Monday, September 6, 2010

Terry Gilliam’s ‘Don Quixote’ Stuck Again

By Mike Gillis

Terry Gilliam’s take on the Don Quixote tale has stalled yet again, according to Variety.

Gilliam had lined up Robert Duvall and Ewan McGregor in the lead for “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” the director’s second attempt at a silver screen treatment of the story that famously plagued and eluded Orson Welles his entire career. Gilliam first made a go of it more than a decade ago, having cast Johnny Depp and Jean Rochefort. The self-destructing production is the subject of the wonderful documentary “Lost in La Mancha,” which sprang from footage captured by a television crew documenting the making of the picture.

Gilliam tells variety that “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” should be shooting now, but instead, Gilliam is laying low at the Deauville American Film Festival. "I shouldn't be here,” Gilliam tells Variety. “The plan was to be shooting 'Quixote' right now.”

Unfortunately, time away from the set may be exactly what Gilliam needs.

Gilliam has made a handful of spectacular films, topped by “Brazil” and, arguably for some, “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.” Before stepping into the feature film arena, Gilliam was already something of a renegade filmmaker who happened to work with Monty Python. Gilliam’s boundless imagination helped shape his career, including feature films with Monty Python as well as work uniquely Gilliam, such as “Time Bandits.”

After “Brazil,” when Gilliam very publicly derided the producers of the film for butchering his vision, the director became something of a poster boy for independent filmmakers. Despite his tantrums, Gilliam was allowed to make ‘Munchausen’ three years later, a critical success that bombed at the box office, which Gilliam shrugged off. Three years later, Gilliam made “The Fisher King,” which did generate box office success, but would also kick off a long, steady decline for Gilliam.

“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” Gilliam’s take on the life of Hunter S. Thompson, and “12 Monkeys,” which suggested Bruce Willis had a bit more to offer than a scowl, are both worth noting in the period that followed “The Fisher King,” but have been followed with progressively disjointed, uneven or outright atrocious works. "Tideland,” in particular, is unwatchable.

One can’t help but admire filmmakers who adroitly ignore the rules and hold convention in contempt, but filmmakers like John Cassavetes, for instance, consistently offer up evidence that insubordination to Hollywood is a creative catharsis.

It may be true that, like Welles, Gilliam believes the Don Quixote story is the movie he was born to make. You can’t help admire his persistence. But, it’s also worth wondering if Gilliam’s reputation as a crass, independent guru, is not a liability, but the only lure left for Gilliam's next offering. If the next ode to the imagination suffers for the lack of it, is it really relevant to blame the system? Or is it time for a little introspection?

I hope Gilliam does get his version of Don Quixote off the ground and I hope it resurrects his career – not as a renegade or a victim, but a champion of the imagination.