November 12th, 2016

Baron2

The latest of many words I've written on Terry Gilliam: thoughts after "Time Bandits"

Terry Gilliam is a very special artist to me. He's directed and often co-written some of my all-time favorite films. Strange, sometimes slightly maddening and very skewed, films. Monty Python, made up of him and five other honorary madmen who looked high and low for jokes, is part of the base of my sense of humor, like it is for a lot of us.

Now, happily, I've finally seen his 1981 film Time Bandits on a big screen, at the Laurelhurst. (The only Gilliam films I've yet to see in theaters are Jabberwocky from 1977, Tideland from 2005, and his 1983 short film "The Crimson Permanent Assurance," which he made for Monty Python's The Meaning of Life.) Coincidentally, I'm reading Gilliam's recent memoir Gilliamesque, so he's even more in the forefront of my mind than usual.

So's his unique career: I really doubt we'll ever get a filmmaker quite like him again. He's had this D.I.Y. style, handmade or often feeling so, since first becoming an animator in the Sixties. (It still looks a little weird to me when he has computer special effects in his films, and not just when they're bad effects like in 2005's The Brothers Grimm.) He's made bric-a-brac films: the junky, fallen-apart future (and present) of Twelve Monkeys, the set-off-a-bomb-in-the-Seventies aesthetic of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the flying-buttresses-and-giant-Legos look of the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness in Time Bandits, the almost smelly Jabberwocky.

His work's not for everyone. (That's especially true of Jabberwocky, but I admire how honestly nasty, mean, and intentionally anticlimactic it is.) He's not for everyone: Gilliam can rub me the wrong way; major differences in philosophy and opinion. (I'll just leave it at that.) Since I haven't seen Tideland at all yet — I've been warned by slipjig to "watch it on a strong day" — I honestly don't know if Gilliam's work of the past 15 years will ever match the power of his Eighties and Nineties films. I can only describe his two most recent features in the broadest of ways: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is about a man trying to meet a deal with the Devil while trying to keep his daughter from being hurt by that deal, and The Zero Theorem is about a man trying to do a possibly impossible job under possibly impossible conditions. But wow, even broadly described, THEY SOUND LIKE GILLIAM FILMS.

At times tonight at Time Bandits, I got a little wistful: could a film like it be a hit now, the way it was a hit in 1981? Would enough people "get" it? I also miss the late cast members David Rappaport, Jack Purvis, and Kenny Baker. But I can take comfort in thinking that by the film's design, the bandits of the title could still be out there. Thank you, fiction. Thank you, Terry Gilliam.