BRAND UPON THE BRAIN! (director/writer: Guy Maddin; screenwriter: George Toles; cinematographer: Benjamin Kasulke; editor: John Gurdebeke; music: Jason Staczek/performed live by the Ensemble Sospeso; cast: Gretchen Krich (Mother), Sullivan Brown (Young Guy Maddin), Maya Lawson (Sis), Katherine E. Scharhon (Chance Hale/Wendy Hale), Todd Jefferson Moore (Father), Andrew Loviska (Savage Tom), Kellan Larson (Neddie), Erik Steffen Maahs (Grown-up Guy Maddin), Isabella Rossellini (Film Narrator); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Amy Jacobson/Gregg Lachow; The Criterion Collection; 2006-Canada)
“If you are drawn to oddball films like David Lynch’s Eraserhead, then you should feel at home here.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Canadian cult-filmmaker Guy Maddin (“Careful”/”Twilight of the Ice Nymphs”/”The Saddest Music in the World”) and his long-time collaborator writer George Toles hit us with their middle film (sandwiched in between Cowards Bend Their Knees-2003 and My Winnipeg-2007) in what Maddin calls “my Me Trilogy”, a series of fictionalized mythical autobiographical films that present a dream-like landscape with seemingly real powerful emotions and eerie Gothic settings that remind one of German expressionist silent films with modern day sexual freedoms.
All three films star a fictionalized character named Guy Maddin. In this Oedipal richly themed one, where repression catches the director’s feverish imagination, we are brought back to memories of a warped childhood. Guy (Erik Steffen Maahs) returns home to Black Noch Island, a remote place in Canada, to see his mother (Susan Corzatte, later Gretchen Krich and Cathleen O’Malley), whom he hasn’t seen in 30 years. Mum requests her house painter son (in real life Guy was a house painter after his college days), who left the island under strange circumstances at 10, give two coats of paint to the abandoned lighthouse where she once lived and ran in it a “mom and pop” orphanage with his mad scientist dad (Todd Jefferson Moore). While painting, our hero recalls how his parents engaged in the vampire harvesting of “orphan nectar.” Guy’s exaggerated memory embellishes an hysterical truth as an assortment of phantom characters appear to be either amnesiacs or figures of his hallucinations. All gives way to a delirious trip that has Guy’s scientist inventor dad working on dark experiments that could be related to the mysterious holes in the necks of the orphan children, while his overbearing puritanical mum searches the island with her trusty flashlight seeking out bad behavior among her charges. Meanwhile young Guy (Sullivan Brown) and his rebellious older sister (Maya Lawson) take a shine to the visiting celebrated in children’s books androgynous sibling detectives, Wendy and Chance Hale (Katherine E. Scharhon), known as the Lightbulb Kids. With the Lightbulb Kids secretly investigating Guy’s suspicious parents for any wrong doings (suspected of being ghouls), the filmmaker gets a chance to lay out most of his usual motifs such as, hard kept secrets, gender confusion, identity problems, sibling rivalry, Oedipal complexes, sexual rivalries, doppelgängers and love triangles.
It was shot in Maddin’s usual black-and-white Super 8, and has a stunning look that creates the illusion of a repressed cinema that is set again in motion. If you are drawn to oddball films like David Lynch’s Eraserhead, then you should feel at home here. The eccentric film moves somewhere between the absurd and the sublime, but with an overload on the ridiculous it takes the viewer into a weirdly set fantasy mind trip that might have this highly personal film make sense mostly to a viewer familiar with Freudian terms along with knowledge of chilling old-fashioned baroque horror films.
REVIEWED ON 9/3/2008 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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