I love Guy Maddin. From Twilight of the Ice Nymphs to The Saddest Music in the World , his movies combine weird, weird ideas with an obsession with old Hollywood. There’s really not much like his movies–you just kind of have to see them.

That said, imagine the absolute ecstatic shock that seized me as I heard about the plans surrounding a special New York engagement for his new movie, Brand Upon the Brain! As the film is silent, with a soundtrack and narration intended for live performance, Maddin decided to get some of his favorite people to narrate. These included Laurie Anderson, John Ashbery, Isabella Rosselini… and Lou Reed.

Lou Reed! I bought tickets immediately.

Brand Upon the Brain! is a supposedly autobiographical story about a little boy named (what else?) Guy Maddin. I say supposedly because, well, Guy lives with his hyper-vigilant mother, mad scientist father, and sexually intense older sister in a lighthouse that also serves as an orphanage. When Wendy Hale, a teen detective in the Bobsy Twins tradition, mysteriously arrives on the island, things go from bizarre to… well… super-bizarre. Eventually, Wendy disguises herself as her “brother,” Chance and seduces Guy’s sister, who subsequently kills her father, who is then reanimated! I hope you understand that these aren’t spoilers–it’s pretty difficult to spoil this movie. The black and white photography and frequently hysterical intertitles gave the film an antiquated, and therefore timeless, ambience. Somehow, it also made it easier to suspend my disbelief. There are many adjectives that apply to Guy Maddin, but “realist” isn’t one of them.

At the screening I attended, Reed sat in elevated box seats above the stage, reading the narration from what seemed to be a teleprompter. His weathered voice complimented the film perfectly, though I admit it was difficult to stay focused on the screen when I would just as soon have watched him instead. I was particularly wrapt when he read the description of one character’s history of electroshock, recalling all of the rumors about Reed’s own childhood experiences that have been circulating for years.

Also in the theater were an 11-piece orchestra, an opera singer for the film’s two arias, and three sound people doing live sound effects. Everyone was perfectly synched with the movie, and the entire live set-up made it impossible not to think about each element of the film (and of film in general) separately, and how it all comes together. It’s so great when theater, film, and music come together so successfully.

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