Dreams: 2009 News Blog

Edited by Phil Stubbs

As 2008 ended, most of the work was complete on Terry Gilliam's new project The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus. What remained is the special effects work. For the latest news on Dr Parnassus and Gilliam's other projects, read on.

Verne Troyer, who had a major role in Dr Parnassus as Percy, was one of the 'celebrities' featured in UK-based Channel 4's programme Celebrity Big Brother. As the cameras rolled incessantly, Troyer spoke about how Heath Ledger died, and how the movie was saved. What he said is available to view at YouTube.

In January, Entertainment Weekly ran a tribute to Heath Ledger, taking quotes from a large number of poeple who worked with the actor. Below are the quotes from director Terry Gilliam and cinematographer Nicola Pecorini...
Gilliam with BAFTA award (see below)

Gilliam: Nicola Pecorini was working on The Order, and he called me and said, ''This kid is extraordinary. He's fearless.'' I went out to L.A. and met Heath and just liked him immediately. As we were talking, he was constantly jiggling around. I was like, ''That's great - you've got to keep that.'' He just had this incredible energy that was intense but very vulnerable at the same time. Heath was determined to be his own man, despite his success. Johnny Depp was someone he really admired. I introduced them at the Toronto Film Festival. Johnny has a good sense of competition. Right from the start, he was just, like, ''Ooh, this guy - watch out!''

He was a very old soul. When we were in Prague doing Grimm, there was one night we went to see this gypsy band. Somehow his age came up in conversation. At that time, Matt Damon was 32, and I always felt Heath was the same age, if not older. He said, ''I'm 24.'' I said, ''What? That's not possible!'' He had a kind of wisdom you only get from centuries of former life. He could talk about any number of things - books, ideas - and this was not a 24-year-old you were talking to. Maybe he was part aborigine somewhere down the line.

Gilliam: I used to get calls from Heath during Brokeback, because he wasn't happy. He felt alone and isolated. I think it was his sense of not getting the kind of warm support we gave him on Grimm. Whatever it did, it produced an extraordinary performance.

Gilliam: The months of publicity on Brokeback were difficult for Heath, because there was so much pressure - this was suddenly the Academy Awards and everything. Heath dutifully did it, and I know hated every moment of it. All of us heard it in different ways from him. He just hated it. For him, it was probably a kind of selling out. He hated going on chat shows. He hated what he felt were silly interviews. He felt his job was to be an actor. It bothered him to feel he was hustling to get an award or publicity.

Pecorini: Heath would sometimes ask for help to escape: ''Can you call me at 5:15 so I can pick up the phone and get off this interview?'' It was very funny, because he was like a big kid - you know, ''Get me out of Science 101.'' He went along for the ride, but at times it was a bit too much for him. He'd call me and say, ''Can I come play with your kid?'' My son at the time was 10, and Heath would come and spend hours playing soldiers with him, just to get away from everything.

Pecorini: Heath was extremely relieved he didn't win the Oscar. I saw him the next day and he was like, ''It's a big, bloody weight off my back.'' I said, ''Don't you have even a little regret?'' He said, ''No. It's over! I'm free now!'' If he had won, he would have had to deal even more with this system that wanted to guide his career and his life. He immediately threw himself back into a project that was really important to him: a movie he wanted to make about ['60s British singer] Nick Drake. That was one of his dream projects. The moment the Oscars were over, he said, ''Now we can do the Nick Drake thing.''

Gilliam: The Oscar nomination wasn't a good thing. I think it's a terrible thing to be nominated. That's a punishment for having been good. There was a period after Brokeback where Heath just didn't know which way to go. He would sign up for this and that and then pull out. That year was confusing for him.

Pecorini: Heath knew The Dark Knight would take him off the market for a long time and he loved that. He was going back to the mainstream cinema he was trying to escape, but it was giving him a way out from everything else.

Pecorini: When he came to me with the first makeup test of the Joker, I said, ''S---, man, they're going to fire you!'' And he said, ''Maybe, but that's the only way I can play it.'' Movie studios are scared of daring. They're scared of pushing the envelope. And Heath was exactly the opposite. He was always pushing, pushing, pushing. It was in his nature to push the boundaries.

Gilliam: Heath was exhilarated by playing the Joker. He said, ''I'm able to do things I never believed were inside me.'' He's working with great actors, like Gary Oldman and Aaron Eckhart, and he'd say, ''I go into these scenes, and they can't do anything to me!'' He used to just giggle that he had found a character that was impregnable. They could beat him, hit him, and it wouldn't make a difference because he was so utterly wacko. It freed him up and got him out of that uncertainty after Brokeback. It was just, ''Let's go. Let's fly.'' And he flew.

Pecorini: Separation when there is a kid involved is always very painful, no matter what. And Heath was always very hard on himself. His tendency was always to say, ''What did I do wrong?'' He was really bleeding. And I'm pretty sure that all his sleeping problems had nothing to do with work and all to do with Matilda and Michelle.

Gilliam: The insomnia was really getting to him. He'd arrive in the morning looking really shattered. I'd say, ''Let's take it easy because you're knackered.'' And he'd say, ''No, let's go.'' And he'd just whip the thing up into another gear very quickly and off we'd go. By the end of the day he was transformed into this beaming, angelic presence. The work just lifted him every day. He couldn't get enough of it.

Pecorini: I'm convinced Heath caught pneumonia at the end of that year. I remember I forced him to see a doctor, even though he didn't want to. The doctor said, ''Yes, you have the beginning of pneumonia. You'd better get antibiotics and go home and sleep.'' He got the antibiotics, but he refused to go home and sleep. And that very night, he delivered one of his best performances I have ever seen him deliver. He went on nerves, mainly.

Gilliam: I was in Vancouver, and there was a computer with a BBC website and it says, ''Heath Ledger found dead.'' My immediate response was, ''It's a f---ing Warner Bros. publicity stunt for the Joker!'' We kept looking at the computer thinking it was going to change. But it wouldn't go away.

Gilliam: They tried so hard to pin [drug abuse] on him, but they couldn't because Heath was as clean as you could be. We know about the pills. But he had stopped smoking. Marijuana was no longer in his life, which he had enjoyed a bit. He wasn't drinking. Nothing. This was a body that had cleansed itself for over a year of anything.

Pecorini: He was so solid into keeping clean, it was quite stunning. I really think he died of a broken heart. I know it can sound very romantic, but it's very tragic. I think that's what killed him.

Gilliam: For me, it was like, Let's just close up shop here, because without Heath I don't want to continue on this project. He was so central and so important. And everyone just kept beating me up, saying, ''No, you have to keep going for Heath. He wanted to see this film.'' Then we made the quantum leap: What if we get three actors to replace him? Johnny was the first person I called. I said, ''Would you consider helping finish Heath's part?'' And he said, ''Done, I'm there.'' Same with Jude and Colin. I had no confidence that it would work. It was just that I didn't know what else to do, so let's just gamble and do it. Because I was determined that Heath's role was not just going to disappear.

Pecorini: I remember when we went to the memorial service, most of the people there had nothing to do with Heath. He used to despise most of them, and there was no reason for them to be there. I understand the family wanting to give the ''Hollywood community,'' so-called, the opportunity of saying goodbye. But I'm telling you, 85 percent of the people in that room had no right to be there. It was pretty disturbing for me.

Pecorini: We joked about [an Oscar nomination]. Heath used to say, ''This time I'm going to give them such a hard time - they'll have to cry to get an interview.'' He knew he'd done something special. But he was saying, ''This time I'm going to lead the dance.''

Gilliam: We're cutting Parnassus now, so it's like I work with Heath every day. He's in fine shape, at least in the world I'm inhabiting at the moment. It just doesn't make sense. Every day goes by and I think, He'll be back in a second.

Also in January, Terry Gilliam spoke again about the likelihood of resurrecting his Don Quixote project. He told Empire, "Tony and I have started rewriting Don Quixote just this last week. [We] finally got the script back. I re-read the greatest script ever written and realise we gotta get rewriting! I really wanna knock that one out in the next month or so.” Gilliam added that he had “some very different ideas” for the movie "[I’m] starting to think I was lucky, because maybe the film will be better seven years later. It will have matured a bit longer.”

Gilliam with BAFTA Award (2)
At the start of February, the March edition of Empire was published, with a major feature on Dr Parnassus, but with no stills from the picture. The article told the story on how the movie was saved by the participation of Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law. Gilliam was quoted in the article as saying "[An audience] will come because we got a freakshow here. No question, when there's a train wreck, people will stop and watch. I don't mind, because I think the film is so good. I hope they come in large numbers. I hope they see how wonderful it is and how wonderful Heath is and it makes me happy. I don't care why they come!"

On February 5, Screen International ran a piece on Voltage Pictures, "Nicolas Chartier's high-flying Los Angeles financing and sales company", with news that it was touting a "prestigious slate to date led by new work from Robert Redford and Terry Gilliam."

The article went on to state that "Terry Gilliam is preparing a May 1 start date on the fantasy Zero Theorem, which will star Billy Bob Thornton and is being produced by Richard and Dean Zanuck.

"The story revolves around a reclusive computer genius plagued with existential angst who is hard at work on a project designed to discover the meaning or life or its lack thereof. CAA is again handling North American rights."

Later in February, Zero Theorem appeared to be becoming more real. Over at Voltage Pictures' website, there was a synopsis of the script, with a picture of Billy Bob Thornton, Gilliam's name attached and a start date of May 1. Be warned, the synopsis contains major spoilers.

At the BAFTA Awards in London on February 8, Gilliam was given a BAFTA Fellowship Award. This is the highest award given by the body, and has previously been given to Gilliam's heroes Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman and Billy Wilder.

In the run-up to the award, the filmmaker gave a number of interviews: first there's a a feature at the BBC News website, (featuring video), and a Daily Telegraph interview. Also Gilliam was interviewed on Front Row on Radio 4 and by Mark Kermode & Simon Mayo on Radio 5 Live.

The award was presented by Jonathan Pryce and Jeff Bridges, and the director gained a standing ovation from the audience. This broadcast was clumsily edited by the BBC on the night, omitting much of what Gilliam said. Also, in the clips shown of his career, there was no mention of Tideland. The presentation, and Gilliam's acceptance is now available in full on video at BAFTA's own website. On the same webpage, there's also a further video interview with Gilliam backstage.

At the Oscars in February, Kate Ledger (Heath's older sister) spoke about The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus. She said, "We've seen a little bit of the footage... I think it's going to be amazing."

Nicola Pecorini - the cinematographer on Dr Parnassus - has had his own website redesigned. And he's included images on the website of Dr Parnassus that we've not seen before. Specifically, first (albeit small) pics of Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell as Tony. Further, Pecorini's website confirmed a rumour that Peter Stormare is in the cast - he has a cameo role as a world statesman.

Later in February, in Risky Business, a blog attached to The Hollywood Reporter, writer Steven Zeitchik highlighted the absence of a US distribution deal for Dr Parnassus. He wrote, "A number of US buyers during the summer and early fall were said to be interested in acquiring stateside rights -- Lionsgate and Overture were reportedly among the potential suitors -- but word of a potential deal quickly quieted down. That has fueled all sorts of rumors in indie circles, ranging from dissent over finances on the producers' side to an extended and messy post-production session to outsized expectations on the part of filmmakers." He then undermined his own story by writing, "Many of those rumors have yet to be substantiated."

Graham Smith, the Unit Publicist for Dr Parnassus, made a swift response to the article, saying that a deal was in place for the vast majority of territories, yet the strategy in the US is to complete the film first before seeking a US buyer:

With reference to the international distribution of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus mentioned above, the film will be released in the U.K. and Ireland by Lionsgate later this year and has been sold to leading distributors worldwide. Principal teritories include Central and South America, Scandinavia, Mexico and Spain (all Sony), France (Metropolitan/Kinema), Germany (TMG/Concorde), Japan (Showgate), Italy (Movie Max), Australia (Hoyts), Benelux (NCV), China (Golden Harvest), India/Pakistan (Weg), South Africa (Nu Metro), South Korea (Showtime) and C.I.S. (West Film). Canadian distribution is being handled by Seville and US distribution will be confirmed once we have a completed film to screen.

The story was picked up by certain news organisations. One, The Independent, a British newspaper, suggested that the fate of Parnassus would be that it would go straight to DVD in the States. Yet this would seem extremely unlikely, especially given the strong interest the picture has, with Ledger's last performance and a cameo from Johnny Depp.

The Parnassus production team sent the following to The Independent, for clarity:

I should like to correct the report filed by Guy Adams which ran on page 23 of today's newspaper. Your correspondent has reproduced large chunks of the erroneous and misleading content of a blog posted by Steven Zeitchik, a contributor to a Los Angeles film trade newspaper, about Terry Gilliam's film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, featuring Heath Ledger's final performance. Since his source material is an internet blog and was not first printed in The Hollywood Reporter, to which Mr Adams attributes it, the details were not subject to that publication's scrupulous fact-checking and research, nor has there been any contact with the film's producers.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is still in post production and will not be completed until early/mid April. As soon as there is a finished film, it will be screened, for the first time, to US distributors. There has been no search for a US distributor to date, as the producers felt that it was better to wait for Terry Gilliam's vision to be fully realized on screen, so that the distributors can see exactly what they are acquiring. That said, the film was pre-sold in 90+% of the rest of the world and we are envisaging a release in the fourth quarter of this year.

At the start of March, the effects work on Dr Parnassus was still underway.

Entertainment Weekly added a further piece on Dr Parnassus, a more balanced piece about how Dr Parnassus will fare in the States. It featured great quote from Terry Gilliam, who is content to sit it out for a US distribution deal: "I think people are going to be astonished when they see the film, and there will be a rush to want it,'' he said. ''So I'm happy to wait. Nobody came forward at the right time and now it's going to cost them!"

The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus was eventually complete at the end of March. Terry Gilliam was at the Empire Awards on Sunday March 29, commenting to journalists that, "We’re putting the last shots in tomorrow, and that’ll be it"

On March 30, the Dr Parnassus production team launched a Twitter account - this is to be the official source for news on the project over the next few weeks. The first update was: Film in final stages of completion - only days to go! :)

Later that day, a further Twitter update said: We have put the last 4 VFX shots in the film.

Then on March 31, we were told: Dr. Parnassus is now sweeping up the clutter that has accumulated over the past year. He is relaxed knowing the film is finished.

On April 4, there was a piece in the Grauniad, which quoted Gilliam on the search for a US distributor for Parnassus.

Terry Gilliam has denied that his film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which features Heath Ledger's final performance, is struggling to secure a distribution deal for release in US cinemas.

"There's this story running round that has absolutely no basis in truth at all," said Gilliam. "It started from a little blog and it's all over the place but it's good, it gives us free publicity." The film-maker said he was pleased with the final version of the movie, which enlisted Jude Law, Colin Farrell and Johnny Depp to play different versions of Ledger's character.

"It was very difficult but somehow we got adrenaline going and everybody was so determined to make it work and we did it and it ended up in some ways a more extraordinary film because of that," he said. "The main thing is that it really works and that was what I was concerned about and I can say, hand on heart, that it's really good. I just didn't want to waste any moment of Heath in life or on screen and that's Parnassus."

On April 23, it was confirmed by the Cannes Film Festival, that The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus would play there, with Out of Competition status. Later, the date of May 22 2009 was given for the picture's World Premiere.

More tweets came from Dr Parnassus in April, including:

Having tidied up his wagon and fed the horses, Parnassus is stripping off to dance amongst the newborn crocuses that dot the hillside.

Bunnies are busily digging burrows in my beard. Chocolate eggs are popping out of my earholes. Good Friday was better than good.

Tomorrow is my re-birthday. My followers will roll away the kidney stone and discover that Dr. P. no longer needs a doctor.

Immortality is not as difficult as people think.

A fansite dedicated to The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus has been launched, with the aim of winning wider distribution and release of the film. It can be found at www.imaginariumofdrparnassus.com, and the people behind it did the same thing for the Heath Ledger movie Candy and have been credited with it being taken into more theaters than had been thought possible.

David Morgan's excellent website dedicated to Terry Gilliam has been relaunched at WideAngleCloseUp. Morgan spent time on the set of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and has resulting interviews at this site.

On May 1, Harry Knowles wrote the first review of Dr Parnassus for his AintitCoolNews website - which was very positive.

On May 5, Cinetic Media hosted the first US screening of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, in Hollywood's DGA Theatre. This was a screening, in advance of Cannes, to industry execs with an aim to secure a US distribution deal for the picture. There were many reports in the next few days. On May 6 came a report from Hollywood Reporter, by Steven Zeitchik, which included the following:

The hottest U.S. acquisition title at the upcoming Festival de Cannes might not be sold at the festival at all. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,Terry Gilliam's story of a traveling carnival that also is Heath Ledger's final film, has topped the list of many executives since it emerged during the past few months that the title would have its world premiere on the Croisette.

Although the festival chose it as an out-of-competition title, filmmakers and U.S. sales rep Cinetic Media have opted to try to sell the film before the fest, which begins May 13. A screening for top Los Angeles-based execs was scheduled for Tuesday night, where Cinetic hoped to seal a deal. (The company is repping domestic only; foreign sales in many territories already have been sold).

Filmmakers are believed to be seeking a studio-level deal with studio-level prices -- well into the seven figures. "If the movie delivers, you're going to see people willing to open their wallets," said one exec who planned to attend the screening. "Even with the high price, you can pick up a marketable movie for a lot less than it costs to make it."

"Parnassus" represents an unusual next step: a film that's already going to a high-profile festival actively seeking a deal away from it. There's a logic to the move. With the festival sales market bottoming out -- there has been one fest sale for at least $4 million in the past year, "The Wrestler" -- and with the Cannes audience thought to be unpredictable, Cinetic doesn't want to take any chances.

If a deal can be reached, it would mean that what was a Cannes screening for the industry becomes a launchpad for a studio's marketing campaign.

On the same day came an article from Entertainment Weekly by Nicole Sperling:

All of the major independent buyers in town packed Hollywood's DGA theater for the screening, and while most left feeling a bit befuddled (as one often does coming out of a Gilliam feature) the consensus was that the movie is better than expected.

Although Ledger died during production on Parnassus and was replaced by three actors -- Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell -- one source in attendance says that the late Oscar winner indeed appears throughout the film as Tony. His three replacements, meanwhile, only pop up in dream sequences. (Farrell's sequence is the longest, says one person who attended the screening.) The two-hour film apparently features amazing visuals, but the storyline is rather complex, centering on Christopher Plummer as Dr. Parnassus, a man who runs a traveling sideshow with his daughter, a young barker, and a sidekick, played by Verne Troyer. Tom Waits plays the Devil, with whom Parnassus makes a Faustian bargain, and Ledger's character joins the troupe after they find him hanging from his neck under a London bridge.

Lily Cole as Valentina in The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus
More pics at this webpage within Dreams

A number of stills from Dr Parnassus were released in May. These have been gathered at a new webpage within Dreams.

On May 9, more gossip about the sale of Dr Parnassus was reported at Risky Business, again by Steven Zeitchik:

"Is it brilliant or is it muddled?" we've been quizzing acquisition execs who saw "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus" at the first and heretofore only buyers' screening earlier in the week. "And, more to the point, would you buy it?"

The first question has yielded an answer of surprising consistency. Both, many said. Not always strong or simple on the narrative, and that sometimes makes for a muddle, but visually and at times conceptually very sharp.

On the second question, buyers were not opposed, but for the most part they said the answer would come down to price (doesn't it always?). Heath Ledger and the triumvirate of Depp, Law and Farrel make it eminently publicity-friendly, so there's value in the film if you spend the right amount, they said. (ah, but whose right amount?).

To go above that threshold, though, they noted a movie of this sort needs word of mouth, and it's tricky to determine how much the visuals and vision would carry that. "And Gilliam fans are tough to read," said one buyer. "It's hard to say how many of them there are, and, among them, how many will come out and buy a ticket for a new movie."

While certain early reactions -- a Mr. Harry Knowles comes to mind -- have loved it (or, more technically, noted that their response was Holy F%*#ing Wow), for a full critical reading we'll have to wait for the Cannes premiere next weekend. We have a feeling we'll be hearing a lot of 'both' there too.

The Festival de Cannes opened on May 13. Video, available on the festival's website, features a few seconds from Dr Parnassus, a scene filmed in London's Leadenhall Market. Fastforward to the 21st minute if you are in a hurry.

On May 14, there was an interview with Gilliam in The Times: below Gilliam tells the paper how he came to continue the film despite Ledger's death.

Gilliam’s initial reaction to the news was that he would have to call a permanent halt to the production. “I thought, ‘There’s no way I can make this film without Heath’.” But Amy and other collaborators lobbied hard to keep the film alive to honour the memory of its star.

“Ideas are floating around. Then finally we decided, ‘OK, let’s get three other people to take over the part’. And we were lucky because we have a magic mirror in this movie. Not every movie has a magic mirror. So you can very genuinely say that these other actors are different aspects of the character that Heath plays. And it works. The point was, we’ve got to keep going. It was a bit like half being there, but apparently on autopilot I can still do a few things.”

In casting the actors who would step into the role, Gilliam says that a key considerations was that they had to have been close friends of Ledger. Fortunately, Ledger’s friends included Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law, names that no doubt helped to persuade the film’s financiers that Doctor Parnassus was still viable. “It’s a hard thing to do, walk into a character and take over. But they did it,” Gilliam says.

He has no doubt that Ledger fully deserved the Oscar for his chilling portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight. “But wouldn’t it have been nice if they had noticed before? Even before Brokeback Mountain he was doing brilliant work. Everything he has done has been solid, even the earlier silly things. I first saw him in The Four Feathers and he just takes over the screen. He was what, 21 years old?”

The planned release date for Doctor Parnassus is in the autumn. “We want to be in that last third for the Academy Awards! Maybe we’ll get another award for Heath. We’re going to get as many awards as possible for him, long after he’s gone.”

Gilliam, who has a history of taking his audience out of their comfort zone, suggests that the film’s viewers might find some elements of the movie tough going. “I think there are going to be moments in Parnassus; I’m just waiting to hear what the audience does when they see certain shots. There are lines that we refused to change after Heath died. It’s like the script was prescient. It’s really spooky.”

Also on May 14, Jeremy Thomas made an announcement about Gilliam's The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Thomas said the project was on track to shoot in Spring 2010, as a project for his Recorded Picture Company. Hollywood Reporter journalist Stuart Kemp wrote the following:

Terry Gilliam may no longer be tilting at windmills, having teamed with Oscar-winning British producer Jeremy Thomas to bring The Man Who Killed Don Quixote to the big screen.

Gilliam has hooked up with Thomas to finally bring his long-blighted take on the tale of the Spanish knight. Screenwriter Tony Grisoni has worked with Gilliam to reimagine the legend, and the script revolves around a filmmaker who is charmed into Quixote's eternal quest for his ladylove, becoming an unwitting Sancho Panza.

The move uniting Gilliam with Thomas and his Recorded Picture Co. banner is the latest twist in a moviemaking saga almost as epic as Cervantes' 17th century classic on which it is based. Nine years ago, the original shoot suffered a series of setbacks captured in the documentary "Lost in La Mancha," which went on to become a cult hit in its own right.

Thomas, in Cannes, described the project as "irresistible," while Grisoni added that there is no escaping some pacts. "Nearly 10 years on, I find myself lending a hand to get that crazed, giggling bedlamite back in the saddle. I'm talking about Don Quixote. In spite of God and the devil, he shall ride again," Grisoni said.
The RPC redeveloped movie is scheduled for a spring shoot.

On May 16, Quint wrote up his review of Dr Parnassus for AintItCoolNews - a further positive review. Also John Horn blogged the following for the Los Angeles Times:

Not that long ago, American distributors went to film festivals -- Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, Telluride -- looking for reasons to buy a movie. These days, as the business has grown much tougher with higher-than-ever profit expectations, they almost seem more interested in finding reasons not to acquire a film. For proof, consider the status of director Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

At first glance, the movie would appear to have numerous built-in sales hooks, most notably that it was the last film of actor Heath Ledger, who died of a drug overdose during its filming. Because Ledger was unable to complete the film, a trio of prominent actors stepped in to finish his role: Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law.

Those A-list names -- and the mystique of the last performance of the Oscar-winning Dark Knight co-star -- would seem to create enough publicity to drum up some audience interest; there's a fan website tracking the film's history and posting images from the film. Gilliam, who directed the critics' darling Brazil but also the flop The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, is not some direct-to-video hack. On top of all that, the film was selected to play out of competition at this year's Cannes festival, where it will be shown Friday night.

But U.S. buyers, who were shown the movie in a screening at the Directors Guild of America theater in Los Angeles a week before the festival started, so far have been quite cool on the movie. Interviews with half a dozen American distributors here revealed a consistent reaction: Whatever publicity Ledger's death may generate for The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, the film itself is too oblique to stand on its own. The buyers said they were both dazzled and puzzled by some of Gilliam's choices, and though they found much to admire, it wasn't enough to tip the scales.

John Sloss, the lawyer and sales agent who is selling the film in Cannes, said he was confident that the film would find a distributor, and that the potential buyers who are so far passing on the film might be the right distributors for it in any case. But as the festival and concurrent market enter their fourth full day with no new major sales deals announced, it's starting to look as if the buyers aren't yet ready to start shopping.

Dr Parnassus was premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 22 2009. This will be covered in more detail here soon, but below are some pictures from the event:

Gilliam answers a question at a Q&A event at Cannes
Fisticuffs with Verne Troyer
Director Gilliam at the Dr Parnassus Cannes press conference
Gilliam with cast and producers at the Cannes premiere of Dr Parnassus

At the end of May, Gilliam headed off for the Ibiza Film Festival. Running from May 27 to June 3, it featured a retrospective of his films. Gilliam was interviewed at the festival in the embedded video below.


The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus opened the Munich Film Festival on Friday 26 June. Terry Gilliam attended with actor Verne Troyer and producer Amy Gilliam. Festival organiser Andreas Ströhl praised Gilliam’s film as an “overpowering hallucinogenic fantasy” and a “children’s film for adults.”

Terry Gilliam spoke to Dreams at the end of June, just before setting off for the Munich Film Festival. It's been a few months now since his latest project The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus was completed, and the director has been to Cannes with his new picture. The director revealed that he has abandoned plans to make Zero Theorem, but has firm plans to resurrect the Quixote project for shooting in 2010.

A few days before this interview, Johnny Depp spoke about Quixote. The actor said, "I mean, I love Terry and I'd do, personally, anything the guy wants to do. The thing is, with Quixote, my dance card is pretty nutty for the next couple of years, so I'd hate to have to put him in a position or ask him to be in a position to wait for me. That would be wrong. But, also, in a way, I feel like we went there and we tried something and whatever it was, the elements and all the things that got up underneath us were there and happened and were documented well and were documented well in the film Lost in La Mancha, so I don't know if it's, I hope it's right for me to go back there. I don't know if it's right for Terry to, but if he wants to..."

Gilliam told Dreams that no cast is in place for Quixote; Depp has "first dibs" on the project, but neither the filmmaker nor producer Jeremy Thomas feel they can wait until Depp is available to start production on Quixote.

On June 29, Gilliam attended a screening of Time Bandits at the Electric Cinema on Portobello Road in London. The Evening Standard reported that guests included Sir Ian Holm and Verne “mini me” Troyer, who stars in Gilliam’s current film, Doctor Parnassus, along with Lily Cole. “I am being approached from all directions to do an opera,” said Gilliam. “Of course I’m tempted. A British company want me and now Berlin State Opera too. I want to do one about the French Revolution. I really do love opera. I just don’t like the audiences you get for it.” Also, talking to GQ journalist James Mullinger, Gilliam hailed Dr Parnassus as his "best film since Time Bandits".

The UK release date of Dr Parnassus has been confirmed as Friday 16 October 2009.

Terry Gilliam was interviewed about Dr Parnassus in an article published on the CNN website.

Early in July, there was a substantial article in Vanity Fair about the making of Dr Parnassus and the death of Heath Ledger. Written by Peter Biskind, who wrote Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, it is currently available at the Vanity Fair website.

Heath Ledger captured by Bruce Weber

On July 10, an article by Gilliam about his mentor, Harvey Kurtzman, was published in the Daily Telegraph.

I remember when I first saw Harvey Kurtzman. There was something small and nutlike about him. He was like a beautifully polished acorn, slightly brown and hard and nice. There was a politeness about Harvey, which wasn’t really what I was expecting. As a kid, I was quite voracious with comics. On the news-stands in Fifties California, where I lived, you’d get Superman, Captain Marvel, Batman. And the newspapers were full of cartoons, from Fritz the Cat to The Katzenjammer Kids to Blondie and Dagwood – it was endless. This was probably the peak of comics in America. I loved cartooning and I immediately started copying my favourites. I didn’t think about it, it was just like eating, just food; I absorbed as much of it as possible.

The big leap was MAD comics, which gets us to Kurtzman. The comic book MAD, which Harvey founded in 1952, were parodies of comics, using them as political and social satire. The idea of parody was something that was quite new and fresh, and that’s what MAD did brilliantly well. If you’re doing a parody you’ve got to be as good as the original – in some ways you’ve got to be better. Their stuff was smart, it was funny, and it was very sexy too. So much so that I used to hide the comic in the garage so my parents didn’t see that I had this proto-porn.

When MAD come along I didn’t know who Harvey Kurtzman was, I just knew a magazine. I’m very lazy that way. But in the course of the MAD period, the name kept coming up: Kurtzman, Kurtzman, Kurtzman. When you’re a teenager you want to find out the names of your gods.

At college my friends and I took over a literary magazine, Fang. We lowered the tone significantly. We turned it into a sort of satirical, outrageous, offensive magazine wherever possible, trying to shock and wake up the student body. At that point MAD had become hugely successful, but Harvey had left, and it just didn’t have the satirical bite that I was looking for.

Then Harvey started Help! magazine. I just discovered it one day, and said, hello, what’s this? For me, the best thing about Help! were the fumetti, the funny photo-stories that Harvey was doing. I’d never seen anything like that before. So we started doing those. That was the next step for me towards film-making: suddenly we were going out and doing photo-shoots, dressing people up and finding locations and telling stories. I started sending the magazines to Harvey, because I just wanted him to see who was out there copying him, the monster he’d helped create. He sent back a really nice letter which was the beginning of the end, or the beginning of the beginning.

When I graduated from university I really didn’t know what I was going to do. But I wrote to Harvey and said, ‘I’m gonna come to New York. I’d love to come and meet you.’ And he wrote me back saying, ‘Don’t bother, kid. There’s no job here, there’s nothing, it’s a hard place.’ But nevertheless, I went.

So we agreed to meet, at the Algonquin Hotel. Now, I was a great fan of the Algonquin, because that was where the Round Table was in the Twenties, where Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and George Kaufman used to hang out and be witty and write for the New Yorker.

I got there and I remember going up the stairs, this callow youth from California, and I knock on the door and the door opens and inside this suite were gathered together all of my god hero cartoonists. And then Harvey turns up. He was much smaller than I expected; most of my heroes are. But it was wonderful. Harvey was really sweet and enthusiastic. And standing next to him was a guy named Charles Alverson, the assistant editor of Help!, who had just decided to quit. And they were looking for somebody to replace him. So I got the job just like that.

At Help! I had to do everything. I had to deal with whatever went on with the magazine, so I’d be on the phone talking to people in a solemn voice: ‘Ah, yes, this is Mr Gilliam, the assistant editor of Help! magazine, I’ll have that package over to you in about, oh, 15 minutes, I’ll tell the boy to bring it in.’ But that boy was me. And I was making two dollars less than I would’ve made on the dole every week. It was wonderful.

What I really loved was doing the fumetti, because I had to be, in a sense, the producer. So I would get the actors together, the props together, the costumes, find locations. Some of this was done with Harvey, sometimes it was me out there on my own. Henry Jaglom, the film director, was in one of our fumetti; so was John Cleese, which is how we met. Once we were doing this fumetto about gangsters; we needed a Mr Big and one of our ‘gun molls’ happened to be dating Woody Allen. He was perfect, although Harvey was wonderfully bemused about who this guy was.

After Help! collapsed I went hitchhiking around Europe for several months. When I came back to America I had no home so I lived in Harvey’s attic for several months.

What’s so funny is life, the way it goes on. His studio was at the top of the house and he lived up there most of the time. And in my house here in London, same thing – I live at the top of the house and the rest of the family is below, getting on with life. I seem to have adopted so much of Harvey’s work ethic and the way he went about things. I think he regretted leaving MAD. He felt he’d made a big mistake which he’d never recover from.

That was a great act, to just walk away. I’ve been emulating that ever since, and that’s why I get in trouble all the time.

Harvey was so obsessed with technical perfection. You’ve just got to get all of that stuff right. But I never even noticed the things that were bothering him, because of the strength of the material. The freedom when he did his layouts, the way he’d put light and shade in them. He used to always look at Gustave Doré etchings or engravings, and learned from those.

When he started doing Little Annie Fanny for Hugh Hefner and Playboy, in 1962, I was pissed off. I never felt that Little Annie Fanny was as sharp as his earlier work. It was technically brilliant but it always felt slightly compromised. I was too naïve to realise what a rough time he’d been through; his need to make a living was paramount. I always thought he let Hefner take advantage of him. He’d always come back from Chicago wide-eyed and amazed by the Playboy Mansion and the Sybaritic lifestyle there. To me, it felt like a bordello. But Harvey would go and just be completely transfixed. All these beautiful girls, but he couldn’t touch them. And yet he wanted to be as close as possible!

In many ways Harvey was one of the godparents of Monty Python. All the smart people loved Harvey’s work; the dumb people didn’t. It was the same with Python. Still, I remember when he came over here in the late Sixties. Monty Python’s Flying Circus had just started, so I dragged Harvey down to Terry Jones’s house to watch it. Harvey didn’t like it, or understand it. The show didn’t click with him at all. It was one of those wonderfully disappointing moments when you really want to impress your teacher, and phoo! He didn’t get it.

A new book, ‘The Art of Harvey Kurtzman’ by Denis Kitchen and Paul Buhle, has been published by Harry N Abrams.

More tweets appeared in July from Dr Parnassus:

Dr. P here.. sitting on a comfy hedgehog at the edge of the world listening to Randy Newman's Faust. Why aren't you?

Considering how sharp the edge of the world is, a hedgehog is a real pleasure to my aged bottom.

A hedgehog is best used as a toothpick. You can do all your teeth at once. I'm now stepping off the edge of the world...with clean teeth.

The sun is shining brightly in London but there is a man on a plinth named Jesus asking people to be sunbeams just for him. Greedy bastard..

There goes the sun. Jesus managed to get all the sunbeams and has gone home. We are being rained on. He was not reigned in.

Terry Gilliam appeared, with Verne Troyer, at ComicCon in San Diego, CA on 23 July. The director and the actor were there to present a clip of Dr Parnassus. There was a great deal of web coverage of this event:

Fearnet - We Talk 'Parnassus' with Terry Gilliam

MovieWeb - Video Interviews with Gilliam and Troyer

Motion Captured Part One - One Hour with Terry Gilliam, Part One

Motion Captured Part Two - One Hour with Terry Gilliam, Part Two

On July 24, Gilliam spoke with the Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus support site. He answered a number of questions, revealing that he was influenced by painters Grant Wood, Od Nerdrum and Maxfield Parrish. Further, that the characters within the picture were influenced by not only the family and the travelling theatre from The Seventh Seal, but also Pierrot, Columbine and Harlequin from Commedia dell'Arte (and its variants).

The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus support site has launched a photo campaign, where individuals from around the world have sent in captioned photos stating that they would like to see Dr Parnassus. Director Gilliam joined the campaign...

On August 1 and 2, Gilliam was at the River Film Festival, at Písek, in the Czech Republic. The following video advertises the filmmaker's attendance. Gilliam became the first winner of Miroslav Ondricek Award.

Gilliam at the River Film Festival, in Písek, with festival President Michael Havas

Early in August, it was confirmed that Dr Parnassus will have a prestigious Gala Presentation at the Toronto International Film Festival. The 34th Toronto International Film Festival will be held Thursday, September 10 to Saturday, September 19, 2009.

On August 7, an astonishing new official trailer was released at Yahoo Movies. Below is an embedded file from Trailer Addict, and below that is a larger video file from Movie List


Also on August 7, a new website was launched, to support the UK release of The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus.

Design at the new UK Dr Parnassus website

On August 12, Variety reported that Sony was to be the US theatrical distributor of Dr Parnassus:

Heath Ledger’s final film has finally found a Stateside buyer. Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group is in advanced talks to pick up "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus," with plans for it to go out theatrically, likely this year, via Sony Pictures Classics.

Pic is expected to be a lucrative homevideo title due to the Ledger angle and the other star power. Terry Gilliam’s adventure also features Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, who replaced Ledger in various fantasy scenes after the thesp died during the film’s production in January 2008. "Parnassus" was officially unveiled at Cannes this year in an out-of-competition slot toward the end of the festival. Several buyers screened the film just before Cannes, but a deal didn’t immediately emerge.

Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group has been a key player in a number of pic deals lately, including for "The Young Victoria." That film will go out theatrically via Bob Berney and Bill Pohlad’s new Apparition label, and SPWAG will handle all ancillaries as part of a three-way deal on the pic.

SPWAG has a homevid deal with Apparition.

The "Parnassus" deal with Sony has long been in the works and could be made official this week. Reps on the deal, including sales agent John Sloss, remained mum. The film goes out in the fourth quarter through various distributors in European territories including the U.K., France, Germany and Italy, plus Australia and New Zealand.

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