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    film club: brand upon the brain

    So it's been a while since I've updated the Too Many Projects Film Club blog. We'd convened a little less frequently than normal because of a couple of busy months, but it looks like we might be getting back to some sort of a regular schedule right about now.

    We left off back in April [!] with Johnny Got His Gun, a film which dwells on the horror of a young person's radical facial disfigurement. We followed that up with my pick, Eyes Without A Face, a surprisingly ghoulish French film from 1960, which centers around a psychotic doctor's disquieting attempts to repair his daughter's own facial disfigurement. Here's the trailer, which gives some sense of the film's creepiness:

    The imagery of that trailer is pretty much all sinister labs, diabolical parents, and vulnerable young people, which leads quite neatly to our newest pick, Guy Maddin's marvelously unhinged Brand Upon the Brain (2006).

    Like Eyes and Johnny, Brand Upon the Brain is obsessed with the beauty of the young. Brand, in particular, is interested in the particular androgynous beauty of adolescents:

    This concern fits well with Maddin's career-long fascination with the "look and feel" of early film. Here he seems especially interested in recreating the capacity of the silent cinema to evoke a nearly otherworldly glamour. (Watching this film, I was reminded of filmmaker Maya Deren's remarks that early film stars constitute "a mythology of gods of the first magnitude whose mere presence lent to the most undistinguished events a divine grandeur and intensity.")

    It's not unusual, of course, for a film to be enamored with the appearance of the young: we can see this everywhere from (say) Larry Clark's Kids to, I don't know, National Lampoon's Van Wilder. What makes Brand a little more interesting (and less prurient) is that it seems especially interested in making its viewer inhabit the subjectivity of the young, specifically this kid here, who is our protagonist:

    The movie's greatest merit is perhaps located in the way it ends up being a spot-on recreation of the confused fever dream that is existence on the cusp of puberty: a welter of weirdly important missions, intense infatuations, and erotic pleasure / confusion made all the more bewildering by the fleshy horror involved in the actual realities of carnality.

    Of course, to a sensitive child, everything that is disturbing about carnality is most literally embodied in the form of any given adult, and so it follows that the adults on display in the film should be appropriately monstrous, a mix of repressive attitudes, undecodable rituals, and grotesque physicality:

    It doesn't give too much away to say that since youth is, by its very nature, fleeting, that the pleasures of youth to be found in the film are also presented as fleeting (see also: Krapp's Last Tape, Film Club XXXV). It comes as no surprise, then, that every single adult character in the film is to some degree concerned with recapturing their youth, eventually driven to the extreme of consuming the young, both metaphorically and/or literally (!). Great stuff; thanks to Tiffanny for her pick.

    We followed up by pursuing the idea of androgyny, and just yesterday we watched Sally Potter's Orlando (1992). I hope to have a write-up of it ready soon...

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    Monday, August 03, 2009
    12:37 AM


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