Wednesday, November 16, 2011

DVD Extras Nudge An Otherwise Floundering Documentary Up: Lost In La Mancha

The Good: Interesting story, Decent amount of DVD extras, Good idea
The Bad: Even the DVD extras become repetitive, Documentary style is executed in a mediocre fashion
The Basics: A thin documentary, Lost In La Mancha stretches the collapse of a film into 90 minutes and is bailed out on DVD by the bonus disc.

For those unfamiliar with my many, many reviews, I am an avid movie buff, a fan of documentaries and a fan of the works of Terry Gilliam. Gilliam's masterpiece Brazil (reviewed here!) remains the reigning champion of American filmmaking in my pantheon and so when I learned of the collapse of his film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, I was instantly intrigued. Captured on film in the documentary, Lost In La Mancha, directors Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe chart the unmaking of a European film and possibly Gilliam's most public cinematic failure to date.

Clocking in barely over an hour and a half, Lost In La Mancha follows the preproduction for the Terry Gilliam film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote and it captures the six days of principle photography that occurred wherein the sets and props were destroyed by natural disasters and the film's star was plagued by a prostate infection that made him unable to perform. As the disasters converge, financiers for the film become agitated and bolt and Terry Gilliam and his crew are left in Spain with a few reels of developed film and nothing else.

The problem with Lost In La Mancha is that the back to the DVD pretty much defines exactly what the film is. It references the F-16s flying overhead to ruin the sound and the hail storm. Were it not for the problems faced by lead actor Jean Rochefort, the DVD box would give away all the documentary. The fundamental problem with Lost In La Mancha is that seeing the disasters occur adds little or nothing to the experience of learning about how the film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote failed to become.

It may seem spoiled to say that the documentary boils down to a two line water cooler discussion: "Hey Terry, I heard you were making The Man Who Killed Don Quixote and not it's not going to be made; what happened?" "Well, Keith, the sound was ruined by F-16s flying overhead while we were filming, the sets were ruined by a freak hailstorm which completely altered the landscape where we had already shot and our lead actor got a prostate infection that made all our European investors skittish and abandon the project." (Optional response: "Wow, that sucks.") This is the whole movie broken down into two lines. Seeing it adds little to the understanding of what plagued the production, especially after the third time the F-16s start flying about while Gilliam is shooting.

Honestly, I've discovered I prefer documentaries that are not simply a literal capturing of reality as it occurs. In a similar vein, I found I did not so much enjoy Shut Up And Sing (reviewed here!). I tend to enjoy documentaries that inform and convince the viewer of an argument, like Fahrenheit 9/11 (reviewed here!) or An Inconvenient Truth (reviewed here!). A documentary like Lost In La Mancha has to truly sparkle and shine to grab me and make me find value in it. The problem here is the story is not terribly compelling. A film, hamstrung by the beginning by a low budget is thrown into chaos when costly disasters and unforeseen events cripple it. Bummer, but it's not the end of the world. The novelty of watching a film disintegrate is just not there for me, especially when the root causes are so easy to describe and encapsulate as they are in this case.

What saves this disc from the trash heap (I'm so glad now I did not see it in the theaters, because I likely would have panned it and not given it a chance on DVD), is the second disc. After a mediocre documentary (I loathe the way it begins, for example, without a strong sense of purpose in a random scene), it took a lot of faith in Gilliam and Fulton and Pepe to get me to pop the second disc into the player. On the second disc there are additional interviews with Terry Gilliam, Johnny Depp (the biggest name star of the botched film), and the directors. The producers, script writers and prop departments find their voices as well and the treasure trove of additional interviews includes a great deal of material not in the prime documentary.

As well, the bonus disc includes deleted scenes - including two alternate openings to the documentary that are better than the actual opening to it, "soundbites" which repeat much of what is said elsewhere on the discs, and a trailer. The gems of disc are the two interviews with Terry Gilliam that are about an hour each in length. The first interview is with Salman Rushdie and he and Gilliam have an intriguing and insightful conversation on cinema in general and Gilliam's works in particular. The dialogue is frank and honest and refreshing. The other interview is an IFC Focus on Gilliam where the interviewer does a poor job of making the conversation interesting, but Gilliam bears with him through it.

For some inexplicable reason, this film is rated "R," perhaps for the profanities Gilliam screams as he watches the hailstorm and flood blow and wash away his sets and props, but it's disturbing that the MPAA feels it warrants such a harsh rating. For those worried about how appropriate it is for those under 18, I suggest it's more likely to bore those under 18 rather than shake up their sensibilities in any inappropriate way. After all, how many Gilliam (or documentary) fans are there truly who are under 18?!

And in the end, this is a rather esoteric niche that I'm even recommending this disc to. If you're a fan of Terry Gilliam's work, this is a DVD worth seeing (if you can rent it or watch it for free), but mostly just for the bonus features. Having watched the documentary twice now, I can honestly say it does not hold up over multiple viewings as anything special. Fans of cinema in general are likely to get all they need to know from the DVD box.

For other documentaries, please check out my reviews of:
Roger & Me
Why We Fight
This Film Is Not Yet Rated


For other movie reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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