Directed by Guy Maddin
Canada / USA


In the weird and wonderful supercinematic world of Canadian cult filmmaker Guy Maddin, personal memory collides with movie lore for a radical sensory overload. This eerie excursion into the Gothic recesses of Maddin’s mad, imaginary childhood is a silent, black-and-white comic science-fiction nightmare set in a lighthouse on grim Black Notch Island, where fictional protagonist Guy Maddin was raised by an ironfisted, puritanical mother. Originally mounted as a theatrical event (accompanied by live orchestra, Foley artists, and assorted narrators), Brand upon the Brain! is an irreverent, delirious trip into the mind of one of current cinema’s true eccentrics.


Theatrical Release: September 8th, 2006 - Toronto Film Festival

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DVD Review: Criterion - Region 1 - NTSC

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Distribution Criterion Collection  - Spine # 440 - Region 1 - NTSC
Runtime 1:37:45 
Video 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 6.95 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.


Audio English (Dolby Digital 2.0) 
Subtitles English (for narration, beyond intertitles), None

Release Information:
Studio: Criterion

Aspect Ratio:
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1

Edition Details:

• Narration tracks by Isabella Rossellini, Laurie Anderson, John Ashbery, Guy Maddin, Louis Negin, and Eli Wallach
• 97 Percent True, a new documentary featuring interviews with the director and his collaborators (50:38)
• Two new short films directed by Maddin exclusively for this release: It's My Mother’s Birthday Today (5:29) and Footsteps (9:12)
• Deleted scene (6:09)
• Trailer
• 14-page liner notes with a new essay by film critic Dennis Lim

DVD Release Date: August 12th, 200
Keep Case
Chapters: 16



Firstly, in a rare event - as soon it arrived, I immediately stuck this DVD in my laptop - just to, curiously, glance at the menus and images but I couldn't draw myself away from watching the entire film - it's the first time I've ever done that. That evening it was viewed on my home theater system toggling through some of the narration tracks options and eventually watching the extra features.

It's hard to pass negative judgment on films with such a heavy artistic intent in its visual presentation. Hard? - how about 'impossible' for Brand Upon the Brain. Many scenes have a purposeful intense grainy look and it translated reasonably well to SD with looking consistent enough so as not to imply the interference of noise artefacts. The darkened edge and disparate use of light and effects are all intentional which imbue Guy Maddin's desired 'feel' to Brand Upon the Brain. Bottom line is that the film looks - as it looks. It captures so many remembered appearances of old silent horror films. I kept thinking of stuff like Nosferatu and especially of Weine's 1920 classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari although essentially Maddin's imagery is so utterly unique and compelling that it defines itself with irresistible charm. It's really something else.

The DVD is dual-layered, progressive and anamorphic, coded for region 1 in the NTSC standard.    

I, obviously didn't watch the film entirely with each of the eight 2.0 channel narration tracks (five of which were recoded 'live' from May 2007 in a New York City presentation of the film) but I sampled them all and found I , personally, enjoyed Crispin Glover's voice as best suiting my appreciation of the film - BTW, Maddin's himself worked well for me too. It should be noted that as well as the many intertitles (sampled below) there are optional subtitles for the narrations.

Supplements include a 50 minute documentary, 97 Percent True (made specifically for the Criterion Collection in 2008), featuring interviews with director Maddin co-writer George Toles, editor John Gurdebeke, cinematographer Benjamin Kasulke, Producer Jamie Hook and composer Jason Staczek. It's great  with lots of input and tidbits of production/creation information. There are also two new short films directed by Maddin (exclusively for this DVD release) It's My Mother’s Birthday Today runs 5 1/2 minutes on the castrato know as Manitoba Meadowlark; Dov Houle who performed on tour with the film. Footsteps (almost 10 minutes) is about the Toronto-based Foley effects team. There is also a 6 minute deleted scene involving a cross-dresser infusing an extensive flashback, plus a trailer and a 14-page liner notes with a new essay by film critic Dennis Lim.

Obviously this is cinema not for all tastes but I can't imagine anyone who gives this a decent chance not getting something special out of their viewing. The inventive creativity and masterful control of 'aura', which is so pervasive, makes this very much deserved of many spins in the player and it's going to be a wonderful disc to demo to friends when they come over - hopefully hypnotizing them as it did to me. Strongly recommended for those who dare enter into this realm!  

Gary W. Tooze


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CLICK to order from:

Distribution Criterion Collection  - Spine # 440 - Region 1 - NTSC


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