The Brand upon the Brain

By Guy Maddin

brand-upon-the-brain-guy-maddin.jpgThe Brand upon the Brain, 2006

An exclusive preview of Winnipeg magus Guy Maddin’s latest opus, a remarkable autobiographical reminiscence


While the orphans toil, Guy revisits his youth.

Little Guy loves his Winnipeg and everything on it: He loves the bumps in the plaster wall by his bed and traces his fingers over them like a blind man reading Braille love letters; he loves the butter tarts that sit in a plate at the foot of his bed; he loves the patterns of the kitchen wallpaper; he loves the sight of his father’s head, just the back of it, bent over his work station just off the kitchen, doing what fathers do with their backs to their families; he loves the hand smudges and secret graffiti that wind their way downward with the spiral of the lighthouse staircase towards the orphanage dorms, where the kids sleep in hammocks; he loves the little animal faces he can see in the putty of the staircase windowpanes; he adores the din of playing orphans in the main dorm as he passes it and sees his mother hard at work inside, tending to the lazy children (Mommy is telling the orphans while they toil of her violent provenance, cut out of the maternal womb by an aunt jealous of her mother’s pregnancy, while her bald mother, jealous of her gorgeous sister’s hair, scalps her assailant – a mutual homicide which orphaned the baby Mommy, sending her here to the Black Notch Orphanage, which she now operates so lovingly.)


“A womb spilling over like a cradle.”

Guy thrills to the berries in the bush by his back door, squishing them in his fingers and smelling them; he kisses a little breast of sand he makes for himself on the beach; he tosses a stone at an exposed offshore rock; he tightropes his way across a weir in a brook; he runs his hands over the fuzzy ends of the bulrushes on a pathway. These are the things he does on the island while spending precious time alone. Always the same things, an inexhaustible source of poetry and pleasure to him.

brand-upon-the-brain-guy-maddin-2.jpgThe Brand upon the Brain, 2006


The island always seems on the verge of telling Guy something, if only he can make sense of what it is trying to say.

And always the sense that someone might be watching him, so Guy is careful to perform these rituals in private, which is especially hard when his mother is at her beacon-post of vigilance. For these sorties into the Winnipeg pleasures represent for her his shirking of his filial duties and household chores. She attempts to summon him on the aerophone, which hurries his pleasures somewhat.

And we, the film viewers, get to see the internal process of this memory on the above visits to the various recollection stations of the city, where Guy allows memory to make him high: Each visit to an object, say, a large boulder or a banister, always reminds Guy of a second object. We see this in a flash or a lingering dissolve. The memory of this second object is almost milked out of the first one by the deft touch of Guy’s fingers, touching the object just so – the secondary image just squirts up at him – or smelling the original with deeply drawing nostrils until another object, or person or part of a person, is sucked out of this seemingly unrelated thing. On top of these first two memory tokens – the actual and the remembered – comes a third, which is an irrational product, as if the sum of “moss” and “mother’s neck,” for instance, were logically “water.” Soon, we are seeing longer and longer series of images sprung by each visited object, until the sequences come at Guy in extremely rapid micro-montages of seemingly disparate things, each representing one of the five senses, and each series is repeated in precisely the same order at each station of recollection, forming DNA ladders of imagery that create an ecstatic feeling within the boy’s bosom. The final image of each strand of remembering is kind of a gag, something funny, something which reflects Guy’s powers of reverie, but his level of maturity as well. These early concatenations produce as a final rewarding souvenir for Guy something pre-adolescent, something centered around Mommy, like a plate of cookies, a tucking into bed by Mommy, Mommy feeding him cookies with her mouth, or Mommy brushing Guy’s teeth with his head in her lap.

brand-upon-the-brain-guy-maddin-3.jpgThe Brand upon the Brain, 2006

Oh! The past! The past!

Mommy interrupts Guy on his aerophone to ask him where he is. He tells her he is collecting firewood.

Guy likes to shop among the objects of his Winnipeg in order to “try on” the various end states which they produce. Then these linear memory linkages are recombined in incredibly complicated weavings, until they become as mysterious as symphonies, and each strand of images, or notes, runs forward or upwards in their familiar order, changing the color wash of the black and white imagery as it does so, with some really prominent images for the viewers to note at the beginning, middle and end, before, in a rush like a roller coaster’s descent, the strand repeats itself in reverse order, DOWN!, until, with the color wash changing back again, and the salient images obviously repeating themselves in reverse, we plummet right back to the first color, to the very first image, which is so sudden (and the accompanying music should thrillingly rise and fall to score this!) that Guy is bowled over by it, as if by a face full of pungent solvent! Pleasantly is he yanked down, literally so, as if by ropes. More and more networks of memory are linked avidly by the extremely sensate Guy. MORE, MORE, MORE functions until all is established in this chapter of Guy’s life.


The island revealed the hidden secrets of Guy’s heart to him, then helped him keep them secret from all others!


From this the poem springs!

The Brand upon the Brain, a silent movie to be projected with live music and two performing foley artists, will appear in the Autumn.