Formerly Known as "How I Learned to Live with the System - So Far."
As we discussed in the last article, "dystopia" as a concept is hot right now; just take a look at most young adult franchises that achieve popularity. It's not fair to say that this is a new trend however, because grimly fantasizing about a future in which our country's citizens are enslaved by technology, the government or other threats to our freedom is an old pastime by this point. Shortly after science fiction authors emerged and speculated about the big wide world out there and how our society would cope with it, they turned their thoughts towards the dark side of the question "what if...?" and jotted down their morbid responses.
Sci-fi writers can be anxious people. Just ask Philip K. Dick.
Anyhow, as a citizen of the new millennium, I am well versed in all the tropes that indicate our society's demise. The writers catering to my generation are brutal in their certainty that we are all doomed. So it was somewhat refreshing to turn back the clock to 1985 and watch a film made by someone inspired by Orwell's "1984"...who never read a word of "1984".
Terry Gilliam makes dystopia seem fun. And isn't that a terrifying notion?
"Brazil (is a fun place to party)": The Rules
I'm only sort of kidding.
1. Drink for Title Drops. That's every time someone says the word "Brazil".
2. Drink when they drink
3. Drink for Daddy Issues
4. Drink when a television screen or a monitor of any kind is present in a scene. Funny story about this rule later.
5. Drink when you hear a doorbell, an alarm or a siren.
All the above rules apply. Also...
1. Drink when someone says the name of a ministry department
2. Drink for references to Christmas. That's right, it's a Christmas movie too!
3. Drink for explosions
All the above rules apply. Also...
1. Drink when someone's full name is given
2. Drink for dream sequences
Krissy Pappau: The Stuffy Department Head (Medium)
Pooh Daddy: The Demented Best Friend (Easy)
Bride of Buggerlas: Strong Female Protagonist, but actually (Medium)
Vicky the Raptor Queen: Enemy of the State (Hard)
Professor Facts: Dissatisfied Employee (Medium)
Punk-Ass Bitch: Singing Messenger (Medium)
This lasted about ten minutes before we decided that this was a bad idea. Because when Terry Gilliam makes a movie set in a surveillance-heavy world, he doesn't half-ass things. He needs ALL the screens. And some other sci-fi knickknacks that look oddly archaic.
So, he's basically Mario. Except he's an enemy of the state. Played by Robert DeNiro.
We came away from this film with one question, posed first by Bride of Buggerlas:
"Why didn't they give Terry Gilliam the "Hitchhiker's Guide" movie?"
Stick it to The Man
Indeed, one of the smartest design choices of "Brazil" is to have the vast majority of the film take place indoors, in echoing spaces with poor lighting. It wasn't a new trope by any means even in '85, (Pooh Daddy recalls reading a novel where the entire world was covered in 1x1 mile interconnected buildings), but the lack of natural light on screen is an effective way to make the audience feel uneasy.
The players for this game connected with the film in special way; the majority of us had just come from our office jobs.
There's a scene in "Brazil" where the main character gets assigned a new office. It's the size of a closet, and he's sharing a desk with the person using the office next to him. This does not seem all that far off from reality to me, especially given that his desk-mate is the epitome of British Sleeze. You know that guy. Everyone has worked with that guy.
Probably not. "Brazil"'s dystopia is already here. And it took drinking to the Christmas-y elements of this movie to realize it.
The timeline of "Brazil" is fuzzy; we assume that all the film's events take place in rapid succession, around Christmas Day, but considering how casual everyone is about the holiday and how it's become more background noise than anything important to the story, we started to wonder if this was really the case. What if, we posited, this is a world in which Christmas happens all year round?
And lo and behold, there is a store in New York City called "Christmas in Little Italy" that sells Christmas ornaments and decorations...every day. Bride of Buggerlas has visited the shop, and apparently the employees wish you a Merry Christmas upon entering. And apart from a few complaints about pricing on their Yelp page, nobody seems to have any problem with this.
So now you know your cue to take action: once these stores start multiplying.
What does that mean? I haven't the foggiest.
Being selected for the Criterion Collection is less a matter of prestige and more a matter of luck. The film doesn't have to be good, or even well done; it just has to be considered "important" by someone on the board. A large portion of the Collection is made up of films that were early projects of artists who grew to be geniuses (even if their early attempts were complete messes), or one of the first films to use a certain kind of technique or technology. In other words, much of the Collection is not just obscure, it's unskilled, despite the Collection's artistic associations.
This being said, "Brazil" deserves to be seen as "important". Gilliam has maintained a reputation as a director who's both unique and skilled, and "Brazil" is the film that best showcases his talents. Beyond that, though, "Brazil" is a film that drew heavily from its influences and in turn influenced others through its interpretation of its source material. The Wachowskis' visual style, for example, draws heavily on Gilliam's knack for business and intensity; they even parody a scene from "Brazil" in "Jupiter Ascending". Ever watch "Futurama"? The messenger tubes used throughout the show, notably in the episode "How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back", are lifted directly from "Brazil".
Buuut, then you realize that films like "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" are also in the Criterion Collection, and you question the whole process. "Benjamin Button" is a fine movie, but what about it can be considered "important"?
On the other hand, Vicky pointed out in the same breath that the money exchanged goes towards restoring old bits of film and preserving classic reels that are difficult to keep safe. Which is definitely a good thing. So morally, I guess the whole thing is a wash.
All this to say, I suppose, that the Criterion Collection is okay by me! Hopefully we'll take a look at another film from their library soon.
Drink for mirrors or lenses
What makes you just as paranoid as screens? Obscured versions of your face everywhere. Gilliam's got some killer shots with mirrors sprinkled throughout the film.
Drink for Film Noir homages
Gilliam draws heavily on noir imagery, particularly stuff from "Casablanca".
Drink when someone signs a form, or anything else that requires a signature
For Your Inebriation is written by Krissy Pappau (Hollis Beck). All "Brazil" images are owned by The Criterion Collection and Universal Studios.
Special Thanks to my patron, Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin! Your support helps me keep this blog up and running. Join their ranks today and donate to my ongoing Patreon campaign!