Brand Upon the Brain! A Remembrance in 12 Chapters (2006)
Directed by Guy Maddin
English, 95 min.
Canadian cult filmmaker Guy Maddin’s ecstatically perverse jaunt into childhood’s protracted gestation period is a hypnotic murk-fest filled to the brim with Sturm und Drang neo-psychedelia. Guy (Erik Steffen Maahs) returns to his childhood homestead, a lighthouse to restore it with two coats of paint for an ailing mother. Outsized delirium takes over: ghoulish rituals, surreptitious experiments, demented ghosts, social vampires and other phantasms of psychosis of an overextended memory is underpinned by distinctly Freudian impulses turned into artistic statements. The miscegenation of silent-era aesthetics, a mosaic of encoded visual cues and Maddin’s continued fascination with high theatricality punctuated with trippy pop iconography delivers a Gothic fever dream that remains etched in your mind, whether you like it or not. (imdb.com)
Guy Maddin’s film “Brand Upon the Brain!” exists in the world Maddin has built by hand over several features that seem to be trying to reinvent the silent cinema. Flickering, high-contrast black-and-white images, shot in 8mm, tell a phantasmagoric story that could be a collaboration between Edgar Allan Poe and Salvador Dali. It’s an astonishing film: weird, obsessed, drawing on subterranean impulses, hypnotic.
The plot, as it always does in a Maddin film, careens wildly in bizarre directions, incorporating material that seems gathered by the handful from silent melodrama. There is a murder mystery involving an orphan named Savage Tom, and an investigation by two teenage detectives named the Light Bulb Kids, who discover suspicious holes in the heads of some orphans.
Elements from mad scientist and black magic stories also creep into the plot, while the film hurtles headlong into an assault of stark images.
Maddin, based in Winnipeg, is a pleasant, soft-spoken man who hardly seems a likely source for this feverish filmmaking. His world, his style, his artistry are all completely original, even when they seem to be echoing old silent films. The echoes seem to come from a parallel universe. In films like “The Saddest Music in the World,” he creates haunting worlds that approach the edge of comedy but never quite tip over.
In a sense, you will enjoy “Brand Upon The Brain!” most if you are an experienced moviegoer who understands (somehow) what Maddin is doing or a naive filmgoer who doesn’t understand that he is doing anything. For me, Maddin seems to penetrate to the hidden layers beneath the surface of the movies, revealing a surrealistic underworld of fears, fantasies and obsessions.