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on 7 March 2006
A documentary about the making of a film that never got past the shooting of a couple of scenes doesn't seem to promise much, but the story of what was to turn out to be a real-life "disaster movie" is riveting stuff.

Terry Gilliam's obsession with "Don Quixote" is infectious and his enthusiasm for the task he faces coupled with glimpses of what it could have been really make you wish that things had turned out better. The insights into how a film is planned and the hugely complex logistics of a "live shoot" are fascinating, while the build-up to the almost inevitable collapse of the project, compounded by unbelievably bad weather and the illness of the central actor, coupled with the impacts of it all on those involved, is about as far removed from the typical self-congratulatory "making of the movie" add-on as you can get. Finally, the whole sorry affair - in particular Gilliam's persistent & unbridled optimism in the face of virtually insurmountable odds as he pursues the chance to realise a long-standing dream - becomes a quite bizarre, tragi-comic parallel to "Don Quixote" itself.

You may only watch this once, and renting is therefore probably the best option, but you won't be disappointed.
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on 3 March 2017
Lost is a decent theme and condition in “Don Quixote”. The protagonist is dotty, barmy, confused, disoriented. It’s a wonder he’s able to mount his horse properly, facing forward in the saddle instead of steering by the tail and stars. He’s lost in time as well, a mounted knight questing in the wrong century, chivalry no longer alive in his era. But not to worry. His mission is to restore it, to put things right. He quests for redemption and fulfilment. He wanders through deserts as Odysseus sailed through seas to find the Golden Fleece, the elixir that will cure the world of its many ills. Obstacles and dilemmas are problems to be confronted and dealt with, not cowed from and avoided. A rickety old windmill is a giant who shouts, waving his arms. It must be attacked, slayed for the good of the world. So, lance or sabre in hand, he rides forth, charging the enemy.

A sense of the divine and eternal also informs his quest. Giant killing is Don Quixote ridding the world of sin, cleansing it of its impurities. If Eden is the garden, the place of Paradise he longs to dwell in, the desert is a wilderness he must cross in order to reach it. In this inhospitable land he will be tested. Thus his wandering is not aimless at all. Only to the untutored eye does it seem so. Like Sancho Panza, his trusty servant and squire, we have everything to learn from the great don. He is not leading us astray. Indeed, like Moses or Brigham Young, he guides us through the desert to the land of milk and honey, the Promised Land.

Quixote is not the only man on a mission. So is Terry Gilliam, the principal subject of this film. It isn’t one he wanted to be in. It’s a film of the film he wanted to make, a documentary that chronicles failure, just as the great book by Cervantes does with Quixote, each an examination of good intentions gone wrong, of idealism defeated by harsh reality. It makes for painful viewing, which also mirrors in parts the reading experience of “Don Quixote”, a book about illusions and the shattering of them.

Gilliam worked for years on the script and storyboards for the film (“The Man Who Killed Don Quixote”). He’s an imaginative guy, a lover of fantasy, well known for films such as “The Fisher King” and “The Adventures of Baron von Munchausen”. He’s also the crazed illustrator of the Monty Python shows and films, his mind only working outside the box, apparently, never in it.

Who is the man who wanted to kill Don Quixote and why? We’re not sure, as the film did not get made, and we understand why when watching this excellent documentary of it, detailing as it does what went wrong with the production process. Johnny Depp was slated to be that man, the killer of Quixote (played by the fine French actor Jean Rochefort). He time travels from the 21st century to the 16th to carry out the assassination. He’s greedy and vicious, an ad man from the future, representing Gilliam’s take on the modern world. Quixote’s times were not purer than now, but at least they had no ad men in them, no marketing executives. You can tell Gilliam’s professional artistic life has been plagued by these vipers. He’d like to see Quixote run his lance through the chest of Depp’s character. We’d cheer at such a moment, just as we cheer when the oaken stake is driven through Dracula’s withered heart. We love to hate villains, and love it most when they die, preferably slowly, killed by the hand of our hero, even a shaky hand such as Quixote’s. So I wonder if the title is right. Shouldn’t it be “The Man Whom Don Quixote Killed”? As ogre, troll, dragon, giant or Godzilla, an ad man seems a good replica and target. Throughout most of human history our kind survived without marketing. When we left Africa 85,000 years ago there were no signs on the shores of the Red Sea that said “Better real estate beyond”. We coped and managed. Gilliam is the same. His complications are all part of a greater simplicity he strives for.

What happened? What ruined the making of the film? Two major catastrophes struck.

First, Gilliam lost Quixote (and how does one make a film about Don Quixote without Quixote in it?). Jean Rochefort’s back gave out. He couldn’t ride Rocinante, his horse. In fact, he could barely stand and walk. Two discs in his lower back were herniated, the pain intense. His handlers flew him back to Paris from La Mancha for treatment.

Second, the outdoor set was destroyed by a massive rainstorm. High winds, hail stones, flash floods. Props were swept away, equipment damaged, mud everywhere, and, after the storm passed, the light was all wrong. No sunshine, just grey-black clouds glowering low on the horizon.

The insurers were called in to assess the damage. Acts of God — such as massive rainstorms — were not covered under the policy. Compensation for lost and damaged property would not be forthcoming. At any rate, Rochefort was still in hospital in Paris. How long would he be bedridden? The doctors weren’t sure or weren’t saying.

The crew were restless. The second director (assistant to Gilliam) quit. Fate or the cinematic gods had conspired to wreck the project and crush Gilliam’s dream, the world around him falling apart.

After weeks of waiting in purgatory, no Quixote, finances dwindling, pressure and pessimism mounting. Forced to accept defeat, Gilliam was a broken man headed for the gallows. A perfect storm of bad luck and bad timing, literal and figurative, declared it wasn’t to be, years of planning and dreaming down the drain.

A scene near the end of the film is difficult to look at. Terry Gilliam sits alone in the director’s chair near a tent, nobody around him, his face in his hands, the posture and portrait of a man in despair. The only equivalent image I know of on film is Francis Ford Coppola putting a loaded handgun to his head amid the ruins of his outdoor “Apocalypse Now” sets, nearly everything destroyed by a powerful typhoon. But Coppola didn’t pull the trigger, the sets were rebuilt, the film proceeded and eventually was made (though not as coherently as he and many others had wished). Gilliam was not as fortunate. His film ended with only six days of shooting in the can, a fraction of what was needed to tell the story.

But like Coppola, Gilliam survived, and so did his dream. Rochefort and Depp are long gone from the project now. For a time it seemed as if the great Robert Duvall would replace Rochefort as Don Quixote. I could picture that. But in the game of musical chairs called casting in the film industry, things are forever changing. The Duvall moment came and went. For a time old Python buddy Michael Palin looked set to come onboard as Quixote. But that one didn’t pan out either. Finally, Jonathan Pryce signed on. Excellent actor, always good. Probably better than Palin in the role. And who replaces Depp as the modern ad executive whom Quixote mistakes for Sancho Panza? Adam Driver. Fine choice too.

The project is in pre-production and is expected to be released next year (2018). But…yes, there’s a hitch. Given its history, how could there not be? Filming was due to begin last October but still seems in abeyance due to funding issues again. Nevertheless, ever the optimist, Gilliam told the press this at Cannes last September:

“We should be back here in Cannes next year with the finished film, and then you can ask me why I made such a mess of it or why I made such a wonderful film.”

What an odyssey he has endured, all these years tilting at windmills of his own.

You’ve got to love what you do. If you don’t, you won’t survive. The forces of entropy that tear structures down are too great. You defy them with resilience, with a refusal to say no and die. Great art, a thing of creation, defies destruction. The will to live and express what it means is why people like Gilliam toil on as they do.
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For a film maker, as with any other working bloke, it sometimes just doesn't pay to get out of bed in the morning.
LOST IN LA MANCHA is a cautionary tale about the making of a feature film, or rather the un-making of it.
For years, Director Terry Gilliam dreamed of making a screen adaptation of the Don Quixote story - you know, that old and senile Spanish knight who tilts at windmills. In 2000, with a budget of $32 million, Terry set about to do just that. His film, entitled "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote", stars Jean Rochefort as Quixote and Johnny Depp as Sancho Panza.
After several months of pre-production, Rochefort and Depp arrive on location, and shooting begins in the Spanish desert. During the first week, the crew copes with continual overflights of screeching F-16 jets, a thunderstorm that generates a flash flood that destroys equipment, and an injury to the 70-year old Rochefort that'll apparently keep him off his faithful steed unless cured. (Don Quixote on foot? Hmm, doesn't call-up quite the same image, does it?)
In the second week of shooting, a visit by the investors is followed by one from the insurance adjuster, who begins to mumble about "acts of God" precluding payment. Meanwhile, Rochefort is back in Paris to see his physician, and things don't look promising for a timely return. Then, the First Assistant Director, Phil Patterson, delivers the final blow.
Viewing LOST IN LA MANCHA, there's a certain terrible fascination watching the director's dream crumble before his (and your) eyes because of appallingly bad luck. One can't help but feel sorry for the poor devil. The film will, perhaps, only appeal to one that loves the movies and appreciates, at least to a minor degree, the organization, preparation, and coordination necessary to mount and complete a major production.
A postscript in the end credits informs the audience that Gilliam has since re-acquired the rights to "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote", which defaulted to the insurance company, and plans to give it another go. If it's ever released, I'll pay to see it just out of sympathy.
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In October of 2000, Terry Gilliam finally began production on his dream project, "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote."

Not only was it never finished, but it barely got into production before the whole thing crashed and burned, to the point where you seriously wonder if someone put a curse on Gilliam's production. The whole high-budget madhouse is chronicled in "Lost in La Mancha," a fascinating documentary that follows the whole trainwreck from beginning to end.

For several years, Terry Gilliam had been seeking funding for his time-traveling, satirical movie about Don Quixote and a young ad executive from the 21st century. But because of his unique style (which doesn't really lend itself to blockbusters) and his previous flop "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen," investors weren't exactly lining up. But Gilliam did manage to get the funding, as well as his dream cast of Jean Rochefort as Don Quixote and a pre-pirate Johnny Depp as the ad executive.

But... then things started going dramatically awry. It turned out that NATO had an airbase right near the set, meaning that the shoot was constantly interrupted by LOUD PLANE NOISE. Miscommunications on set. A flash flood that ruined a whole day of shooting. And while both Rochefort and Depp were troupers, the former ended up suffering debilitating health issues that left him unable to work.

Sadly the movie never got past the first week of production, so unlike other troubled productions by Gilliam ("The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus," anyone?) we never received an actual movie. It's a shame, since the brief moments of footage that viewers see are excellent and rather amusing -- where else do you see Johnny Depp swearing and fighting a fish?

But at least the trainwreck was somewhat salvaged by "Lost in La Mancha." There's almost a comedic quality to all the disasters that befell this production, and the surreality of it all is heightened by Gilliam's own direction. The giants, the Monty Pythonesque cartoons, the army of puppets -- it gives an extra layer of weirdness to a production that seemed... over-the-top. Gilliam himself couldn't have come up with a more bizarre comedy of errors if he had tried.

It's also a fascinating study for anyone who wants to know more about filmmaking. Terry Gilliam is a visionary and artist, but he also has to juggle a thousand unromantic tasks and jobs to actually get his movies made. For just a few minutes of usable footage, we see a few HOURS of all the nitty-gritty work that went into it. And it brings home how fragile some of these movies are, where a single problem (Rochefort's health) can topple everything.

As a final note: Terry Gilliam laughs like Tigger, and his repeated giggles will probably leave viewers wondering when he's going to announce that his top is made out of rubber and his bottom is made out of springs.

We may never get a Gilliam movie about Don Quixote, but at least we got a decent documentary out of his stillborn film. "Lost in La Mancha" is funny, sad and sometimes just strange, just like a Gilliam movie.
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on 19 July 2004
My friend and I watched this DVD when it arrived, eagre to see the film-making process of Terry Gilliam, of whom we are both fans.
It didn't bode well from early on in pre-production, but Gilliam's enthusiasm and faith in his project was infectious and people involved in the film all did their best to try and make it work. However, it does seem as though the project was jinxed from the start, even though, if the film DOES get made, I am sure it will be fabulous, as the scenes they DID manage to shoot looked great, especially the "Giants"!
We both really hope that Terry Gilliam has another shot at this as we are sure it will be marvellous if he finally succeeds. There was also a very good point made in the film that Terry has been penalised for Baron Munchausen in Hollywood and there is little commercial faith in him there after that movie, which seems very unfair considering that Twelve Monkeys was successful as was The Fisher King. Give the man the money to make what will be a marvellous film!
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on 14 February 2016
As a producer/director this is film school at it's very best! If you are thinking about making movies, this is a must see for a first time film maker or a seasoned pro. See how much work goes into making movies and how you have to have backup plans for each phase of your production. I've watched this so many times and come away with something different each time. Excellent, excellent piece of work of transparency in film making. The hardest part in watching this is seeing the expressions of director Terry Gilliam go from complete joy to complete despair as things spiral out of control.
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on 23 March 2015
DVD came promptly and in excellent condition. A great insight into the frustrations and craziness of movie-making. I love Terry Gilliam's mad visions so it was really interesting to see him at work. "Don Quixote" is the perfect film for him to make. He combines a Quixotic (of course) mind-set with modern techniques and a Renaissance sensibility. There are some very funny moments in the documentary. Johnny Depp is impressively wise and patient in the face of adversity and somehow Gilliam copes with the unravelling of his project without having a nervous breakdown. What can go wrong does go wrong. The excerpts from the small amount of film they did manage to shoot adds real poignancy: "Don Quixote" could have been a tremendous movie. Perhaps, one day, Gilliam will be able to finish it. Until then, this will have to do!
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on 11 April 2015
when i saw "LOST IN LA MANCHA" i felt mixed emotions:amazed, very gratefull and very lucky on one hand for having this documentary available on DVD; very sad and frustrated because of all the weird stuff that happened during the filming process that made it impossible to become a movie. And what a great movie it would be!!! Amazing actors, fantastic story and all that energy, excitement and enthusiasm from Mr. Terry Gilliam! It would be a blast!!!
Unfortunatly,it didn't happened.Maybe someday, who knows...
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on 22 June 2015
Wonderful insight into the highs, lows, heartaches and downright inefficiency of film making. Every person thinking of making a feature film (particularly with stars and crew from all over the globe), should first see this and, unless you have a massive budget - just don't!
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on 15 December 2012
If you're looking for a film about Don Quixote, this is not the one for you. If however, you're looking for a film that documents the trials of a team trying to overcome what sometimes seem like insurmountable odds to bring a dream to the screen, then there is no better than this.

I'd like to say it was a joy to watch but in truth joy only got a small part of the screen time, alongside, pain, illness, natural disaster and palpable frustration, to name but a few of the diverse elements. This is much more real than any of the docu-soaps with which we're being constantly bombarded.

If you have no idea what it takes to bring a film from book to screen, than this is well worth watching and I for one (and I'm sure there are many others) look forward to the day Terry Gilliam realises his vision and we can all watch the film, not just the documetary.
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