(Just a reminder, if there is anything you think I should watch as part of this little adventure, feel free to drop a comment on the Suggestions page. Just click up there where it says “Suggestions”. Easy peasy)
Lost in la Mancha
The Gods hate Don Quixote
For those of you who don’t already know, this is the making-of documentary to accompany a film that doesn’t exist.
In 2000 everything Terry Gilliam had spent the last decade working towards, his reworking of Cervantes’ Don Quixote de la Mancha, was finally coming together. He had the script, he had the financing, he had the cast, he had the crew; he was, in a word, set. Or he thought he was. The one thing that was missing was the co-operation of the Big Fella upstairs. Allah, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Elvis, whatever you want to call him, He didn’t want this film to go ahead. The catalogue of catastrophes that plagued The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (way to give away your ending Terry) could only be described as Biblical. Luckily for us, a pair of filmmakers named Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe were there to capture it all unfolding, and Lost in la Mancha is the result.
Saying everything that could go wrong did go wrong is a horrible cliché but for Gilliam and this production that is exactly what happened. Over the course of 90 minutes, we get to see this film go through pre-production to the start of principal photography, and shortly thereafter to disaster. Actually, the seeds of destruction are there from the very beginning. While Terry and his crew are hard at work in Spain building sets, making costumes, casting the supporting roles and so on, his main cast of Johnny Depp, Vanessa Paradis and the legendary Jean Rochefort are nowhere to be found. When they do arrive and get started filming, a monsoon arrives at the shooting location that turns the desert into a river of mud. When Rochefort has to get on his horse, it becomes apparent that he is in fact too unwell to be there. He is eventually diagnosed with a double herniated disc and is forced to pull out. And this is after spending seven months learning English for the express purpose of taking on the role! Soon enough, the insurance company pull the plug entirely and the project is confined to a (probably) dusty basement somewhere.
On watching this movie, it is soon clear why Gilliam is so enamoured with the story of Quixote. He has himself spent most of his post-Python career tilting at windmills trying to make the visions in his head into cinematic reality. That he has succeeded at all in the past is almost a miracle, but on this occasion it was not to be. Is he the villain of the piece? A crazed obsessive? More Ahab than the Don? Not to me. He is a little bit crazy, that much is almost certainly true, but how much less interesting would the landscape of film be if he weren’t doing what he continues to this day to do? The villain, if there has to be one, is… No. There is no villain here. There is just heaps and heaps and heaps of shitty luck. And it is heartbreaking. The few finished shots that appear in this flick, as well as the wealth of sets and effects that we see take shape hint at what could have been accomplished. It may not have been a huge financial success, but it would have been a unique piece of entertainment and a worthy addition to the Gilliam canon.
As it stands, this documentary is something that anyone with an interest in peeking behind the cinema curtain should see. It, like Gilliam himself, is a one-off and should be celebrated.
And the giants are amazing.