Directed By: Keith Fulton, Louis Pepe
Starring: Terry Gilliam, Jeff Bridges, Tony Grisoni
Tag line: "They've Got a Story...But Have Lost The Plot"
Trivia: This film was never intended to be anything more than a :making-of" documentary.
I've always felt that, for a director, the film making process must be like a double edged sword, where vibrant creativity and unbridled ambition could be stifled at any moment by angry producers and ever-tightening budgets. With the documentary Lost in La Mancha, we watch a movie’s production fall apart in its earliest stages, and because the cameras were on-hand for every disaster that befell it, we’re left with a fascinating account of what ultimately brought the would-be film to its knees.
Lost in La Mancha was intended to serve as a behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of a Terry Gilliam film titled The Man who Killed Don Quixote, which itself was based loosely on the classic tale of the eccentric Spanish knight Don Quixote, an aged warrior who fought windmills because he believed they were giants. Instead of a DVD extra feature, however, the documentary’s directors, Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, captured the all-out collapse of the entire project.
Things started badly for director Gilliam right out of the gate, when the European assistants he hired to find him a studio instead rented what appeared to be an abandoned warehouse (with poor acoustics). Then, once location shooting began, Gilliam was further frustrated to learn that the extras appearing in a key scene haven’t even been rehearsed. Shortly after this frustration, the rain started to fall, washing away equipment and water logging the entire production. the final nail in the coffin was the discovery that star Jean Rochefort, who was cast to play Don Quixote, was suffering from an incredibly painful prostate, a condition that made riding a horse nearly impossible. As the disasters mounted, the question of “when” The Man who Killed Don Quixote would finally be completed quickly turned into an “if”.
Terry Gilliam is one of my favorite filmmakers. His movies, which have always boasted elaborate sets and outrageous costumes, usually possess a level of imagination rarely equaled in today’s cinema. In bringing his unique vision to the screen, Gilliam has gained the reputation of being a notoriously meticulous director, one who fights openly with studio heads when he feels he's in the right (His battles with producer Sidney Sheinberg over the final cut of 1984’s Brazil have become legendary). It’s because of my respect for both the man and his devotion to his craft that I view the events of Lost in La Mancha not so much a behind-the-scenes documentary as they are the chronicle of a true artistic tragedy.
Yet where the production of The Man who Killed Don Quixote was ultimately a failure, the documentary of its making, Lost in La Mancha, must be viewed as a rousing success. Even here, I would give at least some credit to Terry Gilliam, who gave the filmmakers full access not only to all of his meetings, but every shooting location as well. We watch as Gilliam wonders aloud why the film’s stars, Jean Rochefort and Johnny Depp, are late in turning up, and witness first-hand the devastation that occurs when the drenching rains fall. We recognize the intense pain on the face of Jean Rochefort as he sits on the horse he must mount each and every day, and ultimately, we see Gilliam, tired and defeated, lamenting the fact that the film to which he has dedicated so much time and energy may never make it to the big screen.
Terry Gilliam will continue to make films, and knowing his track record, they will undoubtedly be as difficult to make as they are fantastic to behold. Perhaps one day, The Man who Killed Don Quixote will be one of them. What we are left with in its absence, however, is a wonderful documentary on the downfall of a movie’s production.
Perhaps Lost in La Mancha will be the final word on Don Quixote. Like his main character, it’s quite possible that Gilliam himself was trying to conquer giants, but in the end was taken down by some pesky, damned windmills.