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Brazil, composed by Michael Kamen, 1993, 38:31

Michael Kamen, who died in 2003, was a busy composer over the course of his career. He contributed his skill at orchestral arrangements to the studio work of various pop musicians and groups like Eric Clapton and Pink Floyd and composed quite a few movie soundtracks. The IMDb lists 88 soundtracks in total, stretching from 1971 to 2004 (at least two movies are set to be released after his death). Among his credits on this CD, he lists the Lethal Weapon and Die Hard series, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Soundtracks he recently completed include Iron Giant, X-Men, and Open Range. Probably his worst effort was for the wretched Event Horizon a few years ago, a soundtrack filled with silly flourishes and false scares; his work for The Dead Zone showed that he knew how to support a horror movie. His music for Brazil is assured, eclectic, and memorable.

Brazil is essentially a black-humour version of 1984. The director, Terry Gilliam, throws an excess of visual stimulation at the audience, along with unsympathetic characters and a shock ending. The movie was never a box office bonanza, but it has a reputation among science fiction fans for its whole-hearted dedication to a particular vision of a possible society. The main character is clerk named Sam Lowry; he is oblivious to the flaws of the system which his work supports. He becomes even more oblivious once he finds his dream girl, and he goes so far as to join the dreaded Ministry of Information in order to track her down. Will Sam beat the system? Is that even possible? Brazil is a fascinating film, and one of the landmarks in big screen science fiction.

The writers of Brazil took their title from an old tune by Ary Boroso, a fact not mentioned in the movie. The song is first sung (vocals by Geoff Muldaur) over the opening credits, but is moved to track 12 on the soundtrack. The lyrics are filled with nostalgia for lost love, and a promise to return to that state of blessedness. Kamen spins variations on that tune throughout the movie, all the way through to the upbeat tempo of the track that runs through the credits, "Bachianos Brazil Samba." This is a great melody to anchor the movie, and it fits well with its theme. Rather: the tune ironically props up the exact sentimentality and lack of clear thinking that Gilliam savagely undercuts throughout the narrative.

The rest of the music on the soundtrack is memorable as well. I like the "Office" theme, as found in track 1. It has a catchy typewriter tempo and subtly returns in track 17, "A Man Consumed by Paperwork." This corresponds to the death scene of Harry Tuttle, a character in the movie who is a renegade plumber and loves to buck the system. Very appropriate. The music for the "Truck Drive," track 5, with its big opening and big orchestration, also fits perfectly for its corresponding scene in which the two main characters try to escape pursuit. The music for track 18, "Mother's Funeral/Forces of Darkness," is eerie enough to strike shivers down my back without even thinking of the scene it portrays from the movie. When I put the two together in my mind, the effect is devastating. Miklos Rozca, a talented and famous soundtrack composer, has said that movie music should complete the psychological effect of the movie, not illustrate it. Kamen was not nearly as accomplished as Rozca, and sometimes falls into the trap of making mood music, music that is subservient to the movie. But on the whole, he walks the balance quite well.

Several of the tracks on the CD excerpt dialogue from the movie. The beginning of track 2, "Sam Lowry's First Dream," has Sam's boss shouting out for Sam. Track 3, "Ducts," and track 7, "Mr. Helpmann," extract funny bits from background television segments, while two other tracks, track 10, "The Party (Part 1)," and track 13, "The Party (Part 2)," give us crucial moments in Sam's descent into the Ministry of Information. As mentioned, the main Brazil theme is sung by Geoff Muldaur, while an additional version of it is incorporated into track 2 with vocals by Kate Bush.

The order of the tracks on this CD differs significantly from the order of the corresponding music in the movie in a few cases. Strange. Otherwise, this is a good purchase for fans of Brazil. This soundtrack represents a much bigger chunk of the actual movie music than most big name "product" soundtracks that come out these days (with songs by rock bands that aren't even in the movie), even though it is quite short, clocking in at under forty minutes.


See the review of the movie.


First posted: October 31, 1997; Last modified: January 30, 2004

Copyright © 1997-2004 by James Schellenberg (james@jschellenberg.com)


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