Archive for September 10th, 2016

40. Brazil (1985)


By Dean Treadway

Looking back now, given the film’s anti-authoritarian stance, Brazil had the perfect release strategy, even if it came about by accident.

It was very much in character for Hollywood—and particularly, the meddlesome 70s/80s-era brass at Universal, who cynically impeded the progress of much gentler titles like Raggedy Man and Mask—to hold Terry Gilliam’s raucous movie away from the masses. Completed in mid-1985, Brazil was first unspooled for the studio bosses in an infamous screening that resulted in their abject anger; one wonders what they thought they were going to get, since we have to assume they at least thumbed through the incendiary, ultimately Oscar-nominated script by Gilliam, Charles McKeown, and playwright Tom Stoppard (from an uncredited idea by Jabberwocky screenwriter and former Help! Magazine writer Chuck Alverson). Or, hell, maybe they DIDN’T read it; maybe they just didn’t have the time, darn it. At any rate, Universal’s confidence evaded Brazil early on. Their complaints: the film was too long, and incredibly depressing, while also falling very much on the bizarre side. So they demanded the film be recut and the convoluted ending be gussied up before they’d devote a penny for distribution and marketing. In the spirit of collaboration, Gilliam did retire to the editing room, excising twenty minutes from its running time. But he flat out refused to alter its stark, heartbreaking ending, which he rightfully felt was integral to the story’s aim.

So the film sat on the shelf, a victim of spite. And it sat and it sat until Gilliam decided to take unprecedented action. First came a lawsuit against Universal. Then Gilliam started commissioning embarrassing ads in the trade papers asking short-sighted studio honcho Sid Sheinberg (the villain of this story) when, exactly, he was going to release Brazil. This infuriated Sheinberg, who dug his heels in for a long-haul ruckus. “It happens with every film,” Gilliam later said. “There comes a moment where the money and the creative elements all come crashing together. Everybody’s under a lot of pressure, and everybody is panicking about what works and what doesn’t. And the studios and the money always have one perspective and the creative people have another one, and usually what happens is a lot of compromises get made.” Sounds like a familiar nightmare…



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