Archive for Terry Gilliam

The Zero With a Thousand Faces

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 18, 2014 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2014-10-12-10h30m09s236

Terry Gilliam ought to, by rights, be exempt from criticism — he’s done enough great work and suffered enough appalling misfortune and interference to merit being left in peace — a mighty Prometheus regularly torn apart by vultures ought to at least be spared mosquito bites. Noble as these sentiments are, I’m not going to abide by them, since when was the life of the film blogger a noble one? I would place THE ZERO THEOREM abaft TIDELAND (2005), belonging in that category of undiluted Gilliam films, unscarred by tragedy or disaster (of the external kind, anyway) which nevertheless feel a bit insubstantial.

Beautiful, lively and as eccentric as you could ask for, TZT is also somewhat familiar — I remember at the time of THE FISHER KING, Michael Palin remarking that it was a little disappointing when someone as wildly original as Gilliam repeated himself even a little — he was thinking of the Black Knight — and in this case the disappointment is a little greater since quite a bit of the movie derives from BRAZIL, and even a key image that isn’t in Gilliam’s 1985 masterwork is actually the source image Gilliam had for that film — a man on a beach with a song playing. There’s a dream girl who is also real, and floats nude in the sky at one point, there’s a threatening fat-one-thin-one duo, a needy manager, a limp desk jockey hero, vast bureaucracies, plagues of commercialism, weird nuns, sideways monitors, tubing, homeless persons as set dressing, and a multinational cast that gives the movie an Everywhere quality. Welles’ film of THE TRIAL hovers somewhere between the director’s eye and his viewfinder.

Gilliam also has to contend with the generation or so of filmmakers influenced by him — when Tilda Swinton turns up, chuntering through a wig, false teeth and an extreme regional accent, it irresistibly recalls SNOWPIERCER, whether or not Gilliam’s film did it first.

And what do you do when your best film, BRAZIL, has since come true? Gilliam has suggested suing Dick Cheney for plagiarism, but that doesn’t solve the artistic problem.

vlcsnap-2014-10-12-10h33m19s80

Freshening the mix somewhat are the dayglo colours, which give the movie a unique, painfully intense look, and a vein of porno sexiness/sexism which is at times difficult to make sense of. Well, in fact the whole movie is difficult to make sense of, whether because Gilliam has obfuscated the narrative with excess decoration, or because it never was clear, is impossible to say. So the pleasures have to be snatched from incidentals, or rather the incidentals become central — David Thewlis’s desperate bonhomie, Melanie Thierry’s accent (putatively French but seeming to have made a tour of every major European country and a few of the municipalities), and the way Matt Damon’s suits always match his background precisely. Also the ways in which Christoph Waltz’s home has been adapted from a church.

vlcsnap-2014-10-12-10h32m02s111

Most of the film takes place in that church, which is the film’s solution to the problem of a low budget. Apart from having to confine itself to its quarters, and a slight tendency to repeat its computer animations on Waltz’s screens, it never betrays signs of cheapness. But a film stuck in one place needs some other form of momentum to compensate for the limited ground covered geographically. We never seem to be getting anywhere, in terms of narrative, character, theme or anything else. This inertia means that the movie can actually end with a sunset and still not feel like it has a proper ending.

 

Ray D. Tutto

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on August 12, 2014 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2014-08-12-10h37m45s223

Sad news about Robin Williams. Mourning people you’ve never met is silly, but it turns out a couple of people I know crossed paths with Mr. Williams and had nothing but good things to say about him. I feel sad for them.

Richard Lester wanted to cast Williams as his Stalin look-alike in RED MONARCH, a near-silent comedy that never got made. Williams took about a year off work to clear room in his schedule while Lester tried to get the funding together.

A couple of my favourite Williams performances are ones he took no credit for. In THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN he was a last minute replacement for Sean Connery (!) who dropped out either because the schedule changed or because he heard how chaotic the shoot was. His pseudonym in that is a pun on “King of Everything,” which is what the character claims to be. Williams also excelled at creepy roles — if one has a criticism of his work, it’s that his unashamed warmth could lead him down the path of schmaltz if the material or the director encouraged it, but it seemed to be a kind of relief to find nasty characters — he plunged in without a trace of apology. His cold and bitter defrocked hypnotherapist in DEAD AGAIN is a still, true portrait amid a posse of showboaters.

Though he didn’t want these bit parts used to publicise his work, they fed into his career handily — the collaboration on MUNCHAUSEN led to Terry Gilliam getting THE FISHER KING, and DEAD AGAIN led to HAMLET with Branagh and all those roles where Williams shrugged off the funnyman persona for repressed or creepy studies in minimalism.

Life and Everything But the Kitchen Sink

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on December 10, 2013 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2013-12-09-17h52m00s113

As last films go, Jan Svankmajer’s SURVIVING LIFE (THEORY AND PRACTICE) is both vibrant and energetic and full of creative juice, and deeply melancholy on a number of levels. It’s sad because the filmmaker has announced it as his last work, and because he’s made it without his creative partner, wife Eva Svankmajerova, who designed for his films and was in every way seemingly his perfect other half.

The film is something of a departure for Svankmajer, deploying a cut-out animation technique (achieved using computers) stolen from Terry Gilliam who stole it from Walerian Borowczyk. The alchemist of Prague even introduces the film in person (as a cut-out) like Gilliam did in TIDELAND. Svankmajer takes the opportunity to explain all the film’s stylistic choices as being solutions to budgetary limitations (using cut-outs saves on petrol and catering), and even explaining the introduction itself as a fix for the film’s short running time (however, it’s not THAT short). A glum apologia that slowly gets funnier the more despondent it becomes.

vlcsnap-2013-12-09-17h55m19s73

The biggest surprise about the film, whose imagery (flopping tongues, bodily functions, bizarre juxtapositions and violations of scale, human-animal hybrids, dream-reality crossovers) and sound design (slurping and slapping and flopping) are absolutely consistent with the rest of the auteur’s oeuvre, is that it tells an old-fashioned Freudian investigation story, like MARNIE, in which nearly everything fits together like a well-oiled plot mechanism out of Hitchcock. The difference which lifts it well out of banality is that the dream analysis and breaking through the barrier of traumatic amnesia is achieved in a narrative in which the distinction between reality and dream is continuously blurred and muddied. The protagonist Evzen (or Eugene — it’s a film about heredity, or eugenics) has his dreams analysed by a shrink, upon whose wall hang duelling portraits of Freud and Jung, but some of what she analyses was stuff we assumed to be reality, and some of her consultations seem to be happening in dreams.  And both Evzen’s waking life and his sleep adventures are prone to disruption by the same surreal manifestations — chicken-headed women, a dog-headed man, giant hands and eggs and apples and falling melons…

vlcsnap-2013-12-09-17h52m58s199

The Oedipal angle is well to the fore as Evzen pursues the woman of his dreams, who seems to be both his anima (female self) and his mother, and at one point bears the name of Eva, at another Evzenie. The whole thing ends with life, catharsis, death, the closing of a loop which may swallow itself like an ouroborous or blossom out into new possibilities depending on your reading.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 435 other followers