Lost in La Mancha (2001)
coDirector: Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe
Writer: Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe
by Jon Cvack
I had been waiting a long time to see this film, involving Terrence Malick’s infamous passion project - The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. After working on it for over ten year, we watch as he attempts to communicate his wild imagination to others. In the beginning, Gilliam mentions the fact that they are about $10 million dollars short of their $20 million dollar budget. He looks at the camera and that nervous smile begins. It’s clear that project is cursed in some way or another. Their leading man injures himself, their first day of shooting ends in a rainstorm, producing a flood that washes away and destroys much of the gear, no one wants to rehearse, and the investors are incredibly nervous. The strange thing is that compared to Gilliam’s other films I was impressed with how simple - relatively low budget, even - it all seemed to be. There were a few big sets and props, yet it all seemed relatively moderate. Or maybe we just didn’t see the entire operation.
For awhile I’ve been trying to categorize what the film is really about. There are many wonderful making-of-movies documentaries - Heart of Darkness, Burden of Dreams, Overnight. In each of these there is a clear sense of hubris from the director in charge, warranted in the first and second, unwarranted in the last. Lost in La Mancha doesn’t seem to contain any of that. It’s only once production hits that Terry Gilliam unleashes an endless stream of profane excitement and nervousness. Although anger exists he does have a strange ability to role with the punches, though I’m not sure if this is because he knew it was all doomed, or hopeful that it would all work out. It’s clear that he was oblivious to how quickly everyone knew it was ending. When the first Assistant Director took responsibility for the rainstorm, an individual who has worked on the majority of Gilliam’s films, later getting fire, I think Terry finally accepts the conclusion.
When looking at his filmography there are clear chapters. Chapter One - Jabberywocky, Time Bandits, Brazil, Adventures of Baron Munchausen - all were extravagant, fantastical stories, Brazil regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. Their environments were so impressive that I recall losing track of the story and not caring as the visuals were so strong. Chapter Two involved an exploration of serious drama and story - The Fisher King, 12 Monkeys, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - maturing with the audience that loved him. Lost in La Mancha went into production in 2001. Gilliam wouldn’t make another film until 2005’s The Brothers Grimm (which while I haven’t seen, I’ve heard it’s pretty bad), and so began Chapter Three and he hasn’t recovered since. There aren’t any profound moments, reflecting on what it all means in the grand nature of the universe or in the name of art. It’s just the end of a project Gilliam is drawn to and hopes to try again in the future. I haven’t seen The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (another cursed film where Heath Ledger passed away during production), nor The Zero Theorem, but I've heard neither are all that great. Tideland was a really great small film, lacking a bit in plot as a few of Gilliam’s other films have done.
It makes me wonder if this downturn was all based on Don Quixote’s failure. He was coming off the tail end of yet another project that either didn’t get made, shutdown, or wasn’t successful (which I can’t seem to find, but is mentioned in the movie), or maybe it was that he had finally failed. I can’t imagine the feeling. Having made so many amazing films and finally reaching failure as others question your decisions and choices all along. How this hasn't yet resulted in an amazing revenge film is beyond me. Like M. Night Shyamalan, I'm still hoping for recovery. I was hoping it’d be The Zero Theorem. Maybe the next one. Given the recent news, maybe it'll be The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.
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