The thing that makes Guy Maddin movies work when they should be horrendous is that they aren't that tied up to the source material they're referencing. Brand Upon The Brain has this crazy frenetic editing that would never be in a silent film. It's powered by the digital editing software of today, but restrained by the idea of the serials he's referencing that it doesn't go off the rails into Tony-Scott-ville.
I didn't see it with the live narration, orchestra and foley artists of its touring iteration. I saw it projected on film, and then learned that the touring show was projected digitally: The live narration utilizes a teleprompter and a synched-up digital signal. The point is that this vision that critics take of Maddin as this nostalgist is an impossible mistruth.
Brand Upon The Brain is great. The Saddest Music In The World is maybe tedious, and some of his shorts might peter out and just feel like a stylistic exercise. This film, on the other hand- Sure, the framing sequence is easily forgettable, and the actual meat of the film might not have much of a climax, but the majority of the film is more persistently entertaining/interesting than any other indie film I've seen so far this year. It's one of those great examples of actual experimental work, in a narrative context, creating this thrilling sense of something happening that's more entertaining and direct than anything that consciously avoids anything too obviously formal for fear it might be distancing.
This isn't to say that the weird frenetic editing isn't overdone. (An effect used frequently was created by running a mouse back and forth on Final Cut through a series of shots, while recording it and then editing that back into it later.) This is supposed to cite that what is happening is the narrator's memories, as outlined in the framing sequence, but still that framing sequence is easily forgotten. It is overdone, but it's awesome, completely in keeping with the melodramatic narration, and the way in which the narrative piles its elements on.
Hell of a thing!