A tantalizing documentary as hilarious as it is tragic - this film tracks maverick filmmaker Terry Gilliam's madcap mission to film "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote". With an all-star cast featuring Johnny Depp, Gilliam struggles to complete his masterpiece, all the while beset by obstacles of such proportions taht not even Hollywood could have concocted them. Narrated by Jeff Bridges.
Keith Fulton, Louis Pepe
Jeff Bridges, Bernard Boiux, Rene Cleitman, Johnny Depp, Jose Luis Escolar
Keith Fulton, Louis Pepe
Rated R for language.
English Dolby Surround
Runtime: 88 min.
Release Date: 6/24/2003
• Exclusive Interviews with Cast and Crew
• Deleted Scenes
• Video Soundbites
• Costume Design, Storyboards and Production Stills from The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
• “Salman Rushdie and Terry Gilliam: a Conversation from the 29th Telluride Film Festival
• “IFC Focus: Terry Gilliam”
• Theatrical Trailer
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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Lost In La Mancha (2002)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 7, 2003)
Terry Gilliam may go down as the world’s most open director. Usually if a movie goes down the crapper in a spectacular way, the filmmaker behind it quietly licks his wounds and moves on to another project.
Not Gilliam, though. Instead, he exploits the failure for a project in its own right and advertises the disaster to the world. Good for him! It’s incredibly rare to see a filmmaker who will even acknowledge the negative side of things, much less bare them for all the world to see.
That leads us to Lost in La Mancha, a 2003 documentary about Gilliam’s aborted attempt to make The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Narrated by Jeff Bridges, the film follows the doomed production. It starts with Gilliam’s location scouts, and we also learn of his fascination with the project. We go to Madrid in August 2000 and see the building of sets and props about eight weeks prior to the start of production.
We learn of Orson Welles’ failed attempt to bring Quixote to life in addition to factors related to the Gilliam version. Other general elements relate to Gilliam’s past productions and the difficulties he encounters as he tries to bring them to the screen. We also hear about what Gilliam wants to do with this edition of the story.
Slowly the negative pieces start to build for Quixote. Financial problems appear, and the budget undergoes a reduction. Because of the money issues, they find it tough to get all of their actors – most of whom work for less than their usual rates – in one place. Slowly the cast arrives, but lead actor Jean Rochefort causes problems due to illness. He skips one flight because he doesn’t feel well, and eventually he develops a medical problem that makes it impossible for him to even sit on a horse without pain. Given the amount of time Quixote needs to ride, that doesn’t bode well for the production.
When the production goes on location, they encounter the incessant roar of military jets overhead. As they deal with that, an insanely violent storm attacks the set and literally washes away most of the location. This makes it unusable since it doesn’t match what they already shot.
Matters degenerate from there, but the Rochefort issue remains paramount. Money woes escalate, and we see an important visit from investors. Key personnel leave, and eventually the project collapses.
Created by the same folks who made a documentary called “The Hamster Factor” for Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys DVD, Lost comes across as a similar sort of project. Directors Louis Pepe and Keith Fulton were on the Quixote set to create a piece to eventually connect to Quixote, and Lost strongly resembles the form of documentary one might expect to find there.
If that film existed, that is. Lost utilizes a fairly standard format, though obviously it includes fewer film clips than the usual piece. We do see occasional finished shots from Quixote, since Gilliam did get a little material on celluloid. The vast majority of Lost depicts images from the set, however, as well as interviews. Most of the latter are of the sit-down variety, but we also get soundbites on the set. The interview participants include writer/director Gilliam, co-writer Tony Grisoni, first assistant director Phil Patterson, producer Rene Cleitman, director of photography Nicola Pecorini, line producer Jose Luis Escolar, assistant set decorator Barbara Perez-Solero, production designer Benjamin Fernandez, former head of production at Pathe Andrea Calderwood, longtime Gilliam collaborator Ray Cooper, costume designer Gabriella Pescucci, co-costume designer Carlo Poggioli, executive producer Bernard Bouix, and completion guarantor Fred Millstein. The absence of any actors seems odd, though we do see them in the behind the scenes shots.
At times, Lost appears to build some of the difficulties out of proportion. After all, Quixote isn’t the only troubled production that ever occurred, and it probably isn’t even the most problematic film shoot. Scads of movies had to deal with concerns like airplane noise, horrific weather, or injuries to actors. Did these issues converge in a higher-than-normal level? Sure, but in and of themselves, they weren’t insurmountable. Watch the documentaries that accompany flicks like The Phantom Menace and Jaws and you’ll find many similar issues.
However, these other movies had something Gilliam lacked: money. Essentially the root of his failure to complete Quixote, cash led to the downfall of this project. Were it not for his limited budget, he could have made the movie despite all the problems.
In its quest to make Quixote look like an essentially doomed film, Lost loses sight of that fact. Whereas most film documentaries sidestep production problems, Lost revels in them. The moments of joy and success pop up so sporadically you start to wonder it anything good ever happened. Clearly the entire project wasn’t as miserable as we’re led to believe.
I don’t want it to appear that I think Lost fails to communicate the money issues, for it does give us a lot of information about those. Budget problems are the first chink in the armor. They’re not depicted as the cause of the film’s ultimate demise; essentially we’re shown that the movie collapsed because crewmembers wouldn’t wait around to resume work on a flick that probably would never start up again. However, if the money had been there, unquestionably Quixote could have gone back into production.
Despite the emphasis on the negative, I don’t think that Lost wallows in pathos. We do see shots of a clearly frustrated and upset Gilliam, and anger comes out from others at times. However, the program generally tells its story in a logical manner and doesn’t embellish the emotional content. I feel it has its own agenda and attempts to make the production look more cursed than might be true, but it still presents a pretty even-handed observation otherwise.
Will you see anything in Lost in La Mancha that makes it stand out from the documentaries that accompany DVDs? No, not really. It comes from those origins and still feels like something that should have appeared alongside the DVD release of Quixote. However, since that film doesn’t exist, Lost has to stand alone, and it mostly does well in that regard. The program isn’t the best of its genre, but it seems informative and illuminating as a whole, and it offers an interesting experience.
The DVD Grades: Picture B / Audio C+ / Bonus A
Lost in La Mancha appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite its origins as a videotaped program, Lost looked consistently solid within those parameters.
Sharpness seemed fine. As I expected from this sort of production, the image rarely looked extremely detailed, but it was better than average for a videotaped piece. Very little softness interfered, as the movie remained accurate and concise the vast majority of the time. Though videotape often tends toward those problems, I detected very few instances of jagged edges or moiré effects, and it seemed free from edge enhancement. Source defects also appeared absent, as I noticed no flaws of any sort. Some video artifacting appeared occasionally, especially in low-light situations, but that was inevitable given the shooting conditions.
Colors appeared unexceptional but more than acceptable. The cameras captured the tones as they showed up in real life, and they came across as reasonably distinct and accurate. The hues never popped up strongly, but they were totally fine. Black levels also seemed tight and deep, while shadow detail was as clean as possible under the conditions. I wouldn’t use Lost to demonstrate the visual capabilities of DVD, but the program looked positive and actually seemed more attractive than I anticipated.
Though the DVD’s case advertised a 5.1 mix, instead we got just a Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack for Lost in La Mancha. The absence of 5.1 seemed inconsequential given the limitations of the film’s soundfield. Except for music, the mix appeared almost totally monaural. A few sequences featured Gilliam-esque animation that broadened effects moderately to the sides and rears, but most of the material came from the natural events. That kept those elements mainly isolated in the center, with only a few exceptions such as the presence of military jets on the set or foul weather; those expanded mildly but nicely to the other channels. The dialogue also remained in the middle. The score broadened acceptably to the sides and rears and demonstrated decent stereo imaging, but the scope of this track stayed very low-key.
Audio quality was good but not anything special. A dialogue-heavy piece, speech varied somewhat due to shooting conditions. The movie mixed bits from the set or other film-related circumstances along with formal interviews. The former potential could have been dodgy, but the dialogue always remained natural and intelligible. Effects played a minor role and never presented much of a presence, but they were acceptably clean and distinct. Music sounded best. The restrained score was smooth and rich within its constraints. Simply because there wasn’t much to the soundtrack of Lost, I couldn’t give it more than a “C+”, but the audio seemed just fine for this sort of film.
One complaint: Lost fails to include full subtitles or closed-captioning. We see on-screen translations of non-English dialogue or English lines rendered less than fully intelligible, but no other text options appear.
Despite the fairly low profile of Lost in La Mancha, the DVD comes with a lot of extras spread across its two discs. Actually, almost all of them appear on DVD Two. All we find on the first platter are some ads in the Docurama Catalog. This presents promos for a mix of flicks from the company. Some include just text descriptions, but a few offer trailers as well.
When we move to DVD Two, we get scads of supplements. We open with a selection of Cast and Crew Interviews. These include segments with director Terry Gilliam (nine minutes, 15 seconds), actor Johnny Depp (22:27), Lost co-directors Louis Pepe (7:48) and Keith Fulton (6:47), and Lost producer Lucy Darwin (5:30). All of the segments were created to reflect upon Lost so the Depp and Gilliam segments aren’t part of the interviews shot for the movie itself. That gives them an interesting perspective, as we get some reflections on the documentary as well as the film itself.
Gilliam mostly covers the retrospective examination of the documentary as well as his experiences on the set and how those impacted upon him. The longest of the five clips, Depp spends a lot of time on the shoot itself and briefly touches on his reactions to Lost and his thoughts about the project’s future. Pepe discusses how he and Fulton got the project and other topics like how they dealt with the impending disasters on the set and how Lost evolved once it became clear Quixote wouldn’t finish. Fulton chats about how he and Pepe work together, Gilliam’s input on Lost, and its road to a theatrical release. Finally, Darwin covers general topics about the production. All of the participants give us good insight into both Lost and Quixote, so these clips offer some nice information and details.
In the Deleted Scenes domain, we get nine snippets left out of Lost. These last between 42 seconds and three minutes, 53 seconds for a total of 17 minutes, 25 seconds of footage. In a nice touch, text from Pepe and Fulton precedes each clip, so we get information about the scenes and learn why they went unused. Some fairly interesting material shows up here.
Two long programs follow. Salman Rushdie and Terry Gilliam: A Conversation from the 29th Telluride Film Festival runs 54 minutes and comes from a small group session in the late summer of 2002. For the most part, Rushdie interviews Gilliam as they go over subjects like Brazil, Gilliam’s late-Sixties departure from the US, the state of modern films, 12 Monkeys, and other things. A few questions from the audience appear at the end. Though this does formally remain an interview, the show’s title isn’t really incorrect, for Rushdie interjects his own thoughts often enough to make it a conversation. The enterprise seems a little smug and self-congratulatory at times – especially when they bash Spielberg - and much of the information will be familiar to fans who know Gilliam’s work. Nonetheless, “Telluride” moves well and includes a reasonable amount of intriguing material.
Called IFC Focus: Terry Gilliam, the second piece provides a November 2002 festival interview with film critic Elvis Mitchell. It goes for 57 minutes and 35 seconds minutes as they chat about the current status of Quixote, his general disdain for Hollywood, various general elements of Gilliam’s past and career, his early insights as a director, work on a few different flicks, and some other topics. Quite a lot of repeated material shows up, especially in regard to Brazil; Gilliam tells some of the same stories almost verbatim. A moderate amount of information unique to “Focus” also appears, but not a ton. Still, it’s a generally interesting show.
Soundbites includes six segments that last between two minutes, 51 seconds and eight minutes, 14 seconds for a total of 28 minutes and 54 seconds of material. These interviews present information from Gilliam, writer Tony Grisoni, producer Rene Cleitman, casting director Irene Lamb, executive producer and longtime Gilliam colleague Ray Cooper, agent Jenne Cassarotto, and former head of production at Pathe Pictures Andrea Calderwood. They cover the story’s slow path to the screen, adapting Quixote into a script, Gilliam’s interest in the material, casting Jean Rochefort, financing and budget issues, Gilliam’s 1999 attempt to make Quixote, and the failure of the 2000 stab at making the movie. Surprisingly, these clips largely avoid previously discussed material, and they add some nice depth to the package.
Storyboards and Production Stills provides what the title states in a manner of speaking. “Terry Gilliam Storyboards” offers full storyboards for three different Quixote scenes. Each one features four drawings per screen, which makes them a little smaller than I’d like. “Benjamin Fernandez Production Designs” uses 11 screens to show the concept art for various sequences, while “Gabriella Pecucci Costume Designs” gives us 18 screens of clothing sketches. “Production stills” implies the presence of photos, but none appear here. Still, the included material seems useful. Finally, the theatrical trailer for Lost appears here.
Whether or not Terry Gilliam will ever make The Man Who Killed Don Quixote remains to be seen, but even if this never happens, at least something came from the effort. Lost in La Mancha offers a fairly intriguing and lively examination of one failed attempt to shoot the story. The DVD provides surprisingly good picture quality with average sound and a very nice set of supplements that expand on Lost as well as Gilliam’s career. On its own, Lost in La Mancha is interesting enough to merit a look, but the expansiveness of the DVD’s extras make the package a real winner and it becomes a must-see for fans of Terry Gilliam’s work.
Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4 Stars
| Number of Votes: 15