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Scarecrow on Seattle: BRAND UPON THE BRAIN

In appreciation and recognition of Seattle's long and illustrious film history, we are proud to partner with the Seattle Office of Film + Music to bring you reviews of movies made in the Pacific Northwest with an emphasis on how these films showcase the region's many filmable locations.

Brand Upon the Brain (2006)

In 2005, after shooting his first seven features in his native Canada, Guy Maddin came to Seattle and collaborated with a great many talented individuals to produce a film experience unlike any other-including his previous features, which is saying something. Maddin has always pushed the boundaries of what we have come to expect from narrative filmmaking, combining the look of silent and early sound film with an experimental style found in silent Russian cinema & German Expressionist horror. But with Brand Upon The Brain!, he took the experiment one step farther, touring the finished silent film all over the world with live foley artists, orchestral accompaniment, and guest narrators. (Taking Maddin's multiple narrator lead, the Criterion DVD release includes eight different audio tracks from which to choose. Among the options are Louis Negin, Isabella Rossellini, John Ashbery, Laurie Anderson, Crispin Glover, and Eli Wallach, and Maddin himself. Since the film is told in 12 chapters, you can, as I did, bounce around between narrators with each chapter. I saved Eli Wallach for Chapter 12, and stayed with Crispin Glover for the longest).

In the words of the pressbook, the film is a "grand silent movie event custom conceived for the pomp and ceremony of a grand movie-palace. Shot in Seattle, this exhilarating exercise in stretching film vocabulary to its limits represents Guy Maddin's work at its paradoxically most sophisticated and incautious!" One has to wonder if extricating himself from his native, insular Winnipeg and coming here to collaborate helped facilitate this boundary-stretching. In the middle of this phantasmagoria, there is definitely a story. Guy Maddin (portrayed by Erik Maahs) is called back to his native home (portrayed by the Point Wilson Lighthouse at Fort Worden State Park) by his mother to give the old place one last coat of paint before she dies. Upon returning, his memories of youth come flooding back. There, he and his sister lived with their parents who ran an orphanage until a teen-detective duo exposed the orphanage and the horrible experiments his parents were doing on the children. The story itself recalls an early 1930s Universal haunted house movie and a Hardy Boys adventure, but it's told in a fever dream-set partly inside the lighthouse in an incredibly claustrophobic, repressive atmosphere, and partly outside on the beach where young Guy and his companions breathe the air of temporary freedom. The beach, incidentally, is one of the few recognizable locations in the film apart from the famous Fort Worden lighthouse. Shot mostly at Golden Gardens, the long, curved coastline and small outjuttings of grass are where cinematographer Ben Kasulke's work really shines, capturing the grays and silvers of twilight and early dawn as our adventurers bounce around Maddin's merry, maddening world of dreams and memories.

-Mark Steiner

 

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