide ... She stage-managed her most spectacular suicide to date ... Whats a suicide without a wedding?; or Mother tricked into believing father was still alive by replacing the cremated remains with a hamster and a metronome. The father is resurrected from the dead, whereupon Rossellini breezily comments: Dead or alive, its back to work.
As in Cowards Bend the Knee, Guy Maddin employs an amazingly fluid visual style. Maddin never quite goes so far as he did in Cowards in shooting the entire film in a series of stills, but nevertheless frequently edits in the same blurred, undercranked style. The constant kinesis of the camerawork combined with the silent dialogueless drama has an amazingly expressive effect.