BRAND UPON THE BRAIN (2006) – The Dungeon Review!
I can not believe after four years of having this blog I have yet to review a single film from Canadian director extraordinaire Guy Maddin. Maddin’s Cowards Bend the Knee is without a doubt one of my favourite films from the past decade (or any decade for that matter!). After what was probably my tenth viewing of Cowards Bend the Knee I decided it was way past due to revisit his second auto-biographical effort; Brand Upon the Brain. Why this is only my second viewing of Brand Upon the Brain is a complete mystery; this film is nothing short of brilliant.
Brand Upon the Brain is a remembrance is twelve chapters.
Chapter One: Going Home
Chapter Two: Black Notch Memories
Chapter Three: Dark Schedule
Chapter Four: Wendy’s Chance
Chapter Five: To find Another Wendy
Chapter Six: The Undressing Gloves
Chapter Seven: Butter on the Wall
Chapter Eight: A Morning Heap of Flesh
Chapter Nine: An Un-Funeral
Chapter Ten: A Secret Grove
Chapter Eleven: A new Regime
Chapter Twelve: The Return of Spring
After thirty years away, Guy Maddin is returning home on the request of his dying mother to give the place a fresh coat of paint. Home is a lighthouse on a remote island where his parents once ran an orphanage. The balance of the film is Guy Maddin’s childhood recollections.
Remembering. Remembering. Remembering. The memories come flooding back overwhelming Guy. Memories of his mother and father. Memories of his sister. Memories of Wendy and Chance; the harp playing brother and sister detective team. Memories of the orphans; Savage Tom and Nervous Neddie with his terrible twitch.
Mother hugs Guy tight and kisses him all over in a way that is motherly and yet…not. She threatens her own children and the orphans with suicide to get them to behave; sometimes with props and dramatizations. Guy’s mother watches over the grounds with a giant spotlight; one does not want to be caught in her crosshairs. Mother’s birth into the world was a strange and daunting one. The mother of Guy’s mother was bald and pregnant and her sister with a luxurious head of hair was barren; the two had a horrible fight one evening and hair was chopped and the baby ripped from the womb. Guy’s father is a silent man who works day and night in his laboratory. What does he do in there all day and all night? Little feet in the night! The procession to father! Little holes in the back of children’s heads. Nectar harvest?! Oh sweet, sweet nectar and its magic! Guy’s older sister is known only as “sis”. She falls madly in love with Chance the harp playing teen detective; but Chance has a secret. Sis makes her mother crazy and also possesses a little hole in the back of her head like the orphans. Chance and Wendy Hale are the infamous harp playing brother and sister teen detectives. Wendy has come to the island to investigate Guy’s parents. Adopted orphans have been turning up on the mainland with strange holes in the back of their heads. Guy meets Wendy and falls in love with her instantly. Guy’s first crush! Wendy believes she will be better received if she poses as her brother Chance. Wendy transforms into her brother. Guy is heartbroken that Wendy has left so suddenly and without saying goodbye; but it is difficult not to like and admire Chance. Guy’s first boy crush! The orphans, the poor unfortunate little orphans and their march to see Guy’s father. Savage Tom holding a black mass and terrorizing Neddie. And dear poor Neddie! Neddie threw his baby brother’s teddy on to an electrical box and his wee brother was electrocuted to death retrieving it. Things do not end well for Neddie! Secrets! Secrets! Secrets!
“All things happen twice.”
“The past! The past! The Future! The Future!”
I could not possibly do Brand Upon the Brain justice with my words! Brand Upon the Brain’s silent and feverish black and white images mix the melodramatic with the macabre. Excessively voyeuristic and full of sexuality, guilt, tragedy, comedy, self deprecation and secrets! So many secrets! The use of music and sound is utterly superb. Guy’s father invented this crazy contraption called an arrow phone. A big clunky ass thing that Guy is forced by his mother to carry around with him when he leaves the lighthouse. The sharp sound it makes as a voice comes through its speaker is haunting. If you believed in hell and someone could make a call from such a place it would no doubt sound much like this. The performances by all are an absolute delight.
The awesome Criterion version I rented had a top notch interview with Guy Maddin who claims the auto-biographical Brand Upon the Brain is 97% accurate?! Among other topics; Maddin speaks on some of the aspects of his life incorporated into the film, his film making influences and the spectacular Brand Upon the Brain tour which played in theatres and featured a live singer and score, foley artists and a celebrity narrator. One of the coolest special features on the disc was the optional narrators! Among the narrators you could choose from were Isabella Rossellini, Laurie Anderson, John Ashbery, Eli Wallach and Crispin Glover. Apparently Udo Kier also narrated for the live show but sadly you did not get him as an option. Wow!! I really wish I had seen the film on that tour!
I really can not recommend Brand Upon the Brain more highly; it is unique, funny, beautiful, perverse, poetic, macabre, sexy, strange, haunting and immense. As I mentioned this is the second film in Maddin’s auto-biographical trilogy and I certainly would advise you to check out Cowards Bend the Knee. The third film in the trilogy is My Winnipeg, which I will be revisiting again soon. Mr. Guy Maddin you rock my freaking world!
Dungeon Rating: 5/5
Directed By: Guy Maddin
Starring: Gretchen Krich, Sullivan Brown, Maya Lawson, Katherine E. Scharhon, Todd Moore, Andrew Loviska, Kellan Larson, Erik Steffen Maahs, Cathleen O’Malley, Clayton Corzatte, Susan Corzatte, Megan Murphy, Annette Toutonghi, David Lobo, Eric Lobo