There’s one thing I’m certain of: return I will to old Brazil?
Catholic Christmas is over, and we make wishes, hopes and dreams for the New Year. It’s always awkward for me that the English word “dream” has two different meanings: one for “night” dreams and one for daydreams. However, this pun is the key to understanding this dystopian, anti-daydream satirical movie of Terry Gilliam. Two things connect me with the time and place contexts of this text: the action takes place at Christmas “somewhere in the 20th century” and the film’s name is “Brazil”.
By 1984, Gilliam was best known as the author of the absurdist “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” animations and, later, director and producer of Python feature-lengths movies. The project of his new picture was very ambitious, starting with the caption “1984½” — a mix of Orwell’s “1984” and Fellini’s “8½”, two masterpieces about the problems of personality and society in 20th century.
The plot, nevertheless, is more Kafkian than Orwellian. Due to a bug in their hardware, the bureaucratic machine arrests an innocent man instead of the “terrorist” Archibald Tuttle (Robert de Niro) on Christmas Eve. Neighborhood girl Jill (Kim Greist) realizes that the execution was a mistake, but the sinister Ministry of Information does not even listen to her. at the same time Sam Lawry (Jonathan Pryce) tends to live in two realities: in the daytime he is a small unambitious clerk, while he is an Icarus in his dreams. Suddenly he meets Jill and understands that she is the girl he dreamed about in his escapist fantasies, but their love story is incompatible with the bureaucratic world of infinite pneumatic ducts.
Yes, the ducts are the most recognizable part of movie set: the film starts with ducts advertising, and then they can be seen in almost every single frame. Decorations and costumes always look crazy for both the “dystopian” and “utopian” worlds: if you have ever seen any of Gilliam’s other work, you would know he has an extraordinary imagination.
However, movies are impossible without a soundtrack. The idea for the music arrived when Gilliam watched the sunset in an industrial town in Wales and suddenly his radio played Ary Barroso’s song “Aquarela do Brasil”. The romantic Latin American sound was so dissonant with the coal dust and container ships, so he immediately decided not only to use the melody in “1984½”, but rename the whole project to “Brazil”. By mysterious coincidence, “Brasil” or “Hy-Brasil” is a name of a utopian island in Irish mythology, a place to escape for the blessed.
To complete the music for the film, Terry Gilliam hired Michael Kamen — also known as the conductor who played with Roger Waters, Eric Clapton and Metallica. As a result, Gilliam and Kamen made one of the most outstanding soundtracks in cinema history: they decided to use only Barroso’s melody in different arrangements. The song was perfectly fitted to stuffy offices, the fantasy dreams of Sam Lawry, futurist landscapes, and both the amorous and stressful moments.
For example, mixed with typewriter sounds, it entirely suits the craziness of steampunk office:
A romantic tune turns to pathetic and heroic in Lawry’s dreams:
Kate Bush recorded a version of the song for the movie, but her voice didn’t appear in it:
For the end credits, something more “South American” is used, with maracas and whistles:
“Brazil” is definitely worth both watching and listening to — I hope you will do it before the holidays end, since it contains several references to Christmas celebrations. The music score with some extra material has also been released on LP and CD, it can be purchased on iTunes with a bonus track of Terry Gilliam’s interview about the creation of the soundtrack.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!