March 9, 2010
AD: Exuberance, ed. Marjan Coletti.
In Terry Gilliam‘s 1985 film Brazil, there is an unforgettable scene where Robert De Niro, a guerrilla air-conditioning repairman, responds to an urgent call for help from a sweating man. He has intercepted a call directed to the totalitarian State parodied in the film, and drops in out of nowhere to assist. De Niro removes a standardized interior panel from a wall, and mechanical systems behind literally pour out onto the floor, in a shower of sparks and feeble pulsations. As he makes illegal repairs to the jumble of tubes and wires and ducts, he reveals his motivation: “I came into this game for the action, the excitement, going anywhere. I travel light, get in, get out, wherever there’s trouble.”
Brazil depicts a dystopian world in decline characterized by failing infrastructure and decadent culture. In its focus on dysfunctional infrastructure, this scene in particular speaks to architecture: it takes place at the threshold between the extended visible world and the intensive technological systems and forces that underlie it. These worlds are alternately at odds with or effects of one another: one is dysfunctional, the other merely keeps up appearances. De Niro’s guerrilla operative is the unlikely agent of change.
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