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Lost In La Mancha

Joe Bob Briggs once said that the scariest scene ever put on film was in Phantasm II, when they flipped over a perfectly good Hemicuda onto its topside and it burst into flames. While this is indeed a tragedy on par with Hamlet, it doesn't even come close to the heartbreak that is Lost in La Mancha.

Chronicling Terry Gilliam's attempts to make his decade-long dream of an epic take on Don Quixote a reality, Lost in La Mancha plays like one of those behind the scenes comedy of failures except, like Orson Welles once warned us, "It's All True."

The documentary starts with an image of stark insanity that Gilliam is shooting with a junky handheld camera. It's a fire swingin' pagan celebration from (as our editor commented) deep inside Gilliam's subconscious. The picture then does some great set-up as to who Gilliam is and his dreams for this film. Much of the set-up is in Gilliam's old Monty Python animation style, addressing the claim that he is not the budget busting mad artiste that he has the rep of being.

Except for these animation segments, most of the film is shot in the behind the scenes style you've seen in thousands of "The Making Of" features. The difference here comes from the fact that the film is doomed. Instead of watching a scene you've already watched from behind the crew, we get to see completely foreign scenes being shot and the problems while trying to shoot those scenes.

Hearts of Darkness was a lot like this, as you watched the filmmaker become so consumed by the film he became an extension of the film itself. The thing is, with Hearts of Darkness you knew that a battle-scarred masterpiece would eventually come out on the other end of the adventure. With Lost in La Mancha, from the get go you know that things are doomed.

Part of Gilliam's folly is precisely what would have made his vision so great; he's working outside of the system. Using the Jarmusch method of financing, Gilliam has gone to outside, non-film industry sources for cash, but this means he's working with a fraction of the budget he needs. I couldn't be a bigger fan of the "underfund the project and then get creative to make up for it" method, also known as "pulling a Rodriguez," but on top of not having the necessary facilities in Spain, the tight budgeting means that there's only enough extra to deal with one setback, tops.

Unfortunately for all involved in the project, as well as anyone who loves film, there are more setbacks on this film than there are minutes of finished footage. The first day of shooting alone the disasters pile on top of each other so quickly and in such multitudes that one's laughter turns to tears, and then those tears become laughter again when things hit the level of truly absurd.

My only complaint about the film comes from a bit of overkill in the category of extended metaphor. Yes, it's ironic that Quixote is a story about a madman pursuing impossible dreams, but the point gets brought up once too often. I guess I can't be too surprised with the decline in thought processes left to an audience, but in an art house picture with a fairly limited scope of interest one would think that they would assume a little bit of intelligence.

Throughout the picture, bits and pieces of the script are voice acted by Gilliam to the images of his own stylized story boards. At the end of the film we are told that Gilliam is attempting to buy back his script and mount a new production of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. If things don't work out for a new production I for one would love to see Gilliam attack the story as an animated feature.

What's It Worth? $8

Jordan Rosa

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