Brand Upon the Brain!, an absurdly fictional account of director Guy Maddin’s childhood with an overbearing, manipulative mother and mad scientist father, is more than a tale of a dysfunctional family that controls an island full of subservient orphans.
The film focuses on overriding themes of gender and sexuality, placing the object of young Guy’s desire as the love interest of his sister, and makes a substantial amount of comments about the blind love that children feel for parents. Regardless, the plot of Brand Upon the Brain! is nearly ancillary to its presentation.
Maddin created his story as a silent work, and it currently is being shown in select U.S. cities with live narration, orchestration, and sound effects. To say that the performance – seen this past weekend at Chicago’s Music Box Theatre – was spectacular would be putting it lightly. The film’s fantastic soundtrack of strings and perfectly timed noises of broken plates, indecipherable screeches, and stomping boots – coupled with the brilliant contrast of black and white imagery and appropriately emphatic words of celebrity narrator Crispin Glover – made it akin to viewing a play or concert with an elaborate visual component.
Unfortunately, Maddin’s screenplay can’t live up to his grand vision. The silent aspect does make Brand Upon the Brain! drag at certain moments, and though there is enough humor injected to maintain levity (like the text cuts of “Dirt is wrong!” and “Spoils of war…good for dippin’”), it might have been beneficial to trim the length by fifteen minutes.
Still, catching the feature on its live tour is imperative. The big screen of the Music Box sadly faded the black and white tones that were so vivid on the crew’s monitors, but the full package gladly was worth a heftier price tag. The next opportunity to catch the live edition is in Los Angeles from June 8-10.
– Scott Morrow