Director Showcase – Terry Gilliam
As our series on remarkable Directors progresses, Tom has taken the opportunity to look at the often misunderstood genius of Terry Gilliam.
One of the most unlucky and unfortunate film-makers of recent times, Terry Gilliam is a highly distinctive director with his creative flair stemming from the years he spent in the company of the Monty Python team and his films, whilst almost always bizarre, often verge on the brink of genius. Amongst his setbacks are countless altercations with studios, most famously over the final cut of Brazil, the untimely passing of Heath Ledger halfway through shooting his last film The Imagination of Dr. Parnassus and the complete destruction of his set whilst filming his adaptation of Don Quixote. This last event was one of a number of factors that led to this film being shelved and although I was saddened that we may never see Gilliam’s take on the story it led me to one of the best documentaries out there about film-making, Lost in La Mancha, which highlights the problems he encountered on set.
After all of his bad luck, I don’t think anyone would be surprised if Gilliam stopped making films altogether. Whilst his recent output has not been up to the high standard set by his earlier films, he still has the strength of character to persist as a director and I for one relish each of his films for the weird and wonderful creations they are.
Originally coined 1984 1/2, Gilliam’s tale of a dystopian future where society is ruled by burecraucy is a compelling film that showcases his ability to create unique and exciting fantasy worlds where anything can happen. Jonathan Pryce stars as Sam Lowry, a lowly admin worker who finds himself targeted by the state when trying to rectify an error that could lead to the death of an innocent man. It contains one of the most downbeat but also one of the most powerful endings I have ever seen and although others have tried to imitate it since, Brazil remains a masterpiece that cannot be equalled.
Family fantasy movies don’t come more entertaining or as twisted as Time Bandits, with another infamously dark ending that children are unlikely to dwell on thanks to the humour throughout. A young boy joins a band of time travelling dwarves who seek out antiques from different time eras only to be chased by a sinister figure intent on stopping their wicked ways. A childhood favourite, but also a film I can return to as an adult and enjoy just as much, Time Bandits was the first of Gilliam’s trilogy of imagination which loosely charts the growth of man. Followed by Brazil and concluded with Baron Munchausen, the trilogy is linked thematically and all films are coherent in both style and imagination, which is a perfect reflection of Gilliam’s unique talent as a director.
A loose retelling of the French classic La Jetee, Twelve Monkeys is a highly imaginative sci-fi that depicts a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by illness. One of humanity’s last hopes is sent back in time to prevent the spread of infection before it can begin but when he is confined to a mental institute his story becomes less believable and the viewer undoubtedly questions its authenticity. Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt both put in career defining performances that make 12 Monkeys gripping throughout, if only Gilliam was given a larger budget more often as there is no denying that he has the capability to come up with the goods.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Along with Terry Jones, Gilliam directed the Monty Python troupe’s first foray into the world of film and although Monty Python and the Holy Grail is rough around the edges this tends to add to the overall charm of the picture. Full of hilariously unforgettable set-pieces, the story (if you can call it a story) follows King Arthur and his knights who encounter increasingly ridiculous obstacles during their search for the grail. One of the best British comedies of all time, without this masterpiece of tomfoolery we may never have been privileged enough to have witnessed Gilliam’s madcap genius on a grander scale in his later classics.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen – The third of his ‘Trilogy of Imagination’ films is a superb film that worsened Gilliam’s bad reputation with the big studios when the budget nearly doubled. I’m glad it did though as it gave rise to some of the most bizarre creations ever seen in a Gilliam film.
The Fisher King – Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges are a match made in heaven in this unique drama that highlights Gilliam’s more emotional side. When a down on his luck DJ befriends a homeless tramp, neither of the pair can anticipate how much they will change each other’s lives.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – A crazy adaptation of the Hunter S Thompson novel that does a commendable job of making a drug-addled binge interesting to watch. Depp and Del Toro are outstanding and there is an interesting early performance from Tobey Maguire years before he became a household name as Spiderman.
Tideland – Dark drama about the innocence of childhood that is disturbing but captivating throughout. Proof that Gilliam is still willing to take risk’s despite often being shunned by Hollywood.
The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus – More than just Heath Ledger’s swan song, Dr. Parnassus was a bold move for Gilliam, who chose to continue filming despite the loss of his star. This is a compelling fantasy and works well considering the decision to have four actors playing the lead role was made at the very last-minute.
Films to Avoid:
Jabberwocky – After the success of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Gilliam thought he was ready to strike out alone with another comedy but sadly he wasn’t and despite moments of inspired madness it is for the most part very dull.
The Brothers Grimm – Gilliam and the brothers Grimm seems like a match made in heaven, especially as he is clearly a fan of warped fairy tales but sadly this lacklustre effort fails to deliver.
About The Author – Tom Bielby
Long time film fan and aspiring film writer, Tom is a horror fanatic who wasted far too much time at University sitting through every film in the IMDB Top 250. He is partial to foreign films and cult cinema and would love to rid the world of people who rustle their popcorn during important scenes. He can be found on Twitter under the alias @filmbantha
Are you a fan of Gilliam or do his bizarre films leave you wondering what on earth have you just witnessed? Let us know your thoughts below.