The only un-making of in the history of the cinema!
Most documentaries, with few rare exceptions, aren't worth purchasing. Be honest, just how often does anyone spin a documentary in their player? Well, I'm here to report that Lost in La Mancha is unlike any documentary you have ever seen. It merits repeat viewings through brute honesty. By the time it's over, you feel both sympathy and relief.
Facts of the Case
In the summer of 2000, Terry Gilliam set out to make the film he had been planning for the past twelve years: The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. A previous 1999 attempt had ended in ruins, but with the aid of financing from European investors, the film was back in production, this time on authentic Spanish locations. Armed with a cast featuring Jean Rochefort (The Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe) and Johnny Depp (Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands), it appeared as if Gilliam's project would result in one of his greatest successes.
Just as soon as you can say, things began to go wrong. Contract disputes, uncooperative weather, sudden illnesses, and unexpected military planes cause one disruption after another to Gilliam's film. Finally, after the insurance company steps in, production is ceased on The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.
As a filmmaking hopeful myself, Lord knows how I identified with Terry Gilliam's troubles here. My directorial debut Laughter in the Rain has been consuming the last four years of my life. I had written the script in the summer of 2000 and in 2001 I began in earnest to get the project together. By June of that year I had arranged financing and cast it and was ready to go. That September, my intended leading lady dropped out with no reason. Financing fell through and the project was on hold. In the fall of 2002, I made my second attempt to film it. That time, I managed to shoot some scenes but once again, it fell apart. My third attempt in 2003 was the charm and the film will be ready for festivals later this year.
There is no feeling in the world like failure. It cripples you, making you ask questions that you normally wouldn't. But the thing to do is to rally and get it all together. The amazing thing about Lost in La Mancha is that it captures all of those feelings to a tee. But there is also a wonderful sense of optimism and joy present. I'm very pleased that those qualities were shown here. Trust me when I tell you that it isn't all misery and sorrow. There are wonderful times and experiences there as well. It is brutally honest and wonderfully entertaining. That's the way all documentaries should be.
The film was directed by Louis Pepe and Keith Fulton. Both men were interns on the set of Gilliam's 1995 masterpiece 12 Monkeys. Impressed with the quality of their work, Gilliam threw them a Super 8 movie camera and asked them to make a documentary for use on cable and video (it appeared on Universal's excellent DVD of 12 Monkeys). After working as assistants on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Gilliam once again hired Fulton and Pepe for The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Giving them lightweight digital video cameras, he granted them unprecedented access to every aspect of the production, hoping to get a good documentary for the DVD release. The result is a despairing and entertaining documentary.
Gilliam deserves credit for allowing Lost in La Mancha to be seen publicly. It not only would have shored up a public curiosity and hunger for the eventual Don Quixote film, this documentary is inspirational to those of us who have experienced failure and have felt discouragement. It should be a part of the film libraries of all aspiring filmmakers.
Looking over some reviews, I disagree with the idea that the film will never exist anywhere outside of Gilliam's imagination. That is a cruel and unfair remark to make, especially for a director whose career has often resembled a yo-yo. As a man of struggle, I know how pessimism can hurt more than it can help. As of this writing, Gilliam is attempting to arrange American financing for the film. If someone is reading this review and you have the financial means to finance a project, make the days of millions of Gilliam fans and give him the money.
The full frame transfer remains faithful to the original aspect ratio. Lost in La Mancha was shot with simple mini-digital video cameras, which have no widescreen aspect ratio. For theatrical release, the film was cropped to 1.85:1. Watching the documentary on DVD, I have to say that cropping probably harmed it. There is no evidence of any remarkable widescreen compositions here, considering that this was intended to be a making-of featurette. The only scenes that are true widescreen are the brief snippets of completed footage from the Gilliam project. Those scenes are presented in 2.35:1 non-anamorphic widescreen. The transfer itself is one of the most accurate presentations of a film shot on digital video to date. While the normal signs of a digital video production are present, such as heavy grain during night scenes, colors are more subdued than normal, but that is the case with video when compared to genuine film. The photography, often hand-held, was first rate and this DVD does justice to it.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. I'm still unsure as to whether it's appropriate to present DV films with 5.1 Surround sound. More often than not, the sound is quickly and simply recorded, often with a single omni-directional mike. A simple mono mix would have been more effective here. The extra channels only create a hollowed sound that becomes distracting at times. Considering that the sound wasn't fabulous to begin with, it's a distraction that could have been avoided. Even with those considerable negatives, it's still a good sound mix. It is serviceable and you won't be struggling to hear it.
The extra content is where this set shines. All located on Disc Two, this is a treasure chest of extras that will have you salivating at the thought of navigating through them all. For starters, we begin with several video interviews with the cast and crew. Gilliam, producer Dalton, and co-directors Fulton and Pepe are interviewed, albeit in a disjointed manner (the questions are deleted and all that's left are the answers and many gaps). The best and most informative interview is the 22-minute Johnny Depp segment. Here the questions are retained. Depp answers them all intelligently and honestly and declares that whenever Gilliam is ready to shoot the film, he is committed to starring. Several video soundbites from the crew are included as well.
IFC Focus: Terry Gilliam originally aired on the Independent Film Channel in 2002. That version ran a scant 22 minutes and left the viewer wanting more. Here, for the first time ever, the entire 58-minute interview with New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell is presented. It's in rough cut form, which means there are no beginning and end credits. That is unimportant, as the real attraction is the uncut and uncensored interview. Gilliam fans are in for a treat. He discusses his entire career, warts and all, in breathtaking and surprisingly honest fashion. This is a must for everyone, fans and non-fans alike.
Salman Rushdie and Terry Gilliam: A Conversation from the 29th Annual Telluride Film Festival makes its home video debut here. This is an one-hour special that originally aired on Telluride Public Access TV. The quality is very poor, particularly in the audio department. There are some great anecdotes here and the goodwill and joy between Gilliam and Rushdie (author of The Satanic Verses) is fun to watch. Not just filmmaking is discussed; they delve into plenty of other topics as well. I am unsure whether the hearing loss that is sure to result from raising the volume to decibels unknown to mankind is worth it.
Several deleted scenes are presented in full frame. Three alternate openings are included; after watching them, you'll be glad they were scrapped. Four deleted scenes are interesting but unnecessary. Take a look at them at least once.
The film's theatrical trailer, presented in 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen, is included. Watch it and you'll see why the full frame transfer was the right choice to present this film on DVD.
Last but certainly not least are some production stills. These aren't ordinary photos. These are comprised of Terry Gilliam's personal storyboards for two sequences from his screenplay as well as costume design and production design boards. Looking at these will help visualize what a great film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote has the potential to be.
The sheer entertainment value alone makes this worth owning. The $29.99 price tag may scare some away, so a rental to start with would be the best option.
Terry Gilliam is acquitted of all charges brought against him to this courtroom.
Hollywood is found guilty of all the political bullcrap that prevents good movies from being made, allowing the theaters to be flooded with garbage. Of course, the people who waste money on that junk are just as guilty and responsible.
Docurama and New Video are acquitted for giving us this terrific package of a high standard.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Video
• Interviews with Cast and Crew
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