TERRY GILLIAM: TIME BANDIT Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
With Terry Gilliam hitting the road to promote Tideland, which is finally coming to theatres more than a year after its TIFF 2005 premiere, what better time for a mini-retrospective of Gilliam's work at Cinematheque?
Missing from the retrospective are Gilliam's most popular film, The Fisher King, and two of his least popular, The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen and Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. However, it does include the full director's cut of Brazil, the rarely screened Jabberwocky, Time Bandits and the closing-night double bill of 12 Monkeys and the short film that inspired it, Chris Marker's La Jetée.
When the Cinematheque offers a retrospective of films that are readily available on DVD - indeed, the Brazil and 12 Monkeys discs are particularly fine, especially the new Criterion upgrade of the former - there must be a reason why you need to see them on a big screen.
In this case, it's the big within the small. Gilliam has an impulse, often indulged, to do tiny things on the biggest screen imaginable, and you lose those details on the small screen, even if it's 65 inches and true HD. Unless you obsessively rewatch films - and Gilliam's techno-nightmare fantasies do inspire that sort of devotion - you won't notice the wonderful background signage in Brazil or all the strange bits of machinery in the future past of 12 Monkeys.
As Gilliam said of 12 Monkeys, "I warned them to treat it as a small project, because you know it will get big. That's just me."
Gilliam's fantasies tend to work through accretion - no surprise when you remember that he began his Monty Python career as the creator of collage cartoons, all the elements gathered from elsewhere and jammed together to create something improbable.
He has said of Brazil, "I invented nothing. It was all just things I'd observed." But no one else assembles things the way Gilliam does, even on films where he's a hired director (Fisher King and 12 Monkeys) rather than the creator of the project.
Of course, seeing a whole bunch of Gilliam films over a short period of time could lead to a heightened sense of the absurdity of the universe.
As an inducement, Gilliam himself will introduce Brazil on Saturday (October 7, 1 pm) and will be interviewed by Geoff Pevere at a screening of Tideland Monday evening (October 9, 7 pm). The retrospective runs October 7 to 22.