We must always believe in ourselves at any cost. It's our story, Sancho.
April 11, 2019 8:48 PM   Subscribe

It’s been 30 years since Terry Gilliam first dreamt of making a movie about the foolish, windmill-chasing knight Don Quixote — and it’s been roughly 29 years since it became his nightmare.... But now he’s finally broken the spell (Rolling Stone), and The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (YouTube, trailer) last year received a marathon standing ovation at Cannes (Slate). Gilliam fared better in his dream to film Don Quixote better than Orson Welles, whose version was posthumously released in 1992 (YouTube), but this result is a travesty that will please no one (Variety).

From Orson Welles' Don Quixote (1992) - Home Video Review from TMC:
Don Quixote remained a rumored masterpiece, existing only in unfinished fragments. Forever fending off inquiries, Welles considered retitling his film, "When Are You Going To Finish Don Quixote?" Welles insiders lucky enough to see partially assembled bits (with Welles providing the voices for both Reiguera and Tamiroff) reported moments of brilliance and great potential.

Now the bad news. Orson Welles' Don Quixote is a 1992 "finish" job perpetrated on some of Welles' un-collated scenes. The feature is a depressing experience suitable only for those Welles scholars interested in seeing every piece of film the director shot. Orson Welles' Don Quixote obscures much more than it reveals, and suggests that Welles still had large sections of story yet to be filmed.
The Wikipedia article on Welles' unfinished film includes significant details on the history of this film, including the reference to a segment featuring Quixote attacking a movie screen, as seen in "Unseen Orson Welles: a conversation with Jonathan Rosenbaum" - Chicago Reader's film critic, in a clip from CANTV (YouTube)

As for Terry Gilliam's film, Rolling Stone has a comprehensive timeline that was put together for last year's Cannes screening. If some of this story seems familiar, you might have seen Lost in La Mancha (Vimeo; trailer 1 and 2 on YouTube; excerpt on YT), after trying to launch the film for more than a decade. The documentary ends with this version of the movie, which featured Jean Rochefort as Quixote and Johnny Depp as Toby Grisoni, on hold indefinitely.

Fifteen years later and it's done, but Gilliam says he's empty. "There was always Quixote waiting in the wings. I’d finish another film, and it’d be Quixote waiting. Now he’s gone. It’s sad." (Rolling Stone)

But let's enjoy the movie for now. Trailer #1, Trailer #2 (YT x2)

Terry Gilliam discusses the film (YT, Build Series - 43:15) -- "I don't think I made the choice, I think I was possessed. I was the victim of a Spanish writer who wrote centuries ago. You have to be very careful what you read."

Interview Jonathan Pryce & Adam Driver with Kinowetter -- this was Pryce's 4th film with Gilliam, and it happened now because Pryce was "waiting to play Quioxite, waiting to be old enough to play Quixote."
posted by filthy light thief (30 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Final link for the Welles film: "Do you believe in magic?" Documental: Orson Welles en el país de don Quijote (Canal + via YouTube)

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote hasn't received all rave reviews (Rotten Tomatoes), but it's a fun film. Due to some lawsuits with a former producer (Hollywood Reporter), distribution is still limited, but it's available on BluRay in some markets (which means you can buy it online, but you should be sure your player can play it).
posted by filthy light thief at 8:58 PM on April 11, 2019

Oh, thank you for this, filthy light thief!

I saw the trailer recently (and I saw Lost in La Mancha years ago) and I was really hoping it was going to be good - that he'd succeeded in making something that people would respond to. It sure sounds like he did, and I'm really glad for him, and for everyone involved with all the attempts over the years, and for myself, because I'm looking forward to seeing it.

That Rolling Stone piece was a good interview. (And via the related stories links, I learned that Terry Gilliam wrote a memoir a few years ago, so maybe I'll go seek that out, too.)

Thank you for this great post, and those wonderful links!
posted by kristi at 9:40 PM on April 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

I saw it yesterday, and I’m still on a cloud.

Fantastic film. Pryce was excellent as Don Quixote, and it was all in the eyes -- a sparkle in them, nobility in them, but with a certain blankness behind. As for the movie itself, a straightforward adaptation was never going to work, so Gilliam went at it sideways, which proved the best way to capture the spirit of the book, layer upon layer upon layer. The initial setup was puzzling, but once the major piece clicked into place -- oh, that was clever. Very, very clever.

Let us settle in for this wild ride... Today is a marvellous day for adventures!
posted by Capt. Renault at 9:59 PM on April 11, 2019 [9 favorites]

Half an hour too long. Total Bechdel fail. I wanted to like it, but meh.
posted by pompomtom at 10:00 PM on April 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

[SPOILER: I didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition.]
posted by Capt. Renault at 10:01 PM on April 11, 2019 [5 favorites]

Seriously — I cannot gush enough about this movie. I am hard-pressed to think of a movie more imaginative and lush and layered as this.

Going in, I had long thought Gilliam’s Fear And Loathing to be the best adaptation of a novel out there. I was completely surprised that he had bested himself. Quixote is an unfilmable novel, but Gilliam took his own approach which grasped the themes and motives of Cervantes, and made something proved true in its own way. Gilliam refreshed the work, erasing all those centuries, making the ancient themes contemporary once more.

Gilliam has made a worthy successor to perhaps the greatest novel of all time, so much so that I wonder how it ever worked outside of film. It’s magic, pure magic. I am astounded.
posted by Capt. Renault at 10:26 PM on April 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

I haven't seen it and don't know where I can see it. His last movie was basically unavailable where I live. I'll have to keep an eye out for this one. A Gilliam movie that truly works is transporting in a way that nearly no other cinema is. His near misses are charming, and you can see what they were attempting to do, but they don't quite work.

(In my opinion, Dr. Parnassus didn't work because of the digital effects. His films that were done entirely in camera presented a movie magic that was transporting. Dr. Parnassus felt like he was taking the shortcut and he should have tried harder. It's not my thing to demand of him, but it lacked the magic of his earlier work. I feel that way about a lot of movies with a lot of CGI these days.)
posted by hippybear at 10:37 PM on April 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

looking forward to seeing it.
posted by mwhybark at 10:46 PM on April 11, 2019

RTVE (the Spanish public TV and radio) did a TV series adaptation of Don Quijote in the 90s with the great Fernando Rey as protagonist and Alfredo Landa as Sancho Panza. It's online on their website, but sadly only in Spanish.
posted by sukeban at 12:10 AM on April 12, 2019 [4 favorites]

If I loved everything Gilliam did up to about Fear and Loathing and hated everything after, will I like this? He's been a very different director in the back half of his career. I'm interested if this one hails back to that first half, but I'm not onboard for Zero Theorem with windmills.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 4:00 AM on April 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm with Lentrohamsanin on this. I couldn't even finish Zero Theorem.
posted by doctornemo at 4:52 AM on April 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

I liked Zero Theorem, but not as much or in the ways I loved his 1980s films. Dr Parnassus isn't very memorable to me, and so I'll probably rewatch it soonish. I may actually go to a movie theater to see the new film.
posted by Radiophonic Oddity at 5:29 AM on April 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

So we're suddenly cool with Gilliam again? The same guy who thought that getting assaulted by Harvey Weinstein was just a way women could advance their careers? Who gets upset at the mere mention of diversity? Who Ellen Barkin warned the world to never be alone in an elevator with?

And that's a totally different subject from the fact he hasn't made a good movie in 20 years but gets to keep coming back to the same project he's failed to complete multiple times?

Do you know what'd be really cool? If a director who wasn't a POS has-been was able to get work after this many failures.
posted by thecjm at 5:31 AM on April 12, 2019 [27 favorites]

Based on this thread I am giving it a second try. Lentrohamsanin speaks for me as well.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:33 AM on April 12, 2019

I’m an admirer of Terry Gilliam for his work with Monty Python and for Brazil, but especially with his later films I don’t enjoy them as much as I think I will based on their premise and cast. Something about them feels labored, like that dead air feeling when you’re trying to make conversation with someone and getting nothing back. The performances can be wildly energetic and yet something at the heart of the film feels lifeless. I saw Don Quixote and I’m glad it finally got made, but for me it had that same curious feeling of manic energy flailing in quicksand. Funny, yet leaden. And the story feels like what I guess it is, a relic from an obsolete era. If it’s his film to retire on I don’t think it’s a terrible note to go out on, but it also reminds me of why I see his films out of a weird sense of loyalty more than genuine anticipation.
posted by Enemy of Joy at 5:55 AM on April 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

he hasn't made a good movie in 20 years

he has made a number of good movies, more in the decades before those, and all of them hate women.

it is intensely unhelpful to discussion of his latest movie to talk as if misogyny is some lately discovered secret facet of his private personality that is both late-breaking news to the world and that we should conscientiously labor to remember when watching his work, because of politics and morals, as if we would never know about it if we hadn't read his quotes in magazines and as if they should have caused some great change in the public reception of his work. anyone who's seen several of his films knows that in his worlds, plucky little girls have many good qualities, older girls just reaching physical maturity are beautiful works of art with nothing human in them, and adult women are sinks of shrieking foulness to be run from, humiliated, and disposed of.

and anyone who has observed discussions of his work, such as this one here and also all the others, knows that most men who are Gilliam fans don't care.

his recent comments are why he cannot be received in polite society by decent people. his FILMS are why his films are hard to watch unless you have an unquenchable thirst for filmic representations of men's visceral disgust of you, no matter how good some parts of them still are. of course he is still capable of great work. of course this one might be good. pretending the quality of his work just happens to exactly follows the decline of his reputation as a human being is as dishonest as pretending the misogyny doesn't matter. or that it hasn't been there all along. it was there in Brazil and it was there in Munchausen. sure, it was at a nauseating height in Parnassus, but it didn't start there. his recently expressed opinions were exactly in line with what he's always shown on screen.

I mean the idea of applying the Bechdel test to Gilliam, I will laugh until I choke. determined heroic naivete is something I admire but there are limits
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:42 AM on April 12, 2019 [36 favorites]

he has made a number of good movies, more in the decades before those, and all of them hate women.

Oh, thank you! I can't agree with the first part of the sentence, but that last part is spot on, or maybe I should in large part because that last bit is so true. Gilliam's films are misogynistic and self-celebratory in the worst way for the deep regard his films show for those who unsurprisingly are just like him, fabulists, which is completely undeserved considering how much of his career has been made in ripping off other people, which goes back to his beginnings as an animator where he took his style from Stan Vanderbeek.

As far as I'm concerned the sooner he disappears the better and I just hope the many stories of his "struggles" disappear with him.
posted by gusottertrout at 6:59 AM on April 12, 2019 [9 favorites]

queenofbithynia: he has made a number of good movies, more in the decades before those, and all of them hate women.

This is, quite sadly, no different. There are few women in the movie, and when they are included, it's often as a plot device, rather than a full-fledged character. One casual love-interest is forgettable (in the fact that her name is forgotten a few times, you know, as a running joke), and the other is desired, then abused, so she becomes the damsel to save. "But that's Don Quixote, the source material," someone might rebut. He modified the story significantly, adding in a wealthy Russian vodka client who is likened to Trump ("He wants a continuous entertainment. It looks like a child in full discharge of sugars, it seems Trump." -- from a rough transcript). It's 2019, someone could have improved the roles for women in this.

Yeah, but beyond the misogyny, it's a fun film.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:10 AM on April 12, 2019

I'd love to see fan edits go an extra step (or mile) and expand the story, perhaps with with silent film-style text frames -- "meanwhile, something else happened elsewhere."

Because there's a fun story here, but it's not merely an issue of cutting it down, but embellishing that which is missing, namely the autonomy of women in this story.

Perhaps it should have been telling that women weren't really featured much in Lost in La Mancha, either in the cast, or in the development team and support staff.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:44 AM on April 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

I keep wondering where Time Bandits fits into all of this. A little boy's adventure fantasy. Three women characters, all with minimal scenes. Yet, a movie I love (maybe because it imprinted on me when I saw it in the theater). We do attach so strongly to those early imprints, despite how much we change over the years.
posted by kokaku at 8:09 AM on April 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

I love Brazil -- and even liked The Brothers Grimm movie -- but a lot of Gilliam's projects have turned into both commercial and critical failures. He always blows past his budget, too, which seems like a problem for someone who frequently feuds with studios about how to film and cut his movies. He just seems too undisciplined to be a great director. If I watch the Don Quixote remnants, it will only be because I've been hearing about it for ten years now.
posted by grandiloquiet at 9:09 AM on April 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

When I was a pretentious young film student I used to scoff at John Cleese's snobbery about Gilliam's monomaniac dedication to crafting the perfect elaborate visual elements of a film and simultaneous blithe disregard of his actors and their performances, especially when it came to comedy.

Now I'm more in agreement with Cleese. Gilliam films (even the ones I enjoy) strike me as all flash and little substance and—more damningly—not at all funny. (Though often grotesque and raucous, in the same way Johnny Depp tends to be when left to his own devices.)
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:13 AM on April 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

I watched a torrent of it a few months ago, because Gilliam has made some of my favorite movies (namely Brazil, Time Bandits, and the Fisher King) and because the making of this one is so storied—30 years!—I couldn't resist. But I'm older now, and have different expectations. As noted above by queenofbithnyia and others, he's always been terrible at writing/filming women and this movie makes no progress on that front. I can give a movie I loved when I was 14 a pass on that, for a movie made now it just doesn't work. You can't unsee it. The women in this movie are trophies or obstacles and the actresses are given almost nothing to work with or do.

I shudder to think how much worse this would have been if they'd kept Johnny Depp in the lead role... if anything saves this, it's Adam Driver's performance. Even when he's being a petulant dickhead he has a gentleness that I found pretty affecting. Pryce also shines as Quixote, and the film has that dreamy wandering quality that is one of Gilliams' strengths... but it's also an overlong mess that goes nowhere.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 9:26 AM on April 12, 2019 [6 favorites]

blithe disregard of his actors and their performances

You may be interested in Sarah Polley's letter to Terry Gilliam in 2005 regarding her time as a performer on Gilliam's Munchausen. Count me among those who find Gilliam a filmmaker way past his sell by date.
posted by Ashwagandha at 9:43 AM on April 12, 2019 [9 favorites]

Thanks for that link, Ashwagandha! (Polley is a great artist and the 2012 documentary she made about her family is a must-see for anyone who appreciates her work: Stories We Tell.)

This part of the article was particularly telling:
Gilliam responded, thanking Polley for her frankness while protesting that she was never in the danger she apparently thought she was. This is, of course, beside the point: it is not enough that a child be safe; she should also feel safe. The director also made a statement that is true, candid, and creepily accurate about how directors think about their casts: he said that he was very concerned about her safety, not because she was a vulnerable child, because she was so critical to the project. Sort of like an expensive prop.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:57 AM on April 12, 2019 [8 favorites]


Thanks for that instructive link. I’d thought Gilliam had swiped his style from Harry Smith’s “No. 12: Heaven and Earth Magic.”
posted by the sobsister at 10:42 AM on April 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm still waiting for him to do an animated film. His animation work on Monty Python was ridonkulously good.
posted by sexyrobot at 12:07 PM on April 12, 2019

So I didn't know about his horrible comments about the brave MeToo movement, nor about Ellen Barkin's response. Thank you, thecjm, for bringing that up.
if anything saves this, it's Adam Driver's performance. Even when he's being a petulant dickhead he has a gentleness that I found pretty affecting. Pryce also shines as Quixote
And this is one of the things I am incorporating, these days, into my approach to all the art that has been ruined by the reprehensible actions and thoughts of their main makers:

This movie is not only Terry Gilliam's movie. It is also Adam Driver's movie, and Jonathan Pryce's movie. It is also Paloma Bloyd's movie, and Sonia Franco's, and Viveka Rytzner's; Olga Kurylenko's and Joana Ribeiro's and Inma Navarro's and Rossy de Palma's and Laura Galan's and Lidia Franco's; Mariela Besulevsky's and Pandora da Cunha Telles's and Amy Gilliam's and Nicola Pecorini's and Teresa Font's and Lena Mossum's and Helena Amaro's and Mercedes Barbod's and Margarida Pereira's and Isabel Delclaux's and Vanessa Garde's and Teresa Leal's. I can't know how he treated them, or whether their experiences on the film were overall good or bad (probably Amy Gilliam's was pretty good, I'm guessing), but it seems likely they worked hard on a project they largely or entirely believed in, or even just wanted to pay the rent,

and if it turned into a good story, a good work, it would be a shame to throw away their hard work for the sins of their boss.

This is Terry Gilliam's movie, but he did not make it by himself. It is also their movie, and perhaps it would be worthwhile to honor them and their work.
posted by kristi at 8:37 PM on April 12, 2019 [10 favorites]

kristi, that's a fantastic comment (and I flagged it as such ;)) -- I really like that view of collaborative works of art (and other projects that aren't solo efforts). Thanks!

It doesn't give the (generally, usually) men behaving badly a free pass for their behavior, but it recognizes that there were others who worked and thought and created to bring something to fruition.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:33 AM on April 13, 2019

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote opened in many places in the US on April 10, for one night. You can find further screenings at here.

I saw it on closing night of San Jose's Cinequest film festival, in late February. I barely hesitated buying the fifty-five dollar movie/party ticket, which was all you could get until the last week or two before the showing. It's the most I've ever paid for a movie. Skipped the party afterwards. I'm very glad to have seen it.

I watch Gilliam films as soon as they come out, each time, and I've been waiting for TMWKDQ almost as long as Gilliam has. It's mostly the real thing that I value in Gilliam movies, but I'm pretty sure that years of rewriting did not uniformly benefit every segment of the movie. I find Pryce's performance ineffable, and whatever Adam Driver was doing was satisfying and interesting to watch. I loved the locations and old buildings.
posted by the Real Dan at 12:08 PM on April 13, 2019

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