Zeitgeiiiiist, la la lala la la la la

by Kieran Healy on June 16, 2007

One way or the other you probably know “Ary Barroso’s”:http://daniellathompson.com/ary/ song “Aquarela do Brasil”:http://daniellathompson.com/ary/aquarela.html, either because you’re all up on classic Brazilian music from the 1930s and 40s or, like me, you have watched Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece “Brazil“:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088846, for which it’s the main theme. I show a clip of _Brazil_ in my Complex Organizations class, were we follow the paper trail through the mass of clerks up to Mr Kurtzmann’s office. How odd, then, to hear it twice in the space of half an hour this afternoon: once looking at a TV spot for Michael Moore’s new film “Sicko”:http://www.michaelmoore.com/sicko/trailer/, and then later (via “Gruber”:http://daringfireball.net/linked/2007/june#sat-16-walle) in the trailer for Pixar’s new film, “WALL-E.”:http://www.apple.com/trailers/disney/walle/large.html And in all these cases, the music is used to emphasize the perils of counterproductive routines and the promise — true or otherwise — of being liberated from them. They’re trying to send me a coded message, I’m telling you. Dum dum dum, dum dum dum dumdum …



getoffmeland 06.16.07 at 10:08 pm

I enjoyed that film, but the tune escapes me. You could have linked to a recording …!

“Dum dum dum, dum dum dum dumdum …” – isn’t that the death march?


Kieran Healy 06.16.07 at 11:32 pm

The music is in both the trailers. Same version (from Gilliam’s film), too.


Aaron Swartz 06.17.07 at 12:29 am

That version is called “The Office”, it’s available in track one off the Brazil soundtrack. (Buy it from iTunes.)


richard 06.17.07 at 12:59 am

I fall in the first category. Sadly, I think the Gilliam film is the ultimate source for the meaning of the song as a worker’s lament/promise of freedom: the lyrics certainly have nothing to do with that theme – and there are Ary Barroso songs aimed much more along those lines (e.g. “Falta um Zero no Meu Ordenado” – there’s a zero missing from my salary). Perhaps it bespeaks a breezy kind of indifference to the grind of the factory, or perhaps its driving rhythm and Xavier Cugat associations remind Americans of the wartime acceleration of US industrial production.


george w 06.17.07 at 2:32 am

I once saw the song performed in Brazil, completely un-ironically. But strangely, it’s absolutely perfect for what Gilliam does with it. What’s he up to these days? Hopefully hasn’t retired.


Randy Paul 06.17.07 at 3:19 am

Actually it’s quite a lovely tune and quite upbeat, although my favorite of his is Na Baixa do Sapateiro.


godoggo 06.17.07 at 3:26 am

Has anyone else noticed the similarity between that song and the Rinso song at the 99¢ store?

Also, has anyone else heard the version by the early 80s punkabilly band the Panther Burns?


Randy Paul 06.17.07 at 6:06 am


Here’s one energetic version by Daniela Mercury and a rather typically low-key version by Joao Gilberto.


ejh 06.17.07 at 7:53 am

for which it’s the main theme

Christ you’ve done me a favour this morning. I was obsessed with that tune for age and ages – after I first saw the film I used to hum it incessantly – I remember this being considered puzzling behaviour by my workmates in my first job. This was 1987 (well it was when I started humming it, I carried on like that for quite a while) so it was long, long before I could look it up on the internet.

“How are the twins?”
“My, how time flies.”

What’s he up to these days? Hopefully hasn’t retired.

He made a film called Tideland a couple of years ago. It was actually on at a film festival in my town a couple of nights ago, but it was the late show and I was too tired to go and see it. Still, it was for precisely that reason that the theme from Brazil had been in my head.


Hermenauta 06.17.07 at 9:19 am

I remember reading that Gilliam got the idea for the film in a cold and cloudy day at beach in England. There was a family doing a picnic and the the family’s car radio was playing “Aquarela do Brazil”. The contrast between the melancholic atmosphere and the vivid music fired Gilliam’s inspiration. Or at least that’s the story that appeared at brazilian newspapers.

The use of “Aquarela” caused kind of a stir here in Brazil since brazilians weren’t used to associate that music to dystopic feelings. For quite a long time I had an argument with a friend that couldn’t be convinced that Gilliam had not made the film just from concerns with Brazil’s situation at the time (the last breath of military rule).


getoffmeland 06.17.07 at 3:32 pm

randy paul:
Thanks for both versions. The melody brought the film back to me in an instant.


Matt 06.17.07 at 4:04 pm

_Tideland_ was awful, by the way. Too much of trying to be weird w/o enough of anything else to hold it together. Not Gilliam’s best work by far.


Frenchdoc 06.17.07 at 6:08 pm

Terry Gilliam directed the Brothers Grimm. I think that’s his more recent film.


c. l. ball 06.17.07 at 7:53 pm

Actually, the English lyrics in the Gilliam film were a bastardized verision. See:


It is a fascinating song; I frequently hum it — I wonder if I do it only when performing mind-numbing tasks.


c. l. ball 06.17.07 at 8:03 pm

Pfui! iTunes has the Gilliam soundtrack — it is a Michael Kamen orchestration you hear during the office sequence.


c. l. ball 06.17.07 at 8:14 pm

For those of you who consume meta-film, see _Lost in La Mancha_, the documentary of Gilliam’s failed effort to make Don Quixote. It is almost as interesting as _Hearts of Darkness: A Film-makers Apocalypse_.

_Brother’s Grimm_ got panned but I have not seen it, so I don’t know. Apparently, the Weinstein Bros.’ meddled a bit. Gilliam has not had a bone fide hit since _Twelve Monkeys_ but he seems to work better when he has better writers on board — Tom Stoppard helped w/ Brazil.


Michael Mouse 06.18.07 at 9:16 am

hermenauta> I remember reading that Gilliam got the idea for the film in a cold and cloudy day at beach in England.

England?! It was Wales! Port Talbot, to be precise. The Wikipedia article is admirably neutral, but notice that it’s illustrated with a photo of “water vapour” (no really) rising from a blast furnace – the quintessentially Port Talbot vista.

If you’ve ever driven past, you’d understand exactly what Gilliam was thinking. If you never have … you’re lucky.

(dsquared’s not popped up with righteous indignation so I thought I’d do it for him.)


hermenauta 06.18.07 at 11:20 pm

Yeah, I found the reference, by the mouth of Gilliam lui-même:

““Port Talbot [in Wales] is a steel town, where everything is covered with gray iron ore dust. Even the beach is completely littered with dust, its just black. The sun was setting, and it was quite beautiful. The contrast was extraordinary, I had this image of a guy sitting there on this dingy beach with a portable radio, tuning in these strange Latin escapist songs like ‘Brazil’. The music transported him somehow and made his world less gray.”


OK, that´s not quite what I wrote down here, but decently close. Gimme a break, I´m an old man. :)

BTW, you must find that difficult to believe, but most brazilians can´t discern very well between Wales and England. At least at a distance. :))


alex earl 06.19.07 at 6:15 pm

I’m pretty sure that Tideland and the Brothers Grimm were made around the same time, though Tideland was released later in 2005. Brothers Grimm was a fairly benign hollywoodish movie – the type that I suspect was a horrible process for Gilliam and the people who financed it.

On the other hand, I loved Tideland. I didn’t find it ‘Weird for weird’ sake, although the first 15 minutes are probably too over the top. Once it gets rolling (the parents are out of the way) it’s a great movie.


Matt 06.21.07 at 1:11 am

You found the _first_ part of tidelands “over the top” but not the rest, Alex? The first part is not too far from some people’s lives I’ve known. The rest, thankfully far from anything I’m likely to ever see.

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