Lost in La Mancha (2002)

Directed by: Keith Fulton, Louis Pepe

Starring: Terry Gilliam, Johnny Depp, Jeff Bridges (Narration), Cast & Crew of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

Awards: Won Golden Satellite Award for Best Documentary DVD (2004)

Concluding my three part look at documentaries dealing with the making of films, let us take a look at Terry Gilliam and the doomed production of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Terry Gilliam has a history of having a rather rough go at getting his “visions” made. The director had a long drawn out fight with the studio and producers over Brazil that dragged into the news media and got the critics involved. The Adventures of Baron Münchhausen went way over budget and was buried during it’s stateside release. These are but a few of the difficulties that Gilliam has had to face with his pictures, but at least all these films have been finished and saw the light of day. Don Quixote was not so fortunate.

In Lost in La Mancha, we get an exclusive insider’s look at a failed production that showed much promise until things quickly collapse as one disaster occurs after another. First problem is what seems to be a recurring theme for Gilliam, a creative vision that exceeds his budget. Sometimes this can be a beneficial problem as it forces productions and directors to be more creative and less wasteful (ahem, Mr. Lucas…). In this case, however, it proves disastrous further down the road. The second mistake made is hiring an actor who is advanced in his age that will be required to do physical work that he is not capable of doing. While fitting the role perfectly, there is something to be said for using a younger actor and relying on makeup and wardrobe if the role calls for it. Finally, shooting in the great outdoors is often problematic, especially when done in a desert canyon that is prone to flash flooding.

These are but a few of the problems that befall the cast and crew of the film. Unfortunately, enough happens that the film gets canceled only 6 days into production. The insurance company that insured the picture ends up getting the rights to the screenplay and everyone is sent home. It is said that Terry Gilliam has gotten the rights back and may someday soon make another attempt at finishing what he started. Lost in La Mancha not only shows the rise and fall of Gilliam’s ambitious film, but also documents the cursed history of other failed attempts at making a film out of the tale of an old misguided man who goes on a quest to do battle with windmills thinking they are giants. Hopefully one day Gilliam will get to finish his quest.

trailer:

finished footage from the film:

-Dantasia

Brazil (1985)

Directed by: Terry Gilliam

Starring: Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Kim Greist

Awards: Nominated for Oscar for Best Art Direction and Best Writing/Screenplay and Hugo for BestDramatic Presentation(1986), Won BAFTA for Best Production Design and Best Special Visual Effects (1986)

Self described as 1984 1/2, Brazil is Terry Gilliam’s take on an Orwellian vision of a retro-future. The government controls everything as the populace is held hostage to overpowering bureaucracy. Sam Lowry is an everyday man who gets tangled up in the wrongful death of a man mistakenly killed for being a suspected terrorist. As he tries to unravel what has occurred, he crosses paths with a woman who he has been dreaming about, gets branded a terrorist himself, and soon becomes a victim of the system he has long been a part of.

Brazil, like most of Terry Gilliam films, is a dark comedy wonderfully realized through art direction and style. Sets made up of old buildings retrofitted with ductwork, typewriters and old televisions converted to computers, and a society that is obsessed with the perception of image are all just a few of things that make up this fantasy. Gilliam suggests in the commentary that everything that occurs in the film was based on real life events during the eighties and was meant as a social commentary about overindulgence and corruption in America. I think it is safe to say that the film rings even more true given the current state of our political government and lifestyle. Everything is mocked in the movie ranging from obsessions with plastic surgery, slave-like devotion to remedial jobs, and blind obedience to overbearing laws and regulation without question.

Notoriously known for having trouble on his films, Brazil was no less a mess for Terry Gilliam. The film was held back for a year from being released in the United States due to Universal re cutting the film for a happier ending. Gilliam fought back by showing the film without the studio’s consent for two weeks at in LA to movie critics and film students. Pressure from them and rumors of attempted pre-release Oscar nominations eventually forced the studio to put out the original version of Gilliam’s film. While the visual effects are somewhat dated by today’s standards, the film is still fun to watch and serves as a chilling warning to a future that may yet come. All from a film that came about from a wish by Gilliam to do a movie where a man losing his mind ends up being a happy ending.

Other Notable Films by this Director: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Time Bandits (1981), Twelve Monkeys (1995)

-Dantasia