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BRAZIL title
Tagline: It's only a state of mind.

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Back in 1985, I missed BRAZIL in the theaters.

About ten years later, I was at someone's house watching him show off his new big screen TV. This was 1995 so that was indeed a thing to show off, not to mention he was the most famous DP at the time (some small movie about a boat), so you know he had some serious screenage. Anyway, I couldn't stay to watch the movie due to the always tragic decision to carpool with someone who wanted to go. I ended up watching only the first 25 minutes. I sure liked the picture on the TV, but didn't care for the movie on the TV.

A few years went by, maybe four, and I found myself in Las Vegas, at a friend's with an even bigger home theater. I told him the story about only seeing the first 25 minutes of BRAZIL, so we decided to watch it. About 25 minutes in, at the same spot my previous BRAZIL viewing was aborted, the power went off. Not just in the house, but the whole of Las Vegas. There was a gigantic thunderstorm. So we sat on the covered porch and watched the skies flash like a Pink Floyd concert, intermittently illuminating the dark Strip. It was surreal. It was like being in a Terry Gilliam movie.

Another ten years would go by before I'd finally get to see BRAZIL, and I am here to report that whoever said "third time's the charm" is an in-your-face liar. Now before I'm spanked by you sexy Gilliamaniacs, and in fairness to the movie itself, I'm a tough customer for movies where worlds are made up and I am asked to care. I'm a Harry Notter, a Blade None-er who is easily Bored of the Rings. Sure, there are a few of you that feel this way, but my guess is I'm in the minority.

HOLY GRAIL aside, I'm also not a huge Terry Gilliam fan. I remember enjoying FISHER KING and 12 MONKEYS, but can't remember a bloody thing about them. They didn't stick. I hated TIME BANDITS so much I watched it again decades later to see if I could figure out why. I couldn't, and ended up hating it all over again. BARON MUNCHAUSEN made me ill. Probably not the movie's fault, but I got sick (flu) right there in the theater and was laid up for a week. Man, something about Gilliam drains me. And on top of that, BRAZIL has yet another strike against it since I'm not big on movies featuring dystopian societies with fascist rules and subjugated drones, even in parody form (at one point, Gilliam entertained calling the movie 1984 1/2). So I sure knew BRAZIL wasn't going to slay me w-a-a-a-y before I hit "play."

But even a snooty fool such as I can't deny the ambition and vision of BRAZIL.

BRAZIL takes place in a dark and uncolorful MetropoliSeussian world that exists "sometime in the 20th century" (in one scene, The Marx Brothers in THE COCOANUTS is on TV, so I'm guessing it's after 1929), where bureaucracy and rigidity are both overbearing and inept. Here, you get receipts for your receipts. People literally drown in paperwork, and yes, I do mean literally. Okay, maybe I don't mean literally. That would mean paperwork goes down somebody's airtube. It's more like "suffocated." Or maybe "disappear in paperwork." Anyway, in this society, the appearance that nothing is wrong really means nothing's right. From air conditioning to rubber stamping, from figurehead incompetence to Rube Goldberg-y breakfast makers which spill the coffee on the toast. Everything designed to make your life easier makes your life harder, and the physical machines break down in proportion with the society machine.

Katharine Helmond gets some facial enhancement
Also, it's what's outside that counts. Typewriter guts are on the outside and ducts are exposed as if some eager
FLASHDANCE art director was given an Amex Black Card. Even facial nip-tucks become trippy and grotesque, which pleases the owner of said face to no end. In this unnamed society, hideousness is the new beauty.

It's a "loose lips sink ships" society with skewed totalitarian World War II paranoia posters, yet no one questions anything. Things are exactly as they are supposed to be. The boss is still incompetent and the employees still watch TV when he's not looking.

Working for the government's Central Services, who seem to employ the entire population, is lowly clerk Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce, who really is brilliant here). A milquetoast, Lowry is both curious and bemused by the world he lives in, accepting things that defy logic with a look of wonder or a raised eyebrow. He never feels compelled to change anything, and that’s a good thing, as Big Brother is watching. Well, at least when the cameras work properly.

But one day, a bug in the system (a real bug!) causes an error which leads to the wrong man getting arrested. To save his boss's ass, Sam decides to visit the man's wife. That's when Sam sees Jill, the upstairs neighbor, a truck driver who he's been seeing (in a more beautiful incarnation) in one of his many fantasy sequences. Smitten and intrigued, he spends the rest of the movie trying to locate and meet Jill. Sam's life now has a purpose. But in a society like this one, a purposeful life can get you in trouble.

There's little point in breaking down the plot of BRAZIL, as the film is something meant to be not just seen but experienced. Even Gilliam couldn't describe it to his money guy (not to mention that every studio turned him down). It would be like trying to describe snow. Gillam, as usual, is more interested in image structure and visuals than in characters. I don't begrudge him for that, it's his thing. But I can say the the supporting actors do an excellent job committing fully to Gilliam's conceits, including Robert "I used to be an actor" DeNiro. In fact, this was the first of many "small roles" for the then powerhouse DeNiro.

Lowry's journey in "Brazil", as rough and tumble as it is, doesn't compare with the hoops of fire Gilliam sailed through to get his film released in America. His legendary battle with Universal king Sid Sheinberg went public when Gilliam began using dirty tricks (full page ad in Variety, secret and illegal screenings, showing a picture of Sheinberg on GOOD MORNING AMERICA and more!). So big was this David and Goliath story that there's even a book about it (THE BATTLE OF BRAZIL). Because of this cage match, there are now multiple versions of Brazil. The original 142 minute cut was released by Fox to the rest of the world, who apparently were okay with Gilliam's cut. The U.S. version ran 131 minutes (this is the one we watched). The "Love Conquers All" version, that Sheinberg had recut for dumb America, runs 94 minutes, and eventually became the one used when run on TV in syndication. And it's no secret that the making of BRAZIL parallels the movie's theme - an individual battling the "evil" government (Universal).

So what exactly does "Brazil" have to do with any of this? Nothing, really, other than it represents an escape, a Shangri-La in your head that you can go to when you're stuck somewhere, like a dead-end job. Brazil is Next-Stop-Willoughby.

Trillions of people love BRAZIL, but perhaps no one more than director/co-writer (with Tom Stoppard and Charles McKeown)/ex-Python Terry Gilliam. And why shouldn't he? It's really his baby (it actually took him nine months to shoot). But the ugliest babies are beautiful babies to their parents, so it makes sense. I say this because I just watched his overly chatty yet very informative commentary. Here's a drinking game; every time he starts a sentence with "I love..." (as in "I love how...," "I love this..., "I love that he..." referring to his movie), take a drink. But beware, for even playing this game with water can kill you.

I myself felt like BRAZIL is what happens when a teenager has a lot of money. Sure, he comes up with pockets of brilliance, but there were too many misses and "okay, we get it" moments. I was much more awestruck by Jacques Tati's PLAYTIME, which put the same sort of character in a world that befuddles him. That said, BRAZIL has undeniably made its mark on cinema history. It has inspired. It has been studied. It's been referenced endlessly in everything from folk songs to THE SIMPSONS. It's on lots of top 10 and Top 100 lists. Sure. But that doesn't mean I have to love it.

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