Maddin on the Brain

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By Shannon Gee

Shannon Gee was able to catch the premiere of Guy Maddin’s Brand Upon the Brain! at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival. It was the very first screening of the film with all the elements in place: The live Narrator, there played by Louis Negin, the live score by members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, vocals performed by a “castrato found in the steam baths of Winnipeg” and three Foley artists to provide the silent film’s sound effects. The film has since gone on to play live in New York, Los Angeles, and will feature different narrators including Geraldine Chaplin, Joie Lee, Andre Gregory, Laurie Anderson, John Ashbery and Isabella Rossellini. It will play next at the San Francisco International Film Festival, with the Brand Upon the Brain! Orchestra, Foley by Footsteps and with Joan Chen as the Narrator. Check here for more live extravaganzas in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles and here for further screenings.

Gee had a quick 15 minutes with Maddin the night after the very first show to talk about the screening, the unique way the film was made, and a little bit about Maddin’s inspirations for the film.


What are your impressions of last night?

I’m pretty giddy. I feel good. Everyone is really giddy. Everyone who worked on the film went to the after party. I got so many sweet things said to me. I finally ended up with throbbing teeth. I was really cloyed! And I finally said, this can’t be healthy for me! [I finally had to say to] Erik Maahs, one of the guys who plays “me,” “Erik, you gotta stop saying nice things!” So I think there’s a really nice energy. Everyone with the project seems pretty pumped up.

There was so much nervousness beforehand because the rehearsal was a disaster, a technical disaster. So we were hearing all the live elements come together for the first time. And there were some technical hilarities going on [during the performance], you know the narrator’s karaoke prompter broke down after five minutes, so I was prompting him the good old fashioned way with trying to find the sweet spot on his body with my index finger, you know, to extrude the memory of his cue. So it was like twenty minutes of experimenting there. “The show must go on” is something theater people like to say, but I’m not a theater person! I’m used to just worrying about whether the film projector is going to break down or not, so it was a real pleasure to not have to worry whether the projector was going to break down, because that was the last thing on my mind. I thought maybe Louis would break down!

I remember saying beforehand there are so many live elements, so many things that could go wrong, and something’s bound to go wrong… I don’t think I really believed it though. And I always said, “I’ll be the one laughing when it does!” But somehow, I don’t remember laughing last night!

The house lights went down and the film started to roll without everyone ready to go. Were you the one who yelled “We’re starting the film again!”

No that was Gregg [Lachow, the producer of the film]. Thank God! There was so much silence, completely mute panic and indecision going on that Gregg really broke the ice and I think it bought so much goodwill with the audience. They just sort of said, “Ah. This is a live event. We feel sorry for the sorry-ass director. He must be in agony right now.”

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