Dreams News Bulletin: November 1999
In this Issue...
Terry Gilliam is still planning for a Spring 2000 shoot for his likely next movie, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, which would give an expected release date of Autumn 2001. In fact, to keep the project on track, Gilliam went out again in mid-October to Spain, where he has chosen to shoot on location.
With Johnny Depp and Jean Rochefort already announced as Gilliam's choice as cast members, it has been revealed, thanks to deadmanjones's perusal of Ceefax, that Ian Holm, Jonathan Pryce and Madeleine Stowe are also in line for roles, all three of whom have previously worked for Gilliam.
2. Terry Gilliam plays major role in Python Night
Python Night hit tv screens across the UK on Saturday 9 October on BBC2, and Terry Gilliam played a full role. Readers of the New Yorker article published when Fear and Loathing was released will recall Gilliam quoted as being quite dismissive about the prospect of a Python reunion, yet since there was a gap in his diary, he decided to get involved. Commented Gilliam, “There is nothing more embarrassing than watching a gang of middle-aged old farts reliving the halcyon days.”
The four-hour Python fest kicked off with new material, which also featured throughout the night - Gilliam's best moment was as a Mastermind contestant whose range of answers was limited. A single new Gilliam animation was shown, which used computer techniques rather than Gilliam’s familiar cutout animation style. There were a number of documentaries - a general history presented by comedian Eddie Izzard, a tour of some Flying Circus locations, and a tribute to Python songs. The centrepiece of the evening was a showing of Life of Brian, which reminded viewers of Graham Chapman’s moving lead role as Brian. The evening finished with a historic interview with the Pythons by Peter Sissons - more on that below...
Python group member Eric Idle contributed to the documentaries and recorded a monologue - yet did not join the others in the new sketches. Terry Jones was sympathetic to Idle’s partial co-operation in the BBC reunion. He said, “He actually put a lot of work into the stage stuff and when we all backed out he quite reasonably felt he’d wasted all that time and all that credibility.”
3. Peter Sissons chairs historic interview of Pythons
The last item featured in Python Night was a new studio interview of the five Pythons that survived long enough to make the 30th anniversary. This was heralded as the first time in 25 years that they had all been interviewed together. It was a most revealing interview, and the Dreams editorial decision is not to put any information of the transcript here since, if you are to see Python Night in the near future, I would not want to spoil the majesty of the occasion for you. Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, John Cleese and Michael Palin were all in the studio with senior BBC newsman Sissons. Eric Idle was unable to attend in person, yet he spoke via satellite.
The BBC’s celebration of 30 years of Monty Python also saw showings of five episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus – each of which were selected by a different member of Monty Python. Terry Gilliam’s choice, broadcast on BBC2 on Sunday 17 October (after a showing of The Meaning of Life), was the last ever Flying Circus programme broadcast, originally in 1974, and featured the Worst Family in Britain.
5. South Park creators kidnap Gilliam’s mother
South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone paid an affectionate tribute to the Monty Python team by making a special short animation parody which was shown as part of Python Night. Immediately after this was shown, the BBC aired a video of Parker and Stone holding Terry Gilliam’s mother, Beatrice, hostage, rope-bound to a chair. The duo demanded that Gilliam direct an episode of South Park.
Gilliam’s response to the demand? “They can keep my mother. Her bondage fetish has always been an embarrassment to the family.” The hostage, Beatrice Gilliam, said, “I watched the South Park show the week before I was going to meet Matt and Trey. I had to switch it off after five minutes because it was so rude. But then, I don’t like a lot of Terry’s films. I keep asking him to make something I would like to see, like a nice romantic film.” Source: USA TODAY
Terry Gilliam attended a screening of Life of Brian at the Empire cinema on Leicester Square in London on Friday 8 October, with Terry Jones, John Cleese and Michael Palin. The event was in aid of Macmillan Cancer Relief, in tribute to Python member Graham Chapman, who died of cancer ten years ago. The event was organised by the Paramount Comedy Channel to promote its own Python anniversary programming.
7. Bob McCabe speaks to Dreams about Dark Knights and Holy Fools
Bob McCabe, author of this year’s Gilliam biography Dark Knights and Holy Fools, spoke to Dreams in October. He is a busy man, with various writing assignments on the go – film criticism, work with celebrated UK comedy actor/writer Ronnie Barker, and also scriptwriting. For a chance to win a copy of this book, please see below.
Phil Stubbs: How did the book come about?
Bob McCabe: Basically, I found myself in the enviable position of my editors coming to me and saying: “Whom would you like to do a book on next?” Top of the list was Terry, for a number of reasons – firstly, it struck me that his body of work was now quite considerable and was much a real body of work, in that all the movies were fiercely personal and yet somehow all interconnected. Both in his own developed material and his work on others’ screenplays, Terry has made movies that really are unique. And at this time – we first made contact in Autumn ’96 – there hadn’t been a comprehensive detailed look at his work as a whole. Also top of the list was the intention that for all I was going to say about the movies, I wanted to make sure the book was extremely visual. It seemed pointless to write a book about these movies, and a man who is first and foremost and artist, and not be able to see that work concurrently. Finally, Terry lives less than a mile away from me in London, so it was extremely convenient to have the subject on your doorstep!
Although Terry lives nearby, at the time he was just about to start shooting Fear & Loathing, so contacting him about the project involved lots of long distance phone calls to his then agency in LA. However, we had met, and I had interviewed him several times before – for Radio 1 and Empire magazine – so he vaguely remembered who I was, and sent word that he was willing to be interviewed, as long as I could wait until his return. Consequently, we actually started the interviews around February of ’97, whilst he was in the midst of editing F&L (which I was privy to see in two or three varied assemblies during this time.) The interviews essentially consisted of me showing up at Terry’s house, around 10am, and sitting and blabbing on for two to three hours, in his remarkable work space – a large, book filled floor, over flowing with models, props and sketches from over the years. We hit it off very well, and consequently Terry became fully involved in all aspects of the book, offering me access to all and all pictures available (and there are lots!), consulting on the design of the book etc. The hardest part of the book was transcribing the tapes, as Terry is a fast talker and we talked for many, many hours.
What most surprised you about the life and work of Terry Gilliam in the course of researching for the book?
I think the thing that surprised me the most was how consistently inter-linked the movies are, and how much they are the autobiography of a man who left one country for another, has consistently been intrigued by the lines between fantasy and reality, and who has, in small, strange but significant ways, used his movies to explore two cultures and tentatively journey back tot he one he left behind thirty years before.
Which is your favourite Gilliam film, and why?
Difficult one to answer – I almost tempted to simple say “the next one” as I am fascinated by what he’s going to do next. The core of his body of work seems to me to be a British trilogy and an American trilogy. I have the distinct feeling that if he proceeds with The Man Who Killed Don Quixote and ever gets back to The Defective Detective, he’ll be one short of his Death Trilogy, but who knows?
The back of your book indicates that you had full access to Terry Gilliam’s archive - what does this look like?
Terry is a biographer’s dream, in that while he may not have kept everything, he’s certainly kept a hell of a lot. Loads of the original Python cut outs are filed away – and it’s amazing to see them up close, all masking tape and coloured in roughly with felt pens. In the attic, each movie has been given it’s own massive trunk, into which everything from original shooting scripts, to sketches, to props, to newspaper clippings, to whatever, has been carefully filed away. That said, it was still possible to come across some accidental gems – I discovered a painting of the Red Knight from The Fisher King that appears in the book, buried under a pile of old photocopies and rough sketches, and probably hadn’t been seen for years.
Which of Gilliam’s unresolved projects featured in your book would you most like to see realised?
Quixote in its current form – I read an early draft Terry had written with Charles McKeown back in 1990 and whilst it’s very good, I feel Quixote in this context has been plundered for both Munchausen and Parry. And The Defective Detective, which is a great script (Nick Nolte should play the lead, not the oft-mentioned Nic Cage). My feeling on the other movies is that Terry always ending up making the right movie at the right time, if he gets to go through several other possible project to get to it, then that’s fate.
I understand you have written two books with/about Ronnie Barker… please describe these, and what is your favourite Ronnie Barker work?
Shortly before I started working with Terry, I wrote Ronnie Barker’s authorised biography, which was based round a series of interviews I conducted with Ronnie, the first interviews he’d given in over a decade. Recently I edited everything Ronnie ever wrote into a book entitled All I Ever Wrote which proved to be a very enjoyable but gargantuan task (the book clocks in at 734 pages and has just been published.) Both are available from a book store/internet bookseller near you (plug, plug!) As to my favourite of Ronnie’s work – Porridge, one of the three greatest British sitcoms of all time (Fawlty Towers and Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? Being the other two.)
How did your career develop as a writer on film and tv?
Very simply – always been a movie fan. Got a job reviewing movies for University TV station whilst at university in Birmingham. This got me into the cinema for free, something I didn’t want to give up when I left university. A few well-aimed letters/samples lately I was working for Melody Maker, which led me onto Vox, where I became the magazine’s film editor. Eventually, I found myself at Empire and Q, in between working a great deal as a film reporter for BBC Radio 1, (something I do less of now due to a profound lack to time.)
What ambitions do you have for the next five years?
I’m currently being paid by a number of production companies, both here and in Germany, to write five movie scripts (I co-write with a guy named Rob Churchill), the first of which is scheduled to go into production in May 2000, shooting both here and in New York. If in five years time, none of these movies have got made, I’ll be pretty bloody depressed!!
8. Win a copy of Dark Knights and Holy Fools
Orion, the publisher of Bob McCabe's Dark Knights and Holy Fools, has given Dreams a copy of the book to give away in a competition. Regular Dreams readers will remember a previous competition that gave away several copies of faber and faber’s Gilliam on Gilliam to winners in the UK, the States and Argentina. The question to this competition is as follows:
Which actress played rational psychologist Railly in 12 Monkeys?
Email your entries to email@example.com by 31 December 1999. A winner will be selected randomly from the correct answers. The editor’s decision is final. Your statutory rights are not affected. Voids prohibited by law. No cash alternative. No purchase necessary.
9. New Gilliam biography due out in 2000, by John Ashbrook
A new book about Terry Gilliam is to be published in Spring 2000. It is written by John Ashbrook, and will be published as part of the PocketEssential series of books. PocketEssentials has its own website, and more details of this book to follow in future bulletins.
10. Gilliam pens introduction to new Python selection
Terry Gilliam has written the introduction for a selection of Python material selected by Terry Jones. The book, entitled A Pocketful of Python, is the best of Python, as chosen by Jones. Gilliam's introduction discusses Terry Jones's orifices. Other Pocketful of Python books are promised, featuring selections by each Python.
The book Monty Python Speaks was published in the UK early in October 1999. It features edited transcripts of the Pythons (and others) talking very frankly about their work. The author of the book, David Morgan, webmaster of The Terry Gilliam Files, said the following to Dreams:
"I was asked to write/edit a series of film books, and among the topics of volumes I proposed was a Gilliam interview book or in lieu of that a Python interview book. And when I found out that Faber was going ahead with Gilliam on Gilliam, I pushed for the Python book which, it being the 30th anniversary and my editor there being a fan, was readily accepted. In terms of material, I naturally had a ton of stuff, but most of it ended up in the book, even though the manuscript ended up much thicker than the publisher asked for (I asked his advice on what to trim and he said nothing)."
Dreams recommends this book as revealing new insights into the Python team.
12. A Fisher King play tours UK theatres
A theatre version of Terry Gilliam's film The Fisher King has been touring the UK. David McGowan saw the play at the Playhouse in Harlow, Essex on October 15 of this year, and sent the following report...
"It's been touring the UK for the past couple of months. I went to see the play, because it was the only Terry Gilliam film I hadn't seen, and I wasn't really sure what to let myself in for. I can't compare it to the film yet, but it was funny and slightly surreal. The sets are minimal, apart from a tree and a couple of video boxes, but it worked very well, and was interesting to watch. I suppose it is worth mentioning for people who haven't seen the film, that the play contains a lot of swearing and full male nudity from both lead characters, which caused a couple of gasps from a couple of the older members of the audience, as well as a parent sitting a couple of seats away from me who had taken her teenage daughter (who was smiling like mad) to the play. But go and see it - it was a great play, and deserves a large audience. Sadly, when we went, the audience was good, but not great as it seemed many people had been put off by the scope of the play, but it is very easy to sit and watch. I would advise any Terry Gilliam fans (as well as anyone else who likes plays - trust me, you will like it), living near the Plymouth area to go and see it."
David sent the following excerpt from the programme...
22-25 Brewhouse Theatre, Taunton (01823) 283244
29 Guildhall Arts Centre, Grantham (01476) 406158
2 The ARC, Trowbridge (01225) 756376
6 Central Studio, Basingstoke (01256) 418318
7-8 QEH, Bristol (01179) 250551
9 Town Hall Arts Centre, Haverhill (01440) 714140
13 Theatre Colwyn, Colwyn Bat (01492) 532668
15 The Playhouse, Harlow (01279) 431945
20 Artezium, Luton (01582) 707100
22 New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth (01705) 649000
28 Motherwell Theatre, Motherwell (01698) 267515
29 St Brides Centre Edinburgh (01313) 461405
30 Old Meeting House, Helmsley (01439) 771700
2-6 Komedia, Brighton (01273) 647100
10 The Customs House, South Shields (01914) 541234
13 Barbican, Plymouth (01752) 267131
19 Kings Lynn Arts Centre, Kings Lynn (01553) 764864
20 Leighton Buzzard Theatre (01525) 378310
22-25 Cornwall Tour (01566) 772117
1-4 The Rondo Theatre, Bath (01225) 448844
INNERROOM Theatre co.
THE FISHER KING by Richard La Gravenese
In the first ever stage adaption of Terry Gilliam's classic film The Fisher King, Innerroom transforms this celluloid fairytale into a euphoric theatrical voyage...
Jack Lucas, undisputed king of the airwaves, falls from grace when one tragic off-hand, on-air comment leads to his whirlwind spin towards the gutter of society. In the moment when he reaches his lowest low, he is plucked from disaster by the most improbable of saviours...Parry. This manic street dweller inhabits a comic urban kingdom of chivalrous deeds, elusive grails, damsels in distress and grotesque knights on horseback.
The consequence of this unlikely alliance allows the bruised cynic and the pure hearted fool to discover the true nature of love...
Innerroom breathes new life into myth and legend with an intimate yet emotially epic landscape. The audience is delivered into a magical world of humour and heartbreak - leaving them uplifted, inspired and hugely entertained.
>From the moment when both Richard LaGravenese and Columbia Tristar granted us the rights to the script and the title, it became apparent that The Fisher King would become Innerroom Theatre Co's most ambitious project to date. It became evident, even from early read-throughs of the first draft adaptions, that this was superb writing which should not be undermined by too many distractions. I felt that there was already enormous theatricality in the intimacy of the script. So at a time when there have been a number of screenplays adapted onto stage, we have gone a different way. Not for size, effect or physical dynamics, but for intimacy and humanity. We have set the play in the West Country of England, rather than in New York. This is not only due to our devotion to the local area, but also because it is the home of Arthurian myths and legends. The Fisher King Legend has inspired many great works including T.S.Eliot's "The Wasteland" and Robert Johnson's psychological essay "The Fisher King and The Handless Maiden". The play parallels the life of two modern lost souls with that of The Fisher King.
THE FISHER KING
Adapted for the stage by Andy Burden and Innerroom
With kind permission from Columbia Tristar and Richard LaGravenese
Prologue - 5 years ago
Act 1 - The Present
Act 2 - The Present
Other characters played by the cast.
DIRECTED BY Andy Burden
13. The night Terry Gilliam came to town…
Here is an account of Gilliam’s appearance at the Guggenheim in NYC in June of this year, written for Dreams by Yvette Wojciechowski...
"Bored and sleepy, I sat in a huge, characterless room, adorned with the austere American flag and tacky fake wood paneling, and I awaited the compassionate man at the front to finally call my name. Actually, I was wishing he wouldn’t, which meant that I would probably go home early today. I had brought a ton of reading material, required if you’re to endure the long, boring days inside this particular room. It is in none other than one of many in the Justice Building in downtown New York City. I had jury duty. It was my first time in my four years here in the ever-so-ripe apple, and I had dreaded it. Thank god I had brought the reading material I had, for in my large stack I had included a fresh Time Out New York. This great weekly magazine was my only source of information and guide to what’s happening in this vast town. Each week I would read and investigate how to further fill my already busy life. This week was to be a special week. A very special week, indeed. As I turned to the page that lists the daily events, my gaze fell upon Tuesday, June 8, 1999. As my eyes popped out of my head, I gawked in disbelief and then utter excitement: Terry Gilliam was scheduled appear at the Guggenheim Museum on that day at 8pm. He was promoting a book written on him, Dark Knights and Holy Fools, written by Bob McCabe. Thrilled, I drooled in complete disbelief. After that momentary loss of lucidity, I ran to the phone to get tickets.
"As June 8th approached, I agonized over a letter I was preparing to give him. This was an opportunity I’ve been long awaiting. You see, I’m a filmmaker living in New York City, just like a gazillion others here, and I’ve been plagued with this great idea for a documentary that would involve his participation. So I spent the weekend trying to compose something which would not make me look like a complete sycophantic imbecile, despite the fact I’ve been, well, clinically obsessed with Monty Python since around 1975. My fabulously charismatic friend Flavia, a fellow filmmaker, agreed to attend the lecture with me, to help boost my confidence in meeting him. When I arrived at the Guggenheim on June 8th, I was glad to have purchased advance tickets for the lecture had been sold-out. As I waited outside for Flavia on that hot and humid day, I suddenly saw Mr. Gilliam hastily walk right past me and head down the graceful ramp that hugs the lower level of the Guggenheim Museum, housing the spectacular lecture hall designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. As he marched by, my heart was pounding and I thought to approach him and introduce myself. No. I didn’t want to crowd him and make him think I was just another groupie. No. I was going to do this right. I’m glad I didn’t for I found out later that he had come straight from the airport.
"The lecture began a few minutes past 8pm, and a gentleman introduced Mr. Gilliam and Bob McCabe as well as announced that both of them would be signing books at Rizzoli Books down in SoHo. This was the first I had heard of it, (I wasn’t aware of the Dreams website yet) so I thought, "Great! Another chance to meet and chat with Mr. Gilliam, in case I completely lose my nerve or act like an idiot." These were important opportunities for me, ones I’d been waiting for for a while. Apparently, the books were supposed to be at the lecture for all to purchase, but they were late in arriving from the presses.
"I found the lecture itself incredible. Bob McCabe, a bright journalist whose new book on Gilliam is fantastic and beyond informative, interviewed him. [I’ve read nearly all the books on Monty Python and the Python members, and this one gives considerable insight to not only abundant details on Mr. Gilliam’s life and career, but also into the creative process much more explicitly than anything else I’ve ever read.] Mr. McCabe directed what became more of a conversation with him than an interview. Mr. Gilliam amused the crowd with countless stories such as his move to Los Angeles as a child (he went to Disneyland every weekend, which laid the foundation for his fascination for castles and medieval times), his move to New York (to eventually meet and work with Harvey Kurtzman on Help!), and his eventual move to England to make television history with those five other talented Brits we all know, to name just a few. He talked about how Spike Milligan and his The Goon Show was an incredible influence, how Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd helped finance Monty Python and the Holy Grail as a tax break for them, the trials and tribulations of the making and distribution of Brazil and how he used an extremely small space (did he say 25 by 20 foot room? I may be wrong but you get the idea) to create all the special effects for Time Bandits. He went on and on and on. All the details, I found out later, are spelled out in his book. Such a charismatic personality! He was always such an infrequent and rather quiet character on Monty Python’s Flying Circus and in the films that it surprised me a bit that he was so comfortable talking in front of a group. The lecture/ interview/ conversation drew countless laughs and awe from the mature and attentive audience. I have to say, we all felt the love in that cozy and intimate lecture hall (I think I’m safe in making that generalization).
"After about an hour and a half, a question and answer session began. As folks quickly queued up, I became greatly impressed by Mr. Gilliam’s politeness, patience, and uniqueness in answering everyone’s question, however insidious, with respect, appreciation, and thoroughness (I’m not brown-nosing, really). Everyone who stepped up to the microphone had their questions answered to their satisfaction, I felt, as the impatience of the lecture organizers and "his people" was growing, because it was running over the allocated time. None of us, however, wanted the evening to end. At least not me. Over a half-hour later, the last question was answered.
"The lecture was over and I still had a manila envelope in clenched my sweaty palms to give him. People were leaving and at first, it appeared that Mr. Gilliam was not going to accept any questions on an individual basis, for it seemed as though he was to be quickly ushered off stage. Fortunately, the hardcore fans would not accept a speedy exit and soon a throng of people, some with packages and books to sign, approached the steps at the side of the stage, and then, in what seemed like a split-second, a line formed long enough that could have kept us there all night. As my luck goes, I was last in line, and, after what seemed like an eternity, it was my turn to meet Terry Gilliam. I introduced myself and said a few words, presented him with the letter and my business card, and told him I would be in SoHo on Thursday to speak with him more if he had the time. He was extremely gracious, polite, attentive and didn’t rush me through my introduction. Flavia’s main role, it turned out, was as photographer, so now I have some notable visual memories of an incredible evening.
"Mr. Gilliam, you are always welcome in New York City."
14. Gilliam talks about his childhood cinema favourites
Sky Movies recently ran a documentary series that asked Gilliam about his early cinematic influences. Here is a transcript of what he said, courtesy of Miles Dumble…
"I just seem to remember the darkness of the cinema and this extraordinary world unfolding in front of me - fairy tales come alive. Pinocchio sticks with me, it's amazing how Disney sticks with me because I loved fairy tales. It's part of not growing up watching those films. I actually think Pinocchio is one of the great films of all time. I think it's an extraordinary film because it compresses this huge journey into a few minutes. I mean, when I saw it again as an adult, I thought it was really simple - this village, he goes out and he gets lost, in the whale, blah blah blah. And yet, the memory of the film was quite different - it was this vast, vast epic."
"Growing up, I just watched films like everybody else does - just a punter going to the movies. Watching Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and now my son watches Jim Carrey, so the tradition carries on. Films were just films, and then, I think the one that made a quantum leap for me was a Saturday kids' matinee in the middle of the San Fernando valley. I don't know what I was doing in there, but this black and white film came on - it was Paths of Glory, and it completely blew me away. On just a technical level, it was the first time I was aware of the camera in action, the movement - those tracking shots down the trenches, and of course, I used all that in Brazil. Just like everybody's learned from those tracking shots.
"But, it was the fact that you can make a film about injustice, you can make a film about really important things where the hero doesn't win, where the good guys don't win, where the cruelty of the world wins out. I'm just like every other kid growing up thinking movies are the way we want life to be, as opposed to the way life is, or can be, in the worst possible sense."
"Epic films I've always loved. Again, growing up in LA really at this point, and seeing all the people running around in short skirts - Greek, Roman dramas. You like gladiator films? Well, I did, unfortunately, because suddenly I was able to escape from my world. I was transported into another time, another place, another way of looking at things. I just loved these big costume epics, I loved seeing millions of people marching down hills, doing things like that, because I didn't see them in real life. I just saw guys going to work at the plant, and going to school, and life going on. To be part of these big moments in history seemed to be an important part of film going to me. I don't know what happens now - kids don't get the chance to do that."
15. Dreams features in Entertainment Weekly
The US magazine Entertainment Weekly gave Dreams a mixed review recently. From its feature on celebrity websites in the 22 October 1999 issue, "Stanley Kubrick: The Master Filmmaker (pages.prodigy.com/kubrick) and Dreams: The Terry Gilliam Fanzine (http://www.smart.co.uk/dreams) are two good sites that don't quite have the multimedia muscle to make the final cut."
Dreams welcomes contributions! If you wish to send letters, analysis, news or any information regarding Terry Gilliam and his work, then please email me. Thankyou to everyone who has emailed me - keep in touch. To those who haven't, tell me what you think of Dreams, good or bad. Send your emails to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dreams has been nurtured by the caring folks at Franklyn Press Multimedia, whose corporate HQ is situated in the glorious town of Macclesfield, Cheshire. These people know a thing or two about design, print and multimedia, so in the unlikely event that you have plenty of money to spend on design (regardless of media), give them a call. Tell 'em Dreams sent you.
Phil Stubbs, Edinburgh. November 1999.