LOST IN LA MANCHA
Review by Michael Jacobson
Terry Gilliam, Johnny Depp, Jean Rochefort, Vanessa Paradis
Narrator: Jeff Bridges
Directors: Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe
Audio: Dolby Surround
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Features: See Review
Length: 93 Minutes
Release Date: June 24, 2003
about your false sense of security.”
don’t think there’s ANY sense of security, false OR real!”
the best laid plans of mice, men, and movie directors.
Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe made the excellent supplementary documentary on the
making of Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys. But when they were invited
back by Gilliam to capture the realization of his dream project The Man Who
Killed Don Quixote for possible inclusion with another future DVD release,
they never could have foreseen what was about to happen.
What started as a simple making-of documentary instead became the record
of how easily a motion picture project can implode for reasons beyond anyone’s
Gilliam is no stranger to troubles when it comes to making movies.
His filmography reads not only as a list of some of cinema’s most
imaginative and boldly stylistic visions, but also as a collection of some of
the art’s most troubled productions. His
innovative and darkly funny Brazil is one of the best movies of the 80s,
yet more famous than the picture itself is the legendary battle Terry had to
fight in order to keep the studio from cutting his picture down and changing the
ending. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is a delightful
piece of fantasy, yet it continues to hang like an albatross around Gilliam’s
neck because it went so far over budget that turning a profit at the box office
became impossible. Fortunately, his
follow-up film The Fisher King enjoyed a trouble-free shoot as well as
critical and box office success.
all of these are merely prologue to Terry’s misadventures with Don Quixote.
A pet project of his for ten years or better, Gilliam frequently
points out in Lost in La Mancha that the movie has been completed in his
mind for some time now. And sadly,
so far, that’s the only place it exists.
was the first troubled step…without any American money to back his film, Terry
set off to capture his dream vision with the largest budget ever assembled for a
strictly European financed movie, about $31 million.
“That’s about half of what we need,” Gilliam chuckles.
But he still went forward, prepared to cut corners when he could…he had
a great location, terrific costumes and props, a trio of renowned actors
including Johnny Depp, Jean Rochefort and Vanessa Paradis, and most importantly,
his unwavering commitment to what the finished movie would look like.
the problems started coming in rapid fire fashion. A key sequence early on had to be re-scheduled because no one
remembered to rehearse the extras. Their
beautiful location happened to be in close proximity with a NATO air base, and
takes were frequently interrupted by the loud roars of passing jets.
Finally, after only a few days of shooting, a monstrous wrath-of-God type
storm blew in, with lightning, wind, torrential rains and even giant hailstones.
Terry leans into the wind and screams “YES!” over and over again with
humor and madness…what else could he do?
the time the weather cleared, sets and equipment were washed away and/or ruined,
and the landscape had darkened because of the saturation from the rains.
Filming could not continue there for a while.
a bigger problem arose: French
actor Jean Rochefort, who was slated to be Gilliam’s Don Quixote, showed
obvious signs of pain during his scenes on horseback.
After a day of shooting, he had to be helped off the horse by a couple of
men and carried to his chair. Seeking
medical help, Gilliam and crew waited and hoped for good news, but it never
came: Rochefort had two herniated
discs, and would not be back for awhile.
days passing and nothing getting on film, investors and insurance
representatives come around looking for answers. Legal jargon is mulled over, such as what constitutes “an
act of God”.
inevitable finally comes…The Man Who Killed Don Quixote was scrapped.
Props and other items were boxed up.
The insurance companies owned them and Terry’s screenplay as
compensation. And Terry was left as
a filmmaker without a film. But at
that point, pulling the plug seemed more like a mercy killing than anything
who mastered the art of dark comedy with Brazil, never could have guessed
he’d one day be starring in one of his own just by doing what he does.
The events depicted in Lost in La Mancha are often
heartbreaking…yet how can we not smile at the absurdity of it all?
Had someone fashioned this story as a fictional tale, we’d never have
bought into it.
most intriguing aspect of documentary filmmaking for me has always been the fact
that the filmmakers have no way of knowing how their story is going to end until
it ends. Gilliam’s bad luck
turned into a stroke of good fortune for Fulton and Pepe, who never could have
imagined their simple supplemental documentary turning into a celebrated
cautionary tale. But they were
ready for anything, and Gilliam was a completely available and accessible
subject to them…and to his credit, he’s been a supportive good sport with
this picture, appearing in the DVD supplements and even crafting some terrific
Monty Python-styled animation to go in the movie!
this picture shows Terry in his true spirit…he’s actually one of cinema’s
nice guys, with an infectious spirit and gleeful enthusiasm about moviemaking.
In fairness to him, he’s not the first artist to stumble with the
impossible dream of realizing Don Quixote as a film.
Orson Welles labored for years on his version, which was shot here and
there whenever money allowed over a period of years. It,
too, was never completed…in fact, the shooting was so stretched out that the
actor playing Welles’ Quixote died of old age.
there is still a ray of hope…as Lost in La Mancha concludes, we learn
that Terry is preparing to give it another go and working to buy back his script
from the insurance company. I, for
one, hope he succeeds. Looking at
his storyboards, hearing his lines, and seeing some of his few complete shots
proves that his vision of this story is one that deserves to be seen.
movie was shot on video and shown in original full frame ratio, and considering
the limitations of tape, the image looks quite good. It was transferred directly to disc from video source instead
of having the extra step of film in between, but it works more than serviceably.
Generally, colors are well rendered and details are probably as sharp as
tape allows…not much was shot in low light levels, so the graininess and
murkiness that sometimes shows up on video from that isn’t an issue.
Sometimes when scenes fade to black you can see a bit of etching; but
again, that’s a problem inherent in the source material.
Overall, a solid enough effort.
the box says 5.1, the movie is actually in Dolby Surround, but even so, it’s a
better than average offering. You’ll
appreciate it when the early scenes are interrupted by the sounds of jets…even
with limited sound equipment, those things are quite loud and intrusive!
The big storm sequence is as potent as any you’d see in a special
effects-laden production. On top of that, the dialogue is almost always clear and
clean…amusingly enough, when certain clips are too low for audio pickup, you
get a subtitle so you don’t miss anything.
didn’t notice anywhere on the packaging of this DVD that this is a double disc
set, but that’s exactly what it is! The
feature and looks at other Docurama titles are on the first disc, while the
second contains all the remaining supplements.
There are interviews with Gilliam, Johnny Depp, and the filmmakers (in
which it is confirmed that yes, Terry does plan to give Don Quixote another
go), plus deleted scenes, video soundbites, stills of costumes, storyboards and
production, a conversation with Terry Gilliam and author Salman Rushdie from the
29th annual Telluride Film Festival, a live IFC focus on Gilliam, and
one of the best theatrical trailers I’ve seen in a while…good stuff!