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by laurence boyce | december 8th, 2000

The Battle For Brazil

Terry Gilliam must feel that he is jinxed. With injury problems facing his current film "The Man who killed Don Quixote" to the screenwriting disputes over "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", it appears that things are never destined to go smoothly for the former Python. But these are minor annoyances when compared to his struggle with Universal Studios to get his dystopian fantasy "Brazil" on screen. Jack Mathews "The Battle of Brazil" is the story of how one man took on a movie studio.

In the red corner we had Terry Gilliam,a relatively inexperienced filmmaker fresh off the success of "Time Bandits". In the blue corner there was Sid Sheinberg, president of MCA-Universal and a man who had dealings with some of the most influential and powerful people in Hollywood. And at the centre of it all was the film "Brazil". A bleak story about the future in which a man can only escape the inhumanity around him by escaping into a fantasy world, the film came complete with an 'unhappy' ending. Well, if Gilliam had his way at least. But Sheinberg had other ideas. He wanted to shorten the film, get rid of the ending and emphasise the love story. Gilliam wouldn't re-cut. Sheinberg wouldn't release Gilliam' version. The battle had begun.

Jack Mathews has done an astounding job in chronicling the furore surrounding "Brazil". A former film reporter at the LA Times, Mathews massive amount of research brings up fascinating facts (did you know Tom Cruise was in consideration for the role of Sam Lowry?) and enthralling anecdotes that make this story of man versus studio such a good read.

Gilliam comes across as a mischevious rogue who enjoys screwing with Hollywood. Mathews captures his enthusiasm and energy with great skill, by combining interviews with an engaging writing style. For example, there is a witty anecdote about a film school screening of "Brazil" - unauthorised by Universal - which culminated in legal threats and Gilliam and Film school students storming the Dean's office!

It is also to Mathews credit that, whilst his loyalties obviously lie with Gilliam, Sheinberg is not portrayed in a wholly negative light. Instead, he is shown as man who truly believes that "Brazil" would do Gilliam credit if it was changed. It also shows him to be totally shocked by Gilliam's attitude and tactics throughout the war. That said, Mathews gets great mileage out of comparing the real life events to those in "Brazil" with Sheinberg as the soul-destroying 'system'.

This version of "The Battle of Brazil" is an expanded one, giving Mathews greater scope and depth to tell the story and allows the main protaganists to reflect on events some 15 years later. There is also the full script of the film which, like the rest of the film, is no slapdash effort. With detailed notes and original storyboards,it is the perfect companion to the book.

A must for anyone who loves "Brazil" or for those with an interest in the inner machinations of Hollywood, "The Battle of Brazil" encapsulates the arguments of art vs. commerce, filmmaker against studio and hollywood versus,well, everyone in an immensely entertaining package. Buy this and be reminded that making the film is simply the start of the problems ...

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