Brazil – tape 492

This tape opens with a fair bit of the end of an episode of Indelible Evidence, a semi-dramatised account of the forensic search for the murderer of a young boy. Many of the people involved were the original investigators, which lends this a stilted tone. What’s quite disturbing is the equating of homosexual with paedophile. It’s just a base assumption that homosexual means child molester. (BBC Two – 4th April 1988 – 21:25)

After this, and ten minutes later than scheduled due to an earlier concert overrunning (Rattle and the CBSO Stateside) we have Brazil, Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece.

There’s probably so much I could write about Brazil. It has a fascinating history of reluctant studios, guerilla screenings, adverts in Variety and ridiculous TV edits, but I’d probably garble most of them, and you’re better off reading the excellent The Battle For Brazil by Jack Mathews which covers the whole saga in detail.

The film itself is Gilliam’s version of Orwell’s 1984 crossed with Kafka’s The Trial, with a touch of Walter Mitty thrown in. The production design is fabulous – all visible ducting, tiny tube TV screens and teletype keyboards, as if Information Technology stayed static in the early 60s and became pervasive. I love the use of those fresnel TV lenses that were, apparently, supposed to make your TV screen seem much larger.

Fresnel lenses

My grandparents used to have one of these screens on their old black and white TV, and as a small child I could never quite understand why, because it just distorted the picture.

Our hero is Jonathan Pryce as Sam Lowry, who we first meet in his dream of flying.

Sam Lowry

He works in the Ministry of Information with our friend from Greystoke, Ian Holm, who’s terrified he’ll lose Sam from the department if he’s promoted.

Sam’s mother is played by the brilliant Katherine Helmond. We meet her having a facelift from Jim Broadbent.

Katherine Helmond

Robert De Niro has a smallish role as a rogue heating engineer, wanted by Central Services.

Robert De Niro

Some of the imagery in the film feels prophetic.


I have to admit, the first time I saw Brazil I didn’t love it. I’m a sucker for happy endings, and (in this version, at least) it is the bleakest possible ending, although totally the right one.

However, the story is perfectly constructed, from the very start – an insect caught in the machinery causing a misprint on an arrest warrant – through the background of terrorist attacks which are never explained, but which are far more likely to be horrendous industrial accidents in this pneumatically driven world, spun as terrorist attacks by a government incapable of fixing them.

There are various version of this film around. This one is the 142 minute European release, as you would expect (although because TV films run a bit faster, the running time here is 137 minutes).

The most infamous version is the one that the studio, Universal, edited together for American TV. Generally known as the ‘Love Conquers All’ cut, it uses much more footage of the ‘love affair’ between Pryce and Kim Greist’s character Jill, and also used every scrap of footage featuring Robert De Niro (since he’s a big star), and most significantly, the film has a happy ending.

I might have liked that version, had I seen it first, but on balance, I’m happier with unhappy now.

BBC Genome: BBC Two – 4th April 1988 – 22:00

After the film, just time for a look at tomorrow’s programmes before the tape ends.

BBC2 programmes for 5th April 1988



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