The Cinema of Terry Gilliam

The Cinema of Terry Gilliam: It's a Mad World

Jeff Birkenstein
Anna Froula
Karen Randell
Series: Directors' Cuts
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/birk16534
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  • Book Info
    The Cinema of Terry Gilliam
    Book Description:

    Terry Gilliam has been making movies for more than forty years, and this volume analyzes a selection of his thrilling directorial work, from his early films with Monty Python toThe Imaginarium of Doctor Parnussus(2009). The frenetic genius, auteur, and social critic continues to create indelible images on screen--if, that is, he can get funding for his next project. Featuring eleven original essays from an international group of scholars, this collection argues that when Gilliam makes a movie, he goes to war: against Hollywood caution and convention, against American hyper-consumerism and imperial militarism, against narrative vapidity and spoon-fed mediocrity, and against the brutalizing notion and cruel vision of the "American Dream."

    eISBN: 978-0-231-85038-4
    Subjects: Film Studies, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. vi-ix)
  4. NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. x-xii)
  5. INTRODUCTION Fear and Loathing in Hollywood: Looking at Terry Gilliam through a Wide-angle Lens
    (pp. 1-8)
    Jeff Birkenstein, Anna Froula and Karen Randell

    Watching a Gilliam film tends to leave the audience in joyful wonderment, dazed and confused, and out of breath, if not utterly baffled or even angry about what has transpired on screen. Gilliam fills every frame with minute detail, much of it impossible to see in one viewing without the aid of a remote control and a thumb on the pause button. This volume takes a snapshot of the still very-much-in-progress career of Terry Gilliam as we seek to turn a wide-angle lens, now known industry-wide as ‘The Gilliam’, on this original and influential director (see Cullen 2000). For five...

  6. TERRY GILLIAM INTERVIEW: with Karen Randell – 3 May 2012
    (pp. 9-15)
    Karen Randell and Terry Gilliam

    KR: Do you know anything about the project that we’re doing?

    TG: Well, it seems to be a book about somebody called me.

    KR: Yes, that’s exactly right. This will be calledThe Cinema of Terry Gilliam: It’s a Mad World. We hope you like the word ‘mad’ in there. We thought it was appropriate somehow.

    TG: [Laughs]

    KR: It came about ... I’ve edited this with two of my colleagues from the US, Jeff Birkenstein and Anna Froula. We were editing a book about 9/11, actually, about post-9/11 culture...

    TG: And you thought of me.

    KR: What happened was...

  7. CHAPTER ONE Steampunked: The Animated Aesthetics of Terry Gilliam in Jabberwocky and Beyond
    (pp. 16-31)
    Anna Froula

    Terry Gilliam made the transition from illustrator to movie-maker when he made his first animation forWe Have Ways of Making You Laugh(1968). With a £400 budget and a two-week deadline, he volunteered to translate the potentially funny but seemingly unusable ‘tapes of terrible punning links between records made by disk jockey Jimmy Young’ into visual language (Marks 2010: 18). Inspired by the technique of avant-garde filmmaker Stan Van Der Beek, Gilliam explains, ‘I could do what I do – cut-outs. So I got pictures of Jimmy Young, cut his head out and drew other bits and pieces and...

  8. CHAPTER TWO Grail Tales: The Preoccupations of Terry Gilliam
    (pp. 32-41)
    Tony Hood

    Terry Gilliam begins the filmTime Bandits(1981) with an image of Earth spinning in space. As the camera tracks slowly towards the planet, this celestial perspective evokes a timeless quietude yet curiously, at the same time, an over-abundance of historical description by which humanity has sought to appraise it: metaphysical, scientific, philosophical and mythological. It invites contemplation of the vast project to understand the operations of our world and elicit meaning for our experiences, and announces something of the order that the filmmaker – no less than the scientist, historian, theologian or philosopher – constructs a model of the...

  9. CHAPTER THREE ‘And Now for Something Completely Different’: Pythonic Arthuriana and the Matter of Britain
    (pp. 42-53)
    Jim Holte

    Monty Python and the Holy Grail(1975) consists of a series of comedic sketches based, loosely of course, on the Quest for the Holy Grail, one of the central and perhaps the best known and most popular elements of the Matter of Britain. Other significant elements of the Arthurian narrative – Arthur’s mysterious birth, pulling the sword Excalibur from the stone, the romantic triangle of Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere, the conflict between Arthur and Mordred – are ignored. What the film presents is the essential Quest – the call to action, testings and trials and, of course, the search for...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR The Baron, the King and Terry Gilliam’s Approach to ‘the Fantastic’
    (pp. 54-65)
    Keith James Hamel

    ‘He won’t get far on hot air and fantasy.’ So says Jackson (Jonathan Pryce), the evil civil servant in Terry Gilliam’s filmThe Adventures of Baron Munchausen(1988), as he watches the Baron (John Neville) and his nine-year-old sidekick Sally (Sarah Polley) escape an unnamed walled city in a hot-air balloon made out of women’s underwear. Coincidentally, the Jackson character is rumoured to have been modelled on the studio moguls (such as Sid Sheinberg of Universal) who tried to shape and control Gilliam’s wildly imaginative films to that point – namelyBrazil(1985) (see Kael 1989: 103). But Gilliam has...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE The Subversion of Happy Endings in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil
    (pp. 66-78)
    Jeffrey Melton and Eric Sterling

    Terry Gilliam’s directorial career is defined by persistent explorations of the dreams of overwhelmed or even delusional characters. They battle with both inner demons and the outer world in troubled efforts to save (or find) their humanity. It is a trademark of his directorial vision and has secured his rightful place within the pantheon of substantive filmmakers as well as appreciative, if selective, audiences throughout his career. His work often focuses on the struggle within the main characters to find some solace in perilous worlds bent on crushing the spirit, where the key to salvation, however tempered by horrific circumstances,...

  12. CHAPTER SIX The Fissure King: Terry Gilliam’s Psychotic Fantasy Worlds
    (pp. 79-91)
    Jacqueline Furby

    This chapter considers the discourse around fantasy articulated by Terry Gilliam’sThe Fisher King(1991). In particular, it examines the film’s central concern with fantasy storytelling and the mental condition of psychosis, which for Sigmund Freud involved the psychotic subject in a defensive movement away from external reality towards a newly-substituted alternative reality. Significantly,The Fisher Kingis not the first film (nor the last) where Gilliam explores the connections between fantasy storytelling and psychosis and their implications. For example, inBrazil(1985) Sam Lowry’s (Jonathan Pryce) escape into fantasy ultimately means that he is unable to save himself from...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN ‘You can’t change anything’: Freedom and Control in Twelve Monkeys
    (pp. 92-103)
    Gerry Canavan

    In hisSociety Must Be Defended(1977), a collection of lectures originally given at Collège de France in 1976, Michel Foucault describes a new paradigm for power relations that he callsbiopolitics, which reflects the new strategies and technologies of control employed by contemporary governments. Power in its classic form, Foucault writes, was organised around the concept ofsovereignty, the right of the sovereign to either make die or else let live.¹ But the new sciences of population and demography that developed over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries brought into existence a new paradigm for power, a shift away from...

  14. CHAPTER EIGHT ‘It shall be a nation’: Terry Gilliam’s Exploration of National Identity, Between Rationalism and Imagination
    (pp. 104-117)
    Ofir Haivry

    A major theme, perhapsthemajor theme, of Terry Gilliam’s films is the tension within the human mind between what is to be perceived as reality and what as fantasy (see Morgan 2004: 41). Since our senses convey to us a great deal of information, much of it contradictory, our mind is constantly attempting to interpret it. One method of interpretation is by rational process – examining all information using deductive logic only – and another by imagination – forming mental images, sensations and concepts, in a moment when they are not perceived through the senses. The different methods often...

  15. CHAPTER NINE ‘Won’t somebody please think of the children?’: The Case for Terry Gilliam’s Tidelands
    (pp. 118-129)
    Kathryn A. Laity

    This chapter considers the notion of the monstrous and its relationship to childhood in Terry Gilliam’sTideland(2005). There is a small strain of the fantastic that plays upon the powers of horror but skirts the edge of mainstream. Sometimes these films meet with stupendous financial success – as in the case of Guillermo del Toro’sPan’s Labyrinth(2006) – but more often they turn out to be astounding (critical and/or financial) failures, as in the case ofTideland. At the centre of both films is a young girl who confronts all-too-real horrors by delving in into a fantasy world...

  16. CHAPTER TEN Divorced from Reality: Time Bandits in Search of Fulfilment
    (pp. 130-144)
    Jeff Birkenstein

    It was just a coincidence, but around the time of my parents’ divorce, I watched Terry Gilliam’sTime Bandits(1981) dozens of times on HBO. Enthralled at twelve or thirteen, I never sensed that critics might call it ‘a lot of frippery’ (Rea 2004: 51). It was about a boy I recognised, Kevin (Craig Warnock), who was about my age, with a rich, imaginative fantasy life, a world of books and head-bound adventure. I admired him immensely. And even though I had no idea then who Terry Gilliam was, I now know why Gilliam also identifies with Kevin (see McCabe...

  17. CHAPTER ELEVEN Celebrity Trauma: The Death of Heath Ledger and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
    (pp. 145-157)
    Karen Randell

    Our first view of Heath Ledger inThe Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus(2009) is a shocking sight, as his character, Tony Liar, wearing a brilliant white suit and lit with an angelic glow in the midnight gloom of a stormy London sky, hangs from the rafters of Blackfriars Bridge with a rope around his neck. This image is one of daring distaste – the now-dead star plays the potentially dead Tony Liar. As Peter Biskard comments, ‘in the light of his [Ledger’s] subsequent death, it takes your breath away’ (2009: 86).¹ With his head tipped back and his mouth hanging...

  18. FILMOGRAPHY
    (pp. 158-162)
  19. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 163-172)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 173-174)