Lost in La Mancha (Rated R, 89 minutes)
Lost in La Mancha started as a normal ‘making of’ documentary and it quickly divulges into a Hearts of Darkness style project. If you do not know the Hearts of Darkness documentary, it focuses on Francis Ford Coppola’s attempt to bring Apocalypse Now to the screen, which took him well over six years. And right away, Don Quixote feels like a jinxed project; before Terry Gilliam attempted his version, the literary character was famous for the failed attempts of Orson Welles. For Orson Welles, Don Quixote was one of his many unfinished projects and the famous director continued to shot scenes well after the lead actor died; and at the point of Welles’ death in 1985, the project still remained largely unfinished.
Now, fast forward to the early 2000s and Terry Gilliam is attempting to make The Man Who Killed Don Quixote with Johnny Depp and Jean Rochefort. Unfortunately, he is making the movie with half of his intended budget, which is even further scaled down before production (from $40 million to $32.1 million); on top of this, scheduling conflicts prevent pre-production planning, and unforeseen circumstances plague the first week of shooting. The documentary does a fantastic job of presenting the hurdles of the project, but at the same time, it shows Terry Gilliam as a naïve interpretation of Don Quixote. Gilliam’s idealistic vision slowly shrinks throughout the project, which is like when Quixote loses his fantasies while lying on his deathbed: and the documentary does a great job of showing how in this case ‘life imitates art.’
However, the video quality encumbers the overall documentary: at certain points, it almost seems like VHS quality. And I understand that when they started shooting this, it was not intended to be a feature length movie, but my coddled eyes beg for high definition. Again, in the 2000s ‘making of featurettes’ were not shot with high quality cameras: if you want proof of that go to any DVD made before 2005. But this ‘by the numbers’ documentary is at times strenuous to look at. But there is an upside; the fantastic animation reminds the viewer of the fantastic Monty Python movies, which are features Terry Gilliam directed early in his career. These cartoon sections serves as a ‘change of pace’ to the drab the viewer has to look at for over an hour.
This documentary is a must watch for all cinema fans: especially those who loved Hearts of Darkness or documentaries that highlight movie production failures. The magnitude of problems that arise in this short 89-minute documentary can only equate to watching a ‘train wreck.’ But besides its ‘Monty Python-like’ animation and allegorical comparison of Gilliam and Quixote, the documentary is a ‘by the numbers’ telling of an interesting story: which is further hindered by its dated visual style.