Review: Brazil (1985)

Composer: Michael Kamen

Label: Milan Records  

Catalogue Nr.: 35636-2



Now here comes a truly great one for a change! Terry Gilliam's alternate vision of the 1980's based on George Orwell's novel '1984' is both amusing and frightening with people living in an over-organized society, swamped by bureaucracy and completely bare of individuality. Sam Lowry, excellently portrayed by Jonathan Pryce, works for the bureaucratic system but secretly has dreams every night of a life as an individual and the love to a mysterious woman. He sees his life as a hollow farce until one day a small typo occurs that leads to the wrongful arrest of Harry Buttle instead of the illegal freelance heating engineer Harry Tuttle. As Sam starts investigations of the case, he runs into the woman from his dreams and into really big trouble when the officials bring him in connection with terrorism. What seems like a completely abstract vision is actually a frightening look at our society with social critic symbolism, satire and grotesque situations. From old woman being obsessed with plastic surgery over the whole terrorism sub-plot to the crippled social system and lack of care for the demands of individuals: the film gives so many reasons to think critically about the way our society develops that you can fill endless pages about it. I don't have enough room here to do this masterpiece justice, so I will just move on to the score.

The score:

With Brazil, Michael Kamen had one of his earliest and most rewarding scoring assignments that he would later refer to as his 'most completely satisfying participation in film'. You can definitely hear in the music that Kamen was in love with the film from the very first moment. Even though a major part of his contribution consists of re-arrangements of Ary Barroso's schmaltzy song "Brazil" serving as the score's main theme, the original underscore also marks the strongest development of Kamen's own orchestral voice up to that assignment. In retrospective, Brazil even feels like a light version of his adventurous music for Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves (1991) but the score is much more than that. Sadly, when it comes to the usage of the score in the film, it notably suffers from adverse conditions. The post production history of the film itself was troubled and studio executives wanted a more light-hearted Hollywood picture with a candy-ending, so Michael Kamen was trapped somewhere in-between Gilliam's tough mallet version and studio head Sid Sheinberg's 'Love-conquers-all' Hollywood version. As always under such circumstances, his score ended up quite butchered in the film. Nevertheless, the integration of the song turns out to be an incredibly effective move and by the end of the film, when Sam is left alone with his dreams, humming the tune, it is really heartbreaking.

The opening cue first starts with the rather odd "Central Services / (...)" commercial jingle source but continues into "(...) / The Office" with an interesting interpretation of Barroso's song where its rhythm is performed on low played saxophone, wood blocks as well as sounds of typewriters and cash registers with some of Kamen's symphonic music shimmering underneath. This is truly the most unconventional and creative musical entry into a film ever. The album continues with "Sam Lowry's 1st Dream / Brazil", namely the song itself performed by Kate Bush and arranged by Michael Kamen. In the film however, you will only hear Michael Kamen's orchestral arrangement from that track without any vocals. "Ducts" is another odd source cue for a central services commercial while "Waiting For Daddy / (...)" brings a moaning saxophone solo and depression to the score. The second, symphonic half of the cue for "(...) / Sam Lowry's Wetter Dream" starts soaring with a statement of the song's melody on lush strings as Lowry flies through his dream world until the dream becomes menacing and the melody is being tortured around ingeniously. Big action music comes with "Truck Drive" which carries Kamen's trademark way of writing for strings and the brass receives a pretty intense, almost overly dramatic workout as well. Too bad this is such a short cue.

The jazzy source music for "The Restaurant (You've Got To Say The Number)" is not even half as impressive as the previous track but still a nice lounge jazz arrangement with a fine clarinet performance. Another excerpt from central services' TV program is an interview with "Mr. Helpman" which is accompanied by some overly noble strings as Helpman talks his propagandistic lines. Dreamy solo flute opens "The Elevator" with the Brazil melody before a delicate waltz version of the tune follows which rises to an odd brass collapse. The underscore continues directly into "Jill Brazil / (...)" and gives us a beautiful orchestral rendition of the song's tune for lush strings and delicate horns while "(...) / Power Station" starts out suspenseful and goes into an almost gothic rendition of the song of epic proportions. Michael Kamen gives this fluffy tune so many different dramatic meanings in this one cue only which is really representative for his unlimited musical range. A conversation between Sam and his mother in "The Party (Part 1) / Plastic Surgery" is accompanied by some light, yuppie source music. "Ducting Dream" brings an over-the-top orchestral rendition of the Brazil-tune with synthesizer sounds shimmering through the brutal orchestral force. At the end of the cue, Kamen also makes effective usage of his low-strings suspense music as heard in Die Hard (1988).

After a light-hearted version of the song, the underscore continues with "Days & Nights In Kyoto - The Party (Part 2)" which suffers from some oddly muted vocals. "The Morning After" brings a lonely mood for harps and gentle strings with a calm Wagnerian sound starting to sneak in. This leads directly into the first full statement of the Wagnerian fanfare for guerrilla plumber Harry Tuttle in "Escape?". You can almost hear Kamen singing Har-ry TUT-TLE as the self-confident 4-note fanfare explodes, which is how he came up with the tune (although I always keep singing Mi-chael KA-MEN instead). Now comes the crown-jewel of this score in the form of "The Battle" - a full four minutes outburst of pure Kamen adventure music that would later dominate his music for Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves (1991) with driving cellos and noble brass fanfares, most notably the Harry Tuttle fanfare. A lot of trademarks of Kamen's strong adventure voice all appear here in full glory like fanfares that rise to a delicate note and collapse. The adventure music continues into "Harry Tuttle - A Man Consumed By Paper Work" with more variations on Tuttle's fanfare and the song's tune also makes a menacing appearance on tuba before strings and brass rises full of tension for Tuttle's paper intensive finish. "Mothers Funeral / Forces Of Darkness" is a cue full of percussive power and dark choral chants with a short snare drum line reminiscent of Kamen's Die Hard (1988) militaristic tones. As things seemingly turn out well for Sam and his girl, Kamen ends his score with a generous big ending which surprisingly descends into a mourning violin solo for the tragic ending while the album is brought to end by a Samba version of the song. 



Score as heard in the film: 87%

Score as heard on CD: 79%

TOTAL: 83%


The presentation:

If I can't stand one thing on a Soundtrack album, it has to be dialogue. Why on earth would anyone at Milan Records think about these voice-overs as a contribution to the music is beyond me. Especially the album's first half is polluted with this stuff. The central services introduction is kind of excusable since it is technically a source music song from Kamen but complete dialogue excerpts such as in "Ducts", "Mr. Helpman" or "The Party (Part 1)" are really completely useless on CD. Thankfully, most of the more important cues with Kamen's underscore were spared. Another issue is the sound quality with its often odd anomalies. The recording isn't very detailed and whenever there is more going on in the orchestra, the sound seems to flutter a little. The vocals of "Days & Nights In Kyoto" are strangely muted with some barely audible dialogue snippets thrown in. The booklet looks rather Spartan though the absence of film artwork in the booklet in favour of extensive liner notes is welcomed. There have been better presentations of Kamen's music and especially the weak album for such an important score in his career is a big disappointment. 

Presentation by the Label: 29%



The many film music gems that Michael Kamen pulled out of his hat early in his career are amazing and Brazil makes no exception. Kamen took Barroso's song Brazil and translated it into his underscore seemingly without much trouble and provided the fluffy earwig with an incredible dramatic depth that works so great an enhances the picture so well (especially the ending). It is only because of the composers outstanding underscore that Sam Lowry's dream sequences and his desire to be an individual are so incredibly involving. By the end of the score, when Kamen unleashed his adventurous force and Lowry starts his great escape, you can't help but get excited at these earliest outings of Kamen-adventure that already sounded incredibly matured. The composer referred to this score as his 'most completely satisfying participation in film' and certainly not without reason because this is excellent music for an excellent film. Only the album presentation leaves much to be desired but that should not stop you from getting this fine score.

Review by Andreas Creutzburg



01. Central Services / The Office (01:41)
02. Sam Lawry's 1st Dream / "Brazil" (02:10)
03. Ducts (00:42)
04. Waiting For Daddy / Sam Lawry's Wetter Dream "The Monoliths Erupt" (03:00)
05. Truck Drive (01:15)
06. The Restaurant (You've Got To Say The Number) (01:34)
07. Mr Helpmann (01:14)
08. The Elevator (00:45)
09. Jill Brazil / Power Station (02:07)
10. The Party (Part 1) / Plastic Surgery (01:03)
11. Ducting Dream (01:53)
12. Brazil - Goeff Muldaur (03:26)
13. Days & Nights In Kyoto - The Party (Part 2) (01:18)
14. The Morning After (01:46)
15. Escape? (01:03)
16. The Battle (04:30)
17. Harry Tuttle - "A Man Consumed By Paperwork" (01:50)
18. Mothers Funeral / Forces Of Darkness (01:44)
19. Escape! No Escape! (02:26)
20. Baschianos Brazil Samba (02:51)