The Thin Blue Line: A Radical Classic By Charles Musser
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I first saw Brazil thanks to the sweet laserdisc box set belonging to my spoiled film-school roommate Jeff Yorkes (now an editor of much acclaim). I remember thinking that the movie had nothing resembling a consistent tone, pinballing from broad physical comedy to bleak social commentary, sometimes in the same shot. I loved it. Outside of Alan Moore comics, I’d never seen a story with so much anger stuffed so cleverly into so many images. No surprise that Gilliam and Moore both worship iconoclastic Mad magazine founder Harvey Kurtzman.
Anyway, the following clip is probably one of the less egregious deletions from the butchered “Love Conquers All” edit, which was the studio-imposed version, complete with happy ending. It’s just a quick sequence of Jonathan Pryce’s character leaving the safety of his bureaucratic cocoon to deliver a check to the widow of a man detained and tortured by the government after mistakenly ending up on a terrorist watch list. (I know, right?)
Barely a scene, this is one of those thankless transitions that shows how our protagonist gets from point A to point B. It doesn’t really advance the narrative or reveal new information about characters. In old-timey screenwriting parlance, it’s just “shoe leather.”
But look at this leather!
The intro of Sam Lowry’s vehicle is old-school Monty Python hilarious, but I’ll never forget the revelation of Shangri-La Towers, which is at first really funny and then almost immediately kind of depressing. Talk about world building. Even when the different elements of the filmmaking seem to be operating at cross-purposes, the jaunty score, battered set design, and sumptuous cinematography somehow work in concert to make this absurd future feel not just plausible but likely. And that poster behind the kids looks like it was stolen from 2011.
This entire little journey could have been handled with a cheaper/easier/saner dissolve, but instead, like with every scene in Brazil, we get something epic and unexpected and beautiful.
Brian K. Vaughan is a writer of graphic novels and for television. He received five Eisner Awards for the comic book series Y: The Last Man.