You had to be there
I've seen films fall apart before, and I'm not talking about what they do on screen. Where a little nobody like me can get involved, people aren't getting paid, experience is often something people will claim after production, and money is an almost unheard of thing. It's nice to see that problems happen in the big time too.
There've been stories of studio pictures with major problems from Cleopatra to Waterworld, and spoofs of independent filmmaking clusterfucks like Living in Oblivion, but this is the first time I've seen a documentary of a real film disaster as it was happening.
Terry Gilliam has always wanted to do a film of Don Quixote, and pre-production for his complicated epic "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" was zipping along when the first problems started to appear - nothing huge at that point, but by the first week of production, they were losing equipment in flash floods in what was essentially a desert (at least looked like one) when the weather forecast promised sunshine for their stay at that location. And it got worse from there.
Honestly, it wasn't the sheer number of the problems but the severity of the worst of them that ended up scrapping the film. We get a peek inside the workings of a film in this situation - how the investors, producers, insurers, and completion bond company all interact. Fortunately for many of you, that part of the film is relatively brief, as the details can get a bit dry.
This was going to be your average "making of" documentary, a few minutes relegated to cable channels and DVD extras. They have concentrated on footage that was portentious of something happening, which would have been on the cutting room floor for the most part if things had turned out differently. The glimpses of the more ordinary work on the film are fascinating. Gilliam has full command of what's happening in the frame, and uses a fine level of detail - which, in retrospect, is also more prone to create problems.
A documentary like this rests entirely on the personalities involved. Gilliam is the mad genius - his best quote here is "I want to know when we're fucked - in advance". He's surrounded himself with competent folk that don't necessarily take the time to bathe in his greatness. The charged atmosphere isn't so much between the players as it is surrounding the situation. As a documentary of something that happened, Lost In La Mancha is very good, but as a piece of entertainment, it does lack some in coherence, but it's still fun to watch.
It's too bad what happened to The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. It appears to be an imaginative film, worthy of being placed with Gilliam's best (stating which are his best being more controversial than saying that he has some pretty darn good films). This documentary leaves us with Gilliam trying to get back the rights to his script.
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