Behind the scenes stories have always fascinated me. Even since before
my time in theatre, I’ve been asking myself some kind of variant of
“how did they do that?” ever since the day I saw Star Wars in 1997.
After a few shots at directing myself (I’ve made three short films and
one 90-minute student film in addition to directing four plays), I’m
more curious about how close to off the rails things can ever get
before disaster. Lost in La Mancha provides that answer for me and,
painfully, Terry Gilliam.
When Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote fell apart before
completion, there were camcorders to capture it all. Lost in La Mancha
is the closest thing to a proper movie that will come from that
ill-fated shoot. It starts with unprepared actors and jets flying
overhead and it all goes downhill from there. And that’s after only
barely getting financing that left no room for error.
Seeing Gilliam’s dream torn away from him in both fascinating and
heartbreaking. The film never shows him at the depths of despair, but
remembering how long it’s been since he was last shown giggling out of
joy that something is going exactly right fills that in for us. It’s
certainly a biased documentary, but how Gilliam could come out
anything but tragic given his circumstances is difficult to imagine.
Documentaries can be hard to rate effectively, but I was engrossed and
heartbroken for much of the film. Gilliam sometimes is shown as an
example of how not to Direct, but the scenes of the man beaming with
joy at seeing just the camcorder footage of his giants suggest
otherwise. Passion is what makes great art, after all. Lost in La
Mancha isn’t great art, at least not in the same way as some of
Gilliam’s best work, but it is a stirring look at the insanity of
following one’s passion.