Wednesday, April 20, 2011

#257. Lost in La Mancha (2002)

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 is like a double edged sword, where vibrant creativity and unbridled excitement can 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 the film, we’re left with a fascinating account of what ultimately brought a would-be masterpiece to its knees.

Lost in La Mancha was intended to serve as a behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of Terry Gilliam's film 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 had not been rehearsed.

Not long after these frustrations, 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, cast to play Don Quixote, was suffering from an incredibly painful prostate, a condition that made riding a horse nearly impossible for him.

As the disasters mounted, the question of “whenThe 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 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 that the movie 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 produce 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.


Klaus said...

I absolutely love this documentary. Could anything else have gone wrong in his ill-fated production? What a train wreck! I love Gilliam's work and was enthralled with this story.

It also reminds me of my other favourite documentaries about movie making - Les Blank's 1982 film "Burden of Dreams" (about Herzog's film Fitzcarraldo) - another must-see if you like behind the scenes madness!

DVD Infatuation said...

@Klaus: It really is a great movie, and you can feel for Gilliam (especially since some of the footage that was shot looked pretty interesting)

And I have seen BURDEN OF DREAMS as well...another fantastic doc! The scene with Kinski going off on the producer about the catering is classic!

Thanks for the comment

Klaus said...

Gilliam seems to have the worst "luck" with his productions - although it seems, at least from this documentary, that a lot of the issues he contends with are a result of his disconnect with the production requirements - or at least his over-reliance on others to see that his vision can be put to film. In any event, La Mancha looked like a fabulous project - hopefully he'll be able re-make it some point.

DVD Infatuation said...

@Klaus: The latest news is he IS, in fact, going forward with THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE, and the cast (as of now) seems to be Ewan MacGregor and Robert Duvall.

You make a good point: Gilliam is a creative whirlwind, but you get the feeling watching the film that he shou;d have slowed down and paid attention a little more. I can't help but wonder if he learned a personal lesson from this.

Anonymous said...

Many a little makes a mickle.

Klaus said...

I'd heard some rumors that he had bought back the film rights, but didn't know that he was actively proceeding. Great news! i wonder if he'll use any of the original footage? I can't imagine that he won't figure out some way to work it in.

DVD Infatuation said...

@Klaus: I do kinda hope he figures out a way to incorporate at least some of that footage into this "new" version he's directing. Some of the scenes he did get looked pretty incredible.

Chimesfreedom-Pophistory said...

Nice review. I enjoyed the documentary too, although it also made me disappointed that the underlying movie never got made. I'm glad to hear there is still hope for the project.

DVD Infatuation said...

@Chimesfreedom-Pophistory: Thanks for stopping by, and for the comment.

Yeah, as much as I enjoyed (and laughed at) LOST IN LA MANCHA, it really was kinda sad as well because I honestly thought it was the end of this project, which looked as if it had a lot of potential. Like you, I'm hopeful that Gilliam will have more luck this time out!