Lost in La Mancha is a documentary by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe of Terry Gilliam’s attempt to create his long-time obsession of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, featuring Terry Gilliam as himself, Johnny Depp as himself, Jean Rochefort as himself, and narrated by Jeff Bridges.
Terry Gilliam has directed many great films, and in creating those films he has been allowed to express himself with the aid of a vivid imagination, and in some cases, a vast Hollywood budget. Gilliam’s ambitions have been his saving grace, by allowing the viewer to envisage the thoughts of his characters and the fantastical worlds of his movie sets - all to bring fantasy to reality and give the audience an experience of cinematic magic.
However, Terry’s ambition has not always steered him right, as in the case of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, with such adventures including great sultans and knights in castles, and a man in the moon. Such extravagant scenes saw the film go over-budget, estimating approximately $46million. This, with the lack of box office sales saw Gilliam’s reputation plummet. The stain cast by the “Baron” has now affected future works of Gilliam’s, in particular the production of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Ten years in the making, Gilliam could not get the film financed in America which led him to European shores and investors who were eager to entertain the highly acclaimed filmmaker. Wanting to bring a touch of Hollywood to Europe, and with a budget of £32million (an amount much less than Gilliam would need to produce his vision on screen) Gilliam, with his new European partners on board, embarked on his endeavour. Gilliam’s obsession to make this film meant that he has had to compromise his budget. Nevertheless, his vision remained ambitious. He began over-seeing the creation of the props, of which he was not completely satisfied. Gilliam has secured also what he believes to be the perfect location for shooting - a NATO military base in the Spanish desert. Johnny Depp, Vanessa Paradis and Jean Rochefort had all agreed to do the film, and receive a pay reduction; however their salaries would take up a large portion of the overall budget. Gilliam no doubt wanted great things for this film, and put his full energy into drawing out the best from crew and cast. However, with the best of intentions, mere mortals could not have prevented some of the unexpected catastrophes. For instance, no one could have foreseen the heavens opening up and unleashing a torrential storm that engulfed the set along with crew and cast. Also, no one could have foreseen the back injury Jean Rochefort endured while horse riding, removing him indefinitely from the film. Nevertheless, some of the calamities could have been prevented: the studio sought by his production team, which was in effect an ordinary warehouse; the un-prepped extras on the first day of shooting. Possibly, the location of the first shoot which ran overtime while jet planes interrupted shooting might have been prevented. Although these calamites were not a direct result of Gilliam’s vision, it was his ambition that permitted and sanctioned his desensitisation to the build-up of concurring disasters. Gilliam was there in flesh but appeared to be ignorant of the magnitude of each problem as it occurred, never believing that any of the disasters would shut down his production. Not until one did - Jean Rochefort’s inability to return to work, which inevitably drove the final nail in the coffin of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.
Lost in La Mancha is a painfully real film about a director lost in a fantasy he wanted to create at any cost, and for the most part of Gilliam’s career that particular mode of thinking was successful. Unfortunately, the production closest to his heart came face-to-face with the stark reality of film making, notwithstanding a few unpredicted disasters, and was the one that got away.
Peter Travers concludes his review of the documentary: “it's a cautionary fable of the impossible dream of holding to a vision on film (Gilliam is a visionary who always thinks outside the box) while Hollywood holds the bottom line” (Travers, 2003).