Last Monday I saw what I can call without hyperbole:
The greatest cinematic spectacle ever!
Specifically, it's Guy Maddin's ("The Saddest Music in the World") newest film "Brand Upon the Brain". A new Guy Maddin movie would be enough to get me excited, but this was more than a movie, it was a huge theatrical event. For those who don't know, Guy Maddin is a Canadian director who's still making movies using techniques from the silent (or early talkie) black-and-white (or early color) times. Well, for "Brand Upon the Brain", he brought in a 13 piece orchestra, an on-stage team of Foley artists (people who manipulate objects to make sounds for the movies), an on-stage narrator (Joan Chen of "Twin Peaks"), and a contralto singer (the best gag, more on that later). As for the story itself, it's a semi-ostensibly-autobiographical piece about Guy Maddin, a house painter returning home to paint the lighthouse/orphanage where he grew up. He's not an orphan, his parents ran the place and he explored the island with his sister Sis. He returns because his mother's wish is that the lighthouse gets a fresh coat of paint before she dies. Once there, his thoughts drift back to his childhood, full of first love, a domineering mother, an inventor father, gender ambiguity, and delicious nectar sucked from the bases of the skulls of the orphans.
Okay, that's it for what the movie is about, I can't explain it better than that. Now for the whole experience. The orchestra was excellent. I've seen silent films with live music before, and it's always very cool. The Foley artists were incredible, although from my seat behind the conductor I couldn't see them that well. Oh yeah, that reminds me, with all that stuff on stage a lot of the movie was obscured, but I was sitting close enough that if I couldn't see an important element on screen, I could glance at the conductor's monitor and catch it. Where was I? Joan Chen was excellent, and hammed up her role well. There was even a moment near the end when she broke into what sounded like Chinese, but I could see the English version on the conductor's monitor. But the best gag was the contralto. Guy Maddin introduced him as the "Winnipeg Whippoorwill" or something like that, and claimed that he met him in a bathhouse. He only performed twice for a few minutes during the movie. So for most of the 95 minutes, he's just sitting on the stage in an ornate chair wearing his fancy suit. Then he gets up, adjusts his old-timey microphone, pulls out a handkerchief, and...lip syncs. You're not supposed to know, but I was close enough to see the little boy (with the voice of an angel) singing in the orchestra. In fact, I sat next to the boy's deservedly proud father. Then after his "singing", the on stage contralto makes a big fuss of putting his microphone down, sitting back in his ornate chair, and dabbing himself off with his handkerchief. Brilliant! Brilliant! Brilliant!
"Brand Upon the Brain" is still playing with live performances in New York, and is coming soon to Chicago and Los Angeles (one weekend of live shows each). It'll also be opening in a few places as a regular theatrical run. More information here.