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Brand Upon The Brain!
The Criterion Collection

review by Zach B.

 

 

Not Rated

Running Time: 99 minutes

Starring: Erik Steffen Maahs, Gretchen Krich, Sullivan Brown, Andrew Loviska, Kellan Larson, Maya Lawson, Todd Jefferson Moore, Megan Murphy, Annette Toutonghi, Clara Grace Svenson, Katherine E. Scharhon, Cathleen O'Malley, Clayton Corzatte, Suzan Corzatte

Written by: Guy Maddin and George Toles

Directed by: Guy Maddin

 

 

Studio: Criterion

Retail Price: $39.99

Features: Narration Tracks, 97 Percent True Documentary, My Mother's Birthday Today short film, Footsteps short film, Deleted Scene, Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Stereo, English Subtitles, Chapter Selection (14 Chapters)

Released: August 12th, 2008

 

 


"Brand Upon The Brain!" features a new digital transfer, presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The film was shot in black-and-white Super 8, and then blown up for the screen. As a result, the stark and grainy images aren't flawed - the look is entirely intentional. In any case, Maddin's eerie-yet-beautiful visuals really stand out in this transfer - which is clean otherwise, and remarkably sharp. The overall image here is distinct, striking and downright excellent.

 


All the tracks included are presented in English Dolby Stereo - but I was surprised how much they pack a punch. All the narrators - be it recorded or live - sound very crisp, and crystal clear. The other sound elements also come in strongly: the somber instrumental music gives a fine sonic resonance, and the sound effects come through naturally and with splendid tinges of power. Fidelity is pretty high on all the tracks, too. These certainly are the most impressive stereo tracks I have heard in ages.

English subtitles are available.

 


I was always very curious to see if "Brand Upon The Brain!" would see the light of day on DVD, and how this would be accomplished. You see, when the film was shown in theaters, it was also something of a live event with an orchestra, foley team and even a celebrity narrator. While there's no way to directly replicate that live experience for home viewing, I'm very glad that the DVD has eight Narration Tracks. Three are studio-recorded (one with Maddin, one with Isabella Rossellini and another with Louis Negin), and the other five are from when the film hit New York City in May 2007. The celebrity narrators are Rossellini again, as well as Laurie Anderson, John Ashbery, Crispin Glover and Eli Wallach. Simply stupendous. Now only if they included a complete a video recording of any of the live performances... that might have helped replicate being in the audience somewhat... (maybe for a possible Blu-ray edition?). 

97 Percent True is a 50 minute documentary about the film's production, made exclusively for this DVD release (and presented in anamorphic widescreen). Interviewed are Guy Maddin, co-writer Gerorge Toles, editor John Gurdebeke, cinematographer Ben Kasulke, producer Jamie Hook and composer Jason Staczek. It's literally the perfect companion piece to the film; Maddin speaks the most here, as he waxes serious on his personal approach, his own life and his key inspirations. Maddin's collaborators talk about working with him, his unique filmmaking approach and their contributions to this endeavor. Also great about this documentary is footage from the live performances, including narrators who weren't included on this disc - plus how the touring of the movie, and make it somewhat like a theatrical show, came to fruition. Simply phenomenal.

Another big treat this disc features are two new Short Films made by Guy Maddin, exclusively for this DVD. "It's My Mother's Birthday Today" features Dov Houle, a Maddin collaborator who toured with the live version of "Brand." There's also "Footsteps," which centers on a Foley effects team from Toronto. Both are typical Maddin (and I mean that in the best possible way) - his fans will surely eat these up.

A Deleted Scene is also included, running about six minutes, with a nice text introduction from Maddin why it was cut. There's also the film's Theatrical Trailer. All the disc's supplements are in anamorphic widescreen.

As with nearly every Criterion release, a wonderful essay is included in the keepcase booklet. "Brand" features an essay by Dennis Lim, who has a personal connection to Maddin (he was his editor at the Village Voice). But no matter - Lim's excellent, nuanced essay discusses Maddin's work, and the appeal of the filmmaker's running thread of autobiographical elements in his movies. Well done!

 


I'm very glad to see "Brand Upon The Brain!" on DVD, and in a superb Criterion edition, no less. This brilliant and bizarre ode to memory and the past is unlike anything you've probably experienced before. The DVD features crisp stereo tracks, an outstanding transfer and terrific supplements that fit in with the spirit of the film. This is sure to rank as one of the best DVD releases of 2008.