Lost in La Mancha — For all Cinephiles and Aspiring Film-makers
WE, movie buffs have a strange enchantment with failed movie projects. These conked out, huge projects from masterful directors give us a pleasure to hypothesize on what it might have been like. Stanley Kubrick’s “Napoleon”, Jodorowsky’s “Dune”, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Kaleidoscope”, David Lean’s “Nostromo” and many other unrealized projects makes us feel for the great film-makers, who never cease their fight for freedom and artistic success.
Maverick director Terry Gilliam was initially famous for his insane animations for the Monty Python TV show. He attained critical and box office success for “Time Bandits” (1981). However, for his next movie “Brazil” (1985), he fought a hard battle against Universal Studios to release his version. Although, he succeeded in that fight, his next extravagant film “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” (1989) ended up being one of the biggest flops of all time. Later, with movies like “Fisher King”, “Twelve Monkeys” tasted some artistic as well as box office success. But, Gilliam’s dream project or obsession was to direct his own version of Miguel de Cervantes’ “Don Quixote.” After getting turned down by major Hollywood Studios, Gilliam found some European investors and tuned his budget around $32 million. Johnny Depp and French actor jean Rochefort were the big names of the cast. However, when shooting started all sorts of bad luck poured on Gilliam and his crew. “Lost in La Mancha” (2002) chronicles the disastrous events that crushed Gilliam’s aspiring project.
The directors of this documentary Pepe and Fulton previously directed a documentary about the making of Terry Gilliam’s “Twelve Monkeys.” They joined Gilliam on March 1999 to follow each stage of the production. After the production’s eventual collapse in October 2000, there was said to be nearly 80 hours of footage. In the end, the footages ended up as a tempting memorial for a film which the director still has hopes of making.
During the pre-production process, we see how Gilliam is obsessed with each detail, like the costumes and locations. Right from the start, one could feel that such a grand story can’t be made on a measly budget. It was clear that the film could only be made is only if they could pre-plan about the shooting stage. But, what followed in the shooting phase was not just an odd mistake or disaster. It seems like a curse loomed over Gilliam’s crew. Gilliam has chosen to film in a desert far away from the studio, which turned out to be the practicing grounds for F-16 fighter planes. The constantly roaring planes ruin many scenes on the first day. On the next day, the skies get darken and the resulting hail washes away many of the tarp-covered equipments. Next day, the whole desert looks grayish, making the location useless for shooting.
Amidst these natural disasters, the lead actor Jean Rochert came down with an enlarged prostate and returned to France. Rochefort, who looked like he was born to do the central role, would not return for at least a month. Movies like “Apocalypse Now” and “Fitzcarraldo” had similar problems with actors, who were later replaced. But, Gilliam refused to replace his Quixote, since only Rochefort was able to show fusty but aristocratic bearing of “Don Quixote.” Rochefort’s departure brings in the insurance company guys, whom bundle up everything that was left of Gilliam’s impossible dream.
Gilliam also observes the string of difficulties Orson Welles had in his abortive attempt to make a movie out of Don Quixote. “Lost in La Mancha” would be instructive for young film-makers, showing the unstoppable disastrous forces waiting to move in once the camera starts rolling. It imparts us with the knowledge of what happens inside a movie production and how there are no room left to maneuver. Even though you know the outcome of this documentary, it is fascinating as well as saddening to watch the chronicle of catastrophes, inherent within the shaky world of movie-making.