Brand Upon the Brain!, the latest creation from Winnipeg’s maddest moviemaker, Guy Maddin, is billing itself as a “one-of-a-kind cinematic spectacle,” and it actually lives up to the hype. Maddin’s half-campy, half-expressionistic movies — among them The Saddest Music in the World (2003), in which a legless Isabella Rossellini teeters on beer-filled glass prosthetics — typically combine the absurd with the genuinely haunting in a style that’s an aesthetic bow to silent films. Brand Upon the Brain! is no exception. Only this time the film is touring (from New York to Chicago and Los Angeles) with an 11-piece orchestra, a three-person sound-effects team and a singer billed as a castrato. Each show also features a celebrity narrator, with much of New York’s line-up comprising a hipster honor roll: Laurie Anderson, Crispin Glover, Eli Wallach, Justin Bond (the Kiki half of Kiki and Herb), Rossellini, Lou Reed and John Ashbery. (The film opens nationally in June with a pre-recorded soundtrack.)
At the first show in New York on May 9, Maddin, who’s a boyish 51, introduced Brand Upon the Brain! as an “orgasmatacular,” promising that “Every sound you hear tonight will be generated within these four walls.” He explained that the presence of a live narrator harks back to the earliest days of silent cinema, a fact he said he discovered in Luis Buñuel’s autobiography. (There it is in chapter four of My Last Sigh: “In addition to the traditional piano player, each theatre in Saragossa was equipped with its explicador, or narrator, who stood next to the screen and ‘explained’ the action to the audience.”) Then, with the orchestra members seated and the foley crew arrayed in white lab coats and neckties amid a theatrical set of sonic toys, and with Glover ensconced in a red glow on stage right, the movie began.
Read the rest of my review of Brand Upon the Brain! here, on Stop Smiling's website.