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Terry Gilliam’s Don Quixote film finally hits the big screen after 25 years (arstechnica.com)
253 points by walterbell 8 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 100 comments

Gilliam's "Brazil" is still my favorite film of all time. If you haven't seen it, you should. Note that there are multiple versions of this film floating around. Comparing them makes a very interesting study in film editing. The story of the making of "Brazil" is almost as interesting and fraught as Don Quixote.

When watching Brazil it's important to keep in mind that it was made in 1985, before 9-11, before the internet, before ubiquitous surveillance. It is one of the most prescient films ever made.

> It is one of the most prescient films ever made.

"People think I am a prophet and that Brazil described the world we’re living in now a few years ago. But we were living in that world then; people just weren’t paying attention the way they do now."


Interesting. I'm not sure I agree though. I was in my early 20s in 1985 and so I can tell you from personal experience that things were really very different back then than now. In 1985 it was possible to escape surveillance without to much difficulty. Nowadays it's nearly impossible.

Also, in 1985 the stock villains weren't terrorists, they were Russians.

There's an interview with Noam Chomsky somewhere in which he talks about his surprise at having his phone (tapped/found can't remember) after attending a protest in the 60s or 70s.

I don't remember the exact details but I remember thinking "wow it really wasn't all that different then" when I saw it.

There were terrorists in 1985. In fact, there was more terrorism in the 1970s and 1980s than in recent decades. It's just that today the fear of terrorism is more exploited for political gain than it was back then.

I think that the plot devices involving terrorism were the most prescient.

When I first saw the film as a young teenager in the 80s, I was fascinated that the terrorists philosophy or demands were never clearly defined beyond "anti-government". Terrorism was portrayed as a regrettable but normal part of life.

Perhaps people who lived through actual terrorist bombing campaigns in British cities can relate to this more, but for me it was a crazy idea that this sort of thing could be normalized to any extent.

And yet here we are.

I thought this scene made it pretty clear that the terrorist attacks in the film were false-flag operations carried out by the government:

                         Who is this war against, Sam?

                         Well, terrorists of course.

                         How many terrorists have you met? 
                         Actual terrorists?

                         Actual. terrorists? Well... it's 
                         only my first day.

Yeah. I can see that. But it's still implied.

I suppose the government would have considered Harry Tuttle to be a legitimate terrorist, but his motives were ... different.

Yes, I think that was part of the point too.

In any case, I can see someone having the following conversation today:

Citizen: How many terrorists have been apprehended as a result of increased security at airports?

TSA official (if he's being honest): Well, none. But we've only been at it for eighteen years so there's still a chance.

"We're fielding all their strokes, running a lot of them out, and pretty consistently knocking them for six. I'd say they're nearly out of the game."

My impression was that the terrorists didn't exist and the explosions were just due to malfunctioning systems and technology.

> Also, in 1985 the stock villains weren't terrorists

Libyan Terrorists were stock villains in a lot of 1980s entertainment (especially on TV like the A-Team and MacGuyver), including perhaps most notably their very clear presence in 1985 in Back to the Future.

That's a fair point. Still, terrorism was nowhere near as much on the radar then as it is now.

I think it was, it was just a lot more "diverse" on the radar. Terrorism wasn't (and really shouldn't be) considered "one thing", but a spectrum from hijackers to bombers to arsonists, from nationalists to separatists to religious extremists. When people in the 70s/80s used to speak of terrorism there were often more adjectives and synonyms involved.

Jingoism has a hard time with nuance and diversity, so the "War on Terror" (sigh) mentality that terrorists are some how a coordinated force, and "mostly" religious extremists, and who cares what methods they use to promote terror just lump it all together.

Which is to say in metaphor terms, I don't think the number of terrorism "bogeys" on the radar changed, so much as the "friend or foe" system just started using the same color and tag for all of them, instead of somewhat more individual labels. It looks like "more on the radar" because it's easier to spot clusters, but they were there before.

How do you know you escaped surveillance? The government's been doing it to civilians since at least the 1930's.

Most of the technology that makes surveillance easy today (cell phones, the internet, electronic processing of credit card transactions) didn't exist in 1985. The government certainly could have spied on me but it would have been expensive and they would have had no reason to target me. I was nobody. Nowadays surveillance is cheap enough to do it indiscriminately, but it wasn't then.

Escaping surveillance is easy: "forget" your phone in a friend's bag.

And in 1985, you did not have Tor or public wifi allowing you to access the whole world with no effort in an anonymous way.

Look at how terrorists and criminals evade surveillance now: it is incredibly low tech.

> "forget" your phone in a friend's bag.

Are you going to forget your credit cards and ATM cards too? Give up on flying? Driving new cars? Driving in non-rural areas? And good luck finding a job nowadays without a cell phone or an internet connection.

In 1985 I could fly without showing ID to anyone, including the person I bought the ticket from (back then airplane tickets were printed on paper). I could drive anywhere without my license plate being tracked by default and without having to worry about the GPS in my car (because there was no GPS). And I had a reasonable expectation of privacy, enshrined in law, in my phone calls and snail mail correspondence (there was no email). Today all of that is gone.

Also, don't get photographed by anyone else! It's not just our own phones we have to worry about; everyone is more eyes and ears for the man :/

> Also, in 1985 the stock villains weren't terrorists, they were Russians.

They still are.

> > Also, in 1985 the stock villains weren't terrorists, they were Russians.

> They still are.

Or, again, rather. Everything comes around eventually.

It's great. It's semi-adaptation of 1984 without directly taking the story it feels very similar in spirit. The soul crushing effects of malicious beurcracy, someone seeing past the facade and going though a lot of pain while trying to escape it. The movie equivalent of calling to cancel Comcast, where the feeling of knowing the experience is going to be so bad it puts you off doing it.

I think the working title of the film even was 1984½

Great movie. When you watch it, you need to pay attention to every little thing. For example, the movie opens with an advertisement for government services. The dittie is hysterical, but its easy to miss. That theme gets expanded quite a bit in the film culminating in a fantastic scene with Robert De Niro as a rogue heating engineer.

> That theme gets expanded quite a bit in the film culminating in a fantastic scene with Robert De Niro as a rogue heating engineer.

so good!


I think you forgot the quotes around "heating engineer".

If you want the quotes added, you're going to need to fill out a 27b-6 ;)

Completely missed that on previous watches of the film. 27b-6 is a reference to George Orwell's address; Apartment 6, 27B Canonbury Square, Islington London.

It's also the website of David Thorne, who is always amusing if you're looking for some vicious sarcasm: http://www.27bslash6.com/missy.html

It's one of my all-time favourites too. The Criterion Collection edition I believe contains the final directors cut. The ending is superb, it beggars belief that Hollywood tried to butcher it.

Now I'm worried that I haven't seen the right version. Is there a breakdown of the different versions floating around somewhere?

There was a release, perhaps the lazerdisk box set not sure, that had both the theatrical cut and a (I believe) BBC tv edit. Although the BBC tv version could be characterized as more up beat, the commentary and inclusion in the box showed it great respect. They discuss the editing choices that needed to be made to reframe the story as if it had been conceived that way from the beginning.

It's one of the most educational discussions of cinematic storytelling and editorial technique. It is absolutely worth seeing both versions and listening to the commentary if you can find them.

Well, without spoiling anything in particular, let me just say this. Do you feel it was a happy ending? If so, it is probably not the director's cut.

Ah. The reason I ask is that the ending I saw could be interpreted either way, but I saw the 'happy' ending as obvious satire/irony. I'm just worried that I saw the wrong ending and over-interpreted it.

It sounds like you saw the "Love Conquers All" version, but saw through the illusion. It's actually part of the original ending, but with all the framing of the scene removed. Definitely check out the director's cut.

The Brazil CC is amazing, and also includes the "happy" version the studios forced to exist, so you can compare.

Fantastic and fantastical yet so so so bleak. I find the bleakness beautiful in a weird way, but I think it's a film that presupposes a certain mental fortitude.

My favourite of all time too. I think it holds up as a whole (including visually, where others might seem dated) extremely well.

Also don't forget "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", another controversial classic directed by Terry.

One of the finest movies for me too. Perfectly depicts our society.

>Gilliam's "Brazil" is still my favorite film of all time

Mine too. I am also a Common Lisp programmer, although I haven't put Lisp on spaceships like you. Great Minds Think Alike!!

I loved this film. Its quirky and scattered in all of the right ways.

I really admire Gilliam's persistence over the years -- and I'm thankful that he was willing to allow not one, but two documentaries to be filmed about the struggle to be made.

Critics have been a little lukewarm to the film, but everybody I know who has seen it has loved it. It has definitely lived up to the hype. Its a shame I wasn't able to catch it with a proper theatrical release. Its beautifully shot, like a lot of his films.

The standard critics have it out for Terry Gilliam for a bunch of reasons not related to the quality if his work.

I love Gilliam films, and I'll watch anything he does, but I think this a stretch: he's _very_ patchy. No-one ever accuses him of not being interesting, of not being full of ideas, not having a unique vision. It's just that those ideas are so rarely fully realised, and his films tend to ramble. They often feel incomplete, more surface than depth, gossamer.

As I say, I love his films and I'd happily watch almost anything he's done, but I don't know how much of that is down to me being enamoured of what he obviously tries to achieve. I just can't see how the critics are wrong most of the time w/r/t his films, and to me those bad reviews have generally come across as respectfully disappointed more than anything else.

When they aren't at their best, sitting through his films can feel like watching some captivating person shoot arrows at the moon.

Yes, definitely, thats a nice description. He tends to miss quite a bit, and can be a quite frustrating experience just willing those arrows to hit.

May you elaborate?

There was a lot of bad blood over the US studio's reedit of Brazil to give it a happy ending (which was atrocious). Following that Baron Munchausen was a flop (and while I like it, def not his best work to be fair). After that he was sort of written off from the establishment as it were (including the critics who know to pay the piper). But while that would have killed off the careers of most directors, Terry Gilliam has this ineffable quality about him that's allowed him to keep getting independent funding, keep getting very good actors, and keep making great movies. It's one thing if your independent and the system hasn't noticed you yet, but the system turned it's back on him and somehow he's still out there killing it. The system out of spite acts out against him wherever it can.

You can see this most clearly in the Metacritic for Tideland which is pretty positive as far as user submitted reviews go, but is one of the worst movies ever if you were to go off the critics reviews.

> After [Munchausen] he was sort of written off ... including the critics who know to pay the piper

Do the facts even support this? The Fisher King and 12 Monkeys followed Munchausen and were well reviewed critically. Instead of inventing a cabal of critics out to get Gilliam, let’s just acknowledge that he’s made a number of divisive films. Michael Palin’s comments to Gilliam about Tideland encapsulate this:

I don't like the movie, I'm afraid I have to say, to be honest. But it's now the next day and there are images that I still cannot shake, that I can't get rid off. Either this is the best movie you've made, or your worst!

The Metacritic scores for the Fisher King and 12 Monkeys is still well under the user reviews.

> You can see this most clearly in the Metacritic for Tideland which is pretty positive as far as user submitted reviews go, but is one of the worst movies ever if you were to go off the critics reviews.

The problem is, critics are usually right, and the audience usually isn't. This is because critics have studied film, often went to film school, and can point out just exactly how a film fails.

That being said, Gilliam is the rare exception, and I do believe it is because of that ineffable quality about him and his directorial style. Maybe it's because I grew up with it, but "Time Bandits" is still one of my favorite films of all time. "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" was not really very well made, but it's still distinctly Gilliamesque, and it actually works around the death of Heath Ledger very adroitly. "Zero Theroem" was also a bit disappointing, but it's still at least different, not your usual Hollywood schlock.

"Brazil" was Gilliam par excellence; I am hopeful his take on Quixote is good, but even if it isn't, it will almost definitely be interesting.

It was only the domestic critics who shat on it so hard. It did well both critically and financially in the international markets.

Also, Tideland is a weird example to use because it is so intentionally awful. It's on the list of films such as Requiem for a Dream that I'm glad I watched but somehow doubt I will ever watch a second time. A lot of the critics are right about Tideland that it is an awful, miserable experience to watch but many of those low "number" reviews also suggest seeing it or experiencing it for yourself, because that's also the art to it, the subjective experience. (Which is why review scores are useless metrics because art is subjective and averaging a bunch of subjective numbers together doesn't do anything but give you a random number. Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes are interesting random numbers, but they can't actually tell you if the art was good or not.)

I enjoyed the beginning of Zero Theorem, but the movie tanked after the love interest and super annoying whiz kid showed up.

Gilliam commented on this notion in an interview. He said Hollywood does not carry grudges because Hollywood doesn't have any memory. After the debacle of Brazil and the economical disaster of Münchhausen, many wondered if he would ever be able to make a movie again. But Hollywood didn't care one bit about all that as long as it seemed like the next movie would make a profit, as was the case with Fisher King and 12 Monkeys.

The mixed reviews is not surprising for a director who is highly original but not so strong in (or doesn't care about) traditional storytelling virtues like dramatic curve and relatable characters. His movies are divisive.

You really think reviewers are afraid to give a Gilliam movie a positive review? Maybe they just don't like them all that much.

I'm a big Gilliam fan, but in my opinion his movies have gotten worse and worse since Time Bandits, Brazil, 12 Monkeys, and The Fisher King.

There's something of his charming sensibility in even the worst of his films, and they're worth watching for die-hard Gilliam fans like myself, but even the best of his later films (like the Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus) are a pale shadow of the brilliance of his early output.

> pretty positive as far as user submitted reviews go, but is one of the worst movies ever if you were to go off the critics reviews.

Probably I say this about any superhero movie :-)

Also very entertaining: Lost in La Mancha. Its a documentary about the making of this movie. It showcases some of the epic bad luck.


On a similar note, Hearts of Darkness (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0102015/) is among my top movies of all times.

Finally ?

I saw it around a year ago in theater.

Is it just out now in the US ?

Edit : it seems that it is the case [0]. Well, we were lucky in France I guess

On a side note, I really liked this movie !

[0] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1318517/releaseinfo?ref_=tt_ov_...

Yes. But wait, it gets worse! Here in the US, the theatrical run was exactly one day long, and they didn't spend any money to promote it. So I, a huge Gilliam fan, didn't even know it was happening until days later when stories like this showed up.


That's bad luck.

I hope you can catch it this time !

C'est la vie :-D

gilliam made it all the way through shooting in the 90s with johnny depp and the movie was canceled very late in production. the version we're discussing now is a complete reboot. it was shown at cannes and had a limited theatrical release in france.

a release in the US was planned for the same time, and in fact the movie was very briefly streaming on amazon in the US, but ultimately got locked up because one of the producers of the original version took gilliam to court.

Wow that's one limited release. Which is strange for a well known director. It didn't even reach Canada.

great film, saw it here in Edmonton, one of it's three screenings over two days. I'm lucky to have a mother who listens to CBC radio https://www.cbc.ca/radio/q/friday-april-5-2019-terry-gilliam...

Yes, Amazon was going to distribute it, but they got scared after last year's lawsuit.

they actually did stream it and sell DVDs very briefly here in the US, but they pulled it as soon as the legal issues became known.

This being a limited release, how/where can we see it?

Interesting - the last sentence of the logline reads "Or will love conquer all?" [0]

Does anyone know if this is a snipe at Sid Sheinberg, who famously edited the happy ending of Brazil which was titled "Love Conquers All"? [1]

[0] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1318517/ [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazil_(1985_film)#Home_media

I caught an interview with Gilliam on the Big Think podcast, on which he was charming. He speaks very highly of Jonathan Pryce in the lead, but I'm even more interested in seeing Adam Driver.

I haven't really enjoyed Driver's work in the past, not because he's bad at his job but because he's typecast as the broody annoying guy. To hear Gilliam describe it, he seems to start that way, but then gets to exercise comic chops that I haven't seen him hit before. I'd love to think Driver has more range than I've seen so far.

Driver had a small part in Inside Llewyn Davis but I thought he was great. Sort of a dry comedic performance. He had a sort of similar role in Logan Lucky as well. He's a good comedic actor.

I was really surprised by his comedic ability hosting Saturday Night Live.

Adam Driver in "The BlacKKKlansman" was really great, and is him in a different role than usual. He comes from a really fascinating background (military) compared to other actors which makes him incredibly unique.

He's good in Logan Lucky too. Fun film, including the best prison riot ever.

Check out Logan Lucky and BlackKklansman -- Driver definitely has more range than the Star Wars movie would have you believe.

Go check it out, I was able to see this a couple of months ago. I really enjoyed it, Gilliam has an amazing film style / world building ability.

I really feel transported to another universe/world in his films, Zero Theorem/Dr Parnasis/12 Monkeys/Time Bandits/Fisher King.

I can only imagine what it feels like to finally release this film after so many hurdles.

Love his work, his distribution lately has been rather crap, thumbs up from a random on the internet.

Don't forget Brazil: one of my all-time favorite dystopian films (the version with the uncut ending, not the "happy" one)

I seriously wish they would do a sequel to Time Bandits. That movie was a cult masterpiece.

He did. It was called _Brazil_. And the sequel to that was _The Adventures of Baron Munchausen_.

Okay, they aren't direct sequels but they make a trilogy of related movies: the fantasies of childhood, the fantasies of middle age and the fantasies of old age.

Beside, several of the original band of midgets (little people?) are sadly no longer with us.

There’s gonna be a series on Apple’s video service.

Which might or might not involve Gilliam himself in some kind of consulting form. He's not sure yet, because they've been talking, but at the moment there's no signature.

There was another good interview in NYC on US premiere day: https://youtu.be/zH982kFXMuM

I had to make sure to be in NY for it. Last time I saw him live (at IFC for The Zero Theorem), he mentioned that he can only spend 29 days per year in the United States after giving up his American citizenship. His days are counted, in a way...

Weird - this German language source [0] from around the time of his citizenship renunciation indicated the 29 day cap last for ten years - so it would've stopped 3 years ago..

[0] https://www.tagesspiegel.de/kultur/kopflos-am-potsdamer-plat...

Interesting, I didn't know about the ten years. The relevant rules seem to be here:


He mentioned it in 2013. So he's probably not affected anymore, but he still tends not to spend a lot of time in the US.

I wish they were doing a wider release in the USA. It only played for one night in LA last week and it's going to play again for one night this week in a tiny theater. I'm a big Gilliam fan and have been waiting to watch this film, but it's difficult to see.

It's available on torrents ;) The Pirate Bay has it in 1080p!

I want to see it but at the same time I don't. Gilliam's Don Quixote had long surged to the pinnacle of "the best picture never made", the clearest manifestation of the genius-destroying hardships of moviemaking. It had become the embodiment of an aristotelian category.

Now it's just another film. Like Duke Nukem Forever, its release has inevitably declassed it.

I remember seeing a snippet of this film like 15 years ago (with Johnny Depp). At that point it was never going to be finished. Now it's playing at the 4 Star in SF this Friday. I can't wait.


You probably saw some of Lost in La Mancha, a documentary about the disaster that project was.

This is a revival of that project. They resuscitated the script and completely re-cast it (since, among other things, original lead Jean Rochefort passed away more than a year ago).

Thanks for the heads up. I can see the 4 Star from my doorstep, and I somehow missed this completely.

I'm hardly familiar with all the trouble this movie went through to get made, I'm really, really happy with the main actors that finally got to see it through. Jonathan Pryce and Adam Driver have such great interactions in the small scenes of this movie, and those really made it for me despite the legitimate problems this article brings up.

I volunteer as a projectionist at Cinequest, a film festival in San Jose. This movie premiered as one of the festival book-ends this year [2019].

I personally didn't go out of personal preference and I have no regrets over that. I've heard mixed reviews before and after. Maybe I'll see it eventually, but I'm not itching for it.

There's a marvelous documentary about the failure of this movie: Lost in La Mancha https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_in_La_Mancha

BTW, I've ready the book other day. It is really fantastic.

i would characterize chaos, loss of agency, and delusion/delirium as the common themes that tie together all of gilliam's major works. i love the experience of watching the narratives unravel as the characters lose touch with reality -- but rather than becoming isolated from the world, we see a perspective where the entire world seems to descend into madness in the character's footsteps.

i felt differently about this movie. the same themes are here, but much more explicit. in this film, the character becomes more and more isolated, the world becomes smaller and smaller, and the delusions are unilateral. it doesn't allow me to follow the main character into the spiral and i'm left feeling like an observer rather than a participant.

Unfortunately, the plot, such as it is, unravels into delirious chaos during the second half. Toby even breaks the fourth wall at one point to wonder aloud, 'There's a plot?'

I've asked the universe that question many times, but all I ever get is a chuckle.

The continuous blurring between different levels of fiction and reality in this movie reminded of Philip K. Dick's novels, also of Stanislaw Lem's "Futurological Congress".

Lost in La Mancha (2002) chronicles Gilliam's ordeal

Did the allegations about "never get into an elevator alone with Terry Gilliam" ever go anywhere?

Reading the article, this has a werner herzogian vibe to it. I wonder how it compares to aquirre - that film certainly has its delerious moments.

I love gilliam and brazil and twelve monkeys are among my favorite films.

If you enjoy this, please try "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" from the same Director.

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