Film Score Friday #6: “Brazil” (1985)

Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) prepares to do fantastical battle in Brazil.

[Before we kick this one off… As with all my other articles, there is a risk of significant SPOILERS, so please bear in mind! This is particularly relevant to this film as, for reasons outlined below, multiple different versions and edits exist, of which a rundown is available at faqs.org. This article takes as its reference point the full “Director’s Cut” edition, which is now (as well it should be) the standard DVD release version of Brazil.]

By turns bitingly satirical and deeply moving, chillingly terrifying and laugh-out-loud hilarious, Terry Gilliam’s dystopian farce Brazil is a film that prides itself on confusing the viewer; the latter was certainly the case for Roger Ebert, who detected within the film a palpable and “general lack of discipline”. Indeed, as Jack Mathews documents extensively in his book and documentary The Battle of Brazil, these qualities (combined with Gilliam’s intransigence towards compromise) made it the subject of a protracted dispute between the director and his distributors at Universal, so much so that an alternative cut was prepared (without Gilliam’s blessing) simplifying some of the film’s narrative and, famously, altering its thoroughly ambivalent ending. It is precisely this ambiguity, however, that makes Brazil not only memorable but, as Mathews writes in an accompanying essay to the film’s Criterion Collection DVD re-release, quintessentially Gilliam-esque. Indeed, the film conforms perfectly to the description offered by a Criterion forum member of “Monty Python meets 1984“, as the nightmarish system it depicts, a true bureaucracy where everything is governed by paperwork, is effortlessly omnipotent and fundamentally inefficient all at once, the machines and suited bureaucrats that run it both unassailably powerful and inherently ridiculous.

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Film Score Friday #4: “Ran” (1985)

‘Why do I write film music? … I don’t like things that are too pure and refined. I’m more interested in what’s real. And films are so full of life’. This simple self-assessment by Toru Takemitsu, which opens Charlotte Zwerin’s documentary for Sony Classical’s Music at the Movies series on his considerable output for film, neatly encapsulates the aesthetic of a repertoire that does not so much contrast with as complement the varied, unique and endlessly fascinating oeuvre that firmly established him as Japan’s most celebrated classical composer. Working with film, Takemitsu continues, with its rather more ‘coarse’ elements of (among many others) eroticism and violence, afforded him a certain freedom from the comparative ‘purity’ not only of writing concert works, but also of the increasing demands for abstraction from emotional impulse in contemporary art music, both of which occasionally, for him, threatened to border on stultifying. Indeed, his film scores, of which he composed more than 100 over the course of his career, do not at all represent a compromise of his compositional voice, but rather showcase his insatiable curiosity and urge towards experimentation to a very different degree.

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Film Score Friday #3: “The Thing” (1982)

IMPORTANT – this article contains not only spoilers, but links to clips that some people may find disturbing or frightening (it’s about a horror film, after all). Please proceed with caution!

Among John Carpenter’s substantial corpus (corp’s(e)?) of work as a director not only of horror, but a great many other fine genre movies, his 1982 alien creature feature The Thing is something of an anomaly. For one, following a previously unbroken a streak of commercial (if not always critical) hits – the more independently financed Assault on Precinct 13Halloween and The Fog, and the bigger-budget dystopian action thriller Escape from New York – the film was, at least at first, a resounding failure, making minimal profits on its budget and promptly losing Carpenter the major studio backing from Universal Pictures he had only just recently secured, leaving him, somewhat like its survivors, adrift in the (Hollywood) wilderness. On an artistic level, it also bucks the trend prominent in Carpenter’s back catalogue of the director (for both artistic and financial reasons) scoring his own films, often with the aid of his long-time musical collaborator Alan Howarth. (This practice would continue long after the release of The Thing and would, indeed, lead later to Carpenter pursuing a side career as a musician, including two studio albums of Lost Themes released last year.)

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