Terrence Vance Gilliam (born November 22, 1940) is a cartoonist, animator and film director, best remembered as the token American member of the very British Monty Python (although he held a dual citizenship during his years with them, and renounced his U.S. citizenship in 2006).
Born in Minneapolis and raised in Los Angeles, Gilliam began his career in the '60s as a photographer and cartoonist for Harvey Kurtzman's satirical magazine Help!. After that publication folded, he moved to the UK; there, he first came to prominence with the children's series Do Not Adjust Your Set, where he worked with several of his fellow future Pythons and for which his primary responsibility was creating the surrealist cut-out animations that he subsequently brought over to Monty Python's Flying Circus. As the latter series progressed, Gilliam also did many small roles the other Pythons didn't want to perform for various reasons, and had very few speaking parts, if you forget his voice acting during the animated segments (one of his most notable lines is "I want more beans!"; he was also Cardinal Fang of the Spanish Inquisition). He also helped write a number of the sketches, and from there co-wrote the troupe's three films based on original material with the rest of the troupe, on which he also played much more parts than he usually would in the series. He co-directed Monty Python and the Holy Grail and directed the opening segment of Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, "The Crimson Permanent Assurance".
From there, Gilliam moved into writing and directing non-Python films, though some of his fellow troupers have appeared in and/or co-wrote them. His specialties are fantasy and science fiction films, often laced with dark humor: one could construe his worldview as "We're all doomed! Isn't that hilarious?" He was J. K. Rowling's choice of director for the Harry Potter movies — however, Warner Bros. decided against it.
This is understandable, given that few directors in the history of film have been so prone to Executive Meddling, production delays and budget overruns, and just plain bad luck as Terry Gilliam. After Jabberwocky (1977) and the hit Time Bandits (1981), the first great tale of his struggles came with 1985's Brazil. It put him at odds with Universal Pictures when executives attempted to recut the movie, especially its ending; the subsequent book The Battle of Brazil tells the tale. His next film, 1988's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, went wildly over budget and then bombed in the U.S. thanks to Columbia Pictures undergoing a regime change that kept it from getting proper release and promotion.
In the 1990s, things were looking up with The Fisher King (1991), 12 Monkeys (1995), and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). Then at the Turn of the Millennium, his films became a parade of bad situations behind the scenes. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote took twenty five years of on-and-off production to complete thanks to trials and tribulations covered in the documentary Lost in La Mancha. The Brothers Grimm (2005) was beset by Executive Meddling, this time via Bob and Harvey Weinstein. Tideland (also 2005) made it to theaters, but was overlooked and shunned for containing some pedophilia (plus it was set in, and filmed in a desert, but it just kept raining during filming). The Zero Theorem (2013) was barely released and under-performed. And finally, perhaps saddest of all, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009) became Heath Ledger's final film when he died before completing his role.
Bad luck simply doesn't cut it: the man's cursed.
The Onion once joked that if Terry Gilliam were to have a barbecue, it would be beset by production delays. But his perilous productions have resulted in a portfolio of, if not always successful, at least fascinating films.
Terry Gilliam's works on the wiki:
- Do Not Adjust Your Set (1968-69) — Did animated interstitials for the show's second season.
- Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969-74) — Did many memorable animations for the series, and occasionally wrote and acted in others.
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) — Acted, co-directed, co-wrote and provided animations.
- Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979) — Acted in, co-wrote & animated.
- Jabberwocky (1977) — Directed and co-written.
- Time Bandits (1981) — Directed and co-written.
- Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983) — Co-directed and co-written (Primarily the Crimson Permanent Assurance segment).
- Brazil (1985) — Directed and co-written (Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay).
- The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) — Directed and co-written.
- The Fisher King (1991) — Directed.
- 12 Monkeys (1995) — Directed.
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) — Directed and co-written.
- The Brothers Grimm (2005) — Directed.
- Tideland (2005) — Directed and co-written.
- The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009) — Directed and co-written.
- The Zero Theorem (2014) — Directed.
- The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2018) — Directed and co-written. See also Lost in La Mancha for the version that never got made.
Common tropes found in the films of Terry Gilliam:
- Downer Ending: Most of his films have this. On the DVD Commentary of The Brothers Grimm, he says thathe hates happy endings.
- The Dung Ages: Along with the other Pythons, popularized the trope with Monty Python and the Holy Grail; as a solo director, this appears in Jabberwocky. In general, his period settings are not particularly tidy.
- Life Imitates Art: One of the great artistic ironies of the modern age, many Gilliam fans have noted, is the story of how in his never-ending quest to finish The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, Gilliam has become perhaps the quintessential Hollywood Windmill Crusader. Until he finished it.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: His entire career has been about flights of fancy, so naturally his films tend to rail against iron-fisted bureaucracies and the narrow-minded jobsworths who staff them. Probably the pinnacle of this trope was the beginning of Baron Munchausen, when city administrator Jonathan Pryce — graduating from playing a Beleaguered Bureaucrat in Brazil — orders the execution of a soldier* . The offense? The soldier was so good at his job he made everybody else look bad. A title card reveals this as "The Age of Reason".
- Out-of-Genre Experience: Aside from the movies and Deranged Animation, he's also directed a few Operas.
- Playing Against Type: Gilliam likes to challenge his actors; he noted in an interview that one of his main goals in directing 12 Monkeys was to force Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt, at the time known mostly as a badass action hero and a charismatic pretty boy, respectively, to get rid of all their trademark mannerisms and be as unrecognizable as possible in their roles.
- Re-Cut: The Criterion releases of Brazil on home video include three different versions, his original cut, a slightly shorter version that Universal ultimately released in the US, along with a drastically shorter and drastically altered version Universal almost released instead (see Executive Meddling).
- Saved from Development Hell: The Gilliam curse appears to have been broken, as it was reported in June 2017 that had finally finished Don Quixote after eight unsuccesful attempts over the course of nineteen years.
- Scenery Porn: His films have a very distinct look (highly detailed sets shot with very wide lenses), to the point where cinematographers often call a 14mm lens "the Gilliam lens". Granted, what he's actually shooting isn't always that pretty.
- Self-Inflicted Hell: The Development Hell of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, caused in no small part by Gilliam stubbornly clinging to his artistic vision in the face of a just as stubbornly adverse reality:
- The successive castings of archetypical actors to play Don Quixote, all over 70-80 years old, despite the book character being canonically in his early fifties, who end up injured because they cannot handle the physicality of the character or are diagnosed with age-related health problems before they can shoot the movie, inevitably putting filming on hold again.
- Filming in Spain, but not in La Mancha because it isn't picturesque enough. Gilliam's choice of filming in Navarre's Las Bárdenas Reales resulted in the sound being ruined by planes exercising in a nearby NATO base and was ultimately ended by a freak storm that completely changed the landscape (LBR's unique look is caused by its rapid rate of erosion in the first place).
- Ultimately ended as Gilliam wrote about production finally wrapping after a decades-long battle to get it made.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Range all over the place. Brazil and Twelve Monkey's is more cynical but Time Bandits and The Fisher King are more on the idealistic end, while Baron and Docter Parnassus might be in the middle.
- Surreal Humor: When he does comedy, it usually falls under this. Being a Python might have something to do with it.
- Thematic Series: He considers Time Bandits, Brazil, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen to be his "Imagination Trilogy". The movies themselves are not connected by continuity but they share similar themes.
- Trickster Archetype: Baron von Munchausen and Mr. Nick in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.
And suddenly, the editor suffered a fatal heart attack