Brazil (1985)

aka Brazil: The Final Cut

2015 #100
Terry Gilliam | 143 mins | DVD | 1.78:1 | UK / English | 15 / R

I normally aim for a “critical” (for want of a better word) rather than “bloggy” (for want of a better word) tone in my reviews, just because I do (that’s in no way a criticism of others, etc). Here is where I fail as a film writer in that sense, though, because I’m not even sure how I’m meant to review Terry Gilliam’s dystopian sci-fi satire Brazil, a film as famed for its storied release history as for the movie itself.

It’s a film I’ve long looked forward to watching, utterly convinced it was “the kind of thing I’d like”, but then almost put off by the fact that I should like it. I was rather pleased when it finally popped up on this year’s What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen because it’s precisely the kind of film (or “one of the kinds of films”) that project was meant to ‘force’ me to watch. And, thankfully, I did really enjoy it. It’s clever, it’s funny, it’s massively imaginative in both its visuals and its storytelling, and its influences on the 30 years of dystopian fiction that have followed is… well, fairly clear, because it also has influences of its own, so whether future works are influenced by the original influence or whether the influencee has become the influencer is an over-complex matter for over-complex people to discuss ad infinitum.

I can tell you, factually, that there are at least four versions of Brazil: differing European and American theatrical versions; the “Love Conquers All” version (which according to the Criterion DVD is a cut for syndicated TV that made all the changes Gilliam refused to make, but may never have actually been released outside of that box set (IMDb implies it was never shown)); and the “Final Cut” that Gilliam assembled for Criterion in 1996 that is now the version released everywhere always (to the best of my knowledge). I’m sure there’s a thorough list of differences somewhere, but one good anecdote from Gilliam’s audio commentary tells how the ‘morning after’ scene was cut from the European release so last-minute that it was literally physically removed from the premiere print. (Gilliam regretted it immediately and it was restored for the video release.)

I can also tell you that I now struggle to read the word “Brazil” without hearing the “Braaziiiil” refrain from the soundtrack.

Brazil was 30 this year, but its particular brand of retro-futurism hasn’t dated, and its themes and issues are as relevant as ever. It’s a bit of a head trip of a film, which is what one should always expect from the guy who did the cartoons for Monty Python, I figure. I don’t know if it always gets its due in the consensus history of sci-fi cinema — in “best ever” lists and that kind of thing — though I’m not doing anything today that will help improve that.

The best I can say is that, if you like a bit of dystopian SF but have somehow (like me, until now) missed Brazil, that’s a situation you want to rectify lickety-split.

5 out of 5

Brazil was viewed as part of my What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…? 2015 project, which you can read more about here.

It placed 8th on my list of The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2015, which can be read in full here.

This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2015. Read more here.

Braaziiiil…

And Now for Something Completely Different (1971)

2013 #51
Ian MacNaughton | 85 mins | DVD | 1.78:1 | UK / English | PG / PG

And Now for Something Completely DifferentThe first Monty Python theatrical release (four more would follow; five if you count last year’s A Liar’s Autobiography) is a compilation of re-shot sketches from the first two series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Designed to launch the sextet to a US audience who wouldn’t have seen the TV series, And Now For… contains around 40 sketches, including two of their most famous: the Dead Parrot sketch and The Lumberjack Song. I have to confess, I’m really a Python neophyte — to be precise, I’ve seen Holy Grail twice, Life of Brian once, and only stray sketches in documentaries and clip shows and the like. As such, almost the entire film was new to me (the only exceptions being the aforementioned pair), so I can’t tell whether the re-shoot impaired or enhanced the quality. (In fact, I say “re-shoot”, but the film was shot between series one and two of Flying Circus, so this is actually the first performance of the series two sketches.)

The Dead Parrot sketch clearly isn’t as good — it feels like Palin and Cleese re-enacting past glories, robbed of much energy by not being shot as-live in a single take. The Lumberjack Song, on the other hand, seems to survive fine. The rest is as much of a mixed bag as sketch shows ever are — it’s become a cliché to call them “hit and miss”, but it’s true. Over 40 years on, the Pythons’ style is still so leftfield, experimental, absurdist and irreverent that one man’s hilarity will easily be another’s bafflement. LumerbjackFor my money, it becomes a bit tiring watching sketches for so long, even with the attempts made to link them together — it doesn’t form a narrative, so much as a series of casual crossovers that would make re-arrangement in an edit impossible. In and of themselves, however, many of the skits hit their mark.

Director Ian MacNaughton also helmed the TV series but, freed of the constraints of BBC studio filming, he mercifully does more than point-and-shoot. Sometimes this doesn’t work (an early sketch, “Marriage Guidance Counsellor”, is initially shot from bizarrely high angles followed by some very flat compositions), but other times it comes off beautifully: a long track-and-pan throughout “Nudge Nudge” is flawless.

Perhaps this is showing my Python inexperience again, but, considering how everyone goes on about the brilliance of Graham Chapman, he’s far from foregrounded here. Cleese, Idle and Palin seem to get the most material; Chapman is often a kind of straight man (in fairness, often among the rest of the troupe acting this role for the benefit of a lead); Jones doesn’t do much at all, which is perhaps why he later moved toward directing. Of course, this perception could just be the result of the sketches chosen; or, for all I know, he was more talented as a writer than performer; or perhaps he came into his own later (he’s the lead character in both Holy Grail and Brian, of course). But, on this evidence alone, I don’t think Chapman would be the one to draw anyone’s attention. In fact, the thing that most struck me about the cast is that, while most of them look familiarly young, Eric Idle looks about 15.

And now...Reportedly the Pythons didn’t consider the film a success, hampered by interfering higher-ups and a ludicrously low budget (according to Wikipedia, this was “so low that some effects which were performed in the television series could not be repeated in the film”!) Ironically, US reviews were mixed and the film did little business at the box office (a 1974 re-release, after the TV series had turned up on PBS, was a greater success), while in the UK it was popular enough to turn a profit, despite the fact it contained nothing new for British fans — “indeed many were disappointed that the film seemed to belie its title.” Indeed.

It’s difficult to know what And Now for Something Completely Different offers fans today. With the TV series readily available on DVD, I imagine it more often pays to re-watch the original versions. Equally, as noted, this is technically the first outing for some. Perhaps it’s just a curio; a different perspective on familiar material. For newcomers… well, as one, it’s difficult to say how much it offers a grounding in the Pythons’ material. Is it a best-of? Some of their most famous stuff isn’t here (presumably it came in the latter two series), and almost an hour-and-a-half of sketches gets a bit much. Indeed, it’d probably work better in more bite-size chunks; say, 30 minutes at a time.

3 out of 5