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Lost in La Mancha
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by Collin Souter

"Gilliam's Burden of Dreams"
4 stars

It’s amazing how some movies actually do get made. It’s amazing what studios will put up with just to make a summer or Christmas deadline, the amount of money poured into a vanity project or how fast a studio will act to cash in on a craze. It’s amazing to me that a movie such as “The Adventures of Pluto Nash” will get a $100 million budget and go off without a hitch. It’s amazing to me that even after that movie and many others just like it die a hideous death at the box office, the practice of greenlighting vanity projects never ceases. But it’s most amazing to me what some directors will endure and fight for just to see their vision come alive on the screen against all odds.

The new documentary “Lost In La Mancha” tells the story of a director who has fought more than his fair share of battles for artistic success and freedom. Terry Gilliam has seen it all and done it all, and he shows no signs of letting up. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with his work, Gilliam is most famous for doing the animated sequences for the Monty Python TV show and movies. His first success with filmmaking came in 1981 with “Time Bandits,” a box office and critical hit that put him on the A-list of Hollywood filmmakers. Little did anyone know just how many headaches he would be causing within the industry.

Whenever Terry Gilliam’s name comes up in conversation, a friend of mine always asks, “Why can’t that guy just make a movie?” Though rhetorical in context, it’s still a good question. With 1985’s“Brazil,” Gilliam had to fight Universal Studios to release his version of the movie to the world (“Brazil,” by the way, might be my favorite movie of all time). Gilliam won the battle, but the battle itself set an industry standard for the eternal Hollywood conflict of Art vs. Commerce. Gilliam’s follow-up, “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen,” was a costly fantasy extravaganza that ended up being one of the biggest box office bombs of all time (despite good reviews from the critics).

Gillaim’s next two movies, “The Fisher King” and “12 Monkeys,” brought him back to respectable mainstream status in the eyes of the studios. Those two movies did okay, and even earned some noticeable Oscar nominations. His most recent movie, the adaptation of the Hunter S. Thompson book “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” was one of the most faithful adaptations of a book ever put to celluloid, which may explain its failure at the box office. Due to his checkered past, Gilliam knew that the only way to make his pet project, “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” would be to try and obtain funding from outside the Hollywood system.

“Lost In La Mancha” documents the pre-production and first few days of filming of “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.” The makers of the documentary, Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, had been commissioned by Gilliam to make a documentary for the DVD, just as they did with the “12 Monkeys” documentary, “The Hamster Factor.” In other words, one has to go into “Lost In La Mancha” not expecting anything but a process documentary, where the process gets cut short of completion.

In “Lost In La Mancha,” we see the prep work in getting the costumes and locations right for this Terry Gilliam movie. Gilliam has always been so meticulous about the costuming. Here, he instructs the designers to make Don Quxote’s suit of armor more dilapidated and pasted together. Gilliam also has to schedule the production in accordance with the budget (a measly $30 million), which puts him in a bind under which no director could possibly function and remain sane. The budget is so tight that Gilliam and his crew have zero room for mistakes, extra days for pick-up shots or unexpected natural disasters that might prolong production.

A Don Quixote curse also looms over the project. Directors in the past, such as Orson Wells, attempted Don Quioxte and, for whatever reason, production ceased. Gilliam remained undaunted. He cast Johnny Depp, who was ready to go, and Vanessa Paradis, who had yet to agree to a contract. Gilliam’s masterstroke of casting came in the form of veteran actor Jean Rochefort, who Gilliam cast because Rochefort is Don Quixote! He looks like him. He has the perfect beard, the perfect face, he looks great in the costume. But he wasn’t meant to be.

The locations have been scouted, the budget is one of the biggest in European film history and Gilliam has become like a child on Christmas morning given the greatest gift a boy could ask for. God had put Gilliam on this earth to make “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.” We see storyboard sequences of the movie Gilliam has had in his head for over 10 years. One location has been specifically scheduled for use because of its yearly dry season. But it wasn’t meant to be.

Nothing about “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” is meant to be, making “Lost In La Mancha” one of the saddest and most entertaining documentaries about filmmaking in quite some time. Jeff Bridges narrates the movie, which fumbles only when trying to duplicate Gilliam’s trademark animation style to tell Gilliam’s history as a filmmaker. The rest of “Lost In La Mancha” will have you alternately wincing, laughing and, finally, weeping at the thought that we may never see this potentially brilliant movie.

“Lost In La Mancha” is perfect entertainment for anyone interested in the process of filmmaking and sobering for people who think that anybody can make a movie. This documentary will no doubt be compared to other filmmaking disaster docs “Hearts of Darkness: a Filmmaker’s Apocalypse” and “Burden of Dreams,” maybe even “American Movie.” An optimist would say that whether or not the story of “Lost In La Mancha” has a happy ending remains to be seen. In a perfect world this movie would inspire someone out there crazy enough and rich enough to invest in Gilliam’s vision, someone who would do anything to see “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” to completion. However, it does show us scenes from Gilliam’s movie that have been shot and completed, including a very funny moment involving Johnny Depp and a fish.

“Lost In la Mancha” is best experienced when you don’t know all the details. Watching Gilliam’s dreams unravel will have you shielding your eyes while being unable to look away. And you hate to see it happen to a guy as likable, brilliant and ingenious as Gilliam, who has never been one to shy away from a fight and you really do root for him here even if you do already know the outcome. Someday, someone will answer my friend’s question, “Why can’t that guy just make a movie?” For now, we have “Lost In La Mancha,” a documentary depicting a man who needs insanity to inspire him, a sense of rebellion to keep him young and chaos to keep him functioning. Amazing, indeed.


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originally posted: 01/31/03 16:24:30
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User Comments

6/09/08 AnnieG Excellent film . Lesson: read the book Don Quixote - you shall never see a film version. 4 stars
6/04/05 Mike Jozic In the spirit of Coppola's Hearts of Darkness, this is a must for fans of film! 5 stars
6/02/05 tatum Sad, but even I could see the writing on the wall; get a clue, TG! 4 stars
3/04/04 Agent Sands A very unique documentary including really cool footage from a movie you can't see. 4 stars
7/06/03 John Bale A must for film buffs, sadly shows the perils of Independant productions 4 stars
3/20/03 Cameron Slick An engrossing look at what can go wrong. 4 stars
3/17/03 John Rigler I recommend for anyone who HAS to watch all of the DVD extras. 5 stars
2/16/03 Heather Essential for Gilliam fans, here's hoping he has another attempt at DQ 4 stars
2/08/03 mr. Pink Insightful and truly horrific to watch at times. Good. 4 stars
8/19/02 Jerry Harrell Brilliant documentary! Plays out better than most fiction films! 5 stars
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  31-Jan-2003 (R)



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