Sunday, October 26, 2008

Brand Upon the Brain! (2006) A Film by Guy Maddin

Guy Maddin is the type of artist whose overwhelming originality leaves audiences feeling powerless and in a state of stunned admiration. With Brand Upon the Brain!, the specific result is a disorienting trip through Maddin's auteurist mind, which has channeled the primitive days of cinema and modernized them to astounding proportions. He has always been an immensely personal filmmaker, leading some to peg him as a self-indulgent, overly arty experimenter. However, someone who takes such an innate fondness to the mythologizing of their youth and rummages the art of film in the process is someone who should never be labeled so negatively.

2006's Brand Upon the Brain! is a pyschosexual expedition through Maddin's zany childhood. Utilizing the techniques of silent film, grand-guignol, and experimental film, he devises a constant mood of menace surrounding the Black Notch Island he inhabited in his youth. His reinvention of these methods is evident in the technically sophisticated breed of editing he presents. Superimpositions, marauded speed-up and slow-down effects, and jump cuts are relentless. One minute, you may feel like you're viewing a student's flashy experimental piece, and the next you'll be in absolute awe by the amount of work that must have been put into it. In a Poe-esque tell-tale way, Isabella Rossellini narrates the fantasy of the fictionalized Guy. His mother is a forever watchful spy, perched at the top of the family's lighthouse, which is also home to a laboratory rat father and a legion of orphans. Guy's heart is melted by the coming of a woman named Wendy who plays a sweet harp, but soon enough she transforms into her brother Chance Hale to pursue Guy's sister. (Wendy's a lesbian.)

Maddin attacks this haunting fantasy with incessantly recurrent imagery such as "The Horn of Chastity", "The Kissing and Undressing Gloves", and "The Harvest of the Nectar", which is perceptibly the juice from the father's orphans. Odd, yes, but also humorous and enchanting. Brand Upon the Brain! feels a bit like childhood story time, except with a dark edge and a discombobulated mood. If you're a fan of David Lynch but also enjoy Charlie Chaplin, you'll find great satisfaction in this visual feast. When it was released, it actually toured live with a full orchestra (the score is a masterpiece on its own) and foley artist - sounds like something that would likely reverse my opinion of theater in general.

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