He Dreams of Giants | Terry Gilliam’s crazy 30-year quest comes to an end
‘I want the fucker out of my life!’
For some 30 years, Terry Gilliam struggled to make his screen adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, including an abandoned attempt chronicled in Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s 2002 documentary Lost in La Mancha.
Despite several aborted attempts, the visionary artist never gave up and neither did Fulton and Pepe (who also helmed Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys making of doco). He Dreams of Giants is the culmination of their endeavours and follows Gilliam’s journey as he finally completes his passion project, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.
Fulton and Pepe’s follow-up covers the history of the making of the film (which has been hailed as the most cursed in cinema history), as well as what happened after the events shown in Lost in La Mancha. The result is a poignant, heartfelt character study of an artist (Gilliam) and his creative obsession. Along the way, we witness him bearing his soul (and much more) to achieve his seemingly insurmountable quest.
It’s a tough watch at times, especially seeing Gilliam (who is fast approaching 80) struggling not only with the myriad of problems that arise while shooting but also the aches and pains of mortality. But not even the handicap of having a catheter fitted (that fills up with blood and urine) slows him down – despite the self-doubts and cynicism that occupies his state of mind. His determination is admirable, worrying and also inspirational (something only artists will understand – it also reminded me of another unfinished project, Richard Williams’ The Thief and the Cobbler (as detailed in Kevin Schreck’s documentary Persistence of Vision).
Gilliam finally completed The Man Who Killed Don Quixote in 2017 (and it is dedicated to two of his original leads, John Hurt and Jean Rochefort). It went on to get a 15-minute standing ovation when it premiered at Cannes in 2018, but a lengthy legal dispute resulted in huge delays in its release. Running at 2hrs 12min, it got mixed reviews, with some critics calling it a ‘mess’ that ‘overstays its welcome’. The film itself centres on genius director Toby (Adam Driver), who is at a crossroads in his career. While filming a commercial in Spain, he finds himself reconnecting with the movie he made about Don Quixote 10 years previously that became his Hollywood calling card. However, the humble village cobbler (Jonathan Pryce) he convinces to play Quixote now believes he really is Cervantes’ knight-errant.
What follows is a surreal adventure that’s pure Gilliam. Filled to the brim with colourful, crazy characters and an even crazier plot-line, all set against stunning scenery (in Spain and Portugal – I’m so going to visit), The Man Who Killed Don Quixote may have its flaws, but it most certainly bears Gilliam’s individuality – both in its visuals and in its polemics. Critical essays on the film will no doubt unearth all this in due course, but at its heart – the film is essentially about the artistic struggle between commerce and freedom (with the characters of Toby and Quixote performing as elements of Gilliam’s psyche). If you are anything like me, then you’ll be chaffing at the bit to hunt the film down after seeing this essential documentary.
He Dreams of Giants from Blue Finch Film Releasing is available to rent on digital platforms in the UK/Ireland, including iTunes, Google Play, Sky Store, Virgin, Chili and BFI Player.