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Having recently watched 'Brazil,' Terry Gilliam's disturbing, weird,
absurdly-hilarious science-fiction masterpiece, I was still full of
countless questions that needed to be answered. Rob Hedden's 30-minute
on-set documentary 'What is Brazil?,' included on the DVD release for
the film, seemed an appropriate place to start. The documentary,
basically a television plug for the coming release of the film,
combines clips from the film, on-set footage and interviews with the
cast and crew to form a quick overview of 'Brazil' and to hopefully
entice viewers enough for them to see it at the cinemas. Curiously,
there is no mention whatsoever of Gilliam's epic struggle with
Universal chairman Sid Sheinberg to have his film released in its
original form in American cinemas. One must presume that the
documentary was completed before these events took place.
So what is 'Brazil?' Unfortunately, none of the cast and crew members seem to have any idea about this, either. Co-writer Tom Stoppard admits that he "doesn't even know why it's called 'Brazil.'" Rather than trying to explain the symbolic meanings behind the events of the film which would be impossible to an audience that is yet to actually see it this documentary serves to pique the viewer's curiosity, to persuade them to find out for themselves what 'Brazil' is.
The on-set interviews with the cast and crew members are interesting enough. Terry Gilliam sits himself down on a step to share a few moments with the camera crew, tracing through such production problems as the complex visual effects, the casting decisions and the difference of work habits between himself and co-writer Tom Stoppard. Stoppard and Charles McKeown , the other co-writer, also appear in the film. Special effects supervisor George Gibbs, model effects supervisor Richard Conway, prosthetic make-up artist Aaron Sherman and model photographer Tim Spence are also included to relate their experiences in producing 'Brazil.' Many of the main cast members (no Robert De Niro, unfortunately) also give interviews about their roles, with Michael Palin, in character, being the stand-out, pretending to be an upper-class acting veteran and giving his interviews into the telephone.
Hedden's documentary, 'What is Brazil?,' basically exists to pose that question, and never really attempts to answer it in any specific way. The interviewed cast and crew members each offer their own opinions: Gilliam calls it "the impossibility of escape from reality," and then, more enigmatically, "it's late night shopping and terrorist bombing." Michael Palin amusingly declares the film to be "a Viking musical," but I'm not sure if many would agree with his individual assessment. Perhaps Charles McKeown's brief description is the most appropriate: "it's like lifting the top off Terry Gilliam's skull and glimpsing inside."
This is the featurette found on the DVD of Brazil, and no, it does not truly answer the question that its title poses. Partially because this is promotional and explaining it to those who have not yet watched it would be rather troubling, and also for the reason that they want us to ponder it, ourselves. This consists of interviews, clips of the film and behind the scenes footage, including material of the cut snooker ball eye sequence that you may or may not have heard of. The leads get to try to answer what on Earth the name of the film means, and talk about their characters, why they specifically were cast and such. Palin is utterly hilarious, if not necessarily providing many clues about the piece(other than "it's a Viking musical"). The three writers talk about the script(one-on-one, not to each other in this), and that makes for one of the most entertaining bits of this. It's interesting and informational enough from start to finish, and it's edited well. Finally, I would guess the reason this has no mention of the battle over the release with Sid Sheinberg was either because it had not occurred yet, or that they did not cover it in hopes that the otherwise fairly public(because of Terry... and that's what won it for him, gotta love him) conflict would be forgotten and not scare people away from the cinema. I recommend this to everyone who liked the movie. 7/10
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