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Lost in La Mancha

Docurama // R // June 24, 2003
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Aaron Beierle | posted June 19, 2003 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

Film productions don't always go as "wonderfully" as most DVD commentaries would lead one to believe. Audiences got to see things turn into a complete disaster for first-time director Pete Jones when HBO's "Project Greenlight" series followed his production. Martin Scorsese endured controversy and rumors when "Gangs of New York" ran over-budget and delays began to set in.

However, rarely has a production fallen apart due to just about every force piling up against it. Terry Gilliam, the acclaimed and wildly creative director of such films as "Brazil" and "12 Monkeys", has always wanted to make a film out of "Don Quixote". As we see early in "Lost in La Mancha", Gilliam has even decided to add his own touches to the story, with a traveler from the future (Johnny Depp) meeting Quixote (Jean Rochefort) in the past. Neat.

Filmmakers Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, the documentary filmmakers who followed Gilliam's "12 Monkeys" for "The Hamster Factor", the documentary that was included on that film's DVD, were there during the opening moments of the production. Originally, "Lost in La Mancha" was meant to be another, similar documentary that would probably end up on the DVD of the film it was following. Unfortunately, they start to capture one thing going wrong after another. Gilliam was not able to find financing in the US, so he had to seek European funding. The film needed $40m - which is a huge amount for a non-US funded project, we're told - but Gilliam only ends up with $32m.

The first week is pretty much the last week for the film. We watch as extras are not rehearsed before shooting a scene and a rainstorm that looks like something out of "Twister" turns the film's location into an absolute horror show, as equipment begins to float down the valley, with crew unsuccessfully trying to give chase. When the dusty valleys dry, the mud is a different color than it was when everything else before was shot, so nothing will match. The film loses Jean Rochefort, its lead actor, when he can't ride horses due to a herniated disc.

...And then the investors arrive. When the investors leave, the insurance adjustors are right behind them.

"Project Greenlight" was remarkably entertaining because Pete Jones's film looked largely unplanned and Jones himself found out - on what looked to be a daily basis - that he didn't know everything he thought he did about making a movie. "Lost in La Mancha", on the other hand, is no less fascinating, but also painful to watch at times. Throughout six weeks of pre-production, we watch as Gilliam seems overjoyed that his dream production is finally coming together. Elaborate sets and costumes are constructed. With each new prop and set, it becomes more and more saddening to know what the final result of all these efforts will be. Although Gilliam confronts it all with nervous laughter at first, the tidal wave of bad luck begins to take its toll.

Seeing glimpses of the footage makes it all even more heartbreaking, as it looks like another fascinating and wild Gilliam effort. "Lost in La Mancha" is a fascinating portrait of an artist with a dream running up against harsh realities. The drama and heartbreak that Gilliam endures should be involving and familiar for anyone who's found their dream just doesn't come together. Occasional narration by Jeff Bridges is also in the film.


VIDEO: "Lost in La Mancha" is presented by Docurama in the doc's original 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio (the film was shot on digital video). The picture quality isn't perfect, but it's awfully good throughout the majority. Sharpness and detail may not be impressive, but the picture still remains crisp and clear throughout, with a consistent level of definition.

A few flaws show up, but they're very minimal. Some slight shimmering does show up here and there, but that's about it. No print flaws appear, nor does any edge enhancement. Colors remain natural and quite pleasing, with no smearing or other faults.

SOUND: "Lost in La Mancha" is presented in 2.0 audio (the box mistakenly lists the film as having a 5.1 track). There's not a lot of fine detail to the soundtrack, but it's a documentary and everything is recorded quite well - I didn't have to strain to hear discussions. The soundtrack is above-average for a documentary.

EXTRAS: The second disc of this 2-DVD set offers the great majority of the supplements. The only extras included on the first disc with the film are trailers for other titles from Docurama.

Interviews: Interviews with Terry Gilliam, Johnny Depp, "La Mancha" filmmakers Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe and "La Mancha" producer Lucy Darwin. All of the interviews add up to just less than an hour and they certainly are not "promotional" discussions, but very honest and candid remarks about what happened to the production of the film. Gilliam is quite interesting to listen to; still energetic, he maintains his interest in once again trying to make the film and shares a few stories from the set of this one, such as one where he shouted at the heavens from under a rock during the rainstorm that the film wouldn't be taken away from him, only to get out once the rains had ended to find out that it in fact had been.

The filmmakers discuss their relationship with Gilliam and also their feelings about continuing to film once the production went sour. They discuss working with Gilliam and how the director didn't censor anything that would make him look bad. Gilliam also shares his mixed feelings in his interview; while it's painful for him to watch the production go badly, it does make him appear to be a responsible filmmaker (something he has the reputation of not being) that seeks to have the filming go forward. Depp, whose interview is the longest of the five participants - gives his thoughts about working with Gilliam (and Tim Burton), as well as his opinions about what the film could have been.

Deleted Scenes: 9 deleted scenes (including 2 alternate openings) are offered. Detailed text notes about the scene and why it was cut are also presented. Most of these scenes seemed rightly deleted, but there are a few interesting moments, such as one where Gilliam debates his contract details and another where he meets with the film's composer.

Salaman Rushdie & Terry Gilliam: A Conversation: Taped at the Telluride Film Festival (where "Lost in La Mancha" premiered), this 54-minute piece has film fan and author Rushdie discussing his fascination with cinema and talking with Gilliam about the events of "Quixote". Before they get to "Quixote", the two chat about their pasts (and break into a pretty funny stretch talking about some of Spielberg's efforts), with Gilliam chatting informally and offering insight about "12 Monkeys", "Brazil" and other highlights and stories (he was the first choice for the "Harry Potter" films by author J.K. Rowling) from his career. A great, interesting and occasionally very humorous chat.

IFC Focus: Terry Gilliam: In 2002, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art celebrated the work of Terry Gilliam with a two-weekend retrospective. "Lost in La Mancha" was the opening feature and Gilliam was the featured guest. After the screening of "La Mancha", Gilliam was interviewed by film critic Elvis Mitchell, which would air on the IFC network. For the DVD edition, viewers are offered the complete, 58-minute rough cut of the interview between Mitchell and Gilliam.

Once again, Gilliam is amusing and quite animated as he discusses films from throughout his career, as well as stories from what happened during the making of "Quixote". There's similar material ("Brazil" stories) touched on in this interview that was touched on in the other interview with Rushdie, but mostly, this interview offers new insights on aspects of Gilliam's career that were not touched on in the prior piece. Gilliam also goes into further detail about his feelings about the Hollywood system.

Soundbites: These are more interview clips with various members of the production on different topics: "Adaptation of Don Quixote", "Gilliam's Attachment to Quixote", "Choosing Jean Rochefort", "European Financing", "1999 Attempt "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" and "Collapse of 2000 Attempt".

Also: "La Mancha" trailer and storyboard/production and costume design galleries for "Quixote".

Final Thoughts: "Lost in La Mancha" is a tragic, saddening and occasionally funny look at a major film production scrambling - unsuccessfully - to try and keep absolutely terrible luck from allowing things to fall apart. Docurama's 2-DVD set is their best effort that I've seen, offering good audio/video quality and supplements that kept my attention, were very informative and quite entertaining. Highly recommended for film fans and certainly a must for those who are fans of Gilliam.

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