Lost in La Mancha

Saw Lost in La Mancha on Friday. This is a documentary of the doomed effort to produce Terry Gilliam’s magnum opus, the story of Don Quixote. Gilliam had been working on the idea since 1991, and only managed to start filming in 2001. The undertaking was terribly precarious even before it began, and as soon as it did begin, almost everything that could go wrong did, from big things to little. Floods, fighter jets, illness, and recalcitrant horses.

The documentary made the point that Gilliam himself was somewhat like Don Quixote on a gallant but unrealistic quest, and indeed, there was an amazingly tidy parallelism between the story and the story-in-the-story. But something at the very end of the movie made me think that Don Quixote is the wrong fictional archetype to describe Gilliam. Ahab is more like it.

4 thoughts on “Lost in La Mancha”

  1. Out of pure coincidence, I watched 12 Monkeys on a Netflix dvd.

    They had a Special Feature Documentary on the making of 12 monkeys (hour long… no holds barred… even the bad stuff included (i.e. not a thinly veiled commercial)).

    It was very clear that Terry, albeit a creative genius, is a madman and a pain in the ass to work with, to boot.

    They had a phrase for it in the film: It’s all about the hamster wheel.

    There was a scene in 12 monkeys where a naked Bruce Willis is drawing his own blood in a futuristic lab. As part of the visual ambience, they included a hamster in a wheel, behind a sheet (lit up so you could see the shadow). The hamster wheel is hardly noticable at all in the composition (i.e. you wouldn’t see it if you weren’t looking for it). The shot was about 2 seconds in the final cut, and should have taken 30, maybe 45 minutes to film, at most.

    However, Terry obsessed over the hamster because it wasn’t running around the wheel, so the filming session took the entire afternoon!

    When asked about the story, he said something about how he spent a lot of time working on the minute details that were only important to himself.

    He did have a telling quote, though… After screaming an obscenity during filming because a special effect wasn’t working out, he muttered something like, “I’m so frustrated because I can’t make happen what I have in my head.”

  2. The conflict between what Gilliam had in his head (which was the whole movie, shot for shot) and what could be achieved in reality was a central problem in Don Quixote as well.

  3. Recalcitrant horses will surely be the death of us all.

    Re Gilliam’s comment “I can’t make happen what I Have in my head” – that is SO well put! I bet so many artists go through this (hence the term “tortured artist”).

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