dreams

Dreams: The Birth of Brazil

Edited by Phil Stubbs

A balding man in a suit appears on the screen standing in a room with two large bowel-like grey pipes snaking along the walls.

ANNOUNCER

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A shopper walks past the window pushing a supermarket basket. There is an explosion from inside the store. The title ‘The Birth of Brazil’ fills the screen.

Stills of a Brazil poster, Jonathan Pryce, Kim Griest, Robert de Niro, Bob Hoskins and Michael Palin appear.

IAN HOLM (V.O.)

Tomorrow evening, Brazil comes to BBC2. Set somewhere in the 20th century, with a title song from the 1930s, this extraordinary black comedy casts Jonathan Pryce as Sam Lowry, a shy civil servant who escapes from reality in his dreams as a winged hero. Sam’s pursuit of a beautiful and unattainable woman lands him in the dangerous world of Robert de Niro who plays Harry Tuttle freelance subversive and arch enemy of the state and its operatives as embodied by Bob Hoskins, demented heating engineer and Michael Palin, an upwardly mobile torturer at the Ministry of Information Retrieval.

Cut to Cinecitta, where Terry Gilliam is seen filming in front of a water tank with a Munchausen figure floating in the background.

IAN HOLM (V.O.)

Director Terry Gilliam now in Rome shooting his latest film, a multi-million pound fantasy called The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, described Brazil as Walter Mitty meets Franz Kafka.

TERRY GILLIAM (V.O.)

Brazil, I think, had been brewing for several years in my brain -

Cut to Terry Gilliam interviewed in dark studio, then to a Time Bandits poster, and then back to Terry Gilliam.

TERRY GILLIAM

…one of the things that I wanted to get out of my system. Actually as the year 1984 was approaching I liked the idea of doing something that was possibly doing what 1984 did in 1948. I’d actually done this before Time Bandits, I’d written this thing and nobody would give me the money. After Time Bandits, everybody got very excited because it made a lot of money in the States. So they were keen to give me larger sums of money to make films, and rather than do a commercial film, I thought I’d do the one that nobody in any other circumstances would let me make, and so we pushed on with Brazil.

Cut to scene of Sam Lowry waking up

TERRY GILLIAM (V.O.)

Somebody was just one day talking about what it would be like if my images with Stoppard’s words were combined. I went and talked to him and he liked the idea. It was interesting because Tom doesn’t really collaborate and one of the things I like…

Cut to Terry Gilliam in dark studio

TERRY GILLIAM

…doing most is working with somebody. What would happen, he would take material and work on it then deliver this draft and then I would comment on it. We’d talk about it for a few days and he’d go away and do it again.

Cut to JILL handing a form to an INFORMATION PORTER

JILL

I want to report a wrongful arrest.

PORTER

You want Information Adjustments. Different Department.

JILL

I’ve been to Information Adjustments. They sent me here. They said you had a form I had to fill out.

PORTER

Have you got an arrest receipt?

JILL

Yes.

PORTER

Is it stamped?

JILL (producing Buttle receipt)

Stamped?

PORTER

No, there’s no stamp on it. You see! I can’t give you the form until it’s stamped.

JILL

Where do I get it stamped?

PORTER

Information Adjustments.

TERRY GILLIAM (V.O.)

It was brilliant stuff but It just wasn’t quite what I was trying to do in all instances. I then involved Charles McKeown.

Cut to Charles McKeown in similar dark studio

CHARLES McKEOWN

I think that because Brazil had started out such a personal film for Terry, for anybody to take it and write it, it was bound to slightly shift in feeling and tone. I think Terry needed to once more get close to the script. Part of my function as a writer was to reintroduce him in a sense and we sat down and we worked for six weeks every day through it.

Cut to various clips with background slogans, eg Who can you trust? Information is the key to prosperity. Suspicion Breeds Confidence. Happiness we’re all in it together! Mind that Parcel - Eagle Eyes can save a life.

CHARLES McKEOWN (V.O.)

I was compiling slogans to put in the film. I felt as if I was working for some rather strange ad agency. Writing lists of odd things.

Cut to mobile home, waving man and power station.

TERRY GILLIAM (V.O.)

You’re trying to create a world that’s very much like our world but it isn’t it’s just off by 5 degrees. You’re trying to work out where those 5 degrees were. It was very difficult to try to…

Cut to Terry Gilliam

TERRY GILLIAM

explain to the other people involved in making the film, trying to get the sensibility of the thing. I always explained that it took place everywhere in the 20th century whatever that means on the Los Angeles/Belfast border whatever that means.

Cut to sketches from the book ‘The Battle of Brazil’ - the sniffer, Sam’s room, phone, clerk room, restaurant

TERRY GILLIAM (V.O.)

It was always a collage. It was about juxtapositions and in a sense it was like doing my cartoons where I just take images - a painting from there a photograph of this - and stick ‘em together. Things happen and I suppose the skill is in choosing what things you put together.

Cut to George Perry, sitting in front of a poster of Brazil

GEORGE PERRY

Terry Gilliam comes from a different place from most directors in that he is an animator and he shoots film with actors live actors as though they are animation. He’s looking for the visual the whole time, he’s looking at what actors will do within the frame and he composes it very much the way the classic animators at Disney would’ve done years ago and he uses all kinds of wonderful visual jokes. I mean you’ve got the running gag of…

Cut to clip of Katherine Helmond’s facelift

GEORGE PERRY (V.O.)

…Katherine Helmond’s face which undergoes various transformations with succeeding face lifts and you have the…

Cut to clip of de Niro and Pryce examining internal plumbing of Sam’s flat.

GEORGE PERRY (V.O.)

…corollary of that is Robert de Niro’s face which you never really see. I mean you have an expensive star like de Niro playing a cameo part and he doesn’t even let you see his face which is wonderful audacity.

TUTTLE

Ahha! Found it! There’s your problem

SAM

Can you fix it

TUTTLE

No I can’t. But I can bypass it with one of these…

SAM

Fine by me

Cut to Monty Python opening animation with Sousa’s Liberty Bell.

IAN HOLM (V.O.)

Like George Orwell before him Terry Gilliam is a one time employee of the BBC. Surreal imagination was first exposed with his animated cartoons for the Monty Python series.

Cut to Terry Gilliam in dark studio

TERRY GILLIAM

I’ve always had a great distaste for authority and bureaucracy and all the additives that they breed. Python definitely had trouble with the BBC in that they pulled it off after a couple of shows they were confused by it. That’s exactly what we were I think trying to do I love cocking a snook at authority.

I’ve got a company called PooPoo Pictures and the great joy of that company is that lawyers and accountants and very important, serious, reasonable people sit down and have to talk about PooPoo Pictures.

Cut to Python Sketch (Gay Boys in Bondage)

TERRY GILLIAM (V.O.)

There’s always been this battle against authority as the series became more popular they interfered, and their interferences were always extraordinary because it showed the way their minds work - not the way our minds work. The way they would interpret things we had done that were very childish and innocent really and naughty but they were innocent…

Cut to Terry Gilliam

TERRY GILLIAM

…and they would interpret them in the most perverted bizarre incredible ways. I can’t even probably talk about the on television the decay in the minds of the people who were supposedly safeguarding the morals of the nation. All of that has always got to me.

Cut to Sam and Mr K.

TERRY GILLIAM (V.O.)

I hate large organisations for the loss of responsibility in them. People are corrupted by organisations into cheating and being grey safe people. I hated all of that - that was all part of the world of Brazil.

SAM

It’s a cheque

KURTZMANN

It’s a refund for Tuttle

SAM

Tuttle?

KURTZMANN

I mean, Buttle! It’s been confusion from the word go! He’s been overcharged for Information Retrieval Procedures and someone somewhere is trying to make us carry the can!

SAM

Can I have a look? I’ve never seen a refund cheque before.

KURTZMANN

I bet it’s Jeffries! Yes, he always believes people should pay even more for their interrogation! And he loathes me! We’ve got to get rid of it!

SAM

Send it to somebody else. Send it to Buttle. It’s his cheque.

KURTZMANN

I’ve tried that. Population Census have got him down as dormanted, the Central Collective Storehouse computer has got him down as deleted and -

SAM

Hang on

KURTZMANN

- Information Retrieval have got him down as inoperative… Security has him down as excised. Admin have got him down as completed…

SAM

He’s dead

Cut to Terry Gilliam

TERRY GILLIAM

Invariably the bad guys are always seen as bad guys on the screen they look - you know from the moment you see them these are villainous characters.

Cut to Sam and Jack in Jack’s office

TERRY GILLIAM (V.O.)

I think the truly evil people are the ones that are the nicest people, that have families and wives. They’ve got a job. He can’t help it, he’s got to support them, and the only job available really is torturing people. I thought Mike [Palin] was perfect because he’s the nicest person I know and it was casting against type, as invariably works the best I think.

The scene with him and Jonathan Pryce in his office - that was one of the first scenes we shot. It didn’t work. Then we rewrote the thing as basically the same except we added one thing and that was his little daughter and suddenly he’s talking about millions of volts of electricity being forced though somebody’s body and all of these things while playing with his little daughter. That made it and it was that sort of thing that I thought was blood curdling.

JACK (using child talk)

Well we’re going to have to bring Mr Tuttle in, aren’t we? And interrogate him at the same voltage as Mr Buttle… and juggle the books in electrical banking.

SAM

What has Tuttle done?

JACK

We suspect him of free-lance subversion… Then all I need to wrap up the case is the Layton woman.

SAM

What has she done?

JACK

Oh, she witnessed the Tuttle… Buttle arrest and has been going around making wild allegations, obviously trying to exploit the situation. She’s working for someone, and I don’t think it’s us

SAM

A terrorist?

MYRTLE (via Jack’s telephone)

Mr Lint the next customer has been delivered to us

JACK

Thank you, Myrtle

Cut to Terry Gilliam

TERRY GILLIAM

The nightmare became greater the funnier the lighter we were, the more disturbing the film became as it went along rather than hitting people over the head with the serious of the world we were talking about. The most difficult thing was that we shot for nine months it went on and on and on it was one of those nightmares that that would never end.

Cut to Bed poster of Brazil, then the Battle of Brazil book, then the Torture scene from Brazil.

IAN HOLM (V.O.)

In fact the real nightmare had only just started. The Battle of Brazil as it was to become known, began when Universal Studios, a major investor in the film refused to distribute the finished picture on the grounds that it was uncommercial. Suddenly, Gilliam seemed powerless in Hollywood’s grip.

GUARD

Don’t fight it son, confess

TERRY GILLIAM (V.O.)

They said "You can’t fight City Hall. Your career is in jeopardy. You’ll never work in Hollywood again. You’re taking on the biggest people." I was just dumb - it was just naïve and silly.

I just assumed there was such a thing as justice and all. What we did, we started a campaign because actually they started cutting the film, changing it.

Cut to clippings: Pitted Against an Orwellian system; Gilliam’s advert in Variety October 2 1985; Brazil takes home L.A. Critics top honors; Brazil captures top honors in L.A. Film Critics voting; Critics Honour Brazil; Happy Ending for a Nightmare; Triumph for film moguls banned; The Monty Python joker who waged and won a guerrilla war with Hollywood

TERRY GILLIAM (V.O.)

They in fact put an embargo on us showing the film to anybody in the States. I eventually took out an ad in Variety - a full page ad saying this is directed to the boss at Universal saying Dear Sid Sheinberg, when are you going to release my film Brazil, signed Terry Gilliam.

IAN HOLM (V.O.)

Universal finally relented when after secret screenings, Los Angeles critics voted it best film of 1985.

TERRY GILLIAM (V.O.)

Actually did something that hasn’t been done in living memory in Hollywood we actually took on the studios - Universal in this case - and won. We got the film released.

Cut to Charles McKeown

CHARLES McKEOWN

I recall saying at the time, and I think I’d probably say the same now, that it was a bit like lifting the top off Terry Gilliam’s head and looking in… replacing it very quickly.

Cut to Terry Gilliam

TERRY GILLIAM

One of the incredible things was that when we ended the film, we finally ran out of time and space at in Lee Studios in Wembley. We were forced out of there and we ended up using a building behind the studio which turned out to be Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. It was where all the paperwork in Britain was stored and that’s where we ended up shooting all the fantasy sequences…

Cut to the filming of model flying Sam

TERRY GILLIAM (V.O.)

… the flying sequences of Brazil in the store room of all the paper work of Britain. It’s that sort of thing that’s wonderful and kept happening.

Cut to George Perry

GEORGE PERRY

At the same time that Brazil was made, the film of 1984 came out. And 1984 turned out to be a very literal interpretation of Orwell’s book, whereas Brazil even using in some cases the same locations, just soared into a great cinematic imagination.

Cut to clip of flying Sam to Brazil theme with closing credits…

Narrator

Ian Holm

The BBC wishes to thank

Regency Films

Gene Rizzo

Laura Films

Prominent Features

Handmade Films

Video Rostrum

Ken Morse

Graphic Designer

Bob Cummins

Videotape Editor

Steve Knattress

Producer

Nick Jones

© BBC 1988


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