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  • 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
  • English subtitles
  • 2 Discs
  • Optional narration tracks by Isabella Rossellini, Laurie Anderson, John Ashbery, Crispin Glover, Guy Maddin, Louis Negrin, and Eli Wallach
  • The Making of "Brand upon the Brain!", a new documentary featuring interviews with the director and crew members
  • Two new short films directed by Maddin: It's My Mother's Birthday Today and Footsteps
  • Deleted scene
  • Trailer

Brand Upon the Brain!

Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Guy Maddin
Starring: Erik Steffen Maahs, Gretchen Krich, Sullivan Brown, Andrew Loviska, Kellan Larson, Maya Lawson
2006 | 99 Minutes | Licensor: The Film Company

Release Information
DVD | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #440
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: August 12, 2008
Review Date: July 22, 2008

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In the weird and wonderful super-cinematic 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 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.

Forum members rate this film 8.2/10


Discuss the film and DVD here   


Criterion states on the back that Guy Maddin’s Brand Upon the Brain is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this dual-layer disc. While there are slim black bars at the top and bottom, there’s also a slim bar on the left hand side, making the aspect ratio of the actual picture look closer to 1.78:1 or so. Not a big deal, though.

Maddin’s style for the film (and a number of his other films) goes for the look of a film from the silent era. Shot primarily in Super-8, the film has a very grainy look to it and it looks like he also intentionally inserts flaws such as causing the picture to jump, removing frames, and creating other effects to make the film appear older than it actually is (this film is from 2006.) Because of the intentional look I sort of overlooked the print flaws.

The transfer itself is quite strong, though I’m uncertain of a few issues, which I’ll get to. Black levels are the best aspect of the transfer, they’re deep and bold, pretty much perfect. Whites are strong, but not blinding. There are a few quick splashes of colour, including a sequence where a tint is added, and the colours look pretty good. The picture is quite sharp overall, though some of Maddin’s techniques include shooting out-of-focus or softening the image up.

I noticed a couple instances of shimmering with a few patterns but they’re not bothersome. I was unsure of some of the grainier sequences, though. For the most part the grain looks natural, inherent in the film, but some sequences, specifically the title cards, presents grain that looks rather “blocky.” I’m unsure if these are compression artifacts or if computers were used to digitally insert “grain” into the sequences, creating the blocky look.

Past that, though, I was actually fairly surprised with how good it looks. It captures Maddin’s style perfectly and presents yet another stellar black and white transfer from the folks at Criterion.


All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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The DVD includes eight stereo audio tracks with narration by different performers, three of these being studio recorded tracks and the other five presenting recordings from “Live” performances (more on these audio tracks in the Supplements section of this review.) I listened to the three studio tracks, one of the “Live” tracks” and sampled the remaining tracks. Audio quality between the three studio tracks is fairly similar. Music and effects are crystal clear, while the narration is clean and intelligible. The “Live” tracks also sound good, but have the same issues most Live audio recordings have, including a slight echo and some background noises being picked up. But they’re all quite clear, not as clean as studio track, but still quite good.



For its DVD premiere Criterion has included a nice collection of supplements, making for a somewhat fun release.

The most interesting supplement on here are the eight audio tracks for the film, all of which are found under the “Narration” section of the menu. During its initial run the film was presented silent, a live orchestra then providing the music, Foley artists providing the sound effects, and then a celebrity would provide a live narration. The film also had a regular theatrical run, with a studio recorded soundtrack that contained the music, sound effects, and narration by Isabella Rossellini. The default track is the mentioned Rossellini track. Criterion also provides two other studio recorded soundtracks (that look to be specifically for this release) with one featuring Guy Maddin and one by actor Louis Negin (who Maddin originally intended to provide the narration for the film during its tour.) Criterion also includes five “Live” audio tracks recorded during actual screenings. These include another by Rossellini, as well as narrations by Laurie Anderson, John Ashbery, Eli Wallach, and, yes, Crispin Glover (the Criterion website removed the Glover track from their site after the initial announcement but it is on here.) It’s a shame Criterion couldn’t include more (I would have loved to have heard the Udo Kier presentation) but they most certainly outdid themselves by going this far. I found it to be a clever addition. This section also presents a sub-section called “About the Narrators” which lists when and where the tracks were recorded.

(As a note, there is only one subtitle track, which is timed perfectly with the studio recorded Rossellini track but isn’t timed perfectly with the other tracks, the subtitles popping up too soon or too late most of the time.)

”Supplements” presents the remaining features.

Criterion has included two short films by Maddin, made exclusively for this release, and both are shot in the same style as Brand and have both been enhanced for widescreen televisions. The first one is a five and a half minute short called It’s My Mother’s Birthday Today, which is about (according to the onscreen notes) the “castrato known as the Manitoba Meadowlark,” Dov Houle. It’s an odd, though somewhat amusing short film. The second film, running over 9-minutes is more straightforward. Called Footsteps it’s an examination of the Foley artists (getting their own introductions) and the techniques used for the film. Both are rather interesting, the Footsteps film almost working as a sort of “behind the scenes” featurette, though heavily stylized.

The best feature on here, though, is the 50-minute “making-of” called 97 Percent True featuring interviews with director Guy Maddin, co-writer George Toles, editor John Gurdebeke, cinematographer Ben Kasulka, producer Jamie Hook, and composer Jason Staczek. Like the other video features it has also been enhanced for widescreen televisions.

Maddin gets a majority of screen time, but he offers some interesting material. The doc begins with Maddin going over his career, starting with how he wanted to be a writer (yet doubted his writing skills) and eventually discovering film. He goes over his influences (which of course includes silent cinema, but a major influence appears to be L’Âge d'or.) He goes over a few of his films and then finally gets into how Brand Upon the Brain! came about. Maddin was offered funding for a film by a not-for-profit Seattle based company, but it called for him to quickly come up with an idea for a film and a script. I found it interesting that the silent aspect of the film, as well as some of the “biographical” elements (some sequences were influenced by moments from Maddin’s life, as well as from his mother’s) came about because Maddin and Toles had to quickly come up with a script and didn’t have time to create dialogue. Other members of the crew go over their participation and the shoot, some behind-the scene footage being included. It then concludes with information about the actual tour of the film, including footage from a few of the performances (even Kier’s.) It was an informative and fairly entertaining documentary, and all despite it being a collection of “talking heads” for the majority of its running time.

A 6-minute deleted scene is also included here. The sequence includes computer inserted title cards, and sounds to be narrated by Louis Negin. The sequence is supposed to be a flashback finding Sis in front of a firing squad (of sorts.) It’s a long sequence and rightfully cut. Maddin has a note that states the sequence, which was only a few minutes long, made the film feel twice as long, and was eventually cut. He was probably right. But here it is, enhanced for widescreen televisions, for you to view.

Closing off the supplements is the minute-and-a-half trailer.

And as usual a booklet accompanies this release, featuring an essay by Dennis Lim, which covers Maddin’s career and Brand Upon the Brain!

I would have loved a Kier track, or even more footage from the showings, but I was pretty happy overall with the supplements on this release. The eight audio tracks are a rather clever addition, and the making-of was quite satisfying.



Guy Maddin’s films are an acquired taste, so I can’t recommend this DVD as a blind buy. One would be better off renting this DVD first. But for those familiar with the film or Maddin’s work in general and want to own this film on DVD they’ll be more than happy with this release. The transfer is good and the supplements were not only informative, but actually quite creative and fun. While it doesn’t completely recreate seeing the film in a live venue, it’s about as perfect a release for the film as one could ask.

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