LOST IN LA MANCHA directed and written by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, produced by Lucy Darwin, with Terry Gilliam, René Cleitman, Johnny Depp and Jeff Bridges (narrator). 92 minutes. A Low Key production. An Alliance Atlantis release. Open Friday (March 21). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 84. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
Terry Gilliam makes producers nervous. All you can think watching Lost In La Mancha (or the directors' other documentary on Gilliam, The Hamster Factor And Other Tales Of 12 Monkeys) is, "How can anyone give control of tens of millions of dollars to someone with Gilliam's manic, high-pitched giggle?"The making-of documentary is an odd, parasitic genre of filmmaking, riding the back of another person's creation like a remora on a shark. Too often, in an age when every film gets one for its DVD release, it's tainted as an arm of the publicity department.
In part because of its subject, Gilliam's attempt to make his Don Quixote film, and in part because he failed through no fault of his own, Lost In La Mancha is an unusually good example of the genre.
Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe had complete access to the production -- no surprise after the intimacy of The Hamster Factor (included on the 12 Monkeys Collector's Edition DVD). Gilliam allowed them in for 12 Monkeys on the theory that since he was again working for Universal, where he'd made Brazil, if something went wrong, "This time there should be witnesses." The filmmakers also, very unusually, stayed with 12 Monkeys through the testing process.
What they got this time was a production walking a budgetary tightrope. In the first week of shooting, rainstorms and flash floods wiped out the film's location in the Spanish desert. Then its star, the 70-year-old Jean Rochefort, was sidelined by medical problems.
The film is divided roughly into three parts -- the pre-production drawing, building and casting sessions, the week or so of production and the aftermath of Rochefort flying back to Paris to see his doctors. Through it all, Gilliam's petrified with worry about how much this project feels like The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen, his great and doomed production disaster, which has haunted him for over a decade.
It's no surprise that two of the best examples in the making-of documentary genre would involve Terry Gilliam.
For starters, nobody makes films like Gilliam's, and there are few directors who combine anything like his flamboyant personal vision and apparent lack of autocratic vanity. The most memorable scenes in The Hamster Factor involve Gilliam admitting that he's completely lost the thread of the film and is just shooting scenes and hoping in the end it all fits together like the pieces of a puzzle.
Lost In La Mancha is a funny and sad reminder of how difficult it is to make films, even when the director has a great reputation and a $30-million budget. email@example.com