Attempts to make a theatrical version of DON QUIXOTE, the beloved literary masterpiece by Miguel de Cervantes, have nearly always met with disaster in one way or another. The only successful version was a recent television version starring John Lithgow as the addled Don. A five-hour Spanish television version of the first half of the novel was completed and broadcast in 1991, but the second half was not made due to the death of the star. The most famous failed attempt, however, was by the late great Orson Welles, who left different parts of what he shot to three different bickering factions, which means that, for all practical purposes, there is no final edited movie.
MONTY PYTHON alumnus Terry Gilliam (TIME BANDITS, BRAZIL and TWELVE MONKEYS), a first-rate fantasy director with a magnificently weird imagination, has been trying to make a new version of DON QUIXOTE for more than 10 years. In 2000, he finally got enough funding to begin shooting in Europe, using European money. LOST IN LA MANCHA is a documentary describing how an escalating series of disasters prevents Gilliam from realizing his dream, after only a few days of shooting.
First, the lead actress has problems with her schedule, and the filmmakers find out that her contract has not really been finalized. Then, the actor playing Quixote, an aging French actor who has taken a quick course in English, has a prostrate problem which clearly proves painful when he tries to ride his horse. Then, a large Spanish soundstage needed for several sets turns out to have terrible sound because Spanish filmmakers record their dialogue after they film their scenes, instead of during the filming. Finally, after suffering through hours of noise from jets located at a nearby airbase, a terrible rainstorm hits the dry river bed that Gilliam has chosen to shoot the first important scenes without regard to the location. This delays the production, so the French actor returns to Paris, where his doctor nixes any further involvement until he is completely healed. Despite Gilliam’s heroic efforts to keep it going, the production is shut down.
LOST IN LA MANCHA is an enjoyable comedy of errors that reveals many details about the filmmaking process, including the financial end. Like Don Quixote, Terry Gilliam fights obstinate, impersonal windmills. He is depicted as the consummate Romantic artist battling social forces, nature and even God Himself.
Although Gilliam obviously has a terrific imagination, the actor he has chosen to play Don Quixote doesn’t seem to have the best vocal and acting talent for the role during the shooting, though he does indeed look the part. In fact, one silent screen test showing the actor in full Quixote regalia comes agonizingly close to what one expects a movie Quixote to look like.
Also, when things go wrong with the production, some “f” words understandably flow from people’s lips, but the documentary also shows scenes from the script where one character only seems to know the “f” word. To besmirch the story of a beloved masterpiece with such vulgarity seems totally out of place. It doesn’t encourage MOVIEGUIDE® about the ultimate worth of Gilliam’s pet project, even if he gets all the money in the world to make his heart’s desire come true.
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(RoRo, LL, V, D, M) Romantic worldview of the idealistic artist who battles social forces, nature and God; 18 mostly strong obscenities and one strong profanity; light violence such as brief fighting and pretend swordplay; smoking; and, brief discussion about there being a curse associated with a famous literary work.