Saturday, February 15, 2003

Lost in La Mancha (IMDB) (Netflix)
Cervantes's "Don Quixote" defeated legendary filmmaker Orson Welles, and you certainly haven't seen Terry Gilliam's attempt, "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote." This documentary, which starts out as a typical little "making of" film, explains what happened to the latter project, laying out a director's slow-motion nightmare in the same way that Hearts of Darkness revealed Francis Ford Coppola's near-Waterloo, Apocalypse Now. One of my few brushes with greatness involve trying (I suspect unsuccessfully) to take a leak while standing next to Gilliam, so I feel a bond of sorts with the animator for Monty Python and director of minor classics like Brazil, Time Bandits and the Fisher King. He also was responsible for the awful Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas (only one of two times I've walked out of theater) and the financially Cimino-esque Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Gilliam has a slightly overstated rep for biting off more than he can chew, which no doubt drew the documentarians. Nothing like a disaster to spice up reality.

"Lost" sits closer to the impressive Hearts of Darkness than HBO's drawn-out Project Greenlight; we're really inside the production, and in the head of Gilliam, who encouraged the filmmakers to keep shooting as things fell apart. There's little of the back-biting that marred Greenlight, but because "Lost" hasn't been released, there isn't that instructive opportunity to compare the finished film to the star-crossed production that preceded it (you see enough to appreciate that the story was right up Gilliam's stylistic alley, however, and to wish that it had been finished). On balance, it's an entertaining lesson on what a crapshoot movie-making is, and counter-intuitively, it somewhat rehabilitates Gilliam's reputation. His heartbreaking loss has resulted in a minor delight of a documentary.