Brand Upon the Brain! (2006, Guy Maddin)

screened Sunday May 13 2007 at Village East Cinemas, New York NY IMDb

This is the view from my seat. The orchestra is dressed in black on the left, the three live foley artists (who used such implements as steel brushes, a full-size slamming door, and celery sticks to create the live sound effects) are dressed in white lab coats on the right, and narrator John Ashbery is in the center shaking hands with Guy Maddin on the right. (I have a closer shot of the two of them but it's pretty blurry). Not pictured -- the castrato who was sitting in the box seat to my left the whole time, and got up to sing all of one minute's worth of screen time. Needless to say, with all of this activity south of the screen, it was damn difficult to devote my full attention to Maddin's latest, a campily disturbing (or disturbingly campy) faux autobiography about a man named Guy Maddin's traumatic childhood in an orphanage, raised by a domineering mother and infatuated with a cross-dressing lesbian teen. As par for Maddin's crazed course, it's both intimate in its perversity yet coldly detached in its silent era formalism. Verdict is out on the film, as it was clearly upstaged by the event -- every time a sound effect was issued, I instinctively looked at the foley section to see the sound of wind generated from a wooden wheel, hands splashing in a pool to simulate the lapping of waves, and the crunching of a melon for the sound of a woman's teeth biting into a child's flesh.

But best of all I got to meet my favorite living poet, John Ashbery, whom I described to Robert Cargni, film curator at the International House in Philadelphia, as the Jean-Luc Godard of English language poetry. To wit, here's the opening of "Daffy Duck in Hollywood":

Something strange is creeping across me.

La Celestina has only to warble the first few bars

Of "I Thought about You" or something mellow from

Amadigi di Gaula for everything--a mint-condition can

Of Rumford's Baking Powder, a celluloid earring, Speedy

Gonzales, the latest from Helen Topping Miller's fertile

Escritoire, a sheaf of suggestive pix on greige, deckle-edged

Stock--to come clattering through the rainbow trellis

Where Pistachio Avenue rams the 2300 block of Highland

Fling Terrace. He promised he'd get me out of this one,

That mean old cartoonist, but just look what he's

Done to me now! I scarce dare approach me mug's attenuated

Reflection in yon hubcap, so jaundiced, so déconfit Are its lineaments--fun, no doubt, for some quack phrenologist's

Fern-clogged waiting room, but hardly what you'd call

Companionable. But everything is getting choked to the point of


somehow over the course of the poem we get from this narrowly manic mallardian stream of conscious monologue to a bird's eye view of life's splendrous variety and acceptance of our finite place within it.

Not what we see but how we see it matters; all's

Alike, the same, and we greet him who announces

The change as we would greet the change itself.

All life is but a figment; conversely, the tiny

Tome that slips from your hand is not perhaps the

Missing link in this invisible picnic whose leverage

Shrouds our sense of it. Therefore bivouac we

On this great, blond highway, unimpeded by

Veiled scruples, worn conundrums. Morning is

Impermanent. Grab sex things, swing up

Over the horizon like a boy

On a fishing expedition. No one really knows

Or cares whether this is the whole of which parts

Were vouchsafed--once--but to be ambling on's

The tradition more than the safekeeping of it. This mulch for

Play keeps them interested and busy while the big,

Vaguer stuff can decide what it wants--what maps, what

Model cities, how much waste space. Life, our

Life anyway, is between. We don't mind

Or notice any more that the sky is green, a parrot

One, but have our earnest where it chances on us,

Disingenuous, intrigued, inviting more,

Always invoking the echo, a summer's day.