Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe have made a compelling follow-up to their 2002 look at the disastrous production of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
” The truth is, I don’t actually like manufacturing films ,” Terry Gilliam confesses in Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe’s He Dreams of Giants, the second largest( and better) feature-length look at Gilliam’s imaginative process.” It’s not a movie, it’s a medical requirement ,” the conductor says about The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, which he began developing in 1989, get six daytimes into make in 2000 before he was shut down, then had six other aborted starts before ultimately coming it done.” I have to empty my premier ,” he mumbles last-minute, a faraway look in his eyes and medical tubes coming out of him. He will either suppres Quixote or Quixote will inhibit him.
Before anything else, yes, it is quite fitting that a mad, aged fabulist like Terry Gilliam will stop at nothing to revive the story of a Spanish shoemaker( Jonathan Pryce, in the final explanation ), a mad, aged fabulist who stops at good-for-nothing to revive the legend of Don Quixote, the mad aged fabulist who will stop at nothing to revive the age of chivalric fibs. Look up Quixotic in the dictionary and there’s Gilliam’s toothy grin.
But part of what separates He Dreams of Giants from other from-the-trenches programmes about difficult movies( Burden of Dreams about Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo and Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse about the madness of Apocalypse Now being the twin titans of the category) is that once production actually starts … it isn’t all that bad. The labor and mayhem is merely inside the battered director’s head, intruding on the space where his artistic confidence once lived.
While Gilliam’s style is certainly not for everyone( his movies basically flatulate at you) most would agree there’s a distinctive ” before and after” on his resume. The early work includes the Monty Python era, then Time Bandits, Brazil, The Fisher King, 12 Apes and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The recent work includes Tideland, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and The Zero Theorem; movies that did not make much of a mark on movie culture. In between is the gap, the lack of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, the one that got away due to a domino effect of bad luck chronicled in Fulton and Pepe’s 2002 documentary Lost in La Mancha.
There isn’t anything as cinematic as a flash flood in this newer film, but there still is that lifetime between thought and expression, as Lou Reed put it. Aesthetic constipation, is perhaps the more Gilliamesque phrase. Either way, with a lack of fireworks to work with, Fulton and Pepe try a different approach. I’ve never seen so many long shots of a husband scratching his synagogues with a search of cruelty on his face set to eerie music. Their film is a moody plunge into the anguish of the artistic process.
One might speak that thinking, hey, is everything all right, the authorities have parties out there in the world with real difficulties, why should I care that a septuagenarian film director is losing his mojo? By the end of this movie you’ll realize that Gilliam’s clashes are humanity’s clashes. One doesn’t need to have friendship with motion picture production to understand the nervousness and frustration of trying to accomplish something. His momentary snickers of laughter are erupts of oxygen. His( many) hurled F-bombs, snarls and facepalms are the terror we all want to deny.
For someone who works in fantasy, Gilliam has his foot amazingly on the grind. He is particularly self-aware of how he is perceived, and is marinated in self-doubt. He must make this movie if he is to keep his normality, but he knows that he will never make it as good as it is in his psyche. No matter what he does, he says, it will be a disappointment.
It’s rather regrettable because, let’s face it, he’s right. This is one of those bizarre examples of the movie about the movie is more dramatic and more controlling than the movie itself. It hurts me to say that; I already had terrific respect for Gilliam watching this. After watching him fight for his resentments, I perfectly adoration him.
There are, of course, a handful of pundits who really adoration The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. If nothing else, this film has inspired me to see it a second time. Never stop dreaming.
He Dreams of Whale is showing at the DOC NYC festival and will be available in 2020