Dir: Guy Maddin. US-Can. 2006. 97mins.
Arguably the first true silent movie produced ineight decades, Guy Maddin's Brand Upon The Brain premiered in
Despite almost two decadesof critical hosannas, Maddin ranks as cinema's mostidiosyncratic, least well known and seen auteur. The cognoscenti are well awareof his embrace of bygone and arcane style and technique from nods to GermanExpressionist lighting or the use of irises. The new film written by Maddin and George Toles appearsto have taken several pages from French silent serial master Louis Feuillade who created Fantomasand Judeux.
Framed as a story in 12chapters, it revolves around the coincidentally named Guy Maddin(Erik Steffen Maahs) who returns after many years tohis island home Black Notch. He's been summoned by his aged mother to paint thelighthouse where the family lived, his mother ran an orphanage and his fathertoiled endlessly in a laboratory where he concocted sera and such befittingpast screen mad scientists.
The 'modern' sectionprovides the bookends to the saga of Maddin's youth.Like vintage serials it is crammed with plot and narrative twists, albeitrushing along at a considerably faster pace. The broad strokes are that papa iscreating nectar from the orphan's brain fluids that's the equivalent of afountain of youth potion. The beneficiary is his mother (Gretchen Krich), a repressed Victorian who turns the clock back 20years nightly but by morning her pent up rage undoes the elixir's effect.
Arriving on the scene isWendy Hale (Katherine Scharhon) one half of popularstorybook teen detectives the Light Bulb Kids. Somehow she's gotten wind of illtidings on the island and an apt case to be crack. In short order she disguisesherself as brother Chance when she senses young Guy's (Sullivan Brown) buddinginfatuation.
Filmed on Super-8, the blowup provides a graininess that often resembles a snow storm and the hurky jerky editing style, rapid cutting and extensive useof close-ups all conspire to replicate the notion of a silent film. Theoriginal score by Jason Staczek is first rate with orwithout spoken dialogue and the presence of 11-members from the TorontoSymphony to realise it was inspired. Maddin additionally found a singer able to emulate acastrato and veteran actor Louis Negin narrated withan appropriate soupcon of twinkle. (Isabella Rossellini will narrate when thefilm is presented at the New York Film Festival in October).
Ultimately it is a twist onvampire mythology though literary and film references abound ranging fromDickens to Shakespeare and obscurities such as John Ford's Hangman's House. Itis breathlessly preposterous at times but stays clear of arch parody, allowingaudiences to be unabashedly part of the antics.
While there are no obviousstrategic templates, one can at least cite the many international screenings ofNapoleon in the 1980s with liveorchestral accompaniment under the direction of Carmine Coppola. Similar eventsfor Brand Upon The Brain have a strong potential for establishing its uniquepedigree and usher in the possibility of a subsequent specialisedcommercial run with the sound elements married conventionally on screeningcopies.
The Film Company
Amy E Jacobson
Erik Steffen Maahs