My New Thing

My New Thing at BritMovie is here.


Sorry about the opening typo — no idea why it begins with the name “Jose”, which seems unconnected to anything that follows. (If they’ve corrected that by the time you look, forget I mentioned it.)


18 Responses to “My New Thing”

  1. Very nice. Brazil is one of my favorite documentaries.

  2. Thanks. It may be the only “sci-fi” movie to have literally come true like that…

  3. Terry Gilliam said he was inspired by the whole Baader-Meinhof crisis in Germany at that time. But then I don’t know if ”Brazil” is science-fiction, it seems to take place in an alternate past more likely.

  4. Nice article on ”Brazil” parodying Christmas. To me ”Brazil” isn’t so much a dystopian allegory(it couldn’t be further from ”1984”) but a surrealist fantasy of things. Like the end of the film says it’s a dream but the entire film from the production design to the sets is dreamlike so in a way in that world of consumerist decadence, the bombs blowing up by unknown terrorists is almost like the fantasy of Sam Lowry. Like in that chase scene he gets three of the chasers killed and he initially cheers until he realizes what he’s done. It’s a film about that anarchy really.

    ”Brazil” is really a rare case of an avant-guarde film made with big studio resources, in that case it’s like a return of the 70’s Hollywood in the 80s. I think with the popularity of the Alan Pakula thrillers of the 70s, audiences would have loved ”Brazil” but ten years later, things changed. And of course the entire baroque fantastic sets also heark back to the tradition of the Old Hollywood fantasies and spectacles and of course the Archers.

  5. Gilliam’s private theory is that all the explosions are caused by faulty Central Services plumbing. The only terrorists are the ones lead by Harry Tuttle in Sam Lowry’s dream at the end. But it’s a dream that’s simultaneously “real”, containing as it does the climax of many of the storylines, including Mrs Terrain’s disintegration through plastic surgery (inspired by Gilliam’s dad, who had a tumour treated with acid and lost most of an ear as a result!).

    He also described the film as “set on the Los Angeles-Belfast border” — terrorism was a regular reality in the UK at the time, and was used to turn Northern Island into a military police state. I think Ireland had more influence on the film than Germany.

    Paradoxically, although Gilliam claims not to be a serious cinephile, his films are steeped in movies — The Third Man and Welles’s The Trial hover in the background of Brazil, and there’s even a nod to Battleship Potemkin. It feels like a film with everything in it.

    When Gilliam met Stanley Donen, he said “You sold me on this dream of true romance and real life has not lived up to it! Your films really messed me up! ”

    Donen said, “What do you think they did to ME? I’ve been married four times!”

  6. Gilliam may not be as much of a cinephile as, say, Truffaut or Scorsese. Like ”The Battleship Potemkin” has the most famous scene of all filmdom. So a nod to it isn’t really a reference. Gilliam said that his initial film influences were European, Bergman and Fellini and Kurosawa from Japan(that Samurai fantasy I guess is a nod to the sensei).

    Most of the characters in the film who work in Sam’s office watch old movies on their proto-PC’s (In the real world, they watch porn if they can get away with it) so maybe Sam’s fantasies are inspired by his hopes coming from watching too many Hollywood films and not reading Cahiers and looking at it from an auteurist perspective(then he’d have a handy personal device for siphoning real and fake happy endings).

    Gilliam cited Baader-Meinhof in that interview with Salman Rushdie a while back and terrorism was a concern in the late 70s though that was left-wing, revolutionary terrorism unlike today. I think the terrorists are real enough in ”Brazil”, faulty plumbing and otherwise. But then that’s because terrorists are real enough today. You know with the recent spectacular thing in Mumbai where the terrorists practically invaded the city is a lot like Sam’s fantasy in the end where DeNiro and Co. drop from the sky and the entire world collapses.

  7. Gilliam hoped more people would understand the samurai scene as Sam fighting himself (Sam-u-r-I) — a lot of people don’t recognise the face under the mask as Jonathan Pryce (it’s a cast of his face rather than actually him, God knows why).

    I thought Gilliam’s “no terrorists” stance made sense in the film, and is part of what’s so prescient: although the chaos in Mumbai and 9:11 etc are real and so are the scumbags responsible, the attacks are insignificant compared to the wars and creeping oppression imposed as a response. So to me the fact that the terrorists never really appear except in a dream was part of the film’s prescience.

  8. Sam-u-r-I! I never got that. Brilliant. Yes, I’m reminded of Brazil’s prescience pretty much every time I go through a ticket barrier on the tube (when the film was made it was all turnstiles.)

  9. The movie is so jam-packed with STUFF, pretty much every time I’ve seen it I emerge and encounter something from the movie. One time it was a restaurant called “Tuttle’s” which I swear wasn’t there when I went in to the cinema.

  10. You forget to mention the Gift-“the something for an executive” that Sam keeps on recieving. Beautiful parody of all those meaningless novelty presents-Best of all his really works! An Abritrary decision maker-that has to have deeper meanings

    In recent years there’s been a lot of focus on the precscient politics in Brazil, but people forget the artistic reading. that we must fight for our dreams, even if everything else is against them and even if we have nothing left but them-really uncompromising message. Compare with Baron Munchausen and his unmade Defective Detective where the characgter dies for his dreams

  11. Yes — Brazil has a curiously uplifting ending, in a way — it’s strange to me that Hollywood would want to make it “happier” — Sam is exactly has happy in the torture chamber as he is in the love nest with his dreamgirl, because there’s no longer any difference between the two.

  12. Although “Brazil” is unique in Gilliam’s work in stating quite categorically that choosing dreams means rejecting reality, full stop. There is no bleed. And it’s great that Sam ISN’T an artist, just a punter.
    But the casting of Kim Greist… It’s funny, js, I never really thought about the story in terms of a man fighting for his dreams simply because the subject of these dreams is such a cypher, and when they do wind up in bed together it doesn’t feel anything like a happy ending… so I wonder if the film’s final shot would be as curiously uplifting with a more three-dimensional presence as the object of Sam’s affections – with some hint that Sam did NOT know what he was missing – with, in short, any potential at all for this relationship to go anywhere other than “Peepshow”.

  13. This isn’t a gripe by the way. Brazil remains my first “favourite film of all time”.

  14. Gilliam has been pretty grumpy about Greist over the years. Even at the time, he described her as “a random choice” or something. Maybe if he hadn’t been laid up with a bad back while casting the role, things would have been different.

    But I never had a big problem with her. Of course, if I saw it for the first time today, my response might be different. I like to think I have far more sophisticated taste in actresses today. Back then I was probably still in love with Mariel Hemingway in Manhattan (but at least I was the right age! Actually, I’m younger, but when I saw the film I was the same age as her character).

    Mid-eighties aspirant movie stars… they could have cast Geena Davis or Sharon Stone…

  15. I think Gilliam’s big problem with Griest is that she kept on demanding more and more takes a la DeNiro. She gets the basics right-She not a fantasy woman, she’s prickly she has her own life and hates being physically touched (Griest’s own addition). It’s just a shame she can’t be convincingly earthy-She’s like Jennifer Beals in Flashdance.
    According to “Battle for Brazil” Jamie Lee Curtis and Rebecca De Mornay were both up for the role . Ellen Barkin came close to getting it and she IS earthy.
    OTOH Tom Cruise was close to getting the Sam role, when it was written for a much younger man.
    Brazil is a film where the possibilites for what could have been are all over the place. Reading the first draft tand the final one, and then watching the film, it changes so much . That they got the balance just Right seems like a miracle.

  16. My God, Barkin would’ve been FANTASTIC. I wonder if her unconventional looks were a problem? But Gilliam should’ve been into that — he cast Amanda Plummer later on.

    Can’t imagine Tom Cruise!

    Gilliam originally had a lot more fantasy sequences — nice though they were, it’s probably good they were cut, since they can’t advance the story too far — the little bits we get slot in very intriguingly.

  17. I didn’t know about Barkin either. But her presence in “Fear and Loathing” (my favorite of Gilliam’s films since Brazil) was totally necessary and perfect.

  18. That scene formed part of the battle between Gilliam and the original screenwriter over credit — Gilliam and Tony Grisoni claimed that any resemblance between their draft and the Alex Cox/Tod Davies version was due to both adapting the same novel: but the Cox version originated the idea of moving the waitress scene to the end and using the tonal shift to bring the movie to an end.

    Sadly, when Gilliam fights over screenplay credits, he usually appears to be in the wrong. In the case of Brothers Grimm, he should have been fighting to keep his name OFF it.

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