Episode 35: The gifted grotesqueries of Gilliam

(1 September 2020)

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David: Hello and welcome to Episode 35 of the podcast we call Two Chairs Talking. My name is David Grigg and I’m joined by my co-host Perry Middlemiss as always. Hi Perry, how’s things?

Perry: Good, thank you David, good.

The Pandemic

David: We’ve been having an interesting time haven’t we? We’re still in lockdown. We’re still in stage four lockdown, we still have a curfew and I don’t know about you, but we also had to boil all our water over the weekend because there was a power outage and were told we had to boil water for several days to get around that.

Perry: I wasn’t too bad. My water is provided by the same water provider as you, but our suburb area wasn’t included into the water boiling warning, which is a good thing.

David: That’s a good thing. Most things were OK like you know having a cup of tea and so on and boiling water to drink at the table, but the worst thing, of course, is cleaning your teeth. You know, like weren’t allowed to use water out of the tap to clean your teeth with, so that was a bit awkward, but that was all right. We worked it out.

Perry: I’m OK, you see, because I was brought up in Adelaide and the water there was absolutely atrocious my the joke that I used to run when people used to say how bad the water was. I used to say well, basically I didn’t drink it, we just drank beer and we just we just stayed with Coopers and that was OK. And of course when you think about it—remember the idea of the small beer?

David: That’s what people used to drink in the 1800s, yeah?

Perry: Exactly right, because it was basically a brewed substance in water and the bacteria just killed off everything. Yeah, the level of alcohol was very low and as long as you basically made sure as much as possible all of the utensils in which he brewed and then bottled were as clean as you could make them...

David: Generally it was safer to drink.

Perry: Then it was safer to drink than was drinking water, so you know, I looked at it from the perspective as I’m doing. I’m doing the right thing by basically drinking beer all the time, so luckily enough we didn’t have that problem. So were able to get through that, but it’s been a bit like disaster bingo this year. We had that massive storm which caused the water purification problem and we still got two weeks of stage four lockdown to go. So it’s just going on and on and on.

David: Yes it is.

Perry: Actually by our next episode in two weeks time, theoretically we should be out of stage four lockdown. The number of cases is dropping quite markedly, we’re down into two digits per day. When were in the high three digits over 700 a day at one point at the worst peak of the second wave. We’re now down to 70 odd today, the number of deaths is still high But most of those are within age care facilities.

John Bangsund

David: I have to say, though, we’ve sort of been joking a little bit around this COVID-19 pandemic, but one of those deaths, very sadly, was someone we knew quite well. John Bangsund, who was a real stalwart of Australian science fiction fandom for many, many years, and so we’re very, very sorry to have lost him, but he did indeed die with COVID-19 a couple of weeks ago. So we’re very sorry and we extend our sympathies to his wife Sally.

I thought I might have a little bit of a talk about John and how he affected me and not sure Perry whether you’d like to add to that. But it really was due to John Bangsund that I became a science fiction fan. Looking back at it the detail is that Carey Handfield dragged me along to John’s place one day one afternoon because John was having a sale of books, he was getting down on his finances and needed to sell some books. And so the excuse that Carey had was that we’d go and see John Bangsund and buy some books and so on, which we did. But I met this, this character John Bangsund who I’d never met before and who was an extraordinary character. He certainly he was. He would have been about 10 or 11 years older than me. He was a very cultured person. It was really a revelation to me to meet someone like John, who really had enthusiasm for literature beyond science fiction and enthusiasm for music, and was such an interesting, witty character that he really drew you in; a very, very warm sort of character.

And one thing I thought I should mention is that just to give an indication of how well he was regarded in the science fiction community. There was a document put out in 1973 which requires a little bit of background to explain. John was a big enthusiast of John W. Campbell—perhaps not politically correct these days. With the Jenny Ng speech and so on. But John was a real enthusiast for John W. Campbell and he had a multi year project to put out a publication called John W Campbell, an Australian Tribute and it became a little bit of a joke because it was taking him a long, long while to get this publication out and in 1973 a bunch of us got together without John’s knowing. And we put together a fanzine called John G. Bangsund, an Australian Tribute, and in there is no less than 25 testimonials—it was compiled and produced by Leigh Edmonds in 1973. And there’s just this quite a thick little book; 43 pages. And the 25 different people just giving their account of John, how John had affected their life and what he done in terms of science fiction fandom. It’s delightful to go back over there and have a look and see. But yeah, he’s a great loss.

He was a great stalwart of science fiction, it was due to John, really, that there was a push for Aussiecon in 1975. It was largely due to John that the Guest of Honor chosen for that convention was Ursula Le Guin, and so therefore of course that she came and gave a great speech. She ran the writers workshop, which I attended. All of these things had a pretty big impact on my life, and so yeah, it’s. It’s very sad to see him go.

Perry: Yes, he is one of the major science fiction fannish figures to have been impacted by COVID. I first saw John because I was living in Adelaide in the 70s I first saw John at Aussiecon when he was on a number of panels, but he was also the toastmaster at the Hugo Awards banquet, and I always remember him sitting there smoking away because it was at that time you could smoke and he did smoke. He had a drink in one hand, smoke on the other, listening to people and say ‘Oh OK’. And then he had to hop out because it was his time to get up and say something. So we did that and he always looked a bit non-plussed and when he got up and said something but handled it really well sat down then do his bit but it was just this ongoing spiell all the way right through about how he was. You know basically carry on and I tried to channel some of that when I was on my Duff trip to North America in 1996 and I was asked to present a couple of fannish Hugo Awards and I mentioned John Bangsund in that particular lead in about how he looked like every time he looked like every time he hopped up, he looked like he was going to wet himself. I know I said—standing in front of I don’t know 6 or 7,000 people—I said I now know exactly how he felt and then just carried on. So I’ve got a bit of a laugh.

But John I met him in the later 70s because he moved to Adelaide and he was there for a few years working for Rigby publishers. And then he moved back to Melbourne. I believe soon thereafter. I then moved off to Canberra and sort of lost a bit of track of him, but then I used to see him around the traps. Sorry, but you know at some of the conventions around, but he wasn’t a big Convention goer.

David: No. He was quite a shy person, I think. Towards the end of his life he became a little bit of a recluse, I think. But although he was quite active, I understand on Facebook which I... I’m not a Facebook user so I didn’t... Wasn’t across that.

Perry: Yeah he was there or he was there on Facebook and that was how from around about for about the last 10 years of his life. I think that’s probably about how he kept in contact with a lot of people. He didn’t ever have jobs all the way right through which were high paying so he didn’t have a lot of money left, you know, into his pension years or retirement years. But he was a very erudite character. I look on John Bangsund with John Foyster and Merv Binns, let’s say as being the three that kickstarted Melbourne Fandom in the 1960s, which led to, as you said, Aussiecon. But on the way that introduced ANZAPA, the Australian and New Zealand Amateur Publishing Association which we are both members of and which is now been running for 50 years. Over 50 years. Without John Bangsund’s initial kick and then join Foyster’s energy and push behind the scenes as well I don’t believe we would have had Aussiecon here and that would then we would really struggle to have Aussiecon Two and Aussiecons three and four as a result.

So yes, I can see very definitely. I think that both of us can mark out periods to different degrees from John Bangsund’s activity in the field and the way that he introduced people, the way he wrote about science fiction and the way he wrote about fannish things about fans and what they did as opposed to here’s a book, let’s just review it. It was also about, well, I went out to the park with some of my mates and had a barbecue, and this is what we talked about. That’s the type of thing that sort of helped drag me in as well that feeling that there was this really warm welcoming erudite gentleman who was fun to have a conversation with.

David: Yeah, and we haven’t even mentioned Australian Science Fiction Review which ran for three years in the late 1960s, which was a real seminal publication about taking science fiction seriously and criticizing it seriously. As works of literature and so...

Perry: And without ASFR, as it was as it was referred to, you wouldn’t have had SF Commentary. And that’s been now running for 50 years. So there’s this whole line all the way right through that John Bangsund was involved in they may not have pushed and prodded and got himself there, but just his presence and the fact that he had tilled the ground beforehand allowed other people to come along later on and say: ‘Oh OK, you can actually do this sort of thing’ and just getting into it. And he was well known around the world, probably as a fannish writer. Probably the best known Australian fannish writer, and probably the second one after that would be Gillespie so is he was. He was well known around the world. Yeah indeed. Indeed he will be greatly missed.

David: He certainly will.

Terry Gilliam

David: All right, well moving on a little bit, we decided that this episode we’re going to look at the work of one particular director, or three films by one particular director and that’s Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame, I suppose you’d have to say, but also producing great films, all of which have a slightly science fictional edge, which is probably one of the reasons we’re interested in him, and so we thought we’d talk about three of those films. I certainly haven’t seen all of his films. There’s a lot of the later films that Gilliam directed I haven’t seen. We thought we would just cover these three and maybe we can talk about some of the others at some later time. So a little bit of background on Terry Gilliam himself, I think, is probably worth going into first before we start talking about his movies.

Gilliam was born in November 1940 in Minnesota, but spent his high school and college years in Los Angeles and he started out as an animator and cartoonist, but then joined up with Monty Python and the rest, as they say, is history. So do you want to kick off Perry?

Time Bandits

Perry: Yeah, the first, the first one we wanted to talk about was Time Bandits which is a film that he made in 1981. It follows the adventures of a young boy, about 11 years old called Kevin. Kevin is a bit of a dreamer. He loves reading about the ancient Greeks and spaceships and lots of science., I mean, just struck me as soon as I saw him. I thought this is a classic geek. This could be me here and so he’s living in drab suburbia with his parents somewhere in England and his parents are really mostly interested in crappy television programs and consumer goods, especially kitchen consumer goods. Because this is a really lovely joke right at the beginning about how there’s an ad for something which will produce a meal in 13 seconds and the wife, the mother says ‘Ooh, I don’t know about that: somebody-or-other’—their neighbors their friends—have got a thing. Take a block of ice and turn it in to Beef Bourgoine in 8 seconds. and you think ‘Oh my God’, how would you end this conversation? Anyway so poor old Kevin goes off to bed one night and is lying in bed staring at the ceiling and hears rustling in his wardrobe and suddenly this knight on horseback, armored knight on horseback bursts through his wardrobe, bounces around all over his bedroom causing a lot of ructions and then jumps through a picture or painting on his wall and just rides off. Kevin gets up and has a look and he thinks he thought the wardrobe was completely busted. Turns a light on that’s all OK. Looks at the picture. Nothing there. Oh OK, well that was weird.

Next day. Well I should also point out that he’s basically being one of these kids who always struggled to go to bed so these parents are trying to force him off. Next night he comes out and says I want to go to bed early tonight and he takes his little Instamatic. You know, those Polaroid instant camera things where you basically take a photo and it and it basically produces the photos. You take a picture and a photo is produced straight away.

He takes that into bed with him with his torch on, thinking that, well, the knight is going to come back and you’ll get a photo of him. Well, nothing much happens. Nothing much happens and he falls asleep and in the middle of the night he’s woken up by rustling again in his wardrobe. And this bunch of Little People—dwarves—basically burst through into his bedroom. He turns the light on or turns his torch on. Scares the hell out of all of them and they all start wondering where the heck they are because they don’t know where they are. He doesn’t know where they’ve come from. There’s about six or seven of them and suddenly the Supreme Being turns up this big glowing head turns up and starts yelling at these people to bring back the map that they’ve stolen from the Supreme Being. Well, they start pushing on the on the wall of his bedroom, and by this stage Kevin is wondering what’s going on? He’s got his dressing gown on and they push the wall down this long tunnel which wasn’t there before and then push it out and suddenly there’s this big hole which they fall into.

And after that, Kevin and these dwarves basically go on a rollicking adventure through different parts of time and it comes out that these bandits have stolen the Supreme Being’s map of the universe. And as pointed out, things had to get done in a hurry when the universe was created. It was all done in seven days. So things are a bit rushed, so there’s a few little gaps here in there which basically a little portal holes that you can. If you know where they are, you can jump through them and land somewhere else. And so what this gang is doing is they’re trying to find the Supreme Prize or The Great, The Great Prize at thereafter they don’t know what it is, and I don’t know where it is and they just keep following them out and Kevin follows them along. They go through different points where they end up with Robin Hood played by John Cleese; Agamemnon, played by Sean Connery and they finally, decide that where they need to end up at this place, where the Evil Genius lives. Now what a fantastic name, just say Evil Genius and this is David Warner. This is the actor, not the cricketer, by the way, so he chews it up, completely over top. It absolutely is fantastic And then later on you find out that the Supreme Being I won’t give away the ending with this, but the Supreme Being turns up and just played by Ralph Richardson. And he’s this sort of definitely yeah. Well, you know, well dressed sort of character. You know he’s got all the power in the universe but no well, yeah, he’s all sort of Laissez Faire about it all.

It’s showing its age. This film absolutely showing its age, but it was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed this, I thought, well, this is just a good light romp, and I thought that it was, uh, it was really good, but by God there’s a lot of strange things that go on in this, David, you know they use there are they end up in his ship somewhere and they’re on this ship, and suddenly the ship and that they basically they get rid of everybody that’s on board. The two people that are on the ship, one of them, played by Peter Vaughan who comes up in at least one of the other films that we’re going to be talking about today. That’s the other thing I should mention quickly is that a lot of the actors that work with Terry Gilliam keep coming back all the way through. Not all of ‘em, but also some of the big parts all over the place. And Peter Vaughan is one of these ones that does that. Anyway, they get booted off the boat and Kevin and dwarves are on the boat, and it’s like the boat starts to move and then starts to rise up out of the water and they find out that it’s actually a hat sitting on a giant head. I mean a massive giant. He’s like this, this guy, you know. Very strange things go on inside Terry Gilliam’s head.

But I thought it was an excellent little film. It is a lot of fun. It’s classic as told from the child’s point of view, but he’s a very intelligent and mature child. In fact, he’s much more mature than a lot of the guys he’s with at least.

David: Yeah, but he plays it as a very I would say very naive and very, very believable as a young child. Yeah, he’s not trying to be anything that he’s not, he’s just a really normal English school child picked out of you know, out of the suburbs, and placed in this extraordinary situation. So it’s a lot of fun.

Perry: It is and the Interesting thing is I looked him up and he only was in one other film, you know and that was it. Yeah, well that was about through and that was about three or four years later. So I think it was To the Lighthouse, which is would have been the film adaptation of the Virginia Woolf novel. So I think he was in that, and that’s all. An maybe just decided the acting life wasn’t for him.

David: That can happen.

Perry: It does, but I thought he did pretty well. At least I thought it was great, but I think I think all the actors in this a lot of the time that come that completely over the top. That’s the other thing that you have to realize with Terry Gilliam. A lot of the acting is over the top, but a lot of the impact of the film comes from the way it’s shot, how the camera is angled and we will talk about this a bit more later on and some of the other films that we talk about, but he has some very... He uses a lot of closeups of actors faces talking to another character, but it’s like this actor is right in your face when they’re talking to you and that can be a bit sort of, you know, and but it’s an impact that he’s trying to make and try to get across I like this, yeah.

David: Yeah, there’s a few things I’d like I’d like to say about it. I think for a start it’s probably worth setting it in time. Compared to other movies that he was associated with. So this came out in 1981, so prior to that. Monty Python and the Holy Grail came out in 1975. He produced film called Jabberwocky, which I think I’ve seen, but I can’t recall it and that was in 1977. The Life of Brian came out in 1979. So this actually after the Life of Brian. OK, although I think I think for The Life of Brian Terry Jones directed that and it wasn’t a Gilliam film.

But there’s a couple of particular parts I’d like to focus on. Firstly, my wife was reading the newspaper the other day when it was Sean Connery’s birthday and there’s a piece in it about Time Bandits, and apparently in the original script it just says, ‘This guy takes off his off his helmet and it’s Sean Connery or someone perhaps cheaper’. Anyway, Sean Connery took the part.

Perry: Well, this is the problem that Gilliam had it all the way right through his career. It has kept on having is actually trying to being able to raise the money to be able to get these things made, yeah.

David: But there’s another couple of parts I’d like to just to mention because they are just brilliant. Ian Holm does this lovely little bit as Napoleon who’s obsessed with his height, with his size, and he gets very, very drunk. He really, really likes that all these dwarves have turned up because they’re smaller than him. But he gets very, very drunk. They help get him drunk and he’s sitting there and he’s talking about all the greats of history and he’s thinking about their size and he goes: ‘Alexander the Great—five foot exactly—isn’t that incredible. Alexander the Great, whose empire stretched from India to Hungary. One inch shorter than me!’

Perry: He’s got this litany of historical characters that have done all these things in the past that are all them around his height or a little bit higher. Yeah, so it was really funny.

David: The other, the other great piece I thought was John Cleese who’s Robin Hood and he greets the Time Bandits and Kevin. And he does this beautiful simulation of the British royalty carrying on just meaningless little conversation. You know. ‘Yes, and how long have you been in the robbery business?’ ‘I say, do you enjoy robbery?’

Perry: Yeah, that one of the guys says five foot two and it’s ‘Five foot two, that’s a long time to be in the robbery business, what?’ And then at the end there, he walks off and says ‘what a funny little bunch of men they are’. So the nice little cameos here and there. That sort of pop up. Yeah, good stuff by Ian Holms. You know he’s excellent and then he only passed away just recently as well. So he’s. He’s a great loss.

Brazil

David: Yeah, that’s true indeed. Alright, so from Time Bandits we might go on to talk about what I think is Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece, really. I think it’s certainly the best of his films that I’ve seen, and that’s Brazil, which came out in 1985. Now apparently this was originally going to come out—the original title he was going to give to this was 1984 ½ which was a tribute both to the George Orwell novel and to Fellini’s 8 ½. And but I think the movie came out with Richard Burton and John Hurt, the film called 1984 came out in the year 1984, which is the year that Gillian was trying to get Brazil out so he didn’t use that name.

So what can we say about Brazil?

As I say, I think it’s a brilliant film, but it’s really set in a dystopia. If you look at the fact that he was trying to echo 1984, it really is in this dystopian future, but it’s a very British dystopia, and it’s really not a... It doesn’t appear on the surface to be as dark as the book 1984 would be, and it’s really this bureaucratic, series of bureaucratic nightmares that Britain’s become and it starts off, with the initiating incident for it in... What is it—the Ministry of Information?

Perry: Ministry of Information: ‘The Truth Will Set You Free’ is their motto.

David: That’s right, so we start with the scene in the Ministry of Information where there’s a typewriter tap, tapping away. Automated typewriters. We’ve had... all the technology is this kind of really nice... Almost like 1920s kind of technology in terms of the look of the typewriters and the look of the phones and that sort of thing. And so it’s set in the future. But it’s all kind of creaky and this kind of 1920s style of technology, and so there’s all these machines typing things out on, like teletype machines, and they’re listing people to be investigated because they’ve done something wrong or they’ve got the wrong kind of thoughts or whatever, and there’s a technician there: there’s a fly buzzing around. This technician is trying to swap this fly because it’s really annoying and he finally swats it and it falls into the machine And as the insect falls into the machine, it causes one of the keys to go wrong. And instead of typing Archibald Tuttle, it types Archibald Buttle as a person to be investigating.

So the next thing we have is poor Mr Buttle’s home scenario, in his flat with his wife and his children, sitting there reading the paper and suddenly overhead there’s this noise and a hole starts to get cut in the floor above him, and this piece of the ceiling drops down and out through the hole drop in all these guards, these security guards, armed guards, and they arrest this poor guy and they grab him and they put him in this complete enclosed suit with his hands shackled and his feet shackled, and carry him off, much of the protests of his wife. ‘What has he done?’ He has, you know he hasn’t done anything and this is observed by a young woman who lives in the flat upstairs who was in the flat where they cut the hole through. She’s called Jill and she gets really incensed by this and starts to try to get some justice done.

Meanwhile we’ve got Jonathan Pryce who plays this character called Sam Lowry, who works for a government ministry and he we find out that he’s been having dreams. We get into his dreams, and these dreams are generally with him flying with this incredible set of mechanical wings wearing a beautiful suit of armor flying above the clouds and he is circling this figure, this beautiful woman figure with long blonde hair, with a flowing robe and he’s coming to, you know she’s obviously his, his love object, and he’s coming to try and get closer to her. And then he wakes up and has to go off to the ministry.

He works in a department which is run by Ian Holm again, Mr Kurtzman, playing this supposedly stern character. But in fact he’s quite hopeless and he really needs the Jonathan Pryce character there to help him out Anyway, to cut the long story short: eventually, Sam Lowry gets to see this Jill character and realizes that she’s the figure out of his dream. Because Sam Lowry gets this glimpse of this young woman character, he does everything he possibly can to figure out. Try to figure out who she is and how he can meet up with her. And he gets to the point where he uses the help of his mother to join a different Department, which is the Ministry of Information Retrieval In that Department they’re doing all sorts of really mean things, and we discover that the character played by Michael Palin is in fact, a kind of a professional torturer. There are so many weird things in this film. Sam goes into this into this guy’s office, and there’s a secretary there who’s transcribing what’s going on in the next room and the transcription is all ‘Oh Oh no, no, please don’t Oh my God’. You know, it’s this transcribing this torture going on?

I’m doing a very bad job of explaining the plot of this movie I should have done a better job, but it’s full of this really, really bizarre stuff. And poor old Sam Lowry eventually gets the point where he’s does catch up with the Jill character, but she turns out to be quite a different sort of person that he expects her to be, and she’s a truck driver. When he gets on board her truck and tries to tell her how much he loves her and how much he was really trying to connect with her and she kind of just kicks him out of the truck at once. Though he manages to climb back in. And he gets himself into more and more, more trouble with the authorities, and eventually comes to the point where he’s in real strife.

But there’s also all these brilliant little cameo appearances of people, like he has a problem with the air conditioning in his unit, this little apartment and he tries to get help through the bureaucratic system and they tell him it’s gonna take months before anybody can come look at this. While he’s feeling bad about this, suddenly there’s a knock on the door and in comes this character all dressed with a mask and things and with a gun and force him back and starts to unscrew a panel in his wall. And it turns out to be Robert De Niro playing this character. Archibald Tuttle. He was the one who should have been caught by the authorities, and he’s kind of like a—what would you call it—a freelance guerrilla air conditioning fixer? Yeah, that’s right.

Perry: What a weird character. What a completely weird character.

David: De Niro plays it brilliantly.

Perry: Oh, yeah.

David: It’s full of things like that. As I say I’m doing a bad job of explaining it, but I’ll hand over to Perry because he can tell me what he thinks of the movie.

Perry: There’s this lovely little cameo about Bob Hoskins.

David: Bob Hoskins, Yes, so he’s the official air conditioner fixer.

Perry: And Ian Richardson does a bureaucratic manager who almost all he seems to do is wander around the halls of his Department with everybody hanging off him and pushing bits of paper in front of him while he’s striding down the halls and he just makes a decision ‘Yes do that. No. Get that. No. Take that off, do that again’, he just keeps on going with people to drop it in front of him and just like as she said it’s like a bureaucratic nightmare, and it’s just absolutely appalling, and you think. I think I’ve worked in places like that or it feels like I’ve worked in places like that.

David: But it’s not a funny film. Is it?

Perry: No!

David: There’s lots and lots of humor in it, but it’s very, very dark.

Perry: Oh, it is. I really got... I was watching this. I haven’t seen it for quite some time and I was looking at it and I think there’s a real noirish feel to this. You know the lighting. The big shots of him walking down these very large corridors with huge pillars going up and him walking along completely alone an again some of the shots that Gilliam makes in terms of the way he uses the camera to zero in or to have somebody come around from the start of the camera and stick his face right in front of you and basically say something and it’s very, very peculiar film. My wife and I watched it and she said it’s the most bizarre film she’s seen in years. She can’t remember seeing it before I. I do remember seeing it before what I think I’ve seen it once before. It is a very strange film. It’s certainly one of those ones that Uh, it’s one that you need to see. I think yeah, to have a look and see just to see what can be done. I mean a lot—I saw a number of reflections as you pointed out of 1984. There’s Michael Palin’s torturer which is a bit like the torture sequence in 1984, and in fact he’s taken into a very large area which almost looks exactly the same as the 1984 torture area, which I would have to have a look at to go back and see whether that was the case. But yeah, there’s just a lot of interesting little pieces that go on with this. It’s a disturbing film in a lot of ways.

Hard to work out why it was called Brazil because Brazil is not mentioned in this.

David: Not at all. It’s just the theme music where...

Perry: All it is, yeah it always like the.

David: ...the word Brazil comes in.

Perry: I had to look it up and it’s the theme music was written in. Was it 1939 it’s a Portuguese song and they use that as the theme music.

David: And the name of the film.

Perry: As you said they were going to call it 1984 ½ or there was another one that’s almost another title that they were going to use, which was almost a reflection of Doctor Strangelove or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb. It was something along that sort of line as well, and I think he just struggled with a title and then came up with that and decided that was a good one. Well, it’s as weird as the rest of the film director. Let’s put it that way.

David: The other thing we should say about this, of course is you’ve got to say which version do you watch, because I’m sure you and I both watched the version that Terry Gilliam originally produced, which is 2 hours and 22 minutes long, I think. But when he first tried to release it in the United States, the producers didn’t like it at all and cut it down. I think they cut it down to 132 minutes from 142 minutes and they insisted on a happy ending. And I’ve actually seen that version. For awhile I owned The Criterion Collection version, which is several DVDs about this whole thing, which includes a documentary where Gilliam talks about his hassles with his film. And the cinematic release in the States originally was this cut down version with a happy ending. He kind of escapes. He and Jill escape into the sunset towards the end and there’s no torture scene in it.

This is just out of Wikipedia: A version of Brazil was created by the studio with a more consumer friendly ending, and, uh, there was a happy ending, but they wouldn’t actually release the film for quite a while, and so Gilliam took out a full page trade ad in Variety urging them to release Brazil in its original intended version and Gilliam actually conducted private screenings of Brazil without the studio’s approval for film schools and local critics, and on the same night that Universals award contender Out of Africa premiered in New York, Brazil was awarded the Los Angeles Film Critics Association awards for Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Director. And this finally prompted Universal to finally agree to release, you know, a version of the film, but even that was just that was still a cut down version. It wasn’t till later that they released the full uncut version, which is what we get to see now.

Perry: Gilliam wrote the film with Tom Stoppard. So he’s a major English playwright probably best known for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

David: Yes indeed, but a very well known British playwright yeah and also the other contributor was Charles McKeown who plays the character...

Perry: ...Harvey Lime yeah. Which is another pointer because as soon as I heard ‘Harvey Lime’ I thought ‘hang on I’ve heard that name before that’s Harry Lime from The Third Man played by Orson Welles’ and said there’s another connection there.

David: Yeah, it’s good. He obviously likes having links to other movies and there’s...

Perry: Probably heaps and Heaps of things in these films that you’ve just skipped over it. Unless you want to basically study them deeply, you’re going to miss a lot of those little nuances that are there, but if you pick them up, they add a little bit more to the enjoyment.

David: Yeah.

Perry: I don’t think I don’t think you can get a good overview of Terry Gilliam’s career without watching this particular...

David: ...film, no.

Perry: But you can put certainly understand why post this film he had a lot of trouble raising money. Yes, I would think there would have been a lot of producers that would have run a mile before coming anywhere near this particular thing. It would have picked up awards, but they weren’t—it wasn’t going to get big box office and they weren’t going to do anything with it. And so it was then sometime later before—now there may be some films in the middle there and they probably are—I think The Adventures of Baron Munchausen drops into the middle of it.

12 Monkeys

Perry: But in 1995 Gilliam produced, directed and produced his most successful film to date. I believe it did really quite well, and that’s a film called 12 Monkeys. Now he had trouble raising the money for this as well, his main actors being Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt who I think was probably only starting out around about this time, so he probably wasn’t anywhere near as expensive as he would be now, but Bruce Willis was fairly well along in his career and was asking a fair amount of money, and Gilliam had to try to convince him to take a cut so that he could actually get this film made. Now, whether Willis came up with a, you know, give me, you know 1% of the gross or whatever it is, and we’ll take it from that. But if he did, he would have done OK because it probably got three or four times its budget back at the box office, so I think it probably did quite well.

Now this is a very interesting film From our current position, David, being in the middle of a pandemic where there’s a virus around. Yes, because this film starts in the year 2035, where you find out that the bulk of the human race has died. You know a pandemic, from a virus. Everybody lives underground. And it starts off where we’re in a prison somewhere, and a particular prisoner is volunteered, and that’s in inverted commas ‘volunteered’ to go and do a reconnaissance mission out onto the surface. Now the prisoner that’s been volunteered here is played by Bruce Willis, James Cole, and he’s put up to the surface. He goes around and has a look at a few things. Find what he’s after is he’s going to try and find insects, plants, anything that’s growing he sees. There is a, uh, large bear off of one side. He sees a lion walking around a statue somewhere in the middle of this city and goes back, takes the stuff back down to where he came from, and they’re all very happy with what he’s done. He’s very resilient. He’s basically been able to get all the stuff they need, and so they offer him the possibility of a pardon from his crime, and we don’t know what his crime is. It doesn’t really matter, but he’s offered a pardon from his crime if he will travel back in time and go back to a period before the virus was released and get information about how the virus did come to be released and who did it and who can possibly be to blame and what they can do about stopping it being released if possible.

David: Although no, I’m not sure that’s quite right. Having re-watched it just last night. They don’t think they can stop it happening. What they think is that if they can get some pure virus they can go back to the future or their present day and find a cure and solve their problem. But there’s quite a thread throughout it which says no, we can’t actually change the way things were. That’s fixed so, sorry to interrupt, but yeah.

Perry: That’s right. Anyway, he gets sent back to a time before the virus, but lands into the wrong time and lands in the year 1990 where the virus was going to be released in 1996. So the year or so after the film was made and released. Now he ends up and obviously he starts asking people questions about the virus and everybody thinks that he’s crazy and he ends up being put into a lunatic asylum where he meets the Brad Pitt character. Now this lunatic asylum is a total bloody mess. The paint peeling off the walls and it’s a bit like the old Bedlam basically. All of these people put together not receiving any form of therapy at all, and he’s basically kept in this place for a while and then at one point he gets locked into a cell and completely tied up. But when the hospital staff come back in to see him, he’s disappeared because he’s been pulled back in time back to 2035.

He goes back and gives a report and they say, right? ‘OK, fair enough. Well, we still need to basically get a bit more information about what’s going on’ and they try to send him back again, but send back to the First World War to the wrong place completely where he ends up getting shot In the leg. And then whatever happens, he meets up with one of other time travelers that’s back. He actually has his photograph taken in the trenches of the Western Front. Then for whatever reason he zaps from the First World War back up into 1996.

Now during that 1990 visit he was being treated by a psychiatrist, Kathryn Railly I think her name is.

David: Played by Madeleine Stowe.

Perry: Played by Madeleine Stowe. He was being treated by her. He just completely disappears. Also one of the other characters that’s floating around at the time, by the way, is a gentleman by the name of Frank Gorshin, who if you know your stuff, played the Riddler in the early Batman TV series, so as soon as I saw him as well. So I knew his face before, but he’s been a very few things over the period, but anyway, that’s not, you know here or there. So basically Willis gets transported back to 1996 and he tracks down Railly and says here I am. He tries to convince her that he now knows what caused this pandemic this virus to be released and he believes that it was released by a group calling themselves the 12 Monkeys and he comes to the conclusion after he tracks down he sees their emblem, how it’s being painted on graffiti on walls. Follows the paint all the way through and gets into a theater where he finds out that there are people there who are the Army of the 12 Monkeys and he also then finds out that the Brad Pitt character is the major person behind it all, Brad Pitt’s father is a well known Nobel Prize winning virologist and Brad Pitt’s got a real bad father son issue, and he’s rebelling against his father, so Bruce Willis is of the view that the 12 Monkeys have released this particular virus and that he has to try and track down the Brad Pitt character and stop him from releasing it in order to allow his world in the future to not be in the problem that it’s going to end up being in. So anyway, Willis basically goes through a number of adventures with Railly trying to figure out where the Brad Pitt character is to try and stop him from releasing the virus and also to work out what’s going on.

It's a more straightforward as a film than Brazil, but Even so, I really don’t believe that Terry Gilliam can tell a straightforward story. I just don’t think that he can. It’s got a lot of the similar sort of feel to this. As for Brazil, you start when you see three or four films by a particular director over short period of time, you start seeing a lot of commonalities that they have between one film and another. You start seeing those people. Those ensemble of actors that are in the background that play the little bit parts. Little cameos that are in one film and then pop up in another one and here and there.

It’s quite an interesting film. I enjoyed it. But I’ll never go back and watch it again. I've watched it a couple times over my journey now and I think I’m done. So what was your feeling about it, David?

David: Oh look, I think it’s a very good science fiction movie. It’s probably worth saying that Gilliam didn’t have a hand in writing this as compared to the other two moves we talked about where he did have a very important role in writing it. It was written by Chris Marker and David Peoples so really his role was that of a director but it really has that look of his films and the kind of the feel of how each shot it’s taken is Gilliam's and a lot of the weirdness. I mean there’s some really wacky things. Remember the bit where Bruce Willis gets sucked back into the future and he finds that the all the scientists there are singing to him? That kind of leaning in singing this song to him to make him feel better because they discovered he likes music. So, so that’s interesting.

La Jetée

David: The other interesting thing we should say about this movie is that in fact it’s based on a very short French film, only half an hour long called La Jetée, which I actually watched this morning, it's available on YouTube, which is really interesting because it’s all done in still photographs. Black and white photographs with voice-over to it, but that’s where the concept comes from of this guy going back in time.

And one thing which we need to point out about 12 Monkeys is it actually starts with looking through the eyes of a very young boy who sees a very disturbing incident at an airport where someone gets shot and a woman rushes up screaming that this man has been shot And that’s actually how the film opens and the beautiful—we’re going to give away spoilers here—but the beautiful thing about this whole arc and it comes out of La Jetée is the child is actually viewing his own death because of this time travel loop, what he’s seeing at that moment at the start of the film is actually the scene at the end of the film where the main character gets shot and we go back to see the child and the child is who... He does actually grow up to be that character, he’s seeing his own death and that whole concept comes out of La Jetée. So that’s really quite an interesting concept. But there’s a lot more to the Gilliam film than just what’s in La Jetée. But yeah, there’s some really nice pieces after that, the whole time travel stuff is done very cleverly I think and you don’t get to see too much of the actual traveling. You just sort of get... I think there’s only one point where you see him strapped into something and pushed through like a hole in the wall...

Perry: ...shoved down a tube basically isn’t it. Yeah, it’s all sort of scungey, isn’t it? It’s nothing, there’s nothing really pristine, about it. This is not Time Tunnel, or any of that sort of stuff where everything’s scrubbed and everything is perfect.

David: Oh, no.

Perry: There’s just crap everywhere and nothing’s... The Willis character never seems to go to places which are pristine and clean. There’s graffiti everywhere. There’s posters all over the wall which are coming off. There’s rubbish in the streets and it’s a pretty nasty place that he ends up going through all the time.

David: And I think the other clever concept of it is the idea that if you did have someone go back in time and start telling people that there’s going to be this huge world pandemic, they are likely to be locked up as someone totally insane. And indeed, that’s what happens to Willis. It’s the first time that goes back to trying to tell people ‘This is gonna happen’ but you know ‘You’re nuts’ and he’s quite a violent character, and so he bashes up a couple of policemen. They lock him away in this asylum, and the Madeleine Stowe character is a psychiatrist and she’s dealing with him very professionally but she’s very wary of him and what he might do. And when he comes back the second time and sort of kidnaps her and she’s absolutely terrified of this character, who’s I mean... Willis is playing this, you know, you can really believe that he’s nuts and that she certainly would believe that he’s nuts, but the really lovely bit is where he comes back for the third time and he’s now convinced that in fact she was right and that all of this is all an illusion in his mind, and he sits there with her and she is now convinced, she has evidence that he’s absolutely right in this, he actually is from the future, but he’s saying ‘I know like you’ve actually convinced me. You know I am insane and you’re quite right and I’m gonna have to. I’m gonna have to work out how to get my head right again’ and she’s saying ‘No, no, no you, you know this is all really true. This really is gonna happen’. So this lovely reversal that happens, so that’s nice. So yeah it’s good, it’s a very good film.

Perry: And as I said, it was his most successful. Earned a fair bit of money back and probably made it easy for him to make films thereafter, which is good.

David: Alright, well I think we’ve done Terry Gilliam for today. We covered a fair bit of ground.

Wind-Up

Perry: OK David, well that does Terry Gilliam. We'll have to try and find another director at some stage and have a look at some of his or her films. Unfortunately, they’re mostly his because there aren’t very many female directors around and not many in the SF field either, so It’s a bit of a pity. But next episode, David, we’re going to get back to books again, I believe, and this time we’ll go back to something that we spoke about and I spoke with Chong about when he and I discussed the latest James Bradley novel Ghost Species. When were talking about how a number of literary novels use science fiction tropes and topics, but are not labeled as science fiction, as these are some of the books that can be missed by science fiction readers and are worthy of their attention. So we thought we’d give some of our attention to some of those books, and that’s what we’re going to be talking about next time.

David: Sure, it sounds good and it would be interesting. All right, well, let’s stay well Perry and keep on the mask and you don’t have to boil the water. I don’t have to boil the water anymore, but...

Perry: Yeah, that’s OK, the mask is still there, but not while we’re recording David, otherwise it will not work right, OK see you David.

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