THE WEDDING DIRECTOR: What’s happened to Italian cinema?
Why not the Hub? Boston has been passed over for live performances of Guy Maddin’s BRAND UPON THE BRAIN!, a newly crafted silent feature by the Winnipeg master of cheeky, hilarious takes (Careful, The Saddest Music in the World) on 1920s and ’30s expressionist cinema. Brand upon the Brain! has been performed in other American cities (New York, Chicago, San Francisco) with a live symphony orchestra, a celebrity narrator, on-stage Foley artists doing radio-days sound effects, and a chorus in the rafters, with an alleged “castrato” for the high high notes.
I saw the world premiere last September at the Toronto International Film Festival, with all the above. Fun! What we’re getting at the Brattle this week (June 29–July 5) is the film minus the accouterments — which is still pretty darned good. Maddin’s fabulist movie has an orchestral soundtrack, a gorgeous modernist score by Jason Staczecky. And Isabella Rossellini, who recited from a podium in Toronto, returns as the voiceover narrator. She’s even better than when I saw her, now getting all the Poe-esque nuances of Maddin’s loopy chamber tale of anxiety, guilt, and intemperate, verboten sexual desire. “Oh, secrets, secrets, secrets!” she moans on the soundtrack, suffering in the name of Maddin’s choked, wrecked ensemble.
The most battered and damaged of all is the protagonist, a school-of-Norman-Bates momma’s boy named “Guy Maddin” (Eric Steffen). Is this ineffectual loser really a self-portrait of the filmmaker? It’s a tongue-in-cheek tease — the off-screen Guy is the son of an ice-hockey-league business manager back in Winnipeg. His dad is not the psychopath scientist of Brand upon the Brain!, who, bent over his experiments, resembles Colin Clive’s pale, bad-postured Dr. Frankenstein from the classic Universal films. I know nothing of Maddin’s Winnipeg mom, but she’s probably not the bewigged crazy lady (Gretchen Krich) of the movie, who runs a Dickens-style orphanage in her island lighthouse and bathes nightly in the gooey brain matter of her charges so that she can attain eternal youth.
More of the plot? Adult Guy returns to the island of his odious youth and thinks back to when he was a traumatized child (Sullivan Brown) living among the orphans. He was a sensitive softie in the fist of his ball-crushing mother — whom he desperately adored! Also, there’s his hot Garbo/Dietrich sister (Maya Lawson) and her kiss-kiss love nest with a female detective (Katherine Scharhon) in butch drag. And there’s dear old dad, boring holes in the back of the orphans’ noggins, and sometimes also in his daughter’s fair neck. Family values!
Marco Bellocchio’s THE WEDDING DIRECTOR, which is a getting a half-dozen screenings at the MFA (June 29–July 1 + July 6-8), is a commentary on the moral bankruptcy of current Italian cinema. One aging filmmaker feigns suicide and hides out so he can win posthumous awards for his deservedly neglected movies. The main character, Franco Elica (Sergio Castellitto), is a film director trying to make a spiritually-bent historical drama, but he’s accused of using casting sessions as a way to get actress blow jobs. What’s happened to the cinema of Fellini, Visconti, Antonioni? Unfortunately, The Wedding Director itself is a major comedown from Bellocchio’s miraculous classic movies (I pugni in tasca|Fist in His Pocket, Gli occhi, La bocca|The Eyes, the Mouth, etc.) It’s an indulgent — often incoherent — story of how Elica lands in Sicily and is bullied into filming a royal wedding. He falls in love with the bride, a princess, but who cares what happens to this charmless cad?