Cinema surveillance images are loading at the bottom of the page

Lost in La Mancha

Threat advisory: Elevated - Significant risk of entertaining activities

Movie propaganda

Lost in La Mancha may be the first 'un-making of' documentary. In a genre that exists to hype films before their release, Lost in La Mancha presents an unexpected twist: it is the story of a film that does not exist. Instead of a sanitised glimpse behind-the-scenes, Lost in La Mancha offers a unique, in-depth look at the harsher realities of filmmaking. With drama that ranges from personal conflicts to epic storms, this is a record of a film disintegrating.

In September 2000, when the cameras began rolling on Terry Gilliam's adaptation of Don Quixote, the production already had a chequered past including ten years of development, a series of producers and two previous attempts to start the film. Gilliam had achieved the difficult task of financing the $32 million budget entirely within Europe - a feat that would provide him with freedom from the creative restrictions of Hollywood. The uphill journey was not, however, inconsistent with Gilliam's career: his more than fifteen year history of battling the Hollywood machine had cast him, like Quixote, as a visionary dreamer who rages against gigantic forces.

Theatrical propaganda posters

Lost in La Mancha image

Target demographic movie keyword propaganda

  • Film documentary Don Quixote Terry Gilliam unmade movie

Persons of interest

  • Jeff Bridges .... Narrator
  • Bernard Bouix .... Himself
  • René Cleitman .... Himself
  • Johnny Depp .... Himself
  • Benjamín Fernández .... Himself
  • Terry Gilliam .... Himself
  • Tony Grisoni .... Himself
  • Vanessa Paradis .... Herself
  • Phil Patterson .... Himself
  • Nicola Pecorini .... Himself
  • Gabriella Pescucci .... Herself
  • Jean Rochefort .... Himself
  • Keith Fulton .... Screenwriter
  • Louis Pepe .... Screenwriter
  • Keith Fulton .... Director
  • Louis Pepe .... Director

Cinematic intelligence sources

Intelligence analyst

Agent Provocateur Alexander Feld

Theatrical report

Keith Fulton's and Louis Pepe's Lost in La Mancha is probably a first in documentary filmmaking. Conceived as observation of the building of an intended epic, it became instead a record of its collapse during construction. The film it intended to capture, Terry Gilliam's The man who killed Don Quixote, folded after six days of shooting. Based upon this interesting work, we are uncertain whether to mourn or rest comfortably.

Nearly 400 years ago, Miguel de Cervantes published Don Quixote de La Mancha. This epic, destined to be the equal in Spanish of, say, The divine comedy, Faust and War and Peace, is not only the first modern novel, it is perhaps the most obvious literary link between the medieval and the modern.

An amazing blend of gross parody, dream and fantasy, romantic chivalry, heroic odyssey and epic human comedy, the novel has virtually resisted adaptation. There is a third rate opera, a second rate ballet, and one of Richard Strauss' weaker scores. About the only adaptive success is the modest Broadway classic, Man of La Mancha. (That's where the bellowing Impossible dream comes from, not to be confused with Ol' Man River). Cinematically, it has proven to be a minefield, or better yet, a frozen ocean.

Orson Welles, who spent 20 years on a Quixote project, continuing even after his leading actor died, made a valiant attempt. (A 1992 Spanish documentary on DVD assembles probably as much of Welles' mishmash as we'll ever see. It is for serious Wellesians only.)

So it is just a bit surprising, to say the least, that the often brilliant, often inconsistent filmmaker Terry Gilliam is entrusted with US$32 million (one of the largest cinematic war chests assembled out of Hollywood) to get his decade-long dream off the ground. If this film succeeds on any level, and it does, it is in its honest portrayal of that vision - forgive me, that Impossible dream - collapsing. Whether or not Gilliam's ultimate product would have been a valid and fitting work of art is another story; what emerges here is honest filmmaking.

Gilliam's lineage is, of course, straight out of Monty Python - arguably the most important and funniest comedy act since the Marx Brothers. His originality as a writer is not in question, nor is his visionary approach. His work as a director is as contradictory as it is fascinating. Jabberwocky, Baron Munchausen (which he has virtually renounced), Brazil, The Fisher King, Twelve monkeys, Fear and loathing in Las Vegas. He is visual, visionary, amorphous. But you've got to admit, if these are not great films (I'll stick my neck out for Brazil and Fear and loathing), this is a pretty exceptional oeuvre!

The team of directors has had admirable success in getting Gilliam-gets-to-the-screen onto the screen before - their The hamster factor can now be seen on the DVD of Twelve monkeys. Well worth a look, this documentary virtually stands with Eleanor Coppola's jewel Hearts of darkness, her pic about the making of her husband's masterpiece, as masters of the genre. Both totally deglamourise and deconstruct every aspect of filmmaking.

The directors wisely opt for a different approach from Hamster, adding the dramas of pre-production. Arrivals in Spain, props, costumes, storyboards, scripts. The mostly European production crew is very enthusiastic; Gilliam is bursting with childlike joy. "Another Oscar for you," he jokes to the costume designer. Although Gilliam looks insatiable and indefatigable, things begin to unravel very quickly. The honesty factor is kept up, and this remains the film's strength. Gilliam agreed to wear a wireless Mike throughout the project. Fulton and Pepe showed him the power switch; in his defence he never turns it off.

Scheduling proves to be an Alp, money a Himalaya. Sound stages are anything but soundproof. Sets and props are getting very, very big. Although Johnny Depp shows, the supposed lead actress, Vanessa Paradis, is yet to sign a contract. However, the star, veteran French actor Jean Rochefort, seems ideal. He has perfected his English for the role, is made up to look the part, and is an excellent horseman.

Things unravel very, very quickly. A cloudburst transforms the dry Spanish landscape into a river flowing with ruined cameras and equipment. Then the seasons change, making lighting continuity impossible. It gets worse; Rochefort falls seriously ill and returns to Paris.

Within days, schedules have to be kept, actors have to go elsewhere, millions have been lost. Lawyers and insurers debate the meaning of "force majeure", producers bicker and studio goombahs grumble. Production is indefinitely postponed.

Gilliam shot for six days; the previous decade of planning is only referred to. Therefore the footage we end up with is the deluged scenes, and a tiny, albeit wonderful, moment of Johnny Depp battling with a fish. Quixote's tormenting giants, here played by some real oddballs from the Extra Department, keep reappearing. That's all there is... in short, they have virtually no movie to put in their movie.

Whether or not this film would have turned out differently had Gilliam completed his work is pointless. This film, without much of its subject, is robbed of a spine. (There is some very intelligent use of animation, the voice-over by Fisher King star Jeff Bridges is first rate, and the accompanying original music is ideal.) Although fated to be limited in scope, and pin-in-a-balloon anti-climactic, it is nonetheless moving, and oddly relevant, filmmaking. It does not take long to realise that sometimes life really does imitate art. Gilliam's right hand man, long suffering Assistant Director Phil Patterson, is far more than the Director's realist sidekick - he has become Sancho Panza. And the directors make us well aware that Gilliam has become that idealistic, brilliant, possessed madman, Don Quixote.

Here's hoping he gets the chance to attack this windmill once again.

Security censorship classification

M (Low level coarse language)

Surveillance time

89 minutes (1:29 hours)

Not for public release in Australia before date

Film: 3 July 2003

Cinema surveillance images

Lost in La Mancha imageLost in La Mancha imageLost in La Mancha imageLost in La Mancha image
Lost in La Mancha image
Lost in La Mancha imageLost in La Mancha imageLost in La Mancha image

[ Return to top ]