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Michael Palin

Blu-ray: The Definitive ‘Brazil’

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (Criterion), a dark, dense science fiction fantasy, is like “1984” rewritten by Monty Python, an absurdist nightmare of Kafka-esque dimensions.

Jonathan Pryce is the dreamer trapped as a worker bee in the bureaucratic maze as deadly as it is indifferent, until he falls in love with a woman (Kim Greist) he thinks may belong to the terrorist underground. The road to true love involves lunches with his plastic surgery-addicted mother (Katherine Helmond), bureaucratic dueling with an air condition repairman (Bob Hoskins), and cozy relations with the friendly neighborhood interrogator (Michael Palin). Fittingly the film took its own circuitous route to release. Universal stalled the release and even reedited the film, until Gilliam screened the film himself for the Los Angeles film critics, who championed the film and lavished it with end of the year awards.

Universal released the 132 minute theatrical cut of the film, the same one that played theaters in the U.S., on Blu-ray last year in a bare-bones edition. But well over a decade ago, Criterion released Gilliam’s definitive version of the film, culled from materials in numerous different release cuts, in a deluxe three-disc DVD set packed with supplements. That edition now debuts in a newly-mastered, Director Approved Blu-ray set.

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Review: Jabberwocky

[Originally published in Movietone News 56, November 1977]

We sometimes say that comedy is a very serious business, and we’re right; but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t make us laugh. Comedy is serious when it makes us laugh in an important way, at something—whether big or dangerous or overrated—with which we can deal more easily once we’ve laughed. Annie Hall brought humor out of things that cause people great pain, and those who love the movie seem to value their laughter very highly, as a kind of liberation: as a friend put it, “Annie Hall may do for neurotics what Rocky did for everybody else.” But the laughter is crucial, and unfunny comedy is just depressing.

In Jabberwocky, for instance, we may be taken with the way Terry Gilliam has cast an attack by medieval dragon in the first-person mode of Jaws and King Kong—complete with tuneless, throbbing background music—or with his satiric images of life in the Middle Ages, which look like the work of a wicked 19th-century cartoonist. We may laugh in spite of ourselves the first time the innocent-abroad hero, Dennis Cooper (Michael Palin), is accidentally peed upon—likewise when garbage is thrown on him or he falls into a manure pile—but it’s hard to laugh the second or third times: we can take only so much offal humor at a sitting. Cooper’s grotesquely fat lady love Griselda, sitting on her lake porch munching placidly on a raw potato, may strike us as a marvelous creation, until we realize how little will be done with her; that first glimpse contains everything we’re given to laugh at through every one of her appearances.

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Review: The Life of Brian

[Originally published in Movietone News 64-65, March 1980]

Ordinarily, nothing would be further from the point about Monty Python’s Life of Brian than the film’s reverence or lack of same toward the Christian faith. But with the film widely condemned, and even cancelled, on the basis of “blasphemy” and “sacrilege,” the issue becomes germane. Personally, I’ve been at a loss to find any such attitudes evident in the film, and have had to conclude that those who condemn it haven’t seen it, or didn’t know what they were looking at when they did. True enough, The Life of Brian inverts the Judaeo-Christian tradition by depicting the Romans as civilized and sophisticated, the Hebrews as hopelessly confused, uneducated, sloppy, and vicious. But the Romans come in for their share of jabs, too, in a series of gags based mainly on speech defects, physical handicaps, and sexual proclivities. This portrayal of the Romans seems broadly influenced by the popular BBC dramatization of Robert Graves’s I, Claudius—and far from being a parenthetical observation, that is precisely the point about The Life of Brian: it isn’t spoofing religion, it’s spoofing a genre.

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