Before we get into it, just a quick recommendation to check out “Making Movies” by Sidney Lumet, the director of Network, Dog Day Afternoon and 12 Angry Men. While it’s a quick read at 220 pages, it talks about dealing with the actors, rehearsal, a day on the set, and other various forms of a production, and includes stories that happened on his sets also. It’s an intriguing book, worth checking out at your local bookstore. A “Ryan’s Book Club” pick, if you will.
Then there’s Lost in La Mancha, Terry Gilliam’s documented efforts to make a film called The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe had worked with Gilliam previously to film a documentary for Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys, entitled “The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of 12 Monkeys”, and whose help was enlisted to film a behind the scenes documentary here. The movie was Gilliam’s vision of Cervantes “Man of La Mancha”, and something he’d tossed around since 1991. He even came close to starting a production in 1999 before financing fell through. However this time, he had solid financing, and a cast that included Johnny Depp (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) and French actors Jean Rochefort (playing Quixote) and Vanessa Paradis. The film notes the problems that previous directors had in shooting a film on Quixote, and features footage of a film shot by Orson Welles that saw a theatrical release, helping to bring life to the aptly named “Curse of Quixote.” Gilliam’s Hollywood reputation is discussed as well, including the struggles surrounding the making of Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Gilliam is quick to point out on Munchausen there was a producer who promised the stars and the moon, but simply didn’t have the budget for what he wanted to do, and Gilliam’s name was tarnished from the experience. Being a veteran of such battles almost gives Gilliam a foresight into how his productions will turn out, as 7 weeks before the production starts, he says that there’s “a lot of potential for chaos.” 3 weeks later, Rochefort arrives, with a newly learned English accent he is eager to show off. As the production is due to start, Rochefort has some “phantom” back pains, so he does not board the plane from Paris to Madrid (where the production is housed). During the weeklong delay, Deep and Paradis arrive and start with screen tests and other work. Rochefort does arrive, and the production starts. Here’s where the curse kicks in.
On Day 1, things seemed to go fine. However, the location was located near a NATO base, where fighter jets flew occasionally. Occasionally seemed to turn into every hour on the hour, and despite Gilliam’s profane frustration, they decide to push ahead with filming, and will loop dialogue in later. On day 2, the Spanish desert conditions quickly change to a torrential rainstorm, punctuated by hail and flooding of the location, rendering any filming on that (and the next) day futile. Day 4 marks the return of the crew to shoot, however the filming against the dry exteriors on Day 1 will not match anything shot in the now-saturated desert. The producers of the film make an attempt to get the First Assistant Director (Roger Patterson) fired, but Gilliam will not have it. Gilliam remains the eternal optimist despite things crumbling around him, including various crewmembers that had started leaving the production. Rochefort does have some scenes filmed while on horseback, but he is clearly shown grimacing, and flies back to France to get checked out. His medical delay stretches from a couple of days to several weeks, and is diagnosed with 2 herniated discs, which would force him out of action for a month. By this point, the production has been suspended, the insurance claims were filed and the project abandoned.
By intertwining the footage they had shot on set, along with narration by Jeff Bridges (The Fisher King) and occasional readings from the script by Gilliam and co-writer Tony Grisoni, not to mention Gilliam’s openness is allowing Pepe and Fulton to shoot produces an entrancing film. To witness Gilliam’s giddiness in the project’s start, and to see it transform into stress and panic is a thing to watch, almost like a part of the string quartet who played on the Titanic. It’s a fascinating look at a movie production, and the headaches involved with it.
While there are some usable film clips that are part of the documentary, most of what is shot is with a handheld digital video camera and presented in 1.33:1 full frame video. There really isn’t anything that stood out about the presentation, it was just there, and considering the format, that’s all I’ve got to say about it.
The audio is listed on the back as 5.1, but the audio really is in 2.0, with good reason. The day a documentary/making of featurette gets a 5.1 soundtrack to it, color me surprised.
Lost in La Mancha has arrived as a surprising 2-disc set featuring even more insight from Gilliam. The first disc does include the Docudrama library, along with trailers for 10 of the 37 titles. Disc 2 contains soundbites that are just under a half hour, and provide an even better view into the film’s production. Some of this footage was included in the final cut, and the subject material ranges from Gilliam’s attachment to the story and making the film, to information about European financing (and the difficulty securing it), and even talks about Rochefort in some detail. A cast & crew interview section is almost an hour, and features interview footage from Fulton, Pepe, Gilliam, documentary producer Lucy Darwin and Depp, all of which looks to be after the film. Everyone reflects on their thoughts of the film and the incidents in it, and Pepe and Fulton mentioned how uneasy it became to watch the project crumble, and almost sound amazed to hear Gilliam’s approval to continue shooting. There are 9 deleted scenes complete with written introduction, most of which were cut for understandable reasons, there are two alternate openings, and the only scene which was somewhat funny was Gilliam’s refusal to sign his contract for the film. The IFC Channel did a focus on Gilliam (as part of a Gilliam film retrospective) that ran on the channel in the early part of the year. The unedited footage totaling 54 minutes is presented here. Hosted by film critic Elvis Mitchell, it presents interesting trivia about Gilliam you never would have known before. Before departing for England to become part of the Monty Python troop, Gilliam and Harry Shearer made a short film, which is a frightening thought. Perhaps even more frightening was Gilliam’s revelation that he was J.K. Rowling’s choice to direct the Harry Potter films. Gilliam knew he wouldn’t get the job, but one’s gotta wonder how those films would have turned out. He touches on all parts of his directing career, from The Fisher King to Time Bandits, and it helps provide some more detail into Gilliam’s opinions. Not that it’s a surprise, but he’s also a fan of South Park to boot. The 29th annual Telluride Film Festival included a discussion with Gilliam that was hosted by author Salman Rushdie. The footage was originally on Telluride community TV, and is presented here. The audio quality is a bit worse than the IFC discussion, but the conversation is a bit more stream of consciousness than the IFC discussion. Gilliam talks about his experiences with getting Brazil to the big screen (he also discussed this on IFC), and both share their experiences writing/directing commercials. Gilliam also shares his thoughts on the science fiction genre, including a priceless reaction when the subject of A.I. is brought up. Both discussions are outstanding, and Gilliam fans will enjoy watching them. The storyboards and production stills section comprises over 130 images broken down into three categories; Gilliam storyboards, sketches by Production Designer Benjamin Fernandez, and sketches by Costume Designer Gabriella Pescucci. The trailer wraps up the set.
Despite a relatively steep price for it, it’s an extremely fascinating look at a movie’s start and very quick end, featuring one of the most artistic directors in the industry. Easily recommended as a rental, and worth purchasing for those aspiring film directors to show them what Murphy’s Law looks like on a movie set!