NYFF: Brand Upon the Brain!
The Views From the Avant-Garde section of the New York Film Festival is essential viewing every year, as there's always a handful of strikingly original work not to be seen elsewhere (last year it was Peter Tscherkassky's The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly mash-up Instructions for a Sound and Light Machine), while this year....I can't really say. I only managed to make it to the Ernie Gehr retro (Serene Velocity in 35mm being the highlight), and so missed a lot of new work by guys that always deliver like Leighton Pierce, Tomonari Nishikawa, Vincent Grenier and Ken Jacobs.
But oh yeah, they shoehorned Guy Maddin's latest wet fever dream into the program, a sort of shadow closing night film to go along with Pan's Labyrinth. Regardless of whether it's avant-garde, it was an edifying spectacle - a silent film with live orchestral accompaniment, foley artists, and Isabella Rossellini doing the narration in person. Perhaps it was the result of all those bells and whistles , but it's the best time I've had at a Maddin film, and I quite enjoyed Cowards Bend the Knee. As with that work, he calls Brand Upon the Brain! autobiographical (the main character is named "Guy Maddin"), and I'll take him at his word, despite the mother that sucks "nectar" from the brains of orphans. The aesthetic is still silent-film melodrama with the id let loose, but it all boils down to the loss of innocence as a child grows into adulthood. Sure there's gender switches, lesbian sex, cannibalism, rampant nudity, and the aforementioned orphan abuse, but it's deeply felt and almost sweet - the framing device of the grown "Guy" lamenting the loss of his first love lends each scene a deep sense of loss. This is a guy in touch with his emotions.