The Engineer

The Life and Times of Donald F. Simmons

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Lost in La Mancha

On my brother's suggestion, I went with him to see Lost in La Mancha last night at the Varsity. It's a documentary about director Terry Gilliam's effort to film his version of Don Quixote, The Man who Killed Don Quixote and how the wheels came so completely off.

I liked it a lot. Things start out so well with Terry, after several years of effort, getting the funding together to film in Spain, assembling his dream cast (French actor Jean Rochefort as Quixote, who spent several months learning English, and Johnny Depp as a contemporary man somehow lost in 17th century Spain, who Quixote mistakes as Sancho Panza), scouting locations, screen testing the giants (in the film's funniest sequence) and preparing to shoot.

Once they actually start, things begin falling apart quickly. They are plagued by extremely tight actor schedules leaving no margins for error, sound stages that turn out to be little more than warehouses, NATO jets, flash floods, insurance problems, back problems, skittish investors, horses that won't butt you in the back, and much more. There were times when I wanted to have my hands over my eyes because it was just too painful to watch, especially when the principles are all saying this isn't going to be another Baron Munchausen, no chance of that. (An earlier, horribly over-budget flop of Gilliam's. I liked bits of it very much, but as a whole the movie doesn't work. Fantastic performance however by John Neville.)

The clips of completed footage we see do look good, so it's a shame we're unlikely ever to see the complete film. At least Terry's got it in his head.


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