Guy Maddin's Brand Upon the Brain

Director Guy Maddin has been making Canadian cinema excitingly weird for several decades now. His latest feature, The Green Fog, screens a few more times this week at Gene Siskel Film Center, and his 1990 feature Archangel screens next Monday as part of the Doc Films series “Beyond Hollywood North: Contemporary Canadian Voices and Visions.” Following are five more films spanning Maddin’s career; also be sure to check out Jonathan Rosenbaum’s long review of Maddin’s great 2000 short The Heart of the World.

Tales from the Gimli Hospital
Whatever else you might say about this weird, creepy, and funny independent item by Guy Maddin, it’s certainly different (1988). Although this is a black-and-white sound picture (with occasional sepia and tinting), the ambience is mainly neo-Nordic silent cinema crossed with surrealism; it’s basically played for deadpan laughs, with a fair amount of gore and black humor. Around the turn of the century two patients (Kyle McCulloch and Michael Gottli), who occupy adjacent beds at a primitive and impoverished hospital near Winnipeg, swap yarns about their lives, and strange coincidences coalesce from their separate stories. If you’re in search of something unusual, you should definitely check this out. With Angela Heck and Margaret-Anne MacLeod. 72 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

Twilight of the Ice Nymphs
The line between romance and sex is blurred in this enthralling 1997 feature by Guy Maddin, whose overwhelming stylization unexpectedly produces an emotional and psychological authenticity. Peter pines for Juliana, but she’s deeply attached to the one-legged Dr. Solti, who controls her behavior as if he’d created her through some combination of science and magic. Peter’s sister hesitates to sell the family ostrich farm before she’s sure the doctor can return her love, and a woman named Zephyr takes advantage of her husband’s mysterious disappearance to pursue Peter, a relationship that culminates in one of the most novel love scenes I’ve ever seen. 94 min. —Lisa Alspector

Cowards Bend the Knee
The title of this 64-minute, 2003 video by Guy Maddin (Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary) refers to its having been commissioned as a gallery installation for the Rotterdam film festival, to be watched through a succession of arcade-style peep-show machines. Screening here as a self-contained work, it seems Maddin’s most personal project yet: the hero is a hockey player named Guy Maddin; his mother, like Maddin’s, runs a beauty salon; and Maddin even casts some of his own family members. But the overall feel is phantasmagoric—pitched, like most of Maddin’s work, in the style of a half-remembered late silent feature or early talkie. 64 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

Brand Upon the Brain!
In Guy Maddin’s latest piece of deranged heterosexual camp (2006), a housepainter named Guy Maddin comes home after 30 years to fulfill his dying mother’s request that he repaint the lighthouse where she used to run a sinister orphanage and all the kids had mysterious holes in their heads. Additional intrigues involve a teenage sleuth who poses as her own brother. Narrated by Isabella Rossellini and enhanced by Jason Staczek’s superb score, this is characteristically intense and, unlike most of Maddin’s silent-movie models, frenetically edited. 95 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

The Forbidden Room
Guy Maddin delivers another of his wild and whimsical fantasies, tinged with camp and couched in the film grammar of silent cinema. Codirected by Evan Johnson, this is a steamer trunk full of material, running nearly two hours and weaving together the stories of a submarine crew trapped in the briny deep, a strapping woodsman infiltrating a clan of cave-dwelling thieves called the Red Wolves, a motorcycle lover whose crack-up casts her into the arms of an amorous bone specialist, an ingenue whose boyfriends turn into blackened bananas, and more. Along the way Maddin works his way through his usual bag of tricks—irises, feverish superimpositions, texts introducing the characters, figures wreathed in electronic snow. Bright reds dominate, no more disturbingly than when Geraldine Chaplin, showing her teeth and cracking a whip, appears as “the Master Passion,” the human personification of a nightclub crooner’s lust for female bottoms. With Mathieu Amalric, Jacques Nolot, Charlotte Rampling, and Udo Kier. 119 min. —J.R. Jones