Guy Maddin, that demented dealer in antiquities responsible for such cinematic curiosities as The Saddest Music in the World and the much-loved short The Heart of the World, has a new film showing at the Castro Theatre as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival. The semiautobiographical Brand upon the Brain! – a silent quasi-horror film about an orphanage that harvests life-giving brain juice from its wards – will be accompanied by a live orchestra, Foley artists, a castrato, and narration by local star Joan Chen. Maddin, winner of the Persistence of Vision Award at last year’s festival, spoke with the Guardian about his new film and a whole lot of other stuff.
SFBG How involved were you in orchestrating the live performance of Brand upon the Brain!?
GUY MADDIN Well, I was pretty involved in insisting on it. I really, really, really wanted it. In its first incarnation at the Toronto Film Festival, the directors of the festival were good about it. They were gracious, and they made it possible, and then it sort of set the standard for subsequent shows…. I never worried before. You know, when you’re a filmmaker, there’s something in the word film that almost seems to imply the creator is making it more for him or herself. But when you’re putting on a live event, you just automatically …
SFBG You think more about the audience?
GM Yeah, I’ve become more of a showman…. I sort of staged it as an event as a form of boredom insurance, because I do know that you only buy so much audience goodwill with live performances. But then that wasn’t enough for me – I had to add Foley and an interlocutor, and I’m lucky enough to know a bona fide castrato.
SFBG Wait, this is a bona fide castrato?
GM He is, but, well, you know, he wasn’t castrated by the pope [laughs] or anything like that…. He’s an old friend of mine, and I met him many years ago in a steam bath in Winnipeg. I just heard from out of the thick steam a very unearthly voice and for a few nanoseconds thought I was in the wrong steam bath. He sings in a boys’ choir still to this day even though he’s 45 years old. I think his voice just never changed.
SFBG What are you working on right now?
GM I’m pleased to tell you I’m finishing up a documentary on my hometown of Winnipeg. And I’m collaborating with a poet, John Ashbery, on a feature-length Internet interactive movie labyrinth, so that’s kind of exciting for me. And I’m also collaborating on a script in its early stages with Kazuo Ishiguro.
SFBG I heard on some commentary track that you put together features in 20 days or something nuts like that.
GM Yeah, I really like to work quickly. But though most people would never suspect this of me, I really care about scripts being in good shape. And I’m especially proud of the script for Brand upon the Brain!. I feel it’s accessible without at all compromising anything I’ve ever wanted to do. One thing I’ve learned how to do is to become more honest about myself, about how horrible a person I’ve been over the years, and somehow the more honest I am, the more literarily solid my scripts feel.
SFBG Yeah, that’s the dirty secret of film and literature: the nastier you are about yourself –
GM Yeah, the more self-loathing you are, the more self-loving you come off. In this case the protagonist in the movie is actually named Guy Maddin, so it enabled me to be supermasochistic. I just don’t have the imagination to think up the kind of things that are in this movie. There are things that I’ve just outed my family on.
GM It’s all there. I just don’t have the time or the genius to –
SFBG To think of nasty things that aren’t true?
GM Yeah, I just had to transplant them pell-mell and wholesale into the body of this thing, and then it was just a simple matter of putting them in order. *
BRAND UPON THE BRAIN
Mon/7, 8 p.m., $20
429 Castro, SF
For a longer version of this interview and for short reviews of other films from the second week of the San Francisco International Film Festival, go to www.sfbg.com/blogs/pixel_vision.