Architecture in Movies – Brazil

Posted: May 7, 2011 by Sreekanth P. S. in Futuristic Architecture, Movies
Tags: , , ,

Well cult movies have a way of their own in explaining things and Director Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is now different. Brazil was a sci-fi comedy cult movie released in 1985. Through this movie Terry intends to create an eclectic style. The film was shot on location at various places in Europe to create this mood. The architecture of the movie Brazil is as varied as its themes. Architectural expression takes on various forms and styles. Styles range from the decadence of Ida Lowry’s house to the brutalist interrogation space of the ‘Ministry of Information’. Gilliam sequences the plot of Brazil to move through these spaces and distinguish the intensity of the film. The spatiality of the sets highlight the themes of the movie.

During the time Brazil was released Post Modernism was a significant architectural style and had influence on Brazil’s set design. The courtyard in front of the Ministry of Information can be linked to Arata Isozaki’s design of MOCA in Los Angeles. MOCA has characteristically large monumental public spaces and over-scaled urban artifacts similar to the space in front of the Ministry of Information building. Robert Venturi and the post modernists of the 1970’s and 1980’s coined the phrase that ‘function follows form‘. With the use of post modern architecture, artificiality is integrated as a subplot within Brazil. Mrs. Ida Lowry’s apartment is an exhibition of her wealth and caste within society. Her apartment was filmed in the Liberal Club located next to London’s old Scotland Yard, a wealthy and well protected area of the city. Similar to Ida’s apartment Dr. Jaffe’s surgery room, where Ida Lowry receives her cosmetic treatment, exudes a certain decadence as well. The scene was shot in the home of Lord Leighton, a Victorian artist and collector, and is extravagantly decorated.

In the scene where Sam visits Mrs. Buttle to return her receipt for her husband, we see the difference between the aristocratic society and the working class society. Modern economical building types are used to depict the living conditions of the society that are poor. For example, the modernist courtyard that Sam visits before going to Mrs. Buttle’s apartment is testimony to this idea. The courtyard is derelict and inhabited by impoverished children. The architectural form of these buildings shares some resemblance to Le Corbusier’s Unite de Habitation. The hard concrete façade is characteristic of both apartments in Brazil and the Unite de Habitation.

Additionally we see that these influences of architecture affect the mood of the scenes. Architecture is used to express cinematic ideas. The restaurant where Sam, Ida, Mrs. Terrain, and Shirley eat lunch was filmed in Buckinghamshire’s Mentmore Towers. The restaurant scene portrays the lack of sensibility of the upper class in Brazil. A terrorist bomb detonates while the group is dining and not a single person acknowledges that the event takes place or attempts to help the people injured.

Continuing that architecture is used to express cinematic ideas, Sam’s apartment filmed at the Marne la Vallee in France, a huge apartment complex designed by Ricardo Bofil, depicts the problems of functionality. Sam’s house is functional to the point that it is inept for living. The extreme functionality of the house actually negatively affects Sam’s life. This is the case when his alarm clock neglects to go off, his toast is burnt, and his coffee is spilled. Similarly, the enormous space where Sam is lobotomized depicts the over-bearing strength of mechanized industrial society on the human psyche. The scene was shot on location in a cooling tower at a South London power station. During Sam’s escape scene the stunt man who rescue Sam descend a distance of 170 feet onto 9 inch wide metal bridges that are 40 feet above the ground. The enormous space emphasizes the scale to which society has succumbed to total dominance over the individual. The space is empowering and extremely intimidating. The Records Department where Sam works is the ‘container’ where he becomes a ‘cog’ in the machine of society. Filming of this scene took place at an abandoned grain mill in the Docklands of London. The mill was painted gray to create a dull and uneventful space. The giant holes in the ceiling are the bottoms of giant twelve story grain silos. The significance of Sam’s work place shows that the worker’s humanity is mediocre within the realm of Brazil’s bureaucracy.

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Comments
  1. Chalyons says:

    “Form Follows Function” had little to nothing to do with Post-Modern architecture other than perhaps as a response to the maxim. It originated almost one hundred years before Venturi came on to the scene with his seminal text “Complexity and Contradiction” that arguably brought an end to the modern movement. “Form Follows Function” is more attributed to Louis Sullivan (father of the modern skyscraper aesthetic), Functionalism, and what was to become an attack on the use of ornament. Brazil utilizes a sinister take on the Bauhaus’ glorification of the factory, Brutalist monumentality, and even the systems-thinking of the metabolist’s megastructures.

    Nonetheless, thanks for writing the article! It is incredible how much movies can contribute to the architectural discussion.

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