For the last--to hear him tell it--twenty years, director Terry Gilliam, of Monty Python fame, has had a vision of a movie in his head. He has played it over and over, seen every frame and cut, heard the score, received the accolades.
This is not that movie.
Lost in La Mancha is about the making of that movie, a production catastrophe that closed down after only six days. Riddled with bad luck, bad omens, and a lot of tilting at windmills, it's the movie of the movie that never was.
The film--"film" will hereafter refer to Lost in La Mancha, the subject of this writeup--was shot on location in Spain, wherein Terry Gilliam hoped finally to make The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. He has gathered the troops, many of whom he has worked with before, and know what a trial his shoots can be.
The first part of the film is about pre-production.
It starts well, with a happy Terry speaking about his vision for the film--we are treated to some Python-esque animation sequences (sadly, not his creations), as well as storyboards and concept art. The cast are all in agreement, they'll be arriving in a month or so, plenty of time.
Two or three weeks later, not so much time. The actress hasn't showed up for rehearsals or costuming, Johnny Depp is busy, and the Frenchman, M. Rochefort, is only just now putting the finishing touches on his English--learned specially for the project. Seems no one actually had a contract.
The rumblings begin. But Terry Gilliam remains absolutely optimistic, enjoying himself with three fat, hairy Spanish men who, when shot from low angles, will be playing giants.
Gilliam's laughter is childlike and infectious here--he must see something we don't--and unfortunately, it's one of the last times you hear it.
The second part is the production period, truncated though it was. It's divided into six sections, each covering one day of the ill-fated shoot.
Some of the Problems:
- The first location was located right by a NATO bombing range. Military aircraft were constantly overhead, wreaking havoc with sound.
- A torrential rainstorm hit the site, and literally washed away a good deal of equipment, sets, and costuming.
- The insurance company called this a force majeur and refused to cover the losses.
- The lead actor came down with a double herniated disc and had to leave, come back, and leave again.
And those were just the big ones.
Lost in La Mancha would probably be of the most interest to people in the field of filmmaking and fans of Terry Gilliam. The problems encountered on set and their effects on relationships within the crew are incredibly anxiety provoking, as is Gilliam's gradually being worn away to defeat.
The murmurs about the curse of Munchausen, the billowing budget, and the obvious conflicts between the AD and DP all swell up around him, the poor man in the middle who just wants to make this movie more than anything else.
It's essentially structured around the comparison of Gilliam to Quixote, the wayward knight taking on the fantastic challenge. Though by day six, the crew are all implicitly substituting wayward with "delusional."
It's definitely worth seeing if you have a special interest in the man or his work, or even if you're thinking about getting into the business. It might make you think twice.
Though Gilliam himself is still considering taking up the reigns of Don Quixote again in the future.
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