13 Fascinating Facts About Brazil



, writer-director Terry Gilliam’s dystopian satire, took a while to become the cult classic it is today. But in 1986 it managed to score two Oscar nominations (for Best Original Screenplay and Best Art Direction/Set Decoration). Set in a retro-futuristic time period, the movie centers on Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), who lives in a bureaucratic world of nonsense. In February of 1985, Brazil was released in Europe without any issues. But when Gilliam tried to get it released in the U.S., it ran into trouble. Eventually Universal Studios acquiesced to Gilliam’s demands, and it opened in select cities on December 18, 1985. Budgeted at $15 million, the film grossed just $9 million domestically, but 30 years later it remains an influential film.


When Terry Gilliam released his latest film, 2013’s The Zero Theorem, critics saw a resemblance to Brazil. “Those films are not really about the future,” he told Esquire, which offered up how much Brazil supposedly predicted our current times. “I think both films were really about the present, which I tried to disguise with some future elements. There are many elements in The Zero Theorem that I thought would be in the near future, but by the time we were shooting the film they were already in existence.” He also said a similar thing to Rolling Stone: “It’s just easier for me to put something outside of a contemporary time, because then I can amend things.” He further emphasized his non-soothsayer status to The New York Times. “People think I am a prophet and that Brazil described the world we’re living in now a few years ago,” he said. “But we were living in that world then; people just weren’t paying attention the way they do now.”



Katherine Helmond previously worked with Gilliam on Time Bandits. He called her up to play the part of Sam’s mother, who is really into plastic surgery. In an interview with Emmy TV Legends, Helmond recollected the grueling process of shooting the film in England and having to wear a glued-on mask for 10 hours a day. “I broke out from the glue and had all sorts of blisters on my face and they had to postpone my shooting, and I had to come back to the States and go to a doctor to clear up my face,” she recalled. “And the doctor said, ‘Don’t ever do this again,’ but I went back and had one more scene to do, and they glued my face again, and I broke out again. I think, ultimately, it was worth it because the character had such a fabulous look to it.”


In 1939, Ary Barroso wrote the samba song “Aquarela do Brasil”, which translates to “watercolor of Brazil.” Before Geoff Muldaur and Michael Kamen reworked it for Brazil, the song landed in the U.S. in 1942, in the Disney film Saludos Amigos. Walt Disney had heard the song while visiting Brazil, as part of FDR’s Good Neighbor Policy, which involved Brazil’s president Getúlio Vargas wanting to “regard America as a friend,” according to a BBC article. The song and Disney film aimed to portray South America in a better light than just as “feckless Latinos.” Since then, the song has been covered by Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney, Kate Bush, and Arcade Fire. “Its appeal transcends genre as well as politics—few songs with such political baggage have such a strong melody, or are quite as danceable,” read the BBC article.


It’s well-documented that Universal, which released the film in the U.S. (Fox released it overseas), refused to release the film in America with Gilliam’s original ending. The studio re-cut the film to portray a happy ending, a.k.a. the “Love Conquers All” ending, where Sam gets the girl instead of descending into insanity. In order to get the film released, Gilliam took out a full-page ad in Variety, directed at the head of Universal, Sid Sheinberg. Gilliam corralled L.A. film critics to watch the film in clandestine screenings, even though there was an embargo in showing people the film. The movie won three L.A. Critics awards, and Universal decided to release the film. “They [Universal] were in such a flap—they immediately released it in New York and Los Angeles, and they had no posters,” Gilliam told The Believer. “They had nothing—they had a Xeroxed copy of the artwork they were going to eventually make a poster of. That’s all they had. And it did proceed to do the most business per theater of any film at that time.”


The big problem with the film at first not being released in the U.S. came down to a contract dispute over the length of Brazil. Gilliam delivered a film 17 minutes over what he was contracted to do (over the two-hours-and-five-minutes limit) so the studio chopped it down to 94 minutes. But Sheinberg told the Los Angeles Times, “I don’t want a happy ending; I want a satisfying ending,” and he said that 52 percent of viewers responded negatively to test screenings.

Sheinberg also felt that Gilliam, who had only directed three films at this point, didn’t have the clout to be so demanding over final cut. “If Steven Spielberg brought me a movie four hours long and said, ‘It has to go out this way,’ I guarantee you that’s the way it would go out,” Sheinberg said. “But Terry Gilliam is not Steven Spielberg.” At one point Sheinberg contemplated selling the film for half price, and Gilliam was willing to do whatever he could to salvage the film. Well, almost. “I will talk to Sid, I will get in a Jacuzzi and drink wine with Sid,” Gilliam told the Los Angeles Times. “I will do anything to get this film released, except get in the editing room with him.”


Robert De Niro wanted to play the part of villain Jack Lint, but Gilliam said fellow Monty Python member Michael Palin needed to play the role. In the scene where Lint meets Sam at his office, Palin didn’t feel good with the way it initially turned out, so they went back and reshot it. “A little voice in the back of my mind said, ‘You know, this could be better,’” Palin told Wide Angle/Closeup. “So I was actually quite relieved when after a month or so, maybe longer, Terry said, ‘You know, there are some problems, it might be worth it trying this scene again.’ And after I got over the feelings of hurt pride—couldn’t get it right the first time—I realized yes, well there were things wrong, and maybe we’d be able to improve on it.”

The second time around they added more of a family element, integrating Lint’s young daughter, played by Gilliam’s real-life daughter. “I enjoyed having Holly there,” Palin said. “It gave me something to do which enabled the sort of jargon and the sinister side of what Jack is saying to come out as though he’s just sort of playing with his girl, playing with his family at the same time he says these things about, ‘Well, you have to be destroyed, you’d have to wipe him out,’ and all that sort of thing.”


The director told The Believer what he felt the movie was about: “To me, the heart of Brazil is responsibility, is involvement—you can’t just let the world go on doing what it’s doing without getting involved. And of course what [Sam] does is he falls in love, so he falls vulnerable and his whole world starts falling apart. Never fall in love.”


Gilliam admitted that he’s “terribly optimistic about things,” which comes through in the film’s ending. “I have a theory about Brazil in that it was a very difficult film for a pessimist to watch but it was okay for an optimist to watch it,” he told Wide Angle/Closeup. “For a pessimist it just confirms his worst fears; an optimist could somehow find a grain of hope in the ending. Cynicism bothers me because cynicism is, in a way, an admission of defeat, whereas skepticism is fairly healthy, and also it implies that there is the possibility of change.”


The torture scene at the end of the movie was filmed in a former coal- and gas-fired power station in Croydon, England. In 1991, everything but two chimneys was demolished. In a strange turn of events, IKEA opened a storefront where the plant used to be, causing shoppers to engage in capitalism.


In an interview with Rolling Stone, Gilliam said “Brazil's going to be on my gravestone,” but he also finds it funny that people revere it so much today. “What people don’t remember is half the audience would walk out. Now it’s held as a classic, blah, blah, blah—bulls--t! They were walking out. So I’m used to some of my films not being appreciated at the time.”


Gilliam was born in America but has spent most of his life living in England. In 2006, after George W. Bush was reelected, he finally gave up his American citizenship. In an interview with The Economist, Gilliam joked about Bush: “The situation today is depressing because we kind of predicted it in Brazil back in 1985. A couple of years ago I was considering suing Bush and [Dick] Cheney for infringement of copyright! The best way to control people is to keep them scared.”


The definition of steampunk is taking designs from the 19th-century Victorian era and infusing them with the retro-future, which is basically what Gilliam did with Brazil’s production design. Anna Froula, who co-edited the book The Cinema of Terry Gilliam: It’s a Mad World, attributes the invention of steampunk to the director. “His anarchic ability to make absurdist art on the cheap and expose the guts of any system—often literally through the guts of a cartoon human or plumbing system—informs the playful DIY at the heart of steampunk,” she said. “Just look at the weird cut-outs in his Monty Python animations: the way he would trace classical and Renaissance art in the British library and then combine the illustrations with ducts, images from Edison's early films, and Victorian and World War I imagery to create absurdist humor has developed one way or another in all of his films."


Norman Garwood, Brazil's production designer, purposefully had certain sets be enveloped in grays—such as Sam’s workplace—whereas other moments were filled with colors. “The characters like Sam’s mom, that’s where the beautiful bursts of colors would come insomuch as that was the difference between her life and the other poor people who were in this very colorless bureaucracy,” he explained to Wide Angle/Closeup. Her life was full of color, and I tried to emphasize that with her apartment. The bedroom where [Sam and Jill] finally make out together was just again very beautiful and colorful, but Sam's apartment was again a gray world which was attached to the world in which he worked.”

In developing the look of the film, Garwood took inspiration from magazines of the 1930s and 1940s. “It was these inventions that you would find in the ’30s books, it was almost like ‘the shape of the world to come,’ what people thought armored vehicles would look like in the 21st century, and what airplanes would look like,” Garwood said. “And then it was just taking that and building upon that.”

Amazon’s Big Fall Sale Features Deals on Electronics, Kitchen Appliances, and Home Décor


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12 Surprising Facts About T.S. Eliot


Born September 26, 1888, modernist poet and playwright Thomas Stearns (T.S.) Eliot is best known for writing "The Waste Land." But the 1948 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature was also a prankster who coined a perennially popular curse word, and created the characters brought to life in the Broadway musical "Cats." In honor of Eliot’s birthday, here are a few things you might not know about the writer.

1. T.S. Eliot enjoyed holding down "real" jobs.

Throughout his life, Eliot supported himself by working as a teacher, banker, and editor. He could only write poetry in his spare time, but he preferred it that way. In a 1959 interview with The Paris Review, Eliot remarked that his banking and publishing jobs actually helped him be a better poet. “I feel quite sure that if I’d started by having independent means, if I hadn’t had to bother about earning a living and could have given all my time to poetry, it would have had a deadening influence on me,” Eliot said. “The danger, as a rule, of having nothing else to do is that one might write too much rather than concentrating and perfecting smaller amounts.”

2. One of the longest-running Broadway shows ever exists thanks to T.S. Eliot.

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In 1939, Eliot published a book of poetry, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which included feline-focused verses he likely wrote for his godson. In stark contrast to most of Eliot's other works—which are complex and frequently nihilistic—the poems here were decidedly playful. For Eliot, there was never any tension between those two modes: “One wants to keep one’s hand in, you know, in every type of poem, serious and frivolous and proper and improper. One doesn’t want to lose one’s skill,” he explained in his Paris Review interview. A fan of Eliot's Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats since childhood, in the late '70s, Andrew Lloyd Webber decided to set many of Eliot's poems to music. The result: the massively successful stage production "Cats," which opened in London in 1981 and, after its 1982 NYC debut, became one of the longest-running Broadway shows of all time.

3. Three hours per day was his T.S. Eliot’s writing limit.

Eliot wrote poems and plays partly on a typewriter and partly with pencil and paper. But no matter what method he used, he tried to always keep a three hour writing limit. “I sometimes found at first that I wanted to go on longer, but when I looked at the stuff the next day, what I’d done after the three hours were up was never satisfactory," he explained. "It’s much better to stop and think about something else quite different.”

4. T.S. Eliot considered "Four Quartets" to be his best work.

In 1927, Eliot converted to Anglicanism and became a British citizen. His poems and plays in the 1930s and 1940s—including "Ash Wednesday," "Murder in the Cathedral," and "Four Quartets"—reveal themes of religion, faith, and divinity. He considered "Four Quartets,” a set of four poems that explored philosophy and spirituality, to be his best writing. Out of the four, the last is his favorite.

5. T.S. Eliot had an epistolary friendship with Groucho Marx.

Eliot wrote comedian Groucho Marx a fan letter in 1961. Marx replied, gave Eliot a photo of himself, and started a correspondence with the poet. After writing back and forth for a few years, they met in real life in 1964, when Eliot hosted Marx and his wife for dinner at his London home. The two men, unfortunately, didn’t hit it off. The main issue, according to a letter Marx wrote his brother: the comedian had hoped he was in for a "Literary Evening," and tried to discuss King Lear. All Eliot wanted to talk about was Marx's 1933 comedy Duck Soup. (In a 2014 piece for The New Yorker, Lee Siegel suggests there had been "simmering tension" all along, even in their early correspondence.)

6. Ezra Pound tried to crowdfund T.S. Eliot’s writing.

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In 1921, Eliot took a few months off from his banking job after a nervous breakdown. During this time, he finished writing "The Waste Land," which his friend and fellow poet Ezra Pound edited. Pound, with the help of other Bohemian writers, set up Bel Esprit, a fund to raise money for Eliot so he could quit his bank job to focus on writing full-time. Pound managed to get several subscribers to pledge money to Eliot, but Eliot didn’t want to give up his career, which he genuinely liked. The Liverpool Post, Chicago Daily Tribune, and the New York Tribune reported on Pound’s crowdfunding campaign, incorrectly stating that Eliot had taken the money, but continued working at the bank. After Eliot protested, the newspapers printed a retraction.

7. Writing in French helped T.S. Eliot overcome writer’s block.

After studying at Harvard, Eliot spent a year in Paris and fantasized about writing in French rather than English. Although little ever came of that fantasy, during a period of writer’s block, Eliot did manage to write a few poems in French. “That was a very curious thing which I can’t altogether explain. At that period I thought I’d dried up completely. I hadn’t written anything for some time and was rather desperate,” he told The Paris Review. “I started writing a few things in French and found I could, at that period ...Then I suddenly began writing in English again and lost all desire to go on with French. I think it was just something that helped me get started again."

8. T.S. Eliot set off stink bombs in London with his nephew.

Eliot, whose friends and family called him Tom, was supposedly a big prankster. When his nephew was young, Eliot took him to a joke shop in London to purchase stink bombs, which they promptly set off in the lobby of a nearby hotel. Eliot was also known to hand out exploding cigars, and put whoopee cushions on the chairs of his guests.

9. T.S. Eliot may have been the first person to write the word "bulls**t."

In the early 1910s, Eliot wrote a poem called "The Triumph of Bulls**t." Like an early 20th-century Taylor Swift tune, the poem was Eliot’s way of dissing his haters. In 1915, he submitted the poem to a London magazine … which rejected it for publication. The word bulls**t isn’t in the poem itself, only the poem’s title, but The Oxford English Dictionary credits the poem with being the first time the curse word ever appeared in print.

10. T.S. Eliot coined the expression “April is the cruelest month.”

Thanks to Eliot, the phrase “April is the cruelest month” has become an oft-quoted, well-known expression. It comes from the opening lines of "The Waste Land”: “April is the cruelest month, breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/Memory and desire, stirring/Dull roots with spring rain.”

11. T.S. Eliot held some troubling beliefs about religion.

Over the years, Eliot made some incredibly problematic remarks about Jewish people, including arguing that members of a society should have a shared religious background, and that a large number of Jews creates an undesirably heterogeneous culture. Many of his early writing also featured offensive portrayals of Jewish characters. (As one critic, Joseph Black, pointed out in a 2010 edition of "The Waste Land" and Other Poems, "Few published works displayed the consistency of association that one finds in Eliot's early poetry between what is Jewish and what is squalid and distasteful.") Eliot's defenders argue that the poet's relationship with Jewish people was much more nuanced that his early poems suggest, and point to his close relationships with a number of Jewish writers and artists.

12. You can watch a movie based on T.S. Eliot’s (really bad) marriage.

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Tom & Viv, a 1994 film starring Willem Dafoe, explores Eliot’s tumultuous marriage to Vivienne Haigh-Wood, a dancer and socialite. The couple married in 1915, a few months after they met, but the relationship quickly soured. Haigh-Wood had constant physical ailments, mental health problems, and was addicted to ether. The couple spent a lot of time apart and separated in the 1930s; she died in a mental hospital in 1947. Eliot would go on to remarry at the age of 68—his 30-year-old secretary, Esmé Valerie Fletcher—and would later reveal that his state of despair during his first marriage was the catalyst and inspiration for "The Waste Land."

This story has been updated for 2020.