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Director Terry Gilliam is the latest filmmaker to try and bring Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra's "Don Quixote de la Mancha" to the big screen, the movie to be called The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Before filming even begins, Gilliam, who has moved from Hollywood studio to European financing, will have to scale back his vision as his budget has been slashed from $40 million to $32 million, still astronomical by European standards. But Gilliam is a dreamer, much like his title character, and his vision for the movie is uncompromising, meaning with the reduced budget that there is no margin for error and that some of his department heads may have to achieve miracles with their allotted moneys. During pre-production and actual filming, what Gilliam does not foresee is contractual and health issues with his actors, and the effects of Mother Nature. The question is does Gilliam have a Plan B if/when things go wrong. Written by
Fulton and Pepe embarked on their second feature about director Terry Gilliam intending to make a television documentary about the development and pre-production of Gilliam's long-awaited passion project. Having intimate knowledge of Gilliam's chaotic working methods, they knew they were in for something dramatic. But they had no idea that the story would develop into its own quixotic tragedy. After the failure of Gilliam's production, Fulton and Pepe were wary of finishing their film. Gilliam assured them that "someone has to get a film out of this. I guess it's going to be you." See more »
tales from the film-making file...one of the most enlightening documentaries I've seen in years
Lost in La Mancha was not the sour, totally unfortunate documentary I expected. I knew before I saw the film about a year and a half ago that Terry Gilliam (maverick writer/director/animator/actor from the Monty Python clan) attempted an ambitious film from Don Quixote and it became one of the most notorious stories of a production under a black cloud of bad luck. But what I didn't expect was that the film would really be just an exemplary, honest account of what it takes to make a film. Make no mistake about it, film-making is just difficult work a lot of the time, and a completely collaborative effort where everything has to look right, sound right, be pre-planned to death, and of course the production team (when not in a studio, and out in the wilderness) is at the mercy of nature. Take a look at Orson Welles' career if one should doubt that (a director who, by the way, also attempted his own personal, avant-garde take on Don Quixote, and couldn't finish the film after working on it over the course of almost thirty years).
That The Man Who Killed Don Quixote was (err, is, so to speak) a Gilliam film, the artistic desires are bold and visionary, and a challenge in and of itself. There is the constant factor of money and financing the production that comes into play. All of these factors are explored in this film, and it's actually bitter-sweet, going back and forth until the last twenty minutes or so of the film. One can say that this is one of the most important films about film ever made, the kind of documentary that should be seen by all film students (whether or not you like Gilliam's other films or Johnny Depp or whoever) to see what the film-making process entails once a script is finished.
As the audience, we're taken through the pre-production first, as one learns about what Gilliam and his co-writer Tony Grisoni changed around with the classic Cervantes story. This time, a commercial director, played by Depp, gets sent back in time or to some sort of odd time where Don Quixote, played by Jean Rochefort, mistakes Depp for Sancho Panza, his dwarfish sidekick, then the rest of the film mostly features their adventures through parts of the book's wild stories of Quixote's imagination. Then one learns at what lengths he had to go through to get the film made, on his third try in ten years (no money in America sent him to Europe, where his budget of 32 million was tremendous for European standards). While casting and set/prop/costume designs go fine, one is informed about Gilliam's past ventures in film-making in a brilliant little animated scene (of Gilliam's design perhaps), as a director who's films, aside from the supposed shame that was Baron Munchausen, have been risky artistic gambles by mostly Hollywood studios that have made money and critical acclaim.
So there is that one factor of Lost in La Mancha that works very well- Gilliam is shown as a man of wild, but cool demands, with a specific vision and a compatible crew. "He's a responsible infant terrible, if that makes sense," one producer remarks. After the pre-production gets under-way (with one particularly funny scene where a camera test goes on with a group of bulky giants), the production team starts off their first week of filming. This is when, as one might say, the plot thickens. In the first week Gilliam and his crew get all of perhaps less than a minute of usable footage, as a series of catastrophes come down on them: The extras haven't been rehearsed. The location has been, unwittingly, placed close to a air force base where the planes make terrible noise up above. There is what Gilliam calls almost a 'biblical' thunderstorm that halts production as parts of yhe equipment are flooded, and the nearby locales and mountains have been changed of their original, striking color (not to mention, no sun). Then, the biggest blow, with seventy year old Rochefort, as a tragedy slowly becomes evident with his health.
It is a depressing last twenty minutes of film, but it is still fascinating how it becomes clear that the production will not go on. Certain things are sometimes just not as simple as one might figure with making a film. You got to have the money. You have to follow the contracts. An insurance company comes into play. The assistant director Phil Patterson, who has attempted to make damage control throughout the production, decides to quit instead of being fired. And when it seems as if the film will not get made, Gilliam's rights to the script are out of his hands (in that time, which has likely changed in five years).
But what finally becomes the captivating center of the film is Gilliam and (not to make it sound overtly pretentious) the director as a kind of metaphor for the human condition. Is it better to be someone who takes chances and tries to reach for heights that are sometimes un-attainable (like the film within this film's subject, Don Quixote), or be an average, hack of a director that listens more to producers demands than ones own? This in an underlying theme in Lost in La Mancha, and it makes for the kind of story that could have never been written.
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