Tuesday, February 12, 2008


So a while back a group of friends and I were discussing movies and the topic veered towards Brazil. And one of my friends claimed it was his favorite movie of all time. I sort of hung my head in shame for him, as I always found it an extremely good case of why style should never reign over substance. And it is not like I did not give this film ample chances, I have seen it at least 4 times and watched both the uplifting American and regular versions of it. I saw it on the big screen and at home. I just never found it to be a good film. But after listening to him pontificate on how wonderful it was, I decided to try it again. So whilst in bed last week convalescing from a bout with the chicken pox, I slipped it in the media player and tried to give it a fair shake.

What I walked away with was that I figured out Terry Gilliam should stop making movies. It was far worse than I had remembered. Of the 15 films he has directed, well completed, I have seen 9 and only really liked one, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (I am sure having Hunter S. Thompson being the source of the material helped in more ways than I can imagine). And while 12 Monkeys has some good moments it feels like an incomplete film. The rest, holy crap.... I wish I had brushed my teeth with lye rather than sat through the dung he foists on unsuspecting audiences. They are horrible. And Brazil might just be the worst of the lot.

I suspect Gilliam considers himself to be cleaver. I also suspect he still laughs at the stilted, forced "humor" of Monty Python. I am sure there is medication he could take to help this delusional outlook. His outlook is amazingly juvenile, or adolescent at best. In Jr. high, I remember railing against the bureaucratic nonsense of my mega school, and feel I could have easily echoed many of the visions of bureaucracy nightmare gone wild he presents in Brazil back then. Hell, I still bristle when I encounter bureaucracy, but at least I can make critical comments/assessments about it now, without being reduced to surrealism and delusional fantasy. In fact I am pretty sure this might be the only way Gilliam can convey any "message". Hmmm, one trick pony much???

But watching Brazil again this time, I noticed how much the Cohen brothers modeled the beginning of the far superior The Hudsucker Proxy after the drones of paper shufflers seen throughout Gilliam's form of celluloid torture. I am sure both films sought to address the emptiness of corporate life, but The Cohen's were able to contextualize it around real people, rather, characters that seemed like real people, and not just abject abstract characters in a veil of prefabbed utter pomposity called set design. And yes, I understand that Gilliam tried taking the machinations of bureaucracy to the absolute most infinite degree, but what this fails to do is communicate the real horrors of the system. It tries to make it into a joke, or a slapdash of slapstick, rather than a concise critique on how the numerous wheels and gears of the bureaucratic machine grinds and spits out human emotion and leaves husks of us all. And while I can understand leaping out of bounds at specific times to make a valid point, but by having an entire movie exist so far outside reality causes the effect to wane and snuff out its own flame.

That surrealism is the only form of expression that Gilliam feels comfortable plucking from a directors' palate aptly shows why many of his works never get out of pre-production. His points have all been made and he is just reshuffling the deck. The overt over the topness squashed what were likely good performances from Bob Hoskins and Robert DeNiro. Where John Ford so rightly surmised that the eyes were (and i am paraphrasing here) 'the key to an actors soul', Gilliam is far more concerned with the way an actor can stand out, in crazed dress, from the mad surroundings he obviously is overly familiar or fascinated with. Gilliam's tone seems to be crank it up to level 10 on the dial and scream along till everyone is deaf and then nodding in agreement. How he has been as successful as he has with this formula is far beyond me.

I am not saying that everything about Brazil is useless, but I would harbor a guess that 95% is. I do love the soundtrack. There is also some very witty dialogue, and Jonathan Pryce's dreams of escape from the mad world of the film resonate quite well. I am just not sure he was really acting there, as the desire to get the hell out from under this abomination of a movie seems quite the intelligent choice.

This is to be my 1st post in a series I will Label Utterly Overrated, where I hope to pick apart totally misappropriated, time honored wonders/classics/perfect examples of group think/wtfever from the many realms of entertainment.

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