But I do think he is one of the few directors working now that could do a version of Don Quixote justice, although it seems like the film we be more about the idea of Don Quixote than the book itself. I'm OK with that since people seem to many different ways to read the book. As I mentioned in my post on Mark Van Doren's Don Quixote's Profession, he notes
The sign of its simplicity is that it can be summarized in a few sentences. The sign of its mysteriousness is that it can be talked about forever. It has indeed been talked about as no other story ever was. For a strange thing happens to its readers. They do not read the same book. Or if they do, they have different theories about it.
(As an aside, I've updated my post on Don Quixote's Profession to note that the speeches comprising it can also be found, much cheaper, in Van Doren's The Happy Critic, published in 1961).
Gilliam's trouble in trying to make a Quixote-related film has been well documented (see here for a nice recap of his last attempt), and he's not the only one that encountered trouble on such a project. I decided to watch Lost in La Mancha, the documentary by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe on the ill-fated filming of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. This was Fulton and Pepe's second feature documenting a Gilliam Film: The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of Twelve Monkeys was the first. There was no way they could have known when they started covering Gilliam's The Man Who Killed Don Quixote that the project would fall apart when the film's star, Jean Rochefort, became too ill and injured to continue filming.
The problems with the project begin early: funding falls through, actors aren't under contract and don't show up for pre-production, and sets aren't as advertised. Assistant Director Phil Patterson stated it well, noting that working on a project with Gilliam was like riding a wild horse. You grab on to the mane and hold on for the ride of your life. The first scene was shot next to a NATO bombing range, so jets disrupt their attempts to film. Then massive rain and hail wash away that set. Rochefort leaves the set after day six of shooting, never to return. Despite initial claims of force majeure, the insurance company reimbursed investors but ended up owning the script. A few of the clips filmed are shown and they barely hint at what might have been. The difficulty in filming a movie, especially one with a strict budget and tight schedule, comes through in every scene. Similar to Cervantes' story, reality keeps intruding on the dream.
Gilliam handles everything thrown at him with aplomb. He has a few "blow up" moments, but they're surprisingly tame in relation to what he's facing. The stand-out moments for me was Patterson putting Jean Rochefort's health above making the film and Terry Gilliam sticking with Patterson even when he didn't agree with him. If watching someone under intense pressure reveals their true nature, these are two outstanding guys.
I found watching Lost in La Mancha frustrating at times, even though I knew exactly how things would turn out, because I wanted them to succeed. And I ardently hope that this go-round will be successful. If you go to rent Lost in La Mancha or check it out from a library, make sure there is a second disc including extras. On it is a 54 minute interview between Salman Rushdie and Terry Gilliam from 2002. It's an entertaining romp through their views on different types of books and movies. I found myself wishing it would go on for much longer.