I can’t overstate how jolting and invigorating and even ground-shifting Ondi Timoner‘s Brand: A Second Coming plays, especially during the second viewing and especially when it hits the 40-minute mark, which is when the story of Brand’s social-political awakening kicks in. It’s a brilliant, go-for-it thing that not only portrays and engages with a brilliant artist-provocateur but matches his temperament and picks up the flag. Superb photography by Timoner (especially loved the occasional punctuation of grainy 8mm) and HE’s own Svetlana Cvetko. The doc constantly pops, riffs and punches over its nearly two-hour running time. Magnificent graphics and editing, and a perfect ending.
What’s significant is that the lives of Che Guevara, Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi and Malcolm X, whom Brand identifies with and admires, had a similar dramatic arc in that they finally “became” after floundering around — Che as a son of Argentine privelege, Jesus as a stay-at-home carpenter until he was 30, Malcolm X as a pimp and an incarcerated con until he was awakened by Elijah Muhammed, etc. Similarly Brand became truly interesting and transcendent when he stopped projecting like a hyper, swaggering, shag-crazy narcissist and became a “champagne socialist” revolutionary and began saying “look at what’s wrong here”…that‘s when he became a lightning bolt.
From Variety‘s Dennis Harvey: “Brand might look like a dissolute rock star, but take away the expletives and jokes and it’s clear that what he says is eagerly dismissed in some quarters precisely because he’s smart and provocative, and reaches a large audience with a message that is off-the-charts liberal by current standards. The reasons he gives for being fed up with the status quo are very persuasive — and delivered in such a way that they reach people who’d be bored stiff by any standard political sermonizing.”
From The Guardian‘s Alex Needham: “It’s Brand’s journey from comic to activist which is the meat of Timoner’s story: what happens when drugs, sex, fame and wealth all fail to thrill and a charismatic man decides to make the almost unprecedented transition from comic to guru. Even if you’re cynical about Brand’s motives or just think that he’s a bit of berk, the film convinces you of the almost alarming sincerity of his political mission — not least because his mother reveals that as a child Brand claimed that he was indeed the second coming.”
Harvey again: “Such self-comparisons might seem odious on the surface, and indeed they are quite odious to those who’d prefer to dismiss Brand’s concerns because they hail from an English comedian, ex-drug addict and former Mr. Katy Perry. But Brand’s motormouth eloquence and sharp if often gleefully rude intelligence certainly qualify him as much to talk about corporate greed, economic equality, climate change and other pressing issues as many professional pundits whose often dubious legitimacy is seldom questioned.”