Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on January 8, 2017
Gilliamesque is the title of the recent autobiography by Terry Gilliam (co-written by Ben Thompson). On the cover, the byline announces “A Pre-posthumous Memoir,” but when you open the book this byline has a black mark through it, as does the byline below that, “TG’s Bio(degradable) Autography,” also marked through is the third byline: “A singular person’s first first person singular Palin-dromic biograph.” A fourth line is left alone: “My Me, Me, Me Memoir.” Those four pronouns promise to give readers a focused look into Gilliam’s life that is sure to be of interest to any fans of his work. Folks in that latter category should also know that FilmStruck is currently showcasing four films that also put Gilliam in the limelight.
Time Bandits (1981)
Time Bandits was recently graced with a 2K restoration by Janus and given a re-release as part of something called Art House Theater Day last September. The story of a child who escapes into fantasy realms with the help of treasure-stealing little people thanks to a map of wormholes is still entertaining audiences 35 years later. It’s blessedly free of CGI and full of old-fashioned camera tricks that would make Méliès proud. Time Bandits is also the first in a trilogy of sorts wherein Gilliam puts his own spin on the riddle of the Sphinx, which asks what starts out on four legs, then goes to two, and finishes on three. The answer being man (who first crawls, but eventually uses a cane), but in Gilliam’s case he starts out with a boy who is transported to fantasy worlds, moves to a grown man who escapes to fantasy worlds (Brazil), and then moves to the old man who is trying to keep fantasy worlds alive. This latter film being:
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)
It’s $46 million dollar budget might seem par for the course by today’s standards, but back in the late ’80s it positioned Munchausen to be, according to Andrew Yule, “one of the most expensive features in history, the biggest film to be produced in Europe since Cleopatra.” It was also to be fraught with so many scandals, political feuds and life-threatening vendettas that waves of bad publicity meant the film had little chance of recovery. Perhaps Mel Brooks was right, when he told Gilliam: “Terry, are you serious? You’re going to make a movie epic about a 75-year-old man and an 8-year old girl set in the eighteenth century? Give up now, kid!” (Losing the Light, p. 42.) Thankfully, for Gilliam, redemption was around the corner with:
The Fisher King (1991)
A solid script by Richard LaGravenese with great characters that would be played by Jeff Bridges, Robin Williams and a scene-stealing Mercedes Ruehl (who would win an Oscar© for Best Actress in a Supporting Role) helped lead The Fisher King to a slew of accolades and award wins and nominations. A resounding box-office success, it put Gilliam back on solid ground and would be followed by another success with Twelve Monkeys (1995), then a mixed reception with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), and then a couple years later…
Lost in La Mancha (Keith Fulton, Louis Pepe, 2002)
Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe were young filmmakers familiar with Terry Gilliam from their The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of Twelve Monkey’s (1996) documentary. They intended to similarly cover Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Quixote, only to find themselves witnessing a litany of problems that would become epic in scope. Gilliam was devastated, but felt that “someone has to get a film out of this. I guess it’s going to be you.” Lost in La Mancha got a U.S. premiere at the 2002 Telluride Film Festival and remains highly recommended viewing for any aspiring filmmaker curious about how many things can possibly go wrong on a film set. (The answer? Everything.)
I had a chance to talk with Terry Gilliam while attending Telluride that year. He was in a state of despondency and still shell-shocked at the fact that he had been invited to a film festival, not to present his own movie, but rather the film documenting the demise of his beloved project. At that time he was contemplating his own mortality, and wondering what five or six movies he might have left in him before shuffling off our mortal coil. The answer, so far, and among a slew of side projects, is The Brothers Grimm (2005), Tideland (2005), The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009), The Zero Theorem (2013), and a film currently in pre-production slated for a 2018 release called… The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.
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