Blog Directory CineVerse: "We're all in this (surrealist nightmare) together..."

"We're all in this (surrealist nightmare) together..."

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Few films are as polarizing and perplexing as "Brazil," Terry Gilliam's foray into dystopian fantasy, which, at very least, stands as a remarkable visual and technical achievement--even if its plot and 142-minute director's cut runtime is incredibly demanding of its audience. It can take several viewings to better comprehend this kaleidescopic mashup of Kafka, Orwell and Python sensibilities melded with Gilliam's twisted vision and eye for oddball esthetics. What follows is a roundup of key points made about this unforgettable flick during our CineVerse discussion last evening:

The visuals are incredibly original and impressive in their size and scope, especially considering that all the special effects are done “in the camera” (meaning they weren’t augmented by extra optical work or computer effects, and everything was filmed on actual stage).
Director Terry Gilliam presents an odd, unsettling and yet humorous take on an alternate universe that isn’t necessarily futuristic or the realm of science-fiction and fantasy (other than the dream sequences); here, he creates a world that appears retro, ugly, and technologically dysfunctional yet is trying to suggest that the powers that be in this world want people to think that it’s advanced and technologically progressive. 
o Criterion Collection essayist David Sterritt wrote: “This was filmed in an abandoned Victorian flour mill still containing its obsolete wooden machinery, refinished by the crew to get the ungainly mix of newfangled ugliness and oldfangled inefficiency that characterizes the picture’s look.”
o Film reviewer Glenn Erickson suggested: “Terry Gilliam wisely constructs his bureaucratic Dystopia from the remnants of the past, which immediately puts the look of Brazil ahead of 90% of its peers. Movies as diverse as Things to Come and Fahrenheit 451 imagine future styles that soon become obsolete. Avoiding that trap, Gilliam's retro-mechanical automatic typewriters and Fresnel-enhanced data monitors already look like outmoded junk, suggesting Orwell's crumbling infrastructure while at the same time resembling nothing familiar to us now.”
The movie seems prescient in its depiction of constant terror attacks, consumer preoccupation with plastic surgery and body image, the way society is over-dependent on technology, and the abusive crass capitalism by which corporate America exploits our consumer tendencies (turning every day into Christmas Shopping Day).
“Brazil” also curiously and crazily blends political and sociocultural commentary, whimsical comedy, fantasy and surrealism, bleak, dystopian pessimism, and romance, creating a tonally diverse picture that isn’t as dour and doom-laden as obvious influences like Kafka’s “The Trial” and Orwell’s “1984.”
The film’s title is obscure; we never hear the word “Brazil” mentioned in the movie, and it’s not clear if the characters inhabit the country of Brazil. The only frame of reference is the 1939 song, sung by Ary Barroso, used throughout the picture. Sterritt posits that “Brazil figures here the way Chinatown does in Roman Polanski’s 1974 film: it’s a shadowy somewhere else that haunts the imagination without intruding much on the characters’ world.”

Government bureaucracy run amok: Brazil is run by a totalitarian regime, minus any Big Brother figure, that, despites its intentions to create order and control, leads to disorder, terrible mistakes, inefficiencies, and oppression.
The pitfalls of advanced technology: Brazil depicts a netherworld where technology makes our lives worse and our jobs harder, with the design of that technology proving to be irrational, inefficient and user-unfriendly.
Social isolation and alienation, which are repercussions of a bureaucratically oppressive government and poorly engineered technology.
Terrorism and its random, destructive threat; actually, Sterritt ponders that “it’s possible there are no terrorists, just a lot of lethal accidents caused by bungling authorities.
The possibility that technology and bad government can lead us backwards instead of forwards, creating a regressive instead of futuristic look; consider this reading of “Brazil” from Criterion Collection essayist Jack Mathews: “There isn’t a futuristic moment or element in Brazil. The story is Orwellian, in the sense that it is set in a totalitarian state where individuality is smothered by enforced conformity. But where George Orwell, writing in 1948, was envisioning a future ruled by fascism and technology, Gilliam was satirizing the bureaucratic, largely dysfunctional industrial world that had been driving him crazy all his life.” 

Dystopian cautionary tales like “1984,” “The Trial” 
The story and character of Robin Hood, who miraculously arrives to save the day for the underprivileged; here, Robert DeNiro’s Tuttle stands in for Robin Hood, solving problems quickly.
Sci-fi features like “Metropolis,” “Things to Come,”  “THX 1138” and “Logan’s Run”
Political satire movies like “Dr. Strangelove”
“Battleship Potemkin” (in how this film mimics its famous Odessa steps sequence)
Films influenced by “Brazil”, including “Dark City,” “Kafka,” “Batman” (1989), “The City of Lost Children”, and “Children of Men”

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (co-director)
Time Bandits and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, which, together with Brazil, formed Gilliam’s “Dreams” trilogy of fantasy films
Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life
The Fisher King
Twelve Monkeys
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

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