Terry Gilliam’s Brazil : in with the old and out with the new

From the dept. of “It is not ‘a real downer!’
At least not any more than real life is a real downer.”

In response to our modern fear of terrorists,
I decided to revisit Braaaaazilllll, which,
seen through the haze of modern habits,
was unexpectedly endearingly light
despite a tired dystopian critique,
that still, unfortunately still,
and in the face of all efforts, stays
    put like a busted spring.


Naïve. Quaint. Madcap. Expressionist. Noir. Horror. Satirical. Nostalgic. Escapist. Absurd. Obscure? There are films that worked, at the time of their release, to shake some of us loose from our usual ways of seeing. Subjecting us to a new narrative style. I’ve read Ebert’s “hard to follow” account of seeing this one, and yet it, for me, and despite the action and explosions and being lush in detail, is gently paranoid and surreal at its ‘worst’. What was startling were the futuristic throwbacks and seemingly antique gadgetry within the film’s gloriously conceived world of paneling and cinderblock, duct, bolt and tin, that almost made me miss steel. Not the highly refined stuff of Blade Runner, or precursor to our “urban industrial” street corner variety, nor the new Victorian Machine schick machen AKA steampunk. Just ordinary and enduring junk, reconsidered. Which is hard to imagine, now, but if every yard sale appliance of a certain age were able to dream, when to dream is to transcend…
Brazil’s gizmos, then, are such stuff as dreams are made.

We, collectively, adore a good phase. Inspiration and fashionable exclusivity is not enough for today’s enlightened consumer, who, tired of their tireless search within deserves somethin  new and impressive, even aspirational, without, and that defines our, our shared global goals and values! So for now it might be the absurdity of “reclaimed wood”, which would be weathered wood of necessarily humble origins, that, repurposed — from boat to table, barn to stand, even complete bullshit — gets sold at an exorbitant markup to those who overlook the obvious hardships or fetishize its wear and tear — its experience, texture, eco-friendliness! Over Stainless? Granite? Slate? Cork? Remember them? And like our décor, our “devices” go through phases, too, and their design similarly seeks to embody our most insecure or intense concerns.

As I child I was confused and a little disgusted by the wood grain stickers on everything from hand dryers to cars. Even tv remotes (which were corded, btw). What the hell were they softening or harkening back to? In a world where anything goes in terms of subgenres, that may seem a bit purist, or odd. Plastic that masqueraded as metal or burl, laminated chipboard… I turned my young nose up at its artlessness and cheap imitation; it strained. And was so apparently fake without being brazen. But for the old chrome and hard plastic or brass whatnots that had endured decades? With their buttons and gears that never seemed to tire? I understood they weren’t fashionable, but still regarded them with a kind of awe. Brazil’s hardware manages to capture, mock, and revel in some of that fascination.


But when, as happens with what has fallen in the line of service and into disuse, those long forgotten forms come back to us? And not in some trendy febrile revival, but rather finally seen for what they are, in a colder light? Without their original potential? For what was worth exaggeration, and what went unnoticed — safely taken for granted? When all that once seemed prescient hardly applies, within so much that, then, seemed banal?
When even plastic was built to last? And long before our reliance on increasingly ubiquitous and expensive, albeit enduringly fragile, tech.

Oh, yes, because the old cliché applies, at an increasingly precocious age.

But knowing that doesn’t prepare you for the shock.

Whether you are too accustomed to seeing things through the lens of “smart” or not.
Style is intent. We are sold things with style. We are informed with style.
Increasingly so, where much of what we knew to be on lookout for was phased out. Become passé.
No pithy observations about consumerism held over.


Dark humor abounds in Brazil’s neither future/past, where the Present, our glorious unparalleled Present, was and is the elephant in the room. Seeing it in my teens, I saw it from the vantage of too well known tropes and as one to whom such lessons would never apply. I was no Consumer for Christ , so I could afford to laugh. Reseeing it, I am more keenly aware of the then vogue for those in the know to disparage the middle class (the traditional consumer class, and a theme I’ll revisit in an upcoming write up of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), and how I was taught to view nostalgia purely as a relic, a resistance to new growth.
How well that’s served us.

Since, our knowing better hardly prepared us for the intractably opaque nature of today’s paperless consumer profiles , nor the increasingly pervasive importance of not just our credit worthiness but even our browsing habits. It did little to help us bypass the glut of ‘useful services’ being sold, nor the impenetrable loop-de-loops of some voice menus; things Gillian couldn’t have intended or foreseen, but that now stand out. Starkly. Especially as ways of envisioning what has been taken from sight and so no longer concerns those above “the average consumer” despite its continued existence, in digital forms. You think waiting in lines at a bureau is bad? How about call queues for service reps who are keyword searching through boilerplate company lit in a newly acquired secondary language WHILE cycling through a handful of other calls, too? It’s hardly the paranoia or power hungry functionary we knew. Serving our audience! Spreading our message! Sharing! Connected! Value Added!

Alongside concerns over the ongoing operational costs of resistance, and profound economic advice like “Don’t fight it, son! Confess, quickly! If you hold out too long, you could jeopardise your credit rating.” Brazil charms. It’s much more of a romp, and positively jaunty in places, than I remembered it being.

Which is fortunate, because when I find crap like this (below) in my yard on a beautiful spring day, I need the laugh.

FOS as littering: the true terrorists are those who condemn others for what they readily avail themselves. And if you like your irony with a bit of red herring: we could just as easily cherry-pick our sacred text for the ravings of a righteous God hellbent on world domination.


For the bots, Nigerian Princes, etc: Please call Mr. Rich White at 336-432-0386 .
He is an American, and he is very rich.



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