Thursday, 13 November 2008

I don't want pudding, I don't want a promotion, I don't want ANYTHING!

No 83 - Brazil
Director - Terry Gilliam

Braaazeeeel.... doo dooo dee doodoo doo de dooooooo. Ah... I just love that song, and was happily humming it all through this film. It just made me smile - and it made me think of Wall-E which use the music in the trailers and which I love as a film.
What is good about the use of the song in this fil is that it is utterly unconnected to the surroundings which are harsh and bleak and industrial. But this is a big theme in Terry Gilliam's film. He seems to be introducing many a concept or character or theme and plonking them into this rich, lavish and insane world, letting the viewer try and piece together these frequently unrelated moments. It is a very interesting process and one that I wish to explore below:

I sat down this afternoon with a cup of tea, a buttered crumpet and the promise of ice finger buns - I think you will agree that this is an excellent way to begin watching a film. I was joined today by Mr Richard Wyatt Hughes so, much like Delicatessen, expect this film to be dissected and have meaning and subtext explored in a pompous Dartington College of Arts kind of way.

In fact - there are more similarities between Brazil and Delicatessen than merely that I chose to watch them both with The Hughes. It is not a huge leap of faith to think that when Caro and Jeunet were creating their dystopian future, they may have been influenced somewhat by Gilliam. Both have created retro-futuristic worlds. The more films I watch within this list the more this seems to be a frequent occurrence. Once again, like in Delicatessen and like in Bioshock, the surroundings seem to be firmly routed in the styles of the 40s and 50s. The main difference with Brazil being that as this is set in the future, the technology of the 40s and 50s has been pushed to a sci-fi level. This has given the film an uncanny ability to not be dated by the year of release. This is a film that is as old as I am, yet the clever visual decisions made by Gilliam means it has aged superbly and could have easily been made in the last 5 years without any real changes in appearance.
Let us look, as an example, at the computers used within the world of Brazil. The majority of Sci-fi films would create 'modern' computers using the best technology of the 80, the risk of this being that top of the range technology in sci fi ages very very badly. Look at any vintage sci-fi from Space 1999 through to Dr Who and you'll see what I mean. Instead of going for the current top of the range technology he dated the technology in the past and pushed it to its limit, a tiny flickering black and white cathode ray is connected to the keyboard of an old typewriter with a huge magnifying lens there to blow up and make the contents of the tiny screen larger. The technology is so different from anything we've ever had that it doesn't age in the same way as if they'd just used an Amstrad or a line vector display. It isn't just the clever use of technology that keeps the film from aging badly, Gilliam's history both in design and using animation and directing for Monty Python has allowed him to create amazing special effects shots which (unlike CGI, which ages so fast) still look impressive today.

The film not only benefits from being visually amazing, but has drawn in a fantastic cast who appear for a series of quite small roles:
Bob Hoskins, Robert De Niro, Michael Palin, Ian Holm, Jim Broadbent all appear for roles which are essentially no bigger than cameos. Ian Holm's appearance also helps me to illustrate a theory I have... I'm pretty sure Ian Holm is the slowest aging man in the world. Look at him in Alien, then look at him in Lord of the Rings, despite about 30 years passing he seems to have hardly aged. The man actually IS a robot, I'm convinced.
It is not just big names though, I spotted a couple of awesome cameos from bizzarely left-field TV choices. The appearance of Gorden Kaye as one of the bureaucrats speaking in a distinctively ENGLISH accent is a shock, but not as much of a shock as one of the armed police guards who is played by none other than RABIES from Maid Marian and her Merry Men. The marvellous Howard Lew Lewis, essentially playing the same role as he did as Rabies.

This film is an incredibly British film. Gilliam's styles and timing has been very clearly influenced by his time in Python and a very British black humour runs through the whole film. But it is not only the pitch black British humour which places it, it is also the themes. It is hard to imagine an American film handling such mundane topics as bureaucracy, forms and queues. Not only has it managed to handle these topics but has done so in a way that has been parodied and repeated in endless TV shows. From ducts and tubes delivering forms and paper work to the clamouring groups of people trying to get the attention of their fast walking chief (which I have seen a number of times in Armstrong and Miller but YouTube won't help me).

However, once you look past the striking visuals, the fantastic cast and the clever and inventive design ideas and start to look at the actual story, the film starts to fall down. The key theme of the film is about man's eternal struggle with juggling a desire for freedom and being bogged down with the trappings of bureaucracy. This, mixed with the dystopian future of forms and paper work is very very 1984... It just doesn't tackle the theme with the same skill as Orwell manages. The other plot is about a mistake within the industry which leads to the wrong man being killed. The problem about the second plot is that it is rather jumbled. Gilliam is far more interested in showing us the world he has created, Jonathan Pryce's protagonist wanders through a series of shocking and bizarre sketches which seem mainly there to show off his vision. In fact, when Gilliam moves the film away from this 'sketch' series to a more set plot, the film becomes more confused, less easy to follow and weaker.

I just wish to end with Richard's view on the 'sketch' format. "The best elements of the film are when it is like a huge carnival parade in Rio. You're confronted with events, characters and scenarios which are completely new to you, different from anything you've seen before. You can sense and kind of understand the story but you are mainly transported by the glorious and colourful events which are unfolding.... Maybe that's why the film is called Brazil. If that is the reason, then its very clever."


EK Biddle Esq said...

I think I quite disagree with your appraisal, in that I think Brazil aged quite standardly. It views like a very 80's political commentary, it looks like a very 80's production & it feels like a fledgling, early days, stretching of the wings for Terry Gilliam, barely beyond that of 'The Meaning of Life' stylistically, before he refined his format into the absolute glory of 'Tideland' & 'Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas'. Looking at both his volume of work &/or most prominent dystopian movies, I find it very easy to pin a production date on. It doesn't appear bad for a film made in the mid 80's, but it does, very much, look & feel like a film that was made in the mid 80's. Because it was.
That being said, I quite like it, it's fun & easy & slightly off the beaten track, as far as dystopian sci-fi goes in that it's both funny AND political.

Captain James Amazing said...

Richard couldn't help shake off the feeling if meaning of life either.

I just don't think it felt visually 80s at all. I thought it had aged much better than other 80s stuff I've seen and certainly better than anything that uses sci-fi.

Even star wars suffers from that bizzare 'everything is futuristic except the computer display' syndrome.

I just think that it is possible to make films which date much slower when using model work rather than this modern day reliance on cgi. I can understand why Del Toro is so keen to use animatronics etc in his films...

I think it might feel dated. And I still think that plot wise there isn't much there but vusually I think it is amazing. But I'm always so impressed with Gilliam's visuals. Fear & Loathing especially. You can see that he has a clear view of dystopia as there are similarities with the world he shows in 12 monkeys, at least stylistically.

I just really didn't get the Meaning of Life style that you and Hughes picked up on. But then I've not seen it for a good few years.