Thursday, October 05, 2006

Terry Gilliam

As part of the IFC Film Center's "Movie Night" program in which filmmakers host screenings of their favorite films (that are not their own), filmmaker Terry Gilliam spoke yesterday at the Center after he showed the auditorium Toto The Hero ( Toto le héros), a French number he had seen in '91 while promoting his movie The Fisher King. A bizarre little film about a young boy in love with his sister and engaging in a life-long rivalry with his next-door neighbor using the narrative devices of dreams, half-remembered memories and whimsical musical numbers, it was pretty obvious why this movie tickled Mr. Gilliam's fancy.

Before the film started, he told the audience that he originally wanted to screen One-Eyed Jacks, Marlon Brando's sole directorial effort, but the Brando Estate (big surprise) wouldn't allow it.

It should be a surprise to no one that Mr. Gilliam is one of my favorite filmmakers and Brazil is one of my favorite films...

(I always find it bizarre that most critics admire Mr. Gilliam's work but always refer to Brazil as "overrated." What I don't understand is if virtually every film critic finds it to be overrated, who's rating it so highly? Doesn't that mean it's underrated? But, as always, I digress.) when I was told of this event, I made sure to keep my schedule open (even though I hadn't bought a ticket in advance). Obviously when I showed up to the Center, the event was sold out and the standby line had started to form. Fortunately, a guy in line sold me one of his tickets (I guess one of his friends had bailed on him).

Anyone who's listened to his director's commentary on the Criterion Collection edition of Brazil knows that Mr. Gilliam is a fascinating speaker. (When I bought the Criterion edition, my friend Chris Bujold and I watched the movie from beginning to end, then watched it again with the commentary on, believing we would only listen to a portion of it. Halfway through listening to the commentary, he realized we were going to sit through the whole thing, since Mr. Gilliam was so captivating and amusing to listen to. In a day and age where director's commentaries are being offered to the lamest of movies by directors who have little to say except, "It was really cold the day we shot this," or, "This actor here was so great, just great," watching a two-hour-and-forty-five-minute movie, then watching it again right after with the commentary track without being bored at all is really saying something.)

Now in his 60s, he still has a very impish sense of humor, wearing the grin of a precocious and mischievous eight-year-old. At the screening, he showed up on the stage with a cardboard cut-out: one one side was a poster for his upcoming film, Tideland. On the other, written in magic marker a la a sandwich board for a homeless person, were the words: "STUDIO-LESS FILMMAKER SEEKS HOME. WILL DIRECT FOR FOOD."

Mr. Gilliam answered the audience's questions (which of course ranged from serious questions about working for studios to ridiculous requests to have him sign a pair of hollowed-out coconut halves), made jokes about suing the Bush-Cheney Administration for copyright infringement of Brazil, gave the latest updates on the statuses of the projects-in-limbo The Man Who Killed Don Quixote and Good Omens and gave anecdotes about being involved with Monty Python's Flying Circus.

What I found surprising and amusing was when he was asked about working for studios versus making films without studio backing and told the audience that he loved to make studio films. "I get away with murder when I make movies for studios," he said "When you have a small film being independently financed you know the guy financing it and feel bad knowing he's not going to get his money back. With a studio it's a nameless, faceless entity that you have no problem taking money from."

Yes, this certainly was a dork's delight.

His new film, Tideland, about a little girl with drug-addict parents who lives in a half-real/half-fantasy world, opens next weekend at the IFC Film Center. His last effort, 2005's The Brothers Grimm (which was his first movie since 1998's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), could be charitably described as unfortunate (it is unclear whether or not to blame Mr. Gilliam or studio interference). Roger Ebert pretty much hits the nail on the head with his review of that very "shmeh" movie. Tideland was made with no studio interference (and no studio, really), but has unfortunately been given negative reviews from those who saw its debut at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.

Whether or not Tideland marks Mr. Gilliam's "return to form" or a sign of him "going 'round the bend" remains to be seen. At the event last night, he appeared to have all of his rational faculties at his disposal, but also seemed sufficiently nuts. When it comes out, I'm sure to be first in line to see it and will let you know.

Getting his coconuts signed,

James "Patsy" Comtois


Blogger Reel Fanatic said...

I just love Toto the Hero ... Mr. Gilliam is in definite need of a winner, and from the early word I've heard about Tideland, I'm fairly confident that will be it

4:58 PM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

It was a fun and fascinating movie. And Mr. Gilliam is definitely in need of one...watching Lost in La Mancha is pretty damn heartbreaking, especially when he says that perhaps his Don Quixote movie has played so many times in his head he can't commit it to film.

Regardless of the negative buzz, I'm really looking forward to Tideland.

5:04 PM  

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