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Brand Upon the Brain! (The Criterion Collection)

4.4 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

In the weird and wonderful super-cinematic world of Canadian cult filmmaker Guy Maddin, personal memory collides with movie lore for a radical sensory overload. This eerie excursion into the gothic recesses of Maddin s mad, imaginary childhood is a silent, black-and-white comic science-fiction nightmare set in a lighthouse on grim Notch Island, where fictional protagonist Guy Maddin was raised by an ironfisted, puritanical mother. Originally mounted as a theatrical event (accompanied by live orchestra, foley artists, and assorted narrators), Brand upon the Brain! is an irreverent, delirious trip into the mind of one of current cinema s true eccentrics.

DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES: New, restored high-definition digital transfer, Optional narration tracks by Isabella Rossellini, Laurie Anderson, John Ashbery, Crispin Glover, Guy Maddin, Louis Negrin, and Eli Wallach,
The Making of Brand upon the Brain!, a new documentary featuring interviews with the director and crew members, Two new short films directed by Maddin: It's My Mother's Birthday Today and Footsteps, Deleted scene, Trailer. PLUS: A new essay by film critic Dennis Lim

Guy Maddin’s feature, Brand Upon the Brain, may well be his best. Maddin buffs will be reminded of Tales of Gimli Hospital, due to its horrific, slanted comedy, yet this film delves poetically into this auteur’s autobiography. Brand Upon the Brain is constructed in black and white with Maddin’s unique blend of old-fashioned and modernist filmic styles and techniques, yet what is most wonderful is the plot’s melding of fantasy and reality. Broken up into sections marked by title cards recalling silent films, the film takes place on a Canadian island called Black Notch, where protagonist, Guy (Erik Steffan Maahs as old Maddin, Sullivan Brown as boy Maddin), is raised under the thumb of his controlling mother (Gretchen Krich) who is managing an orphanage. Unfolding in chapters such as "Memory Floods Back," "Background," and "Dark Schedules," Brand Upon the Brain tackles issues of homosexual awakening in a pious environment, cross-dressing, sibling rivalry, youthful lust, escapism’s role in the development of artistic imagination, plus many darker topics that will thrill viewers ready for the macabre. In Chapter Six, garments are fetishistically removed with "Undressing Gloves", linking childhood play and adult desire. Maddin’s childhood acquaintances, like bully Savage Tom (Andrew Loviska), and crush Wendy Hale who morphs into a boy called Chance with a simple haircut (Katherine Scharhon) underscore the director’s love of carnivalesque characters. Smears of Vaseline on the camera lens, quavering shots that look hand-rendered, quick-cut editing, and sets alongside costuming lend the film an over-the-top nostalgia that borders on camp. This adds to the absurdist tale an historicism that convinces the viewer of this story’s truth, though it is clearly fictionalized. In fact, the extras contain a mini-documentary interview with Maddin, in which he describes the roughly two-percent of the film that actually occurred. Also notable is the audio format experimentation. Having once toured live as a silent film narrated by various artists in person, the DVD contains narration from Maddin’s point of view in several different voices, such as Isabella Rossellini, Laurie Anderson, and John Ashbery. One can select whose voice they want to serve as Maddin’s stand-in, which is jarringly strange. The short films, "It’s My Mother’s Birthday Today," and "Footsteps," about the sound effects company who contribute greatly to the hazy, atmospherics, are also excellent. It is so lovely to see such an individualist gain recognition through Criterion Collection, as this will hopefully expose more viewers to this stridently independent artist. —Trinie Dalton

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Sullivan Brown, Clayton Corzatte, Gretchen Lee Krich, Erik Steffen Maahs, Maya Lawson
  • Directors: Guy Maddin
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Anamorphic, Black & White, Dolby, HiFi Sound, NTSC, Silent, Surround Sound, THX, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • DVD Release Date: August 12, 2008
  • Run Time: 99 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0019X4008
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #49,252 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Brand Upon the Brain! (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD Verified Purchase
this is a beautifully conceived and truly original surrealist comedy drama, filled with romance and terror, pathos and parody, a half painted lighthouse and a staircase of orphans, a claustrophobic island and the eternal cycles of memory, the bald head and the baby, a tushy crazed mommy and a workaholic father, vampyrism of brain nectar and lesbianism of sex, turpentine baths and butter on the wall, the maternal searchlight of anger and the paternal foghorn of purity -- and raging aging! and rumania! oh don't forget rumania!

everything is told in black and white, grainy and misprinted film, wobbly and erratically vignetted images, and a campy imitation of the silent film conventions of motion pantomine and text slides (but with punctuating sound effects, deliriously incoherent music, and a fiendishly arch narration by isabella rossellini thrown in).

i wasn't sure what to expect and now, well ... i'm not sure what to tell you to expect. you won't forget it, you won't always enjoy it (i found it dragged in places), but you will find it not quite like anything you've ever seen before -- unless it was by guy maddin.
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Brand Upon the Brain! is Guy Maddin's 2nd film in an autobiographical trilogy, which started with "Cowards Bend the Knee" (2003) and ended with "My Winnipeg" (2007).

I have been a fan of Maddin for a long time and absolutely loved The Saddest Music in the World (2003) but Brand Upon the Brain! is by far the best film I have seen by him (I have yet to see My Winnipeg which also got rave reviews).

Maddin is one of the few directors who still makes silent films. This film is in fact only partly silent. There was a short time when silent films had soundtracks (music and sound effects), and Maddin does the same thing here. He also uses a narrator, but they where sometimes used at the time of the silent films (then live), especially in Japan.

The film is pure surrealism. It is autobiographical in the same way as Kafka was is his books. It has the humor of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet and the horror of David Lynch. It is, in a nutshell insane and amazing. Strongly recommended to anyone interested in Avant-Garde cinema.

About the DVD. The Transfer is very good. It offers multi narration track, which is much appreciated. The documentary about the film was really good and informative. The same goes for the essay on Maddin, by film critic Dennis Lim. The two new short films are far from being the best I have seen from Maddin. "It's My Mother's Birthday Today" is some kind of music video and "Footsteps" is in fact just a documentary about the foley artists which worked on the film.
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Format: DVD
Guy Maddin's BRAND ON THE BRAIN! is art first, film second, and stands like a puzzling and intriguing piece you'd see in a museum. A description in one of extra features on the disc explains that BRAND ON THE BRAIN! "toured as a live event to many cities around the world, featuring an eleven-piece orchestra, a Foley team, a celebrity narrator, and a castrato." So, really, this film is basically a silent movie presented like a concert, with the celebrity narrator and Foley team becoming an essential part of the act itself. Some of the narrators were Isabella Rossilini, Guy Madden himself, Laurie Anderson, Crispin Glover and -- and this was a big surprise -- Eli Wallach. The disc supplies a couple of those performances from the 2007 New York presentations as alternative tracks. Whichever one you choose, in an ingenious display of melding style and meaning, Maddin utilized the limitations inherent in the silent film era to conjure the sense of distant memory. It incorporates not only the dropped frames, which exaggerates the spliced editing, but his minimal use of sound and distortion creates a sense of dreaming and semi-consciousness. It suggests the sense of a memory deteriorated by time, yet one that has lost none of its power. His recollections flicker on the screen not so much as what they were in reality, but how they settled into his subconscious. Therefore his mother is depicted as a possessive harridan enthroned in a turret atop a lighthouse, scouring the beachhead with a searchlight, searching for escapees from her dysfunctional authority. Sometimes her voice is rendered as just a harsh squawk by the Foley team.Read more ›
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This is one of Maddin's best, though my favorite is still his Dracula one. I like the DVD because there are several audio tracks so you can make you own art via messing with the narration soundtrack. I started out first with Isabella Rosellini, then moved to the next, which was Maddin himself. It was a joy to find Laurie Anderson on one of the tracks, also Crispin Glover. My favorites were Maddin and Glover, though there was another actor on there who also wrote the script, Louie... can't seem to find him in the credits online.

But if you have a DVD controller like mine, you can make a game of pushing the audio button and going through the 8 or so narrator audio tracks and hear different interpretations of the movie. You can also do it via the menu, there is a section to pick narrators, but I would rather change it on the fly.

The extras are wonderful too. Footsteps is a Maddin filmed look at the foley artists, there is a film based on a singer called the Manitoba Meadowlark. I am not sure if it is worth the $35 or so, but if you found a copy used, I would say go for it. I could watch this movie many times. I like how the actors look, the storyline which is a little lesbian and secretive, a little bit of a Victorian zombie fairytale and steampunk fantasy (the aerophone is one of the best steampunk tools ever if you ask me).

Sweet nectar! Romania! Romania Romania!

(You'll have to watch it to get that.)

I wonder why Maddin hasn't done some film with the girls from Rasputina yet. They seem evenly matched, but maybe that exists only in my dreams.
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