“After more than 25 years in the making… and unmaking.”
THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE
Terry Gilliam . 2017
“What’s interesting about a film – at a certain point it starts making itself. So it’s not actually the film I set out to make.
This is a slightly different film. It’s doing its own work, and I’m just holding on for dear life!” – Terry Gilliam.
He had no idea what he was getting into when, way back in the early ’80s, Terry Gilliam finished his first draft of his take on the legend of Miguel de Cervantes’ creation,the ingenious nobleman Sir Quixote of La Mancha. It is now called The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Or, history’s most accursed film.
Simple enough script. Influenced, in fact, by Mark Twain’s 1899 novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. This time, instead of Bing Crosby arriving in Camelot in Tay Garnett’s 1948 film (which Gilliam considered re-making once upon a time), now a New York Mad man is transported back to 17th Century Spain and becomes Sancho Panza, the trusty (and selfish here) squire of bizarre and chivalrous knight, Don Quixote. They are the original odd couple, Laurel and Hardy matrix.
Actually making the film, took forever. If not quite the 30 years Orson Welles spent on his Don Quixote– which was never completed. Gilliam managed to finish his passion project, before it finished him. It is a typically Gilliamesque, hallucinatory tale, of course. With certain changes for 2018. The time-travel has gone. So have numerous actors (three died) who started shooting the film or were seen, considered and/or signed for other versions.
“He’s only happy in chaos,” Eric Idle said about Gilliam. “He does seem to attract trouble,”
“This time,” Terry kept saying, “we will make a better film.” Good, but which film?
1988 . First off, Euro money men suggest Sean Connery. “But Quixote is air and Sean is earth,” said Terry, who chose him for him King Afamemnon in Time Bandits, 1980. Gilliam preferred Nigel Hawthorne with Danny De Vito as the Sancho Panza figure
1990 . The studio due to back Gilliam, gave the project to the undistinguished Australian film-maker Fred Schepisi. He planned John Cleese and Robin Williams – Gilliam actors, both – with a $60m budget, at least thrice the Gilliam requirement.
1997 . Schepisi’s version is cancelled.
2000 . Gilliam has his vehicle back and starts rolling – well, you’ve seen the two documentaries, right? – on September 25, 2000. So long ago that co-stars Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis were still wed. French veteran Jean Rochefort was the Don, with Depp as the well named ad man Toby. (As in, as problems mounted over the next 17 years, Toby or not Toby).
The great Jean Rochefort. Before his Don was gone…
Shooting was abandoned after 15 days due to torrential rain, NATO F-16 jets continually overhead, money and health issues. Rochefort, 83, a supreme horseman, could no longer get on, or stay on, his steed due to a double spinal disc hernia. His extreme pain was visible on film.
After stumping up $15m in claims, the insurance company kept a tight grip on the scenario until Bertolucci’s UK producer Jeremy Thomas joins Gilliam’s Flying Circus in…
2005 . Unbelievably – desperately? – big, fat Gérard Depardieu was announced as the thin white Don. As in: “We’re gonna need a bigger donkey!” Depardieu’s greatest screen role was Cyrano de Bergerac, 1989.In the original play, he’s asked if he’s read Don Quixote. Cyrano’s reply could be Gilliam’s. “I’ve practically lived it!”
2008 . Michael Palin, another of Monty Python’s sons, has talks about rescuing Gilliam’s impossible dream. Surely, John Cleese would have been better. Thinner. Taller. Ah yes, but he nearly made the Schepisi version. Depp remains forever faithful to the project. Or, to Gilliam. This time as the (usually tubby) Sancho Panza, no less!!!
2009 . Now it’s Don Robert Duvall – “if they get the money”- opposite then ever present Depp as Panza. “I love Terry, and I’d do anything the guy wants to do,” Depp told Ain’t It Cool News. “So I don’t know if it’s right for me to go back there. I don’t know if it’s right for Terry, too. But if he wants to…”
2010 . Depp moves on and Duvall is to be joined by Ewan McGregor… or Colin Farrell. (Depp and Farrell were among the stars helping Gilliam complete his 2009 adventure The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus after Heath Ledger’s OD death). “Robert Duvall is one of the greats, no question – and he can ride a horse,” Gilliam told Empire magazine. “There’s a lot of colours to Ewan that he’s not been showing recently and it’s time for him to show them again. He’s wonderfully boyish and can be charming – when he flashes a smile, everybody melts. He wields it like a nuclear bomb.”
As for the movie, Gilliam admits: “It’s been around too long and it’s like a tumor, I want to get it out of my body,” he confides to Hollywood Reporter. “I don’t even know if it will be a good film – I just want to get rid of it.”
“If you’re going to do Quixote,
you have to become as mad as Quixote”
2012 . Duvall is now the faithful one. “He saw me play a Cuban barber one time with Richard Harris and that’s what gave him the idea to cast me as Don Quixote.” Owen Wilson becomes the Madison Avenue exec. “Us survivors of Don Q are a strange kind of dysfunctional family,” commented co-scenarist Tony Grisoni. (The ad man is named after him: Toby Grisoni) “Every year since we have rewritten the screenplay. And we’ve got quite good at it. You will be pleased to hear the Don is back up and in the saddle and ready to ride under new colours.”
2016 . Or newer… John Hurt and director Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken find, Jack O’Connell for Toby. (Josh Brolin, Daniel Craig, Colin Farrell, Robert Downey Jr, Sam Worthington had also been contacted). Shooting began and shuttered when no budget appears and, worse, Hurt is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. “Despite the terrible prognosis,” reported Gilliam, “he was determined to carry on working. And he did. Right to the final curtain. In the end, cancer was the windmill that he couldn’t defeat.”
“It is not dead.
I will be dead
before the film is.”
2016 . Palin returns to co-star with Adam Driver – “the actor I’ve been searching for all these years. Now by chance, he is bankable because of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Gilliam also explained the final tweaks… “I’m incorporating the idea of the damage that films do to people, so it’s become a bit more autobiographical. [Toby] actually made a Don Quixote movie a lot earlier in his history, and the effect it had on many people wasn’t very nice. Some people go mad, some people turn to drink, some people become whores.” What began as as a Mark Twain pastiche now has the edginess of Dennis Hopper’s Last Movie, 1970.
“I actually just want to make it… so that
I can get on with the rest of my life.
The truth is, I don’t actually like making films.”
2017 . Finally, Jonathan Pryce (his three other Gilliam films include the iconic Brazil) and Adam Driver start and somehow finish tilting at windmills. (Gilliam’s enemies were more real, never imagined). Ironically, Pryce had been there from the very start – in the 2000 cast. So, Gilliam could have rustled up some extra coin, moved locations (the flash floods had changed his chosen landscapes) and started all over with Pryce then and there… even if he were 17 years younger. “From what I can remember of the original script, this is an altogether better version. It’s a clearer story.”
Not all critics agreed with that.“A loud, belligerent, barely coherent mess,” Variety would say. “Strained literary whimsy” is the Hollywood Reporter line
Other critics had stayed awake… “A movie with sprightliness, innocence and charm and it is a morale boost to anyone who cares about creativity,” said Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. “First, let’s just be glad that it finally exists – a cinematic kaleidoscope where the narrative turns on itself, characters keep transforming, and symbols crash against one another,” added Bilge Ebiri inThe Village Voice.
So, yes, Gilliam actually made the movie!
Then what happened? Aprevious producer tried to block its Cannes screening and release while dear old Terry was hoping that “the people who have been waiting all this time will not be disappointed.”
Well, of course, we are!
We’ve all made the damned thingin our heads over the yeasrs (with any of the various casts…well, not Depardieu) and Terry’s imagination is not ours. Through 19 years of rewrites, dashed hopes, stress, pain and utter fatigue, Terry never gave up (though why Palin over Cleese?) and the result is that which we have far too little of these days. A film by Terry Gilliam. “It’s not a film, it’s a medical condition.”
John Hurt, 77, and Jean Rochefort, 87, died within eight months of each other in 2017… Gilliam paid homage on the social networks. “Sadly, the earthly marvel that was John Hurt has departed us. Two years ago… he was diagnosed with a particularly evil brand of cancer. John was not just a phenomenal actor but a wickedly wonderful human being. I felt honoured to be a friend… When I saw [Rochefort] a couple of years ago he seemed to be growing younger, not older. I imagined that, like Quixote, he was capable of living forever. That he should be gone is unbelievably sad. Farewell, Jean.” Gilliam dedicated his film to them. (Hurt’s character in South Korean genius auteur Bong Joon Ho’s 2012 Snowpiercer was… Mr Gilliam.)