Lost in La Mancha
Keith Fulton & Louis Pepe / UK / 2002
Anyone who is interested enough in the movies to watch a making-of documentary will know that film-making is not easy. Gilliam had more than his fair share of troublesome actors, money troubles and location problems. Most people donít have their practically irreplaceable star leave due to illness before the filmís hardly started. Nor do they usually have to contend with flash floods, monsoons or any other bizarre meteorological occurrence. Bureaucracy from the studios on the other hand is unfortunately common, though nothing to the extent of Terry Gilliamís career-long war. Investors bailing out at the last minute and having to raise record-breaking amounts of European money in an attempt to avoid Hollywood is classic Gilliam, so he does kind of bring it on himself. These acts of God were what finally put the nails in Gilliamís filmís coffin. With all of these problems it is unsurprising that a simple making-of becomes a film, with the central character an ambitious director who watches helplessly as his dream fades away before his very eyes.
Lost in La Mancha is the story of the un-making of Gilliamís film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, a project that he has been trying to get off the ground for over a decade. However because of financial, creative and production difficulties the film has never been finished, in fact it has barely gotten started. Much has been said about the curse of Don Quixote because Orson Welles saw his version collapse under spookily similar circumstances. It is not as though the book is unfilmable, and since when has that stopped film-makers anyway? If The Life and Times of Tristram Shandy can be made into a film like Winterbottomís Cock and Bull Story then Don Quixote is conceivable. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote has all the hallmarks of a fantastic film, perhaps Gilliamís best.
If you put Cervantes, A Yankee in King Arthurís Court and Les Visiteurs (though thatís the Jean Rochefort element as much as the plotline) into a melting pot, with a bit of Monty Python thrown in for good measure and then get Terry Gilliam to stir it all together you will have some idea of what The Man Who Killed Don Quixote would have been like and still could be.
Thatís what makes this film so heartbreaking, you can see Gilliamís trademark magic in the few finished scenes, his infectious passion, his exhausting resolve and then witness his world gradually falling apart around him while he stands defiantly in the midst of the storm, literally in one particularly memorable moment, even as everyone else scurries away in defeat. It is distressing to think that the film may never be made, but what really gets to you is Gilliamís childish enthusiasm, with some elements of naivety and innocence to go with it; bizarrely none of the blame sticks to his dominant frame; which slowly turns into desperate determination, then defiance, then despair and finally agonising resignation. This film may not bring tears to your eyes; nevertheless it will make your heart so heavy that you will feel curiously drained by the end. This is not a documentary; it feels so much like a film that youíll think it cannot be true. It has its heroes (Phil Patterson the first assistant director deserves a medal), its villains (fate) and its obligatory stars (Johnny Depp and Jean Rochefort are relegated to the background). It has a beginning, the eventful middle; the only thing missing is the end. This film may be lost, its unmarked grave lying somewhere in the Spanish wilderness, but it leaves you wishing that it will get the chance to be found. Hopefully the genuinely heartfelt, fascinating and sometimes hilarious documentary that two lucky young film school graduates have created will give it that opportunity.