Monday, 3 October 2011

Lost in La Mancha (2002)

Perhaps the best way to look at "Lost in La Mancha", a documentary about Terry Gilliam's abortive 2001 attempt to film his pet project "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote", is to contrast it with the only really comparable film, "Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse", which documents the infamously disaster-ridden production of Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now". 

In both cases, the directors were keen to make the film, (in Gilliam's case, he was also the scriptwriter, and had already spent 7 years trying to secure funding to start production; in Coppola's case, he had commissioned the script and believed that it would redefine public perceptions of war) and therefore provided the central impetus for the filming.  Both productions were disrupted by adverse weather; in the case of "Apocalypse Now", a typhoon wrecked sets and trapped the cast and crew in their accommodation, while "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" had its normally arid primary location resculpted mid-shoot by a torrential rainstorm (which also led to extensive water-damage to the props), and their stars suffering from health problems which left them unable to participate in filming for several weeks.

Lost in La Mancha Part 6 (2009)

Where the two production differ significantly however is the timescale of the disasters and the scale of their budget.  "Apocalypse Now" was a big-budget film, able to afford the numerous delays and setbacks that it encountered (although this led to it's own problems - in an interview in "Hearts of Darkness" Coppola stated "There were too many of us, we had access to too much equipment, too much money, and little by little we went insane") while "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" was made on an extremely tight budget (Gilliam joked that the budget was half of what they needed), with a very tight schedule that left no room for error; consequently, when the film ran into trouble, it was doomed.

Due to the abreviated nature of the actual shooting (the insurance company shut the shoot down midway through the second week), a significant part of "Lost in La Mancha" is taken up with the processes of pre-production, in particular Gilliam working out the design of scenery elements and props, as well as location scouting (with retrospect, his choice of a location adjacent to a NATO bombing range was less than ideal).  It is these moments, along with Gilliam's storyboards, that give a glimpse of the film that might have been.

Perhaps the nicest moments in "Lost in La Mancha" are from the beginning, before "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" crashed and burned, when the film makes use of wonderfully Gilliamesque animations to introduce the audience to Gilliam's filmmaking career (and explain why it has been blighted by the shadow of "The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen")
Fig.1  Baron Munchhausen Animation

List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Baron Munchhausen Animation (2002) From: Lost in La Mancha Directed by: Keith Fulton, Loise Pepe. [Film Still] [Online] At: (Accessed on 03/10/2011)


Lost in La Mancha (2009) (Accessed on 03/10/2011

Lost in La Mancha (2002) Directed by: Keith Fulton, Loise Pepe [DVD]

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991) Directed by: Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper, Eleanor Coppola (documentary footage) [DVD]

Ebert, R (1992) Heart of Darkness: A filmmaker's Apocalypse (Accessed on 03/10/2011)

Ebert, R (2003) Lost in La Mancha (Accessed on 03/10/2011)

GA (2011) Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (Accessed on 03/10/2011), Inc. (1990) Lost in La Mancha (2002) (Accessed on 03/10/2011), Inc. (1990) Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991) (Accessed on 03/10/2011)

Mitchell, E (2003) Lost in La Mancha (2002) Tomatoes (Accessed on 03/10/2011)

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