Terry George, Terry Gilliam and "Films that Changed Films"

Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades

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There’s ample evidence that a film critic can make a good movie director, Witness critic-turned-director François Truffaut. Or Jean-Luc Godard. Or Paul Schrader. Or Peter Bogdanovich.

So why wouldn’t the reverse be true, that a movie director would make a fine film critic?

That’s exactly what we have with the Tropic Cinema’s latest installment of Films That Changed Film, wherein Oscar-winning director Terry George presents and analyzes a pair of movies that had an impact on the genre.

For this one-night-only presentation (tonight), George is sharing two related films, Terry Gilliam’s “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” and a documentary about the film.

The evening starts off with “Lost in La Mancha,” a documentary by that details acclaimed director Terry Gilliam’s ill-fated attempt to film “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” in late 2000.

Directed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, the 2002 doc introduces us to participants ranging from Terry Gilliam (a former Monty Python regular) to his co-writer Tony Grisoni to producer René Cleitman to Johnny Depp and Orson Welles (in archival footage). You’ll even meet Fred Millstein, the film’s actual completion guarantor and executive producer Bernard Bouix.

This examination of a failed film project is narrated by Jeff Bridges.

Yes, it’s all about money. And luck.

Terry Gilliam started working on “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” in 1989, but was unable to secure funding until 1998 when it went into production for the first time.

“Film today is more and more concentrated on the amusement park element,” says our host Terry George. “If a writer can attach an actor or a producer who has some clout, then you can arm yourself. Otherwise, a script simply becomes a road map to attract money and talent.”

But George will go through the vicissitudes of filmmaking with you during the Q&A.

That will be followed by a screening of “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” – the film that was finally completed by Terry Gilliam in 2018. Not a retelling of Miguel de Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” novel, it’s a variation of its themes and essence.

In it, Adam Driver stars as Toby, a cynical advertising director who sets out to make a film about “The Man From La Mancha,” but finds himself trapped in the delusion of an old Spanish cobbler (Jonathan Pryce) who believes himself to be Don Quixote.

Which makes Toby the film’s Sancho Panza.

Forced to travel the countryside with this ersatz Don Quixote, Toby encounters a mirrored knight, a lost treasure, a damsel in distress, and even faces a modern version of the Spanish Inquisition.

As for the supporting cast, Joana Ribeiro provides the love interest playing Toby’s old girlfriend whose life has been ruined by his earlier student film, and Stellan Skarsgård steps into the shoes of the producer, a fictional character who comes close to breaking the Fourth Wall as he comments on the documentary about the previously failed attempt to do the film.

Even the film’s opening title card proclaims, “25 years in the making … and unmaking.”

Needless to say, with Gilliam at the helm, “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” veers into a surrealistic storyline that blends fantasy and history and fact and fiction. We have films within films. There are multiple layers of reality.

Remember, Gilliam gave us “Brazil,” “Time Bandits,” “The Fisher King,” and “Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas.” As one moviegoer described it: “Totally bonkers, dreamlike, vintage Gilliam and in the end even Lynchian weird.”

As Cervantes himself wrote, “When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies?”

Yes, it’s a wonder this film ever got made considering the disasters that befell Gilliam’s first attempt. His original production was plagued by misfortune. On the second day of filming a flash flood washed away the equipment and changed the color of the barren cliffs, making the previous footage unusable. Fighter jets flew overhead repeatedly, ruining the audio and requiring post-production re-dubbing. The actor playing Don Quixote had to drop out due to a double herniated disc.

Said to be the most cursed in cinema history, it took Gilliam another 16 years to get this film made.

Tropic Cinema board member Terry George is no stranger to the film world. He won a 2012 Academy Award for Best Short Film, Live Action for “The Shore.” And he was nominated for a Best Writing Oscar for “In the Name of the Father” in 1994 and for “Hotel Rwanda in 2005.

His 11 directing credits include “Hotel Rwanda,” Revolution Road,” “Some Mom’s Son,” and “The Promise.”

His comments about making his recent movie “The Promise” also could be applied to “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.” He observes, “Hollywood doesn’t make films like this anymore. It makes $200 million films about cars chasing submarines across the ice. So to get the chance to create characters that will take audiences inside a complex situation is a gift.”

“The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” has been called “Gilliam’s Magnus Opus,” his “Great White Whale,” his “Impossible Dream,” “the shambling zombie godfather of all vanity projects.” It is all of that.

“This combined screening,” says host Terry George, “is a warning to all who venture into the business of filmmaking, and a tribute to the tenacity and visual genius of filmmaker Terry Gilliam. I’m looking forward to a fun night.”

Email Shirrel: srhoades@aol.com

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