SCI-FI MOVIE PAGE PICK: BRAZIL
Jonathan Pryce Sam Lowry
Robert De Niro Tuttle
Katherine Helmond Ida Lowry
Ian Holm Kurtzmann
Bob Hoskins Spoor
Michael Palin Jack Lint
Ian Richardson Warrenn
Peter Vaughan Helpmann
Kim Greist Jill Layton
Directed by Terry Gilliam. Written by Terry Gilliam,
Tom Stoppard and Charles McKeown. 1985. Running time: 131
"When are you going to release my film?" the magazine advertisement
demanded. The magazine was Variety. The film was Brazil
and it "belonged" to director Terry Gilliam. Or that's what he thought.
Universal, the studio that distributed the film thought differently: they
wanted Gilliam to cut the film from a lengthy 142 minutes to something under
two hours and they also wanted the downbeat ending changed to something more
Naturally Gilliam refused and
Brazil was shelved for almost a year. Then came Gilliam's full one-page open
advertisement addressed at Universal's president, Sid Sheinberg. Feeling pressurised
because of the ad, Universal agreed to release the film - but they still wanted that
ending changed . . .
Cinebook tells the rest of the tale: "Gilliam compromised; he shaved 11
minutes from the film and altered his downbeat ending slightly. Instead of abruptly
cutting to a silent black screen for the final credits, the altered ending sweetly
dissolves to images of billowy clouds while the title tune plays softly on the sound
track. Although it was much less powerful than the original ending, it pleased Universal,
and the film was released." Although Brazil went on to win almost universal
acclaim and do decent business at the box office, the whole affair left a bitter taste in
everyone's mouths: Gilliam wanted to quit film-making altogether!
But Gilliam's battle with Hollywood is hardly new. Wildly eccentric talents such as
himself find making movies arduous in an environment where proven box office recipes are
rehashed and rehashed again. Efforts by the likes of Gilliam (and Tim Burton too come to
think of it) are not only not appreciated by Hollywood, but not by audiences either.
Middle America (who buys the most movie tickets) simply does not want anything
extraordinary or "weird".
As a fictional movie boss tells the Woody Allen
character in Stardust Memories, after a hard day in the cornfields of Oklahoma,
people want escapist entertainment.
All of which is a pity, because Brazil was a
stab of originality straight into the heart of conformist Hollywood. An alternative
version of George Orwell's 1984, film critic Pauline Kael perhaps
said it best when she described Brazil as "a retro-futurist fantasya
melancholy, joke-ridden view of the horribleness of where we are now and the worse
horribleness of where we're heading. It's like a stoned, slapstick 1984; a
nightmare comedy in which the comedy is just an aspect of the nightmarishness.
The title refers to pop escapism of the past—what you can only dream about
in the squalor and sporadic terrorist violence of an Anglo-American police
state 'somewhere in the 20th century.' Visually, it's an original, bravura
piece of moviemaking, with a weirdly ingenious vertical quality: the camera
always seems to be moving up and down, rarely across. You get the feeling
that people live and work squashed at the bottom of hollow towers.
The clothes, like the furnishings and the ancient TV sets and assorted
gadgetry, suggest that nothing has been made or manufactured since the 40s.
It's a thrift-shop world of the future."
Fortunately Gilliam didn't quit filmmaking, but it
would be almost five years before he made his next feature, The
Adventures of Baron Munchausen (in 1989). Obviously Universal didn't release that film
- something they obviously didn't regret since it was a hugely expensive film that went on
to be one of the biggest box office disasters ever. In the end the ex-Monty Python
animator (he contrived all those extravagant opening sequences for their shows and movies)
and director of Time Bandits went on to make the time travel
sci-fi classic 12 Monkeys and modern day fantasy The Fisher
However, things look bleak for Gilliam again. His movie adaptation of the
Hunter S. Thompson novel, Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas was allowed be the
sacrificial lamb at the American box office when it opened on the same weekend as the
over-hyped piece of celluloid excrement known as Godzilla last
year. Needless to say, it got stomped . . .
© April 1999 James
O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page