Saturday, November 18, 2006

Lost in La Mancha

Directed by: Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe
Starring Terry Gilliam, Johnny Depp, Jean Rochefort
IMDB Entry

Jean Rochefort as Don QuixoteTerry Gilliam is one of the most visually inventive of film directors.  Ever since his Monty Python days, he's been the master of arresting images and off-beat films.  So that was probably why Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe decided to make a documentary of one of his projects.  The result, Lost is La Mancha, is certainly nothing like any one of them ever anticipated.

Gilliam was doing something extremely tricky on all levels.  First, he was putting together a film based on Don Quixote, a work that has not worked all that well on the screen.  There was a pretty good Russian version in the early 70s, and, of course Man of La Mancha on Broadway (the movie version was a notable turkey), but the story of Quixote is hard to put into film terms.  In this case, the hook of the movie -- to be called The Man who Killed Don Quixote -- was that a person from current times (Johnny Depp) finds himself in the middle of the novel.

Gilliam's big problem was that he is not trusted in Hollywood.  It probably stems from Brazil, a film sabotaged by the studio, which then turned around and blamed Gilliam when it flopped.  He has had a few hits (Time Bandits, The Fisher King, 12 Monkeys), but none of the type of blockbusters that allow a director the leeway to be more creative.  So, in order to do the film, he went to a shaky consortium of European financiers, which created the need to do it on the cheap.

The movie would have succeeded if everything went off perfectly.  And the fact that The Man who Killed Don Quixote has never appeared in theaters is testament to the fact that it did not.

Lost in La Mancha documents the entire process.  It's a fascinating look at a filmmaker at work, about the compromises, triumphs, and failures that we never know about.  Gilliam is great as he tries to work his way around a series of disasters that would discourage even the most optimistic of people.  It is a testament to just how hard it is to put together a film.

No comments: