His movies don't earn boatloads of cash, but Terry Gilliam is still one of the most imaginative filmmakers alive. The Monty Python alum is fighting to get his pet project The Man Who Killed Don Quixote off the ground after more than a decade, and he's doing it in a world filled with movies like Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which he says he just doesn't get.
In a new interview reflecting on his career after receiving the Fellini Foundation Prize earlier this month, Gilliam said he took time to watch Michael Bay's latest massive-budget robot fighting picture on a flight. Though he seems to admire the visuals, his verdict on the film as a whole says a lot about why his movies are different.
"You just sit there and watch the explosions," Gilliam said. "I couldn't tell you what the movie was about. The movie hammers the audience into submission. They are influenced by videogames, but in video games at least you are immersed; in these movies you're left out. In films, there's so much overt fantasy now that I don't watch a lot because everything is possible now. There's no tension there. People can slide down the side of a building that's falling and they don't get ripped to shreds? The shots are amazing, but if there is no consequence, no gravity, what's the point? I can't watch Hollywood movies anymore. There's no room for me."
Gilliam's own approach to filmmaking—reflected in classics like Brazil, Twelve Monkeys and Time Bandits—relies much more on what he describes as his very unique relationship with reality. When you watch a Gilliam film, you're not sure what's real and what's not, and the filmmaker himself says that's because he's never sure either.
"I never quite understand what the real world is," he said. "I shoot reality and fantasy the same way because it's all the same to me. I don't know how to distinguish between the two; they flow into each other all the time. That's the autobiographical part in my movies ... in Hollywood, everyone takes characters and puts them into action sequences where they are threatened by outside forces, but to me the threat is your own perception of the world."
Gilliam's often unorthodox approach to filmmaking has often meant that big projects have passed him by in favor of more conventional directors. He was J.K. Rowling's original choice to direct the Harry Potter films, but Warner Bros. eventually handed it over to Chris Columbus. He also worked for years on an adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' graphic novel Watchmen before the flick finally got moving with Zack Snyder at the helm. He doesn't seem to mind this, though, just as long as he can make his films the way he wants to make them.
"The thing is, some really good scripts come my way, but there's nothing in them for me to come to grips with; they are complete in themselves," Gilliam said. "There's no uncertainty. I don't look for answers; I look for questions. I like when people leave the cinema and feel like the world has been altered for them somewhat. On Brazil, I know a woman who said she saw the film, went home and later that night she just started weeping. I also heard about an attorney who saw the film and then locked himself in his office for three days. Fantastic. On Fisher King, I know specifically of a woman in New York who saw it and then walked 20 blocks on her way home and realized she was walking in the wrong direction. Movies used to do that to me, but they don't do that to me anymore."
Lately, amid doing other things like an opera adaptation of the Faust tale, Gilliam has been working once again on resurrecting his fallen project The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, the story of a modern-day ad executive who travels back in time and joins the adventures of the legendary Don Quixote de la Mancha. Gilliam shot footage for the film for about a week in 2000 before injuries and other problems killed the project. Last year he tried to get it rolling again with Robert Duvall and Ewan McGregor in the starring roles, but financing fell through.
Now things look a little more promising for Quixote with the promise of more sound financing, but even if they don't work out, Gilliam says he has no choice but to keep pushing to make the flick happen.
"I don't have a choice, really, with these things. I become possessed by them. I blame Monty Python, in a way; it was my pension scheme that allowed me to make the choices I've made, and there was an arrogance and confidence that came with being in Python. Look, the last proper job I had was [in the 1960s] at the Chevrolet assembly plant in Van Nuys. It was the night shift, and when I quit I said I would never work for money again. I believe in the things I make. The fact that God doesn't want me to make them is beside the point."
(via Hero Complex)