Friday, January 15, 2010

Lost in La Mancha (2002)

Title: Lost in La Mancha (2002)

Director: Keith Fulton, Louis Pepe

Cast: Johnny Depp, Terry Gilliam, Jean Rochefort


Terry Gilliam's one of my favorite directors, but its no secret that when he decides to make a movie its always an uphill battle. Take for example, Brazil (1985) a film that had a heck of a time getting out to the public because the studio had little faith in it, apparently they thought it was too weird and figured that audiences would have a hard time "getting it". To their surprise, Brazil went on to become a critical hit, winning numerous awards all across and earning a couple of academy award nominations as well. Then we have Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), a film that was a fave with critics but a box office disappointment because the studio that financed it was going through a shift in management and so the film wasn't really exposed to the public; this would be a fiasco that Gilliam would never really recover from. After Munchausen its gotten harder and harder for Gilliam to make a picture, studios aren't keen on giving directors with a couple of fiascos under his belt millions of dollars. But Gilliam is as resilient as a cockroach and he keeps coming back with film after film. Some have enjoyed box office success (12 Monkeys, The Fisher King) and others have not (The Brothers Grimm, Tideland). Yet the uneven nature of the box office returns of his films have never stopped Gilliam, he's always bounced back. The giant windmills of Hollywood wont keep this Quixotian director down. Recently he directed the excellent Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, which in itself was plagued by unfortunate tragedy as well; the untimely death of Heath Ledger. Still, he managed to finish the film. There's Gilliam for you, nothing stops him from getting his film made! But there was this one time when a film actually kicked Terry Gilliams ass and sent him home to mama. Lost in La Mancha is the amazing documentary that captured the whole tragedy.

Everything looks fine and dandy at this meeting dont it?

But let's start this story off at the beginning: The Man Who Killed Quixote had always been a dream project of Gilliams. When you think about it, this film and subject matter are perfect for Gilliam; it's the story of an old man trying to escape the ugly realities of this world by escaping to his fantasy worlds; worlds where he can fight evil and win. If you've seen any of Gilliams films then you know that these are familiar themes for Gilliam. For example we have The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Brazil, and most recently, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, all playing with the same ideas. Man vs. reality, man vs. burocracy,  fantasy vs. reality. But getting The Man Who Killed Quixote off the ground proved to be a daunting task. First of all, getting Hollywood to finance the film was imposible; after the Baron Munchausen debacle no big Hollywood studio wanted to take the risk. So Gilliam did what any sensible director would do when he is desperate for funding: he went overseas for it! So Gilliam decides to make The Man Who Killed Quixote by shooting it in Spain with European funding. Was this new independent project as hard to make as his previous films?

The simple answer is yes. Yes it was harder. Much harder! This documentary chronicles the whole process of this movies downfall. And I say downfall cause the movie hit so many mishaps and problems along the way that it never got finished. It was simply abandoned by everyone, even by its director who simply couldn't handle making a movie under those conditions. Its frustrating to see a director like Gilliam saying "I don't want to make a film like this", "Im getting very nervous, very nervous!" I have to hand it to the guys who made this documentary, they really captured something we movie buffs hardly ever get to watch. The birth and death of a failed project. We get to see from day one when Gilliam arrives to Spain, speaking with the producers, visiting the sets that were built, doing his storyboards, we literally get to see Gilliam in his element, coming up with ideas, giving suggestions, excited and giddy to make his dream movie. And for a while, it appears that all is well, he managed to gather a little more then 31 million dollars to make his movie. I thought it was a real treat to see Gilliam in this whole process. There are moments when you can see Gilliams smile, his eyes shinning. The whole pre-production process actually has a light hearted happy tone to it. But soon, darkness descended upon this project.

Number one, actors had not really rehearsed certain scenes they were supposed to, as a result, we see Gilliam getting pissed and screaming "Fuck!" and "I want to know if were going to be fucked before hand!" with real anger in his voice. We see the assistant director getting heat for not having things running smoothly as they should be. Spanish actor Jean Rochefort who had the all too important role of Don Quixote getting back problems when his horse riding scenes came along. And that was one of the main problems with the production, its main star got sick. I couldn't really blame him cause the guy was something like 70 years old and he was spending hours upon hours on a horse waiting to shoot his scenes. He held it like a champ for sometime till it was clearly visible that the guy was in excruciating pain, so away he went to his doctors, the main star of the film gone, and that's when the movie really begins to fall apart. The main actor never returns to the film! To make things worse, calamity really struck this jinxed project and a huge storm began to erupt during the filming of some scenes in the desert. Sets and props and equipment were totally lost in the floods created by the storm! So sad to see all that film equipment being destroyed by the floods.

The look on their faces says it all

It was tragedy upon tragedy on this movie. And its all here documented for us to see. I mean painful and sad as this whole thing was, I think there's something positive in the whole thing. It's a document for all those aspiring filmmakers out there that shows exactly how NOT to make a movie. It was really a disaster, there was no communication, no true preparation, things weren't thought off before hand. I mean it was just an awful experience! Any aspiring filmmaker or director will look at this and learn a lot about what should not happen during a production. I'm sure they show this film in film schools all across the country, and they should. It's a great film to learn from. Kind of tough to watch everyones sad faces, everyone is sort of in this desperation mode. By the end of the documentary its crazy to see Gilliam saying "How do we pull the plug on this thing?"

I hate the fact that The Man Who Killed Quixote never saw the light of day. I mean from certain screen tests that we get to see on the documentary, it seemed to me like The Man Who Killed Quixote could've been another diamond in Gilliam's resume. The actor Jean Rochefort, the man who would be Quixote was perfect for the role, he looked the part to perfection and his Spanish accent made things all the better. Too bad he didnt have the stamina to go through with it all the way to the end. Johnny Depp is a champ. He arrived, with the best intentions, completely commited to making this film. He always looks at Gilliam as if saying "Im here till you pull the plug man, just tell me what to do!" Johnny Depp actually shot some of his scenes and you can see in the few scenes that got shot that this was going to be a good role for him as well. He was playing a man from the present who gets to time travel to Quixote's time and Quixote takes him as his Sancho Panza, his sidekick. Anyhows, what little we get to see of the would be film, looked awesome.

Depp fights with a fish in one scene

 But we have to remember, good old Terry Gilliam never gives up. He never surrenders. Gilliam has his mind really set on making this film at some point in his life. And it looks like he finally is. Last I heard, Robert Duval was attached to playing Don Quixote, with Johnny Depp still on board to play the Sancho Panza character.  In the mean time we get this documentary to hold us off. Excellent viewing material for movie buffs, future filmmakers and Gilliam fans in general.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Lost in La Mancha


Crowley said...

Un documental maravilloso de un cineasta maldito y brillante. Muy recomendable.

Franco Macabro said...

Me lo disfrute de principio a fin. En realidad uno ve lo dificil que puede ser hacer una pelicula. Solo los verdaderamente valientes se tiran esa mision. Gilliam es uno de ellos!

Saludos Crowley!


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