Brand Upon the Brain! at the Dryden

I went to the Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Brand Upon the Brain!. It was amazing. Afterward I told a guy I knew that I now needed to stare at a blank wall for 2 hours to understand what I just saw.

It opens with a straightforward premise: a man, Guy Maddin (the writer's alter-ego) is contacted by his dying mother to repaint his childhood home — a lighthouse and orphanage — so she can visit it again. But then it was a little odd in that it was essentially a silent film with narration that's divided into 12 chapters. It was also shot on a mix of 16mm and 8mm film then enlarged to the 35mm print we got to see. And it's in black-and-white except for a few splashes of color. And, although most shots run in linear time, some are punctuated with repetition, slow-motion, or brief flash-forward glimpses.

So Guy returns to fulfill his mother's wishes. However, he's overcome by memories and the film flashes back to recall his childhood. The grainy footage, editing techniques, sounds, and narration affect the romantic imprecision of memory: especially the uniquely childhood memories, formed out of imprecise opinions and blended seamlessly with fantasy. His father toils endlessly in the shop while his mother keeps watch on all the children from her lighthouse perch (and through the fanciful "Aerophone" communication device). Guy's childhood proto-sexuality is a mishmash of lust, solitude, and gender ambiguity.

In all, the effect is stupefying, like distilled nostalgia. The discolored, muted memory of living the first time through — of things that were intended to only be experienced for the first time, well, once. So to try and live the emotions again has this dirty, cold grayness — a harbinger to leave … or to paint a new coat on the past to make it go away. It's like our memories are scabs, begging to be picked at, yet punishing us for doing so … until they're ready.

So I left the movie with that feeling. Life in the past, death in the present. Remembering, forgetting. Smells you'd forgotten, the new scent of loss everywhere.

You know … too much beauty to take in all at once.


2 thoughts on “Brand Upon the Brain! at the Dryden

  1. Agreed, this film was beautiful. I loved the reoccurring themes. They're were so many layers, it took days for me to realize the depth.

    Your scab analogy is apt, but I turn it around. If you allow the act of bleeding to be the event remembered. Then, as you heal, picking the scab nets less and less blood, the re-experience of the event fades with time, which is the crux of memory loss, false memories, and that tendency to supplement what is lost.

  2. Pingback: The Blog of Jason “Jayce” Olshefsky » Blog Archive » My Winnipeg at the Dryden

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