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DID YOU READ

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.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.