Brand Upon The Brain!, one of Guy Maddin’s more recent offerings, is not, as expected, an exposé about the effect of advertising on the human mind. In fact, it is about as far from a traditional film as possible. Playing at Cornell Cinema from September 13 to 17, the film follows the meandering recollections of our hero, Guy on his return to his childhood home.
His old home is located on Black Notch Island, populated by a lighthouse and an orphanage formerly run by his parents. Among his rememberances of things past, Guy recalls the downfall of his mother, a domineering woman who keeps a telescopic eye on her charges from atop the island’s lighthouse. His father stays in the basement, performing scientific experiments. Something is amiss on Black Notch Island, but all hell really breaks lose when Wendy Hale, famous girl detective, shows up. To say any more would be besides the point, as the film is less about plot than about conveying emotion and showcasing cinematic technique. At any rate, that plot description is far more linear and coherent than the film itself, which is largely silent except for sporadic bursts of narration from Isabella Rossellini. Brand Upon The Brain! is by turns confounding or intriguing, depending your perspective. It goes on at length through twelve separate chapters of increasing oddity and whether you find it contrived or fantastic will depend on your willingness to accept the deliberate neglect of convention.
Despite its unique take on plot and character there is no question that it is visually arresting. Watching the film stumble between art and artifice, one is struck by the way Maddin manages to be obtuse and still fascinate.