Quixotic/Chaotic

What’s wrong with Terry Gilliam? Just as he’s supposed to be promoting THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE, his decade-in-the-making dream project as it finally comes to home video — and after its merciless critical thrashing, it NEEDS some promotion — he comes down with a kind of ideational Tourettes, trashing his reputation with a cascade of ill-considered jibes and blurtings aimed at pc culture and the #MeToo movement.

A central plank of the sunken sloop that is Gilliam’s “argument” reminds me of an awkward moment in Bologna when Kathryn Sermak, Bette Davis’s former PA, made a similar embarrassing statement confusing rape and assault by producers with the old-fashioned casting couch. Everybody had turned up prepared to adore this woman who was the Great Bette’s confidante, and then we kind of didn’t know where to look or what to say. Nobody picked a fight over it, because we still wanted to hear about her recollections, and we now wanted to hear as little about her opinions as possible.

I don’t know what it is — are people schooled in the workings of Hollywood so inured to the casting couch concept that when they hear about producers taking unfair advantage of actors, they can only process it in terms of a transactional sex-for-stardom arrangement? So, when they hear the word “rape” they assume what we really mean is “woman sleeps with producer for role and then feels bad about it”? But I think the accounts of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged behavior are fairly unambiguous.

Gilliam says he could tells stories about actresses who got ahead by bedding the engorged mogul, and I have no doubt he could — he was forbidden to cast Samantha Morton, perhaps because she hadn’t shown Harvey the proper obeisance. But just because sometimes Harvey slept with women and gave them roles, or failed to sleep with women and denied them roles, doesn’t mean all of his activity was consensual. (And even here he took things beyond the usual limits, trash-talking women who had rejected him to sabotage their careers even at other companies.) Insiders like Ben Affleck and Quentin Tarantino apparently knew he was an abuser. (Hey, one might observe that the scene in GRINDHOUSE/PLANET TERROR where Tarantino and Rodriguez joke about raping Rose McGowan hasn’t aged well, but it was horrible THEN.) People generally in the industry but not tied to Miramax or the Weinstein Company knew Harvey was a bully, but not the depths of his viciousness.

It’s possible Gilliam doesn’t really believe in rape as a thing. Which would make him very reactionary indeed. Is he nervous about his own past behaviour? I’ve never heard anything against him so I don’t see why he should be taking the part of sex pests. He seems certainly to be arguing that the #MeToo movement is worse than the crimes it’s sought to expose and prevent, which is an odd one. Perhaps there are some men who have been unjustly accused and had their careers damaged? Perhaps, but not that many. The doubtful Woody Allen and Roman Polanski are still making films. I don’t know about James Toback, but he’s escaped legal consequences for the multiple offenses he was accused of. Geoffrey Rush has certainly suffered some distress, but if you read the Wikipedia account of his trial, he seems to have been cut every possible form of slack, and anything further from a witch hunt is hard to imagine.

I would like to be able to argue that Gilliam is being true to the contrarian spirit of Monty Python by alienating his own constituency (aging liberals who like films and comedy and care about humanity) but it feels more like he’s made that sharp turn to the right that crepuscular revolutionaries are always performing.

Does this matter? I have the Blu-ray of THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE in my Amazon shopping basket. I haven’t bought it yet because I’m annoyed with Gilliam, and because I wonder if someone so seemingly incapable of coherent thought, so mindlessly contrarian, can make a good film?

29 Responses to “Quixotic/Chaotic”

  1. re: allegations/non-allegations against Gilliam himself – during his last round of comments whenever he was last doing interviews for whatever he was promoting, Ellen Barkin tweeted an allusion to something that happened between them in an elevator (probs during Fear and Loathing?), but didn’t seem to have gone into further details and I’ve not seen it brought up anywhere else since.

  2. ROGER ALLEN Says:

    Gilliam hasn’t made a good film for years, I’m afraid. I don’t know what went wrong and I turned up for them all persistently. In some ways I’m glad if THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE doesn’t get a cinema release. It means I won’t need to pay to watch it on a big screen.

  3. The first real shock to me was Brothers Grimm, where Gilliam and his co-writer fought to get script credit whereas they should have fought to have their names removed from it. I’m sure the lawyers have made the kind of public fight Gilliam had over Brazil impossible now, but it was disheartening to see.

    I’ve only seen Fear & Loathing once, and I was drunk, but much of it seemed to work on that level of disorientation. I found it ideologically and morally incoherent but that might have just been me.

    Tideland had a kind of integrity but I wasn’t very taken with it: but I give it a pass. Even allowing for all that went wrong, Dr. Parnassus was a rehashed mess, and it was evident that their star died before ANYTHING had been finished – unless the script was always full of bizarre loose ends.

    The Zero Theorem seemed to have lost the plot and wasn’t engaging at all, though it had a nice look — even if that translated into a kind of pastel version of old favourites. It was so purely Gilliam – and so purely ineffective – that it made me feel the only hope for him was a fresh collaborator who would actually challenge him to think. It may be too late.

  4. ROGER ALLEN Says:

    I watched the first half-hour of FEAR AND LOATHING and thought it would be a masterpiece. Then I realised he wasn’t going to calm down or ease up. He’s up at 11 all the time. Every film sonce then – watch ten minutes and you know it was made by a genius. Watch twenty minutes and you’re screaming.

  5. ehrenstein47 Says:

    “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” IS a masterpiece. “We’re your friends. We’re notice the others” has become a personal watch-cry of sorts. And the scene where he sees the casino carpet writing like snakes is marvelous. “Brazil” remains his masterpiece. But the entire “The an Who Killed Don Quixote” experience (particularly the extended battle with Paulo Branco) has clearly upended him. Is he defending Harvey Weinstein because he still thinks he’s a power in moviemaking. Hey Terry, wake up and smell the Netflix!

    As for Rose MacGowan is at one and the same time a victim of Harvey Weinstein and a Total Horror fully deserving of being dissed by Quentin, Ben or anyone else to have the ill-fortune of crossing her path. When Brunei declare gayness punishable by death and was revealed to be the owners of the Beverly Hills Hotel a boycott of the place was instituted that MacGowan loudly proclaimed she wasn’t taking part in . Just yesterday she announced that it was impossible for her to vote for anyone who isn’t a Republican.

    Woody Allen is guilty of nothing other than a unfortunate alliance with the psychotic Mia Farrow who convinced her adopted daughter Dylan ( among her insanities she HOARDS children) that he had raped her. Dylan’s brother Moses who was there when the rape had supposedly taken place has loudly proclaimed no such thing happened.

    Regarding Roman “J’Accuse” is reportedly his final film. Not idea if it or “Based on a True Story” will ever get a U.S. theatrical release.

    (Insert plug for my book Masters of Cinema: Roman Polanski

    Dory Previn will sing us out

  6. Tony Williams Says:

    David E. has furnished some much needed complexity and corrective to this entire situation. It is a shame that Gilliam made such intemperate outbursts over what is really a serious issue. If you follow the various debates on wsws.org. it has become very clear that the “Me Too” movement has degenerated into being a “witch hunt”, despite the very serious nature of the issues raised.

    What ever happened to “due process”? People have lost their careers on the basis of allegations, often unsubstantiated. Such issues should be heard in court and the old premise “innocent until PROVED guilty” should remain. Otherwise we are back in the world of “vigilante justice”.

    I know at least one Hollywood actress who has little time for the “Me Too” movement since she can take care of herself both physically and as a self-reliant independent woman. She is not in the big league but someone I admire for her resilience.

    It is a shame that Gilliam made such over-the-top comments but as David E. aptly commented, he needs to smell the Netflix and his remarks should not lead us to ignore how parts of this movement (note I did not say “whole”) have become a (21st version of McCarthyism.

  7. Two friends on Facebook just reminded me that Ellen Barkin, after Gilliam’s first bout of intemperance, tweeted “Never get into an elevator alone with Terry Gilliam,” so it seems like *maybe* he’s afraid of his own past coming back to haunt or bite him.

    I get into big rows with Daniel Riccuito (hope he’s not reading this) because he considers Woody guilty and feels that as a guiding principle, “believe women” is a useful one. I 99% agree but my worries about Mia Farrow’s personality make this one of the 1% of cases where I have to remain in a state of Schrodinger’s cat uncertainty.

    There’s a question here about what is appropriate to do where a man is credibly accused but there’s no possibility of legal action. Getting the word out seems important so that women can be appropriately wary of certain men in elevators, taxis, or a private party at the Four Seasons. It may be embarrassing for those men, but it’s better than the alternative.

  8. Tony Williams Says:

    Yes, I’ve just read your FB entry on Barkin. But the point remains, do we ban their films because they have acted badly in the past?

    I’m not a defender of what Polanski did in the USA and that he should be excused for his traumatic behavior. Should Arthur Koestler be forgiven for raping Jill Craigie? I believe there was some debate in the past over whether his portrait as a former Rector should remain in a Scottish University?

    But, in addition to David E’s. citation of Dore Previn, there is also the danger of the BAD SEED/CHILDREN’S HOUR syndrome and I know cases where this has been used against people who were not given the right either to know what charges were made against them nor the accuser. One died in a hospital who never knew and our administration later “posthumously rehabilitated” him like a victim of Stalinism.

    I’m not surprised concerning DR’s attitude.

    Also, I’m not against “getting the word out” but opponents of the excesses of the “Me Too” movement have noted that careerist ambitions and professional jealousies often motivate such actions.

    Unless we have due process, the whole affair will be nothing better than “mob rule.”

  9. I’m not sure if there’s a realistic danger of filmmakers’ work being banned because of crimes or accusations in their past. Polanski and Allen probably can’t rely on being able to cast some of the stars they might previously have attracted, and recent Polanski films may not get theatrical releases, but we’ll be able to see their films in some form.

    I’m against banning films in general, and resistant to rewriting history as with the Gish sisters and DW Griffith having their names removed from stuff. Probably at some point we’ll come to a more sensible understanding of how to regard major artists who are questionable, or even really shitty, as human beings.

    I would start by arguing that Koestler was not celebrated for his personal morals but for his writing…

    If his name was attached to something directly focussed on sexual politics, its presence would be grotesque. If my university has portraits of all its former rectors on display, he should be in there. If it’s a partial selection, maybe we could put him in a storeroom for a while, indicating that we’re not as proud of the association as we had been…

  10. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    I saw The Man Who Killed Don Quixote on DVD last year, before Gilliam shot his mouth off recently. In my opinion, it’s one of his best films and certainly the truest Quixote movie made, especially in terms of adapting the Second Part. The movie mostly works because of Adam Driver (actor of the decade). His performance there is incredible. Maybe the best one he’s got, and it’s strange that Gilliam’s movies aren’t usually seen as actors movies, but this one entirely rests on the performances of Driver and Jonathan Pryce, as well as Joana Ribeiro. The style of the movie is very much a mix of Cervantes’ Spain and contemporary Europe with allusions to the migrant crisis, as well as devious Russian oligarchs behind everything. The finale can’t help but remind one of Arkadin.

    Gilliam has always been uneven as a film-maker, he works best on a decent-moderate to high budget fabulist mode — Time Bandits, Brazil, Baron Munchausen, Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, and now Man Who Killed Don Quixote. But outside of that, even when technically and visually skilled, there’s a wild uneven-ness.

    I think the #MeToo movement has been a progressive force. It’s done a lot of good but almost every progressive movement, every positive movement, has brought with it a lot of collateral damage and some excesses. The hard thing is to balance both and keep both things in mind. I don’t think everyone caught up in this is proportionately guilty or proportionately deserving. One can definitely make the case that the cult of the auteur, which as a critic I definitely played a part in upholding, did contribute to the climate of male entitlement where society thinks that film-makers can do whatever they want, or that people think that making the movie is more important than what the guy who funds your movie goes about his conduct (which is probably what QT and others who worked with Weinstein rationalized their collaboration…it’s all for the movie and that makes it worth it). And maybe Gilliam has let that entitlement get to him or blind him to an extent. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is rather self-critical in that regard. It’s very autobiographical in terms of how Gilliam sees the world and himself.

  11. The book about the making of Bros Grimm is disconcerting when it comes to Gilliam’s work with actors, showing that he can be quite skilled and sensitive and looks after his leads, but farms out “lesser” players to a kind of dramaturge. I found that weird.

    Jean Rochefort was apparently scathing about Gilliam in an interview he did for French TV after the film broke down the first time. He claimed Gilliam starved his horse so it would look suitably wretched onscreen, had crew with apples taped to their backs to make it respond, and the horse died a day after filming stopped…

    The “anything for the film” philosophy has certainly caused a lot of pain. I don’t mind directors choosing to suffer, or actors, if they see it as useful to the role, but that’s chosen. Leave the innocent out of it. And a lot of this bad behaviour, of course, has nothing to do with filmmaking and is just the acting-out of the privileged and undisciplined.

  12. Tony Williams Says:

    If Rochefort is correct, this behavior is inexcusable. That is why I can not watch WILLARD again because some tame white rats were definitely killed on screen, probably more.

  13. “crepuscular revolutionaries”–I’ll be taking that with me, thank you.

  14. ehrenstein47 Says:

    It would be nice to “believe the women” if it weren’t for the fact that many women are Mia Farrow. Complicating matters even further is the fact that Harvey Weinstein did indeed molest Rose Magowan –as he has so many other women — but Rose Magowan is MONSTER deserving of no respect whatsoever.

  15. I think Mia Farrow is a fairly unusual case, but one does have to take account of unusual cases.

    McGowan deserves respect as to her physical rights over her own body, something I would even accord Weinstein, Something he’ll be grateful for if he’s ever imprisoned. (Though, I dunno, maybe nobody would be particularly tempted to go near him.)

  16. ROGER ALLEN Says:

    As the film was first released for review in May 2018, it looks as if Gilliam – or someone – has been working drastically on THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE. The MeToo Movement came at rather the wrong time too – the Don trying to rescue the damsels in distress from the ogre Weinstein would be a very interesting film.

  17. I haven’t heard any comparisons of the original festival cut with the Blu-Ray, so I don’t know if any changes, for good or bad, were made.

    A Weinstein allegory would probably break down, because who do you get for Quixote? Ronan Farrow? The more modern take would be damsels rescuing themselves, and cut out the knight errant altogether.

  18. David Melville Wingrove, Says:

    The main thing I have gleaned from the Harvey Weinstein scandal is WHY so many talented and attractive women who seemed about to have a big career suddenly…well, you know, didn’t.

    Rosanna Arquette, Polly Walker, Catherine McCormack. One minute they were everywhere, a month or so later they were nowhere. What do they all have in common? They all seem to have got on the wrong side of this utterly loathsome man.

    As for Terry Gilliam…does anything in any of his movies suggest he has a firm grip on reality? If so, it must be a movie I missed.

  19. When Gilliam makes any attemtp to connect to social reality he’s at his worst: homeless people and asylum inmates used as set dressing.

    I don’t know if Weinstein tried to derail Rosanna Arquette’s career, which seemed to be already slipping when she appeared in Pulp Fiction in quite a small role. But she certainly SHOULD have had continued success because she’s quite excellent. Mike Hodges had nothing but praise for her after Black Rainbow, a film and role a lot of actors seemes to be afraid to take on.

  20. ehrenstein47 Says:

    Marty Scorsese is over the moon about her

  21. Yes, I wish they’d work together again, she’s incredible in After Hours and Life Lessons. And much as I think the criticisms of The Irishman for being too male or not having enough dialogue from women are… a bit silly, I’d welcome a more female-centric film from Scorsese. He’s good at them.

  22. ehrenstein47 Says:

    And “Life Lessons”, Marty’s episode in “New York Stories,” is entirely about an anklet Rosanna wears.

    I adore all the Arquettes, especially the late and infinitely missed Alexis.

  23. Tony Williams Says:

    Yes, BLACK RAINBOW was excellent.

  24. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    Scorsese is interested in adapting Middlemarch and Marilynne Robinson’s Home. And his next film Killers of the Flower Moon does have a major role for a Native American woman.

    The entire Weinstein scandal certainly removed some of the illusions I used to have, or more disconcertingly revealed that some of the things I used to think were illusions after all (there’s a difference between consciously making a supposition as an article of faith and believing an assumption to be the truth). I knew that there were producers and others who were creeps in the movie business but I always thought it was a minority and unrepresentative. For me Weinstein was an a–hole who cut movies while claiming to be a director’s producer. That he was also evil was a surprise. And he definitely doesn’t seem to be the only one. Merely the one who got caught and at a time when his influence was at a low end since the kind of movies that Weinstein built his prestige on (independent, pseudo-independent, oscar-bait fluff) aka “the middle film” has fallen by the wayside with all this Marvel crap.

    And certainly, a lot of the criticisms about male entitlement at the heart of culture industry and cinema is valid. More recently, Adam Cook, who used to write for MUBI and Cinemascope and had a reputation for being one of the better young critics was revealed to have abused people, including female critics he used to teach as part of a mentorship at film festivals. He was a writer I used to like reading and who I have had friendly online conversations with. Coming back to Arthur Koestler. I just read up on it after seeing Tony Williams mention it. Didn’t really know about that before. I am especially disgusted with seeing Frederic Raphael’s defense of it, his bit about how male dominance of women is a “sign of virility” and making what to my mind is a blanket rape apology. As for the removal of bust thing…to me it doesn’t make sense to equate that with the Gish sisters’ removal. Koestler is guilty and unpunished for his crimes, whereas Gish sisters are punished for association with DWG. For me if you want to keep the bust, you should add on the plaque the bit about him being an accused rapist and confirmed sexual predator. I think the University should be honest to its students about its past and the kind of people who donated it.

  25. Tony Williams Says:

    Really thoughtful post, SR. If Scorsese directs MIDDLEMARCH will he rename it GOODFELLAS II with Joe Pesci in the role of Casaubon?

    Seriously, though despite her unfortunate defence of BOAN and Griffith, Lilian Gish donated a lot of money to BGSU for scholarships and other academic items – money that has not been returned to the Gish Foundation. Also, as I say repeatedly, Dorothy did not appear in BOAN so why should she be targeted?.

    The University named the Theatre after the Gish Sisters. Neither insisted on this as a condition for their donation – unlike many University donars today. She merely wanted to give something to an educational institution in her own hone state, Despite the later aftermath of BOAN, there is a 1934 interview where she states that she knew there would be a difference between Dixon’s novel and the film in terms of the adaptation process alone and, secondly, script pages were delivered to actors on the same day as filming so they had no idea of the finished product Even then scenes were deleted..

    This does not excuse the film itself but to blame a supporting player for something conceived by a director is inexcusable. Also, concerning the remark “the kind of people who donated it”, everyone who worked with Ms. Gish spoke highly of her, even the producer of Lindsay Anderson’s THE WHALES OF AUGUST who was one of the signatures on the letter of protest signed by celebrities (James Earl Jones obviously being “a self-hating racist”?) and academics such as Joseph McBride who knew Gish.

  26. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    I definitely disagree with the removal of the names of the Gish sisters. I am just against equating that with Koestler’s bust being removed. Each situation is different and should be considered separately. At the same time if you say the Gishes had no expectation of them having the theater named after them, then I don’t see why the University can’t keep the money. A donation or gift, once granted, cannot be taken back.

    But I keeping thinking of the other issue. Namely what Lenin once said about “statues being a pigeon’s best friend”. Critics, artists, satirists have always mocked the hollow kitsch that comes with official commemoration. Bunuel once said that surrealism wasn’t about posterity, or entering the canon. Artists want their stuff engaged with, debated with, and speak to the present. So I think the problem comes with them lending their names, allowing statues and other stuff to universities and institutions to start with.

    Lillian Gish being associated with the Birth of a Nation rather than The Night of the Hunter is just unfair and absurd because more people see the latter movie today than the former. And the values of The Night of the Hunter as a movie is very much critical and disapproving of the ones behind Birth of a Nation, albeit more on the religious value system and small town rural glorification rather than the political look at racism.

  27. Tony Williams Says:

    Good points, SR – BUT, having given in to”politically correct” students (who do not appear to have demonstrate against Trump at his inaugeration, got arrested, and had to travel back and forth from Washington DC to deal with lawyers, then under the threat of life imprisonment if convicted) the University is obligated to return the donations to the Estate of a person they have deemed “racist.”

    Otherwise, it is sheer hypocrisy – but that is the way most US Board of Trustees operate here these days.

  28. I don’t know if it’s actually hypocrisy, although it’s not spectacularly noble. I don’t think they’re obligated to return the money any more than Hillary Clinton was obliged to return Weinstein’s campaign donations. If you think you can make better use of the cash than the donor, keep it and use it wisely.

    So my sole issue here is the university suddenly acting ashamed of the Gish sisters for no good reason. I’m sure they just thought they needed to whitewash out Dorothy because it would seem odd to remove Lillian and leave her sister, but of course it’s moronic, inconsistent and even more unfair, which shows that this was just an exercise in ass-covering with no real moral justification.

  29. ROGER ALLEN Says:

    “The more modern take would be damsels rescuing themselves, and cut out the knight errant altogether.”
    …which would be the point, with them rescuing the knight errant too, because he is completely unable to deal with or understand a modern world.

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