By Sean Carroll | November 28, 2005 1:00 pm

For reasons having nothing to do with the obscure films post, I recently had the opportunity to see Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (for perhaps the fifth or sixth time). It’s a close call between that and Casablanca for my all-time favorite movie — how can you go wrong combining Kafka and Orwell with Monty Python and Tom Stoppard? (Brazil, I mean, not Casablanca.)

Of course there is a wonderful backstory to the making of the movie, in which Universal studios chopped up the movie to make a “love conquers all” version with a happy ending, which Gilliam refused to have his name associated with. Fortunately that version never got released, as Gilliam resorted (intentionally or not) to a fiendishly clever strategy: he surreptitiously showed his version to groups of film critics, and the LA film critics society awarded its “best picture of the year” award to a movie that hadn’t even been released. The awards, which Universal would much have preferred go to its other movie Out of Africa, embarassed the studio into letting Gilliam’s version be distributed, albeit without any support.

You can read all sorts of fun trivia in the Brazil FAQ. My favorite is this: Sidney Scheinberg, president of Universal and the man in charge of the happy-ending version, decided he didn’t like the title, and solicited suggestions from his staff. (To be fair, the title would have made less for his version; in Gilliam’s version there is an elaborate soundtrack by Michael Kamen that is constructed primarily out of variations of the song “Brazil,” all of which was replaced in Scheinberg’s version by rock music, to attract teenagers.) Here are the suggested replacement titles:

  • If Osmosis, Who Are You?
  • Some Day Soon
  • Vortex
  • Day Dreams and Night Tripper
  • What a Future!
  • Litterbugs
  • The Works
  • Skylight City
  • You Show Me Your Dream…
  • Access
  • Arresting Developments
  • Nude Descending Bathroom Scale
  • Lords of the Files
  • Dreamscape
  • The Staplegunners
  • Progress
  • Forever More
  • The Right to Bear Arms
  • Explanada Fortunata Is Not My Real Name
  • All Too Soon
  • Chaos
  • Where Were We?
  • Disconnected Parties
  • Blank/Blank
  • Erotic
  • Shadow Time
  • Maelstrom
  • Forces of Darkness
  • The Man in the Custom Tailored T-shirt
  • Fold, Spindle, Mutilate
  • Can’t Anybody Here Play the Cymbals?
  • Sign on High
  • The Ball Bearing Electro Memory Circuit Buster
  • This Escalator Doesn’t Stop At Your Station
  • Gnu Yak, Gnu Yak, and Other Bestial Places

I can’t for the life of me understand what they were thinking for most of these. (Okay, I kind of like “Litterbugs.”) I suspect they had a thought process along the lines of “Well, the movie’s kind of weird, so let’s make the title … weird!” I’ve had my own battles with Physical Review over titles of my papers, but nothing like this.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Entertainment, Miscellany
  • http://www.amara.com Amara

    I recently picked up a DVD of this film (also a favorite of mine) with Italian subtitles for that extra touch of bizarreness. You mentioned Kafka, did you mean the film? I think a perfect movie evening would be to play Brazil and Kafka back-to-back.
    Kafka: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0102181/

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    I don’t have an all time favourite movie to mention -there are just too many candidates- but Brazil is high on the list, and maybe near Dr Strangelove…the full title of which is also excellent:

    Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

    I wonder what the boardroom arguments were about that title?!

    And of course, I borrowed from this title for my first ever blog post.


  • http://evolgen.blogspot.com RPM

    I always wondered about the title of the film. Has Gilliam ever made a movie that was completed without going rediculously over budget and released to his liking? If you’re a Gilliam fan, you really have to see Lost in La Mancha — a documentary of Gilliam trying to make a Don Quixote film that really captures the absurdity of Terry Gilliam’s film making.

  • http://www.amara.com Amara

    Oooh…Dr. Strangelove, another favorite!

    Did you know that Kubrick filmed a full scene of a War Room pie fight, that was later cut from the final movie? I wish it would have made it in. Here are some cut views of the pie fight scene.


    Truth is stranger than fiction, however, because Dr. Strangelove is almost a documentary.


    “One essential point should emerge from all the hoopla: “Strangelove” is far more than a satire. In its own loopy way, the movie is a remarkably fact-based and specific guide to some of the oddest, most secretive chapters of the cold war.”

  • http://goatsreadingbooks.blogspot.com Tim D

    Yeah, “Brazil” is definitely in my top 5 (if I *had* to pick right now I’d say Spirited Away, Matewan, The Crying Game and Rushmore, I think)

    In my mind, Brazil is linked with “Blade Runner”, another excellent film with some studio funny business regarding the ending.

  • Kea

    Brazil, yes! Definitely one of my favourites. I’m quite fond of other Gilliam films, too, such as the Monkeys one…what’s it called?

  • dswift

    Ah. One who sees the light. It took me about 10 laps through Brazil before I finally stitched the whole thing together, at which point I declared Brazil the greatest movie ever made.

    I admit that this grandiose pronoucement is irrelevant. Brazil is not a movie for movie buffs. Roger Ebert, for example, thinks Roadhouse is a better movie than Brazil.

    What’s relevant is the fact that Brazil one of the great artworks of 20th century. I am prepared to argue this ad nauseam upon request.

    To fellow Brazil fans who lurk, may I direct you to a moment of genius I bet few have taken in full? It’s the party scene when Sam is having an awkward chat with Shirley on a couch. He leaves her clumsily and apologizes. Wittin the space of about 1.5 seconds, Shirley delivers a mad assortment of expressions — pity, disgust, shame, forgiveness, et al. It’s an astonishing bit that demands frame-by-frame examination.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    dswift–yes, I noticed precisely that scene. Fantastic.

  • Cygnus

    Kea: That’s Twelve Monkeys, you’re talking about I think.

    Brazil, is an awesome movie. Having sort of missed the obscure movies thread I’d like to mention that if you liked Brazil, you might also like Delicatessen. Though, in my opinion, Dr Stranglove beats all of these pretty comfortably for the top English film slot.

    And talking about science, anyone here seen October Sky?

  • David

    Amazing…I saw Brazil many years ago and still think of it as the best film I ever saw. The memory of what happened in it is fading now, just remember being greatly impressed at the time and the one scene where the buildings start shooting up into the sky. It sure is surprising to see that quite a few others here also think this, since, e.g. the people I saw it with thought it was good but not fantastic, and most others I’ve mentioned it to since then hadn’t even heard of it (thought I was talking about “Boys from Brazil”). I wonder if there’s a natural inclination for physicists to like this film…

  • Kea

    Twelve Monkeys, yes, thanks. Not up there with Brazil but pretty darned good.
    For comparable brilliance, how about Mulholland Drive?

  • Thomas Palm

    Have you considered that some of those silly names may have been hints from the staff to leave the original title intact? In some places you don’t openly tell the boss that he is wrong.

  • schnitzi

    I watched Brazil on TV a few years ago, and guess what? They had chopped off the very last scene, where the doctors faces lean into view, and you realize… They were apparently quite intent on making it a happy ending, in at least one forum they could control. Bastards.

  • colhawk

    Another physics person who likes Brazil a lot.. First time I saw it I had to leave just before the end, but I was uneasy about the seeming happy ending.. I felt much better when I watched the whole thing later! I guess you could say our hero achieved some kind of nirvana in which he was beyond harm. Incidentally Kate Bush sang an interesting version of Brazil, no doubt in connection with her pal Terry. She just brought out a new album after a 12 odd years break.

  • http://www.amara.com Amara

    Thanks for the heads up colhawk! I thought she’d left the business for good. I’ve missed her music! Did you see that she has a song called pi?



    Sweet and gentle and sensitive man
    With an obsessive nature and deep fascination
    For numbers
    And a complete infatuation with the calculation
    Of PI

    Oh he love, he love, he love
    He does love his numbers
    And they run, they run, they run him
    In a great big circle
    In a circle of infinity

    3.1415926535 897932
    3846 264 338 3279

    Oh he does, he does, he does
    He does love his numbers
    And they run, they run, they run him
    In a great big circle
    In a circle of infinity
    But he must, he must, he must
    Put a number to it

    50288419 716939937510
    582319749 44 59230781
    6406286208 821 4808651 32

    Oh he love, he love, he love
    He does love his numbers
    And they run, they run, they run him
    In a great big circle
    In a circle of infinity

    82306647 0938446095 505 8223…


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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .


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