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Terry Gilliam

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Latest - August 2013.

It has been announced that Terry Gilliam's latest movie The Zero Theorem will be premiered on 2nd September at the Venice Film Festival ahead of its' general release in December 2013. The films' home page is here The Zero Theorem. The film is described thus: "A sci-fi movie that features a socially inept computer genius who delves into a perplexing project to discover the very purpose of existence itself", and stars Christoph Waltz, Matt Damon, Mélanie Thierry, David Thewlis and Tilda Swinton. We are desperate to see a trailer, but we'll have to make do with Gilliam's typically spirited message despatched from comic-con.

 

Terry Gilliam biography part 1: 1940 to 1989.

Terry GilliamTerry Gilliam was born Terrence Vance Gilliam on 22nd November 1940 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. An avid artist and cartoon drawer from an early age led to working on his college magazine and eventually working for Help magazine. It's during this time that he met and first worked with John Cleese (in the US with Graham Chapman with The Cambridge Circus Review) on a spoof photo story for the magazine. In 1967 after some time traveling and working in both Europe and America, Terry headed to London again working on a magazine.

He contacted John Cleese (who was then working on the satirical TV show The Frost Report) on the off chance that Terry could submit some cartoons or comedy sketches for the show. John put him in touch with team behind the TV comedy series Do Not Adjust Your Set that contained Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Terry Jones, and Terry Gilliam was contracted to provide some "Stream of Consciousness" cartoons for the series. When Do Not Adjust Your Set finished its run Cleese, Chapman, Idle, Jones, Palin and Gilliam came together in the late spring of 1969 to work on the TV series Monty Pythons Flying Circus. The series was phenomenally successful and would run for 45 episodes from 1969 to 1974 (and in 1971 would spawn a feature film called And Now For Something Completely Different - effectively a cinematic reworking of the best sketches from the first two television series). A considerable part of the show's success was the animations that Terry Gilliam provided to help link the whole episodes together.

Monty Python and The Holy Grail stillWhen the Monty Python TV series finally came to an end, the team decided to chance their arm on the big screen. In 1975 Monty Python and The Holy Grail went into production with Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam co-directing. The co-directing experience was never a comfortable one with a small budget, difficult conditions (re-creating medieval England), pressure for the film to be made quickly playing against Terry Gilliam's desire for the film to look visually stunning. The film was well received but Gilliam was already keen to move on and be able to pursue his own vision without the compromise of working with a team.

JabberwockyIn 1977 came the first feature film directed solely by Terry Gilliam. Jabberwocky, again set in Medieval England, was loosely adapted by Terry from the poem by Lewis Carroll. Free from the constraints of working under the Python banner (even though the starring role of Dennis is played by Michael Palin and it also features a cameo by Terry Jones) Gilliam's ability to bring the medieval times stunningly to life is beautifully achieved here. Whilst the film was unable to surpass the comedic heights of Python, and with maybe a hint of style of content, it was deemed a successful debut feature.

A stint back with the Python team lead to the delightfully controversial Life of Brian (1979) . Keen to avoid the problems encountered on Holy Grail, Terry Jones was chosen to direct freeing up Terry Gilliam to supply the considerable animations, guide the art direction and also act out multiple grotesque characters on screen. Life of Brian was a huge success despite, and perhaps partly because of, the controversy.

Time Bandits stillFirst came Terry Gilliam's next directorial feature film. The acclaimed Time Bandits (1981) was a film written by Gilliam and Michael Palin telling the story of a little boy unhappy with his home life who accidentally joins a band of time traveling dwarves whose sole intent is traveling through various times in history and stealing it's treasure. It is here that Gilliam's fantasy / fairy tale aesthetic, that would go on to be the back bone of his future work, is truly realised for the first time.

Terry would rejoin the Pythons for some live shows in the US that culminated in the movie Live at The Hollywood Bowl (1982). 1983 saw the full Python team together for the last time for their final feature film The Meaning of Life with the main directorial duties again going to Terry Jones with Terry Gilliam taking the reigns for the special sequences and animations. One of these sequences originally intended to come near the end of the film was The Crimson Permanent Assurance. This segment caught the imagination of Gilliam to such an extent that it ran hugely over time (its run time tripling) and over budget (over a million pounds over budget - which hampered the budget for the rest of the movie). In the end the segment was so long it no longer fitted into the movie and was instead made into the supporting feature.

Brazil still1985 saw the release of the next Terry Gilliam film in the form of futuristic black comedy Brazil. A film about an office worker dreaming of love, whilst living in world drowning in bureaucratic red tape under a totalitarian regime. Whilst not being a huge commercial success, its scope and imagination saw Terry Gilliam's artistic reputation enhanced even further, whilst a row with studio bosses who wanted the film re-cut for a happy ending in order to make the film more saleable, also led Gilliam to be viewed by some of the film industry as awkward and un-realistic. This would all seem like crying over spilt milk when compared to Gilliam's next film.

Baron MunchausenThe Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) seemed ideally suited to Terry Gilliam. The story of the mythical Baron Munchausen, famed teller of great tales (or more accurately fanciful lies). Set in Baroque Europe, the film was hopelessly under budgeted and in efforts to get the film completed the budgets ended up being massively increased. This led to the perception within the industry that Gilliam was out of control and had little regard for the studio's money, whereas previously he had enjoyed a reputation for making expensive looking films for relatively small (particularly in Hollywood terms) amounts of money. Though a financial disaster, the film gained much critical praise for its stunning visuals (which garnered no less than 4 Oscar nominations).

Part 2: 1990 to present.

1991 saw the release of Gilliam's next film entitled The Fisher King. A much more mainstream proposition than any of his previous films, and with the criticism of Munchausen still ringing in his ears, The Fisher King allowed Gilliam to demonstrate that he could bring in a film under budget, make it look fantastic and make it a commercial success, all of which were achieved (along with some Oscar wins and nominations along the way).

Twelve Monkeys stillWith his reputation substantially restored his next movie was Twelve Monkeys (1995). Based on the legendary 1960's flick La Jetee, the story revolves around a convict sent back from the future (where society has been wiped out by a mutated virus), to the past, in the hope that the virus can be obtained and prevented from mutating. With the studio fully behind the project and two mega stars heading the action (Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt) the film was a commercial and critical hit which further enhanced Gilliam's bankability.

1998 saw the release of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Based on the legendary writings of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing had long been thought impossible to bring to the movie screen. The previous directorial incumbent was Alex Cox who had to be relieved of his duties and Gilliam was drafted in to replace him. What he produced was very faithful to the drug addled writings it was based on and is a cult favourite with many progressive discerning film lovers, but given the nature of the story a wholesale mainstream hit was never likely to be on the cards. It is certainly the most uncompromising of Gilliam's work and it is hard to imagine anyone else even attempting a film of this nature, let alone achieving such amazing results.

Terry Gilliam on the set of The Man Who Killed Don QuixoteLike many times in his post Munchausen career, Gilliam's thirst for making films has come into conflict with both studios and the movie backers, and the years after Fear and Loathing saw projects muted that he could not get backing for. None is more widely documented than his attempt in 2000 to make a film of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. This was something of a dream project for Gilliam and after lots of starts, stops, delays, and procrastination from the backers the film finally began shooting. After months of pre-production work being completed i.e. sets, models and costumes etc the shooting commences, but after only a couple of days the film is beset with technical hitches and even disasters (like the set being washed away in a flash flood). The film backers got cold feet and despite the money already spent, the film is unable to be resurrected. This is all documented in Lost in La Mancha which I would heartily recommend watching.

2005 saw Terry Gilliam back onto familiar ground with The Brothers Grimm. The story is a fictional take on the live's of fairy tale collectors, Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm. Gilliam's return to the screen seemed pretty much low key. The classic fairy tale / fantasy element was brought to life superbly with a very interesting script, but what did let the film down a bit was the cgi which was not as "perfect" as you would expect from a Gilliam film.

Also released in 2005 was Tideland a dark and disturbing tale about a young girl who goes to live in the country when her mother dies. She spends her days living in a fantasy world talking to her dolls heads. Elements of the story are reminiscent of Alice Through The Looking Glass (which is visually alluded to in parts of the film) and the whole movie flows slowly and beautifully between her reality and imagination. It marks something of a departure for Gilliam as the scrubland and natural vistas play a huge part in this film and it has the feeling of an Indie movie rather than a Hollywood one.

2009 saw Terry Gilliam finally become part of the establishment, when he was awarded the Academy Fellowship by BAFTA. Long overdue perhaps, but in Britain true mavericks a very rarely recognised, so it is a mark of how truly deserved the he received the award was in only his 38th year of his cinematic career.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Released in October 2009 was The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Its' screenplay by Gilliam and Charles McKeown (the same team that came up with Munchausen and Brazil) is a sprawling tale full of imagination and mystery concerning a traveling theatre company traveling through magical realms. It has superb cast including Johnny Depp, Heath Ledger, Colin Farrell, Jude Law, Tom Waits and Mark Benton (not bad for a film with such a small budget of $30m) alongside relative newcomer Lily Cole (who judging by her performance in Sally Potter 's Rage can become, has all the natural talent to become, if she choses, one of the best actresses of a generation). Heath Ledger death at a time when much of the filming had been done forced Gilliam into a decision whether to reshoot but decided to keep the existing footage and have Depp, Farrell and Law portray versions of Ledgers transformations through time. It went down well at Cannes where it received a 13 minutue ovation.

Gilliam's 2011 Italian set short film entitled The Wholly Family, slipped out almost un-noticed with the rumours of the "Don Quixote" film abounding and rebounding. A beautiful film that served to remind (if any reminding were needed) us of Gilliam's tremendous strength as a director.

Terry Gilliam is undoubtedly the most creative and imaginative film director (and lets face it story teller) working in cinema today. From his early days working with the Pythons right up to his recent works his imagination and scope has continually pushed at the boundaries (and sometimes the budget) of what can be achieved in movie making. Is he is a modern day Michelangelo (the 16th Century artist rather than the ninja turtle) or a modern day Brother Grimm? - probably both. He is undoubtedly a genius and his films continue to astound and surprise (not an easy achievement in the modern world).

His attention to detail is also an amazing quality in his work. What particularly stands out for me is his unique style, the use of the wide angle lenses (like Kubrick) allow him to beautifully bring to life the (bigger) picture to such an extent it's like watching an old master at work. Added to this is his propensity towards the fairy tale ethic of storytelling that continually challenges and guides us masterfully through his movies. Here's hoping for many more films from him in the future.