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UNIVERSAL SOLDIER : Terry Gilliam Gets 1 Monkey Off His Back

January 07, 1996|Jack Mathews | Jack Mathews is film critic for Newsday. He is the author of "The Battle of Brazil," a book about the controversy over the film

"I keep hearing that 'Brazil' is taught in film schools," says the 55-year-old filmmaker. "I'd love to go to one of those classes and see what's being taught. . . . When I started making films, there were auteurs out there and I was always intimidated by the fact that theyseemed to know everything. Of course, they didn't. Now, I have this terrible feeling that 'Brazil' is being turned into one of these classics. It's all nonsense."

Nevertheless, the irreverence that made Gilliam a feisty underdog against Universal and a champion for artists rights 10 years ago remains. The mention of mainstream Hollywood product--the notion, for instance, that "12 Monkeys" would have been much easier viewing had it been made by a conventional director--sets him off.

"I hate the assumption that people don't want to think, that people just want to be entertained," he says. "Now, there's no question that most people probably do just want to be entertained. But there are an awful lot of others who want something different. Unless people make these films to find out what they want, nothing changes."

Gilliam was to appear this weekend at a retrospective of his work at the American Museum of the Moving Image in New York. The only film bearing his name that will not be shown is the "Sheinberg version" of "Brazil," the one being prepared by Universal editors when the Los Angeles critics pulled the rug out from under them.

The Sheinberg version, which is the one shown on television, did away with all of the film's fantasy sequences, simplified its bleak political messages and became a straight-ahead love story with the happiest ending imaginable. Gilliam says he has a copy of it at home, but has never watched it.

"I don't think about [Sheinberg's version] much," he says. "The reality is it's out there, it exists. When they first released it, using critics' quotes from the [theatrical release] to promote the syndication, I thought about suing them. But it's history now."

Still, Gilliam can't resist taking a last shot at Sheinberg, who left Universal after the Seagram's takeover to form his own production company, the Bubble Factory.

"How can this dignified head of a major studio leave and start a company called the Bubble Factory? Hmmmm."

Reminded that his own company still bears the name Poo Poo Pictures, Gilliam laughs and says, "Well, that's OK for me. That's the thing I judge myself by. As long as I can maintain a letterhead that says Poo Poo Pictures, then I'm doing all right."

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