"Ein ewiger Pechvogel?" asks Frank Noack in Der Tagesspiegel. Loosely translated, Noack's wondering out loud whether Terry Gilliam, who turns 70 today, is doomed to an eternal streak of bad luck. Gilliam's ongoing quest to make The Man Who Killed Don Quixote certainly seems to be. Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe's Lost in La Mancha documents the series of misadventures that brought an end to the first go round nearly ten year ago now. Gilliam revived the project last year — and his funding collapsed again this September. In between, there was the Brothers Grimm debacle ("the Weinsteins rode roughshod over me," Gilliam would eventually say) and, of course, the tragic death of Heath Ledger during the making of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.
But there have also been the films that have won him a perhaps modest but seriously dedicated following, the films that justify an entry for "Gilliamesque" in the Wiktionary, the films that go a long way towards explaining why so many actors are willing to cut their fees drastically for the chance to work with him. Above all, Brazil (1985). For many, Time Bandits (1981), perhaps 12 Monkeys (1995), certainly Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) and, for the devoted few, Tideland (2005).
"A capsule description of Gilliam's work obligates a variety," wrote Rumsey Taylor in Senses of Cinema in 2003: "his films depict over three millennia of history, approach birth and death, youth and old age. There are also unifying qualities between his films: an idealistic, childish perception of history; uncharacteristic humour in carefully rendered time periods; and protagonists hindered by corporate dominance and consumerist vices. In whole, Gilliam's films concern freedom, specifically the varied forms in which it is manifested. Aptly, freedom in a Terry Gilliam film is often an imagined liberty."
Gilliam's latest short, The Legend of Hallowdega, appeared online about a month ago, followed by interviews with the performers. Julie Miller spoke with Justin Kirk for Movieline, Todd Gilchrist with David Arquette for Cinematical. Miller: "Part mystery and part NASCAR mockumentary, Kirk stars as the host of a Mythbusters-like series, who attempts to solve several legends surrounding the Talladega Raceway."
Meantime, TheRealGilliamFan is going all out today; not quite as newsy but worth exploring is Dreams: The Terry Gilliam Fanzine.
Update: Viewing (5'52"). "In August 2009 BFI Southbank showcased a complete retrospective of his inimitable directorial work. In this onstage interview, chaired by Dick Fiddy, Gilliam shares his views on filmmaking and discusses his work with characteristically sharp and self-deprecating humour. The Monty Python surrealist proves to be much like his creations: idiosyncratic, dark and playful."
Update, 11/24: "Gilliam's one of the few filmmakers who benefits from someone breathing down his neck, constraining his ideas," argues Vadim Rizov at GreenCine Daily. "Left to his own devices, he's entirely too prone to pulling out fish-eye lenses and leeringly grotesque faces, or terrorizing viewers with maximal bombardment.... Cruel as this may be to suggest, what old man Gilliam could use (besides smooth passage for the rest of his productions) is another creative voice to force him, perpetually, to take it down a notch."