Guy Maddin’s “Brand Upon the Brain!”

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By R. Emmet Sweeney

IFC News

[Photo: The Film Company/Celluloid Dreams, 2006]

Guy Maddin’s latest fever dream of a film, “Brand Upon the Brain!,” descended upon the Walter Reade Theatre on October 15 to close out the Views From the Avant-Garde section of the New York Film Festival. In tow were an orchestra, a team of foley artists (for live sound effects), and Isabella Rossellini, who would perform the narration for the film, which was, as you may have guessed, silent. It went out with a bang, or to be more precise, a bang! No director today is as fond of the exclamation point as Maddin, the Canadian cinephile and creator of strange celluloid objects. His works are borne out of a mixture of silent movie melodrama and self-conscious camp — a mix of Frank Borzage and John Waters. The subjects range from incestuous psychodramas in the Alps (“Careful,” 1994) to Depression-era musicals starring beer-filled glass legs (attached to Rossellini in “The Saddest Music in the World,” 2003). The often outrageous material is played with absolute conviction, and is always tied to themes of family strife (recently it’s been missing fathers) and sexual repression, lending his films an unexpected emotional heft amid their giddy excesses.

His new film is no different. In the Fall issue of Cinema Scope, Maddin describes how the Seattle-based “The Film Company” offered him a budget to make a film before they even saw a script. They gave him complete freedom, the only restrictions being he had to shoot it in two weeks and use local actors. He had to scramble for a story, and earlier in the article he describes the image that spurred his imagination: “A lighthouse positively swollen with the unseemly sexual desires of children — and their parents!” From this charged thought a whole seamy narrative was woven, circling around the main character “Guy Maddin” (Eric Steffen Maahs) (after the screening the director claimed the film is autobiographical, like his hockey peep show “Cowards Bend the Knee” (2003)). The unseemly desires center around a teenage sleuth harpist, Wendy Hale (Katherine E. Scharhon), who’s investigating Guy’s overbearing mother for abusing the kids in her orphanage (and how!). Guy’s in love with Wendy, but she only has eyes for his Sis (Maya Lawson). Gender-bending, bosom-baring and slurpy sound effects filled the room until an orphan revolt, re-animation of the dead, and a barrel of brain nectar shuttled the film to its close. Maddin packs a whole serial’s worth of plot twists into its 95 minutes — and all of it is scored to the hypnotic tempo of Jason Staczek’s pulsing score and Rossellini’s formidable voice.

The actress, nattily decked out in a dark suit and red tie, deftly navigated the film’s hysteric rhythms without a wink of condescension while always returning to nail down its mournful refrain: “The past! The past!” (Rossellini has become a bit of a muse for Maddin, appearing in “Saddest Music” as well as the delightful short essay-film “My Dad is 100 Years Old,” which celebrates the work of her increasingly neglected father, Roberto). In the framing story Guy returns to the lighthouse after 30 years — and hallucinates visions of Wendy, including brief flashes of color (flowers! her lips!) in the midst of the grainy black and white Super-8 stock. Like Alain Resnais’ superb festival entry “Private Fears in Public Places,” which is diametrically opposite stylistically, it is an adult story about loneliness that leaves its characters adrift in the final scene, enclosed in Spartan spaces filled only with regret. Resnais opted out of the cannibalism scene, though. Both are without distributors as of this writing.

Freddy 1920

Freddy Facts

10 Facts You May Not Know About the Nightmare on Elm Street Movies

Catch a Nightmare on Elm Street marathon Friday, November 27th as part of IFC's Sweatsgiving Weekend.

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Defining a film genre with a career that spanned five decades, horror auteur Wes Craven sadly passed away two months shy of his 76th Halloween. The spookmaster helmed some of the grittiest, slash-iest films ever to grace video rental shelves — The Hills Have Eyes, The Last House on the Left and of course, A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Released in the genre-packed year of 1984, the first Nightmare on Elm Street flick spawned a very successful franchise and an iconic character that, even 30 years later, is still a costume staple. And while Freddy Krueger and his dreamscape shenanigans have been watched countless times, there are a few facts about the cat nap killer you might not have known.

Before you catch IFC’s Nightmare on Elm Street Sweatsgiving movie marathon, check out 10 facts about the Freddy movies every horror fan ought to be privy to.

1. There’s a true story behind the original film.

1. Freddy Krueger
New Line Cinema

It’s a far-fetched premise: Young and otherwise healthy individuals have a nightmare and die from unknown causes shortly thereafter. But it actually happened to a group of Southeast Asian refugees who fled to America from the despotic rule of Pol Pot. Three men, in three separate cases, had terrifying nightmares and tried to keep themselves awake for as long as possible. After finally succumbing to exhaustion and dozing off, each man woke up screaming and died with no discernible medical cause. Wes Craven took notice of the cases and decided to work the mystery into a compellingly gruesome storyline.

2. The “Blood Geyser” used 500 gallons of blood and malfunctioned spectacularly.

2. Blood Bed
New Line Cinema

Actor Johnny Depp has a pretty dynamic on-screen death for his feature film debut. As high schooler Glen, Depp is sucked into his bedroom mattress and erupts in a huge blood geyser, which was achieved with a rotating set, a mounted camera and 500 gallons of fake bloodpumped through the bed. However, during an early take, the room was rotated the wrong way and caused a wave of fake blood to splash onto the film equipment and electrical sockets. No one was hurt, but the power went out and Craven referred to the malfunction as a “Ferris wheel from hell” in the DVD commentary.

3. Freddy’s famous sweater instills fear through science.

3. Sweater
New Line Cinema

There’s a reason why Christmas decorations trigger fear in the hearts of men and women — and it’s not just from the prospect of spending time with family. While penning the original script, Craven read in Scientific American that red and green were the two most clashing colors to the human eye. (He shared a visual example last year on Twitter.) Therefore, if the scarred flesh and finger blades weren’t upsetting enough, viewers are subliminally unsettled simply by looking at Freddy’s choice in autumn wear.

4. Freddy’s glove was also designed to tap into our deepest fears.

4. Glove
New Line Cinema

Speaking of finger blades, Freddy’s signature weapon was also based on our primal fears. The glove was a product of Craven’s wishes to give his lead a unique weapon that was both cheap and easy to transport. But the director had a eureka moment when he read about early man’s fear of bear claws. The ingredients came together to produce a glove adorned with fishing knives, later changed to steak knives for the shooting script.

5. Freddy was inspired by a bully, a superhero, a homeless person and a pop song.

5. Bully
New Line Cinema

You’d have to make quite the impression on a writer to be immortalized as a serial killer who preys on sleeping children. But apparently, that’s the case for at least two people in Craven’s past. Craven has said he based Freddy on a bully named Fred Kreuger who menaced Craven in his youth who also inspired the character “Krug” in Last House on the Left. Freddy’s famous hat and sweater is said to be influenced by a homeless man whom Craven remembers staring at him through his bedroom window when he was 10. (The colored sweater was also a nod to the DC Comics superhero Plastic Man.) Finally, Gary Wright’s 1976 hit “Dream Weaver” inspired Craven to create a character who “weaved” through people’s dreams.

6. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is about a teen coming to terms with his homosexuality.

6. Freddy 2
New Line Cinema

Since its release, viewers have noticed A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 has homosexual themes and subtext running throughout the story. (Lead character Jesse is noticeably attracted to his best friend Ron; a sign on his bedroom door forbids the entry of “chicks”; Freddy has no female victims; Jesse and his gym teacher engage in a shower room towel-snapping scene that could only be described as “intimate.”) Turns out, it’s no accident. Screenwriter David Chaskin explained in the documentary Never Sleep Again that he conceived the premise of Freddy entering Jesse’s body as a metaphor for the character’s closeted sexuality.

7. Freddy was originally written as a silent killer.

7. Phone Tongue
New Line Cinema

It’s hard to believe anyone would want to tear out the dialogue for the ol’ gloved wiseacre, but when he was conceived, Freddy Krueger wasn’t going to have any lines. As viewers might notice in the original film, Freddy is more subdued (for Freddy) and closer in tone to his mute cohorts Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers. But as the franchise continued, the killer eventually became the throat-slashing one-liner factory we know him as today.

8. The lack of Freddy in the first film was on purpose.

8. Freddy Appearance
New Line Cinema

Wes Craven didn’t need Spielberg’s deft use of a shark to know the unseen is far scarier than the visible, which is why Freddy Krueger only has 7 minutes of screen time in the original film. Obviously, the character quickly became a huge draw for audiences and was given ample time to shine in the sequels.

9. Dick Cavett really wanted Freddy to kill Zsa Zsa Gabor.

9. Dick Cavett
New Line Cinema

In a dream sequence in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, talk show host Dick Cavett interviews the glamour punchline Zsa Zsa Gabor on TV, morphs into Freddy and goes in for the boa-bedecked kill. As it so happened, Cavett was given the choice of who to have on this fantasy show and he chose Gabor because, according to him, he’d never have her on and if there was any guest he’d like to kill off, it would be her.

10. Wes Craven doesn’t like the ending to the first film.

10. Ending
New Line Cinema

If there’s one thing about horror movies, the genre ain’t short of sequels. And while the Nightmare on Elm Street series went back to the Freddy well more than a few times, Craven never wanted to tease a sequel at the end of the first film. Surprisingly, the first movie was to end on a happy, positive note with the plucky teens driving off. But according to the director’s DVD commentary, studio head Bob Shaye insisted that Craven hint at future installments with Freddy appearing as the driver. Craven compromised with the sweater-striped convertible top and Mom being yanked through the front door window.

D's Best

Tenacious D’s 10 Most Insane Live Performances

Catch The D at Festival Supreme Saturday, October 10th.


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Tencious D knows how to rock. Hard. And they’ll be melting faces with the power of their rocking this Saturday, October 10th, at Festival Supreme in Los Angeles. As a tribute to The D and their awesome comedy and music festival, check out some of their most mindblowing-ly insane live performances below. How will their Festival Supreme appearance compare? Better grab tickets and find out.

10. Wonderboy on Late Night w/ Conan O’Brien

The boys get to play dress up in this classic Conan clip.

9. Ben Stiller Joins The D (NSFW)

It’s all fun and games until Ben Stiller crushes your dreams.

8. “Throw Down” on The Late Late Show

The boys’ religious history lesson is a bit more Metal than your typical Sunday school class.

7. “Dude (I Totally Miss You)” Live (NSFW)

KG threatens to leave the band, but can’t resist the silken voice of best friend Jables.

6.Tribute” feat. Dave Grohl from MADtv

You don’t often think of rock when it comes to MADtv, but when they let The D loose the result was TV gold.

5. All Jazz, All The Time in Milan

Jack announces that Tenacious D is now a jazz band, and somehow still makes it sound hardcore.

4.Roadie” at SXSW (NSFW)

“Coming to you live at the…what is this place?,” the boys take a moment to honor the unsung heroes of rock.

3.Beelzeboss” on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

Lead guitarist John Konesky is possessed by the Devil, and the only way to save him is to rock!

2. “F*ck Her Gently” at Blizzcon (NSFW)

JB teaches us how to make love The D way in this classic performance from the 2010 Blizzcon.

1. “The Metal” Live and Uncut

The only way this could be more metal is if it were not a video clip, but a bar of iron.

Portlandia Season 5

Is It January Yet???

Portlandia Returns With Danzig, Louis C.K. and More on January 21

Portlandia returns January 21st, 2016 at 10P ET/PT.

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Circle the day on your calendar and mark your sundial, because Portlandia is returning to IFC for its sixth season on Thursday, January 21st at 10P ET/PT for ten all-new episodes.

Portlandia gif

In season six, Fred and Carrie embark on all new Portland-based adventures, including inadvertently creating a ramen noodle monster that wreaks havoc on the city.

Other things to look forward to this season: Doug and Claire break up, only to wind up frustrated by a way-younger party girl and an overly caring feminist, respectively. Dave and Kath decide to run a marathon that takes place the following day. Fred turns grey overnight and, in seeking answers from the universe, gets sucked into a black hole. Kyle MacLachlan, reprising his role as the Mayor, tries to lure a tech company to Portland and also puts the moves on Carrie with a canister of frozen sperm from his office refrigerator.

Guest stars coming to Portlandia this season include Jillian Bell (Workaholics), Louis C.K. (Louie), musician Wayne Coyne and The Flaming Lips, rocker Glenn Danzig, Gregory Gourdet (Top Chef), Mitchell Hurwitz (Arrested Development), Moshe Kasher (Another Period), Zoe Kravitz (Dope, Mad Max), John Levenstein (Kroll Show), NPR’s Kai Ryssdal, Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development), Robert Smigel (Saturday Night Live), and Bitsie Tulloch (rimm).

Returning guest stars include Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire), Natasha Lyonne (Orange Is the New Black), and Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley). Be sure to catch Seasons 1-5 of Portlandia on iTunes and Netflix and check back here for more announcements before the season six premiere on January 21st.


Award Winners

Fred Armisen and Bill Hader to Receive American Ingenuity Award

Smithsonian Magazine honors Documentary Now!

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During its inspirational 50th season, Documentary Now! earned our undying love and support. Now it’s earning awards, too. The show’s creators and stars, Bill Hader and Fred Armisen, have won Smithsonian Magazine‘s American Ingenuity Award for the Performing Arts this year. Senator Al Franken will present the duo with the award in a ceremony on Thursday, Nov. 12th. No word on whether Blue Jean Committee will perform.

In addition to the award, Bill and Fred received another honor—the chance to get their mugs on the cover of Smithsonian Magazine‘s December issue. Looking good, guys. And for more Documentary Now!, check out the archives, music and full episodes.

Smithsonian Magazine

Smithsonian Magazine

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