BRAZIL Frequently Asked Questions
Copyright 1994-1998 David S. Cowen
Release 1.4, Last-modified: 1998/7/17
11. What does the singing telegram girl sing?
Mrs. Ida Lowry requests the pleasure
of your companyyyy
at her apartment tonight,
from eight thirtyyyyy
to celebrate the completion
of her recent cosmetic surgeryyyy
The guest of honor will be
Mr. Conrad Helpmann,
Dep. Under Minister of State
for Public Informationnnn,
R.S.V.P. by singing telegram!
There’s a reason for the singing telegram girl’s rather odd dance during the last bit of the recital — in the original script, she later asked if she could use Sam’s bathroom.
Gilliam considered “subtitling” the scene with this text in “telegram” style letters. Gilliam has said the he wishes he had actually done that.
12. Miscellaneous Questions, Answers, and Observations.
Q. What kind of car did Sam drive to deliver the refund check?
A. It’s a Messerschmidt. Gilliam obtained two from a collector’s club in order to shoot the film, one of which was destroyed for the scene at Shangri-La Towers.
Q. What does Jack Lint’s little girl say to Sam after Jack leaves?
A. “Put it on, big boy. I won’t look at your willy.” Holly, the little girl, is Gilliam’s daughter Holly Gilliam.
Q. Who is Sam’s mother played by in the scene at Mrs. Terrain’s funeral?
A. Its Kim Greist, who plays Jill Layton. Gilliam shot footage with both Greist and Katherine Helmond playing the part, and decided to use the footage of Greist with Helmond’s voice dubbed in. However, if you look closely, the last shot of Sam’s mother _is_ Katherine Helmond.
Q. Who is the rock man supposed to represent?
A. Sam’s boss at the Department of Records, Kurtzmann.
Q. Who does Sam find when he lifts the faceplate of the Samurai?
A. Himself, which lends itself to the Quixotic nature of Sam’s quest. The samurai is a huge, monolithic, powerful machine, and is assumed to represent technology — and Sam finds his own participation in the machinations of this technologically based society to be a hindrance to his own self. Gilliam hinted, during a recent Q & A session on America Online, that the Samurai may simply be a bad pun. The word samurai, divided into syllables, sounds like the phrase “Sam or I”… and later, Gilliam mentioned that it could mean, “Sam, you are I”.
Q. Why the hideous masks, like the one Jack Lint wears for the interrogation?
A. Gilliam’s mother once sent him a mask like that, and it haunted him ever since. Gilliam intended the effect of combining the masks and the decaying bodies of the Forces of Darkness (the small, troll-like creatures which Sam sees in his dreams) to be an intermingling of the beginning and ends of life.
Q. Does Gilliam cameo in the film?
A. Gilliam himself appears as one of the lurkers in Shangri-La towers, the one belching smoke as he runs into Sam. The lurkers were put in the script to get the idea across that people were being arbitrarily picked out for surveillance.
Q. How is the song “Brazil” used in the movie?
A. As well as frequently occurring as a theme in the orchestral soundtrack, the song Brazil is hummed by Tuttle as he puts the panel back inside Sam’s apartment, and by Sam as he folds up Mrs. Buttle’s check and puts it in the pneumatic delivery tube. A few notes of the song are played by the keypad as Sam punches in “EREIAMJH” in Mr. Helpmann’s lift.
Q. Are there any references to other films in BRAZIL?
A. Past the obvious reference to Casablanca, there are two scenes which are familiar to film buffs. The first is the opening dolly shot of the clerk’s pool at the Department of Records, intended as homage to Stanley Kubrick, who used a similar dolly shot in _Paths of Glory_. An even more striking similarity is during the scene where Lowry and Tuttle escape from Information Retrieval. The actions of the soldiers in this scene, marching mechanically in time and lowering their rifles, mirrors shot-for-shot a famous scene in BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN. The scene in the Russian classic takes place on the steps of Odessa, portraying a glimpse of the Russian revolution. In POTEMKIN, we have a baby carriage rolling down the stairs in the midst of battle, while in BRAZIL, we have a floor polisher going down the stairs — the operator, like the mother in POTEMKIN, is shot in a similar fashion This famous scene is also alluded to in THE UNTOUCHABLES, during the famous train station stand-off, and was re-drawn for _Stick Figure Theatre_ on MTV’s _Liquid Television_. Zbigniew Rybczynski’s short film STEPS is all about what happens when modern day tourists get to walk around in this famous film sequence. Many other films have used referenced POTEMKIN, as well.
Q. Why does Mrs. Terrain disintegrate over the course of the film?
A. Mrs Terrain reveals in the restaurant bombing sequence that she is seeing Mr. Chapman for cosmetic surgery, also known as “the acid man”. From the gelatinous, bony mess found in her coffin, we can assume the acid treatment was ultimately unsuccessful. Gilliam, on the Criterion collection set in his commentary, mentions that his father had used an “acid man” to treat a growth on his ear… and that the acid ate through his father’s entire ear!
Q. Are any of the character’s names significant?
A. Mr Kurtzmann (German for `short man’) stands for small in stature and success. Named after the editor of _Help_ (Harvey Kurtzman), a magazine that Gilliam worked for in the mid-60s. It was at a photo shoot for this magazine that Gilliam met John Cleese, who would later invite him to join the Monty Python team. Mr Warrenn works in a rabbit-warren style place: a maze of corridors. Dr. Chapman, “the acid man” responsible for Mrs. Terrain’s deteriorating condition, may be an allusion to fellow Pythoner Graham Chapman, who studied as a doctor.
Q. What is the tool that Jack Lint uses during Sam’s interrogation?
A. It is a device used to perform a frontal lobotomy. It is inserted through the nose and then pushed up to sever the frontal lobe. It can be assumed through the context of the film that Sam has been lobotomized by the end of the film. He is still alive: we see him twitch and hear him hum the tune Brazil.
Q. What is the gift Sam keeps getting and giving?
A. An executive decision maker, a novelty gift in the Spencer’s Gifts vain: it has a plunger that can fall to one side of a divider, landing on “YES” or “NO”. The toy is of no value in the film…commentary on the knee-jerk giving of useless gifts at Christmastime, and the commercialization of the holiday. The gift in real life was more expensive…it cost 2000 dollars to design and make for the film.
Q. What does “‘ere I am, J.H.” mean?
A. It’s obviously an anagram of “Jeremiah”. However, the phrase is slightly puzzling: Jeremiah (the anagram of “EREIAMJH”) was Sam Lowry’s late father, so we can assume his initials were J.L. Helpmann’s initials, seen earlier in the tag on a present, are G.H. (for Gene Helpmann). So, who’s J.H.?
Q. How were the flying sequences filmed?
A. “We used either close ups of Jonathan….and the rest of the shots were done on this model. This thing was so good we were able to come in very close on it and still fool the camera. This whole thing was connected by wires to a battery that was then run on a huge track. To make it look like the size of a human being you’ve gotta slow the thing down so we shot it at 4 or 5 times normal speed and the operator trying to follow this thing was in a terrible state. We’d set this whole thing up and the clouds would get going and we’d shout “Action!” and it would go Wham! and then this thing would fly through the air “Berrrrrap!” and that was it and it would take us another hour to set it up again. By the end of the day you wouldn’t know what you’d achieved, but come the next morning, you saw the rushes and the film slowed down to the right speed…it’s fantastic, you saw this incredibly graceful, soaring, sweeping figure. That’s what we ended up with on film.”
– Terry Gilliam, The South Bank Show, 6/29/91
Two of Lowry’s “rescuers” are wearing comic masks — one wearing a Father Christmas mask, the other Pluto. There are references to Egyptology in Ida Lowry’s decor, and the brooch she wears, the beetle, is the Egyptian symbol for eternal life. The “shoe hat” she wears is based on an actual design from the 30’s. Ducts are pervasive throughout the film. These symbolize both the umbilical relationship of the people to their centralized government and the loss of aesthetics in our cities.
When Sam fights with Jill to get her parcel off her (in the lingerie dept.) his head gets pressed against a mirror. For a brief second before the next shot, the film gets reversed (or flipped from left to right). Spiro loses his French accent after the bomb goes off in the restaurant. This funny dialogue is not heard in the American Theatrical/Video release.
Gilliam tested more than a half-dozen actresses to play the part of Jill, interviewing or testing Jamie Lee Curtis, Rebecca De Mornay, Rae Dawn Chong, Joanna Pakula, Rosanna Arquette, Kelly McGillis, Ellen Barkin, and even considering Madonna. Gilliam’s personal favorite was Ellen Barkin. Tom Cruise was at one time considered to be Sam Lowry, but never did a screen test.
There was a reference to BRAZIL on Simpsons episode [1F07]: The Last Temptation of Homer, originally aired on December 9th, 1993. Department of labor workers slide in from the top of the screen on wires in a manner very similar to Sam’s rescue scene in the torture chamber. The Brazilian soccer team is mentioned soon afterward. In the same episode, Lisa steps out of a clam shell a la BARON MUNCHAUSEN.
Several readers recall seeing a Federal Express ad that parodied BRAZIL, namely the scenes with Mr. Warrenn in Information Retrieval. Several readers recall seeing a version of the Sheinberg “Love Conquers All” edit that contained a clip of Casablanca, and the line “You look like you’ve seen a ghost, Sam,” neither of which are present on the Criterion disc.
Many posters to rec.arts.movies.* and alt.cult-movies have intimated that BRAZIL is a modern-day crucifixtion story. We see stigmata on Sam Lowry’s hand after his lobotomy at the end of the movie.
13. Where can I get more information about BRAZIL?
Out of print for years, Jack Mathew’s _The Battle of Brazil_ has been re-published in a new, paperback edition and is christened with the ludicrously long title _The Battle of Brazil: Terry Gilliam v. Universal Pictures in the Fight to the Final Cut — the Totally Restored, Revamped, and Researched Blow-by-Blow Recounting of the Most Spectacular Title Bout in the Blood-Soaked History of Hollywood_.
The out of print hardcover of _The Battle of Brazil_ was published by Crown Publishing, New York, 1987 ISBN 0-517-56538-2. The second edition in paperback was published by Applause Books, New York, 1998 ISDN 1-55783-347-8 and should be available in bookstores nationwide, or at http://www.amazon.com . Much of the information in this FAQ was gleaned from this invaluable resource.
Phil Stubbs’ web site DREAMS: THE TERRY GILLIAM FANZINE is the best resource of current Terry Gilliam information on the net, including a vast amount of information on Gilliam’s unfilmed projects and updates on the production of THE DEFECTIVE DETECTIVE.
The Internet Movie Database offers very comprehensive information about films, and has a wonderful section on BRAZIL. Please check it out at http://www.imdb.com .
14. Notable Quotes
“This is your receipt for your husband…and this is my receipt for your receipt.”
Bill, Department of Works:
“Mistakes? We don’t make mistakes.”
Charlie, Department of Works:
“Bloody typical, they’ve gone back to metric without telling us.”
“Oh, it’s…it’s all right. I don’t like you either.”
“…well, that’s a pipe of a different color.”
“Listen, this old system of yours could be on fire and I couldn’t even turn on the kitchen tap without filling out a 27b/6…Bloody paperwork.”
“My good friends call me Harry.”
“Listen, kid, we’re all in it together.”
“It’s been confusion from the word go!”
“What have you done with his body?”
“Until this whole thing blows over, just stay away from me.”
“It’s not my fault that Buttle’s heart condition didn’t appear on
“Yes…No…I don’t know. I don’t know what I want.”
“Mr. Helpmann, I’m keen to get into Information Retrieval. Mr. Helpmann, I’m dying to get at this woman… no, no, no.”
“Yes, I always used to wonder if she wore falsies. False ears…”
“Sorry, I’m a bit of a stickler for paperwork. Where would we be if we didn’t follow the correct procedures?”
“I assure you, Mrs. Buttle, the Ministry is very scrupulous about following up and eradicating any error. If you have any complaints which you’d like to make, I’d be more than happy to send you the appropriate forms.”
Helpmann uses a variety of sporting references, including:
“Bad sportsmanship. A ruthless minority of people seem to have forgotten good old-fashioned virtues. They just can’t stand seeing the other fellow win. If these people would just play the game…”
“We’re fielding all their strokes, running a lot of them out, and pretty consistently knocking them for six. I’d say they’re nearly out of the game.”
“Jill? Yes…Sam I think I ought to tell you. I’m afraid she’s upped stumps and retired to the pavillion. Thrown in the towel.”
“All I can say is don’t fall at the last fence. The finishing post’s in sight. See you in the paddock…keep your eye on the ball.”
“An empty desk is an efficient desk!”
Dr. Lewis Jaffe:
“Just me and my little knife! Snip snip — slice slice… can you believe it?”
“Faces are a doddle compared to tits and ass. No hairline.”
“Where’d you get this from, eh? Out yer nostril?”
“All you’ve got to do is blow your nose and it’s fixed, in’t it?”
“Computers are my forte!”
“Care for a little necrophilia?. . .Hmmm?”
Copious thanks to all involved in writing this thing, including: Jack Mathews, Murray Chapman, Jon Drukman, Chuck Falzone, John Fletcher, Hyunsuk Seung, Trond Frittz, Phil Stubbs, and others too numerous to mention.
Thanks also go to Terry Gilliam for making a wonderful film that is still as fascinating in 1996 as it was in 1986, and the people at Voyager for persevering to release a proper laserdisc of BRAZIL in America.