Brand Upon The Brain! is one of my favorite films. Stylistically, it is art-house, surreal, melodramatic, avant-garde, gothic, and dream-like. Roger Ebert called the film “a phantasmagoric story that could be a collaboration between Edgar Allan Poe and Salvador Dalí” and Carrie Rickey of The Philadelphia Inquirer called it “a feverishly imaginative Freudian vampire film.”
The storyline involves Guy Maddin traveling back to his childhood home, a lighthouse on a mysterious island, and remembering the strange sequence of events that drove him from the island as a child. Young Guy, his teenage sister, and a horde of orphans live in the lighthouse orphanage. Their every move is watched over by Mother. Father is scientist/inventor and is constantly at work on secret projects in the basement. When odd head wounds begin to appear on the children, teen detectives Chance and Wendy Hale (the famous brother and sister sleuth team “The Lightbulb Kids”) visit the island to launch an investigation. Guy is weak-kneed as he falls for Wendy and his sister falls for Chance, a love which must be kept from Mother at all costs. The kids help with the investigation and the terrible secrets of Guy’s family are revealed.
The film was originally presented with an 11-piece orchestra, several foley artists, a Castrato, and a narrator. While resembling a silent film with intertitle cards, the soundtrack features the musings of the narrator. The narration for the DVD is provided by Isabella Rossellini, but many others provided live narration including Lou Reed, Crispen Glover, Laurie Anderson, Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket), Stephen Malkmus (of Pavement), Calvin Johnson (of Beat Happening), Tunde Adebimpe (of the band TV on the Radio), and Mike Watt (from the punk band The Minutemen).
A 70-second clip played with three different narrators:
Interview with Guy Maddin and Crispin Glover (one of the narrators):
A unique and notable feature is Guy Maddin’s distinct jump-cut editing style. Maddin describes it as “cutting out the good parts of the take and only using the stuff before ‘Action’ and after ‘Cut’.” The editing sometimes even shows multiple takes of the same event as if to rewind and highlight the importance of that event before moving forward. Vaseline often covers the camera lens.
Maddin talks about his editing style: