Michael Cusumano here with the latest dispatch from the bizarre world of Terry Gilliam.
Terry Gilliam is an artist one can’t help but root for. The image of Gilliam that comes most readily to mind is one from the great behind-the-scenes disaster documentary Lost in La Mancha. It’s early, before his production has imploded, and the director reviews one of the few shots he managed to get on film for his doomed Don Quixote project. The image of the three men cast as giants lumbering toward the camera delights Gilliam to no end. His childlike glee at the sight of their rolls of fat jiggling in grotesque slow-mo is an image of an artist in touch with the pure, silly thrill of filmmaking. A man who lives for the experience of seeing his cracked visions transferred to the big screen.
On the other hand, the subtler, less flattering image of Gilliam I took from that documentary is that of a filmmaker capable of being swept up in the joy of the process to the point of being blithely indifferent to the needs of the audience. I remember leaving La Mancha with the guilty suspicion that maybe it was for the best that The Man Who Killed Don Quixote crashed and burned on take off. Better to live with the unrealized ideal than to see one’s dream project fail to live up to expectations. What little footage we see in the film suggests it would have been of a piece with his 21st Century output, which is to say fanciful bordering on incoherent, fascinating to look at but too messy to inspire emotionally investment.