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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 7/11/03

Lost in La Mancha
2003 (2003) - Quixote Films/IFC (Docurama)

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Lost in La Mancha Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/B

Specs and Features

Disc One - Lost in La Mancha
93 mins, R, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, keep case packaging, 10 promo trailers (for other Docurama films), animated film themed menu screens with sound and music, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none, Closed Captioned

Disc Two - Supplemental Features
Single-sided, single-layered, 5 cast & crew interview featurettes (with Terry Gilliam, Johnny Depp, Keith Fulton, Louis Pepe and Lucy Darwin), 9 deleted scenes with text introduction, Salman Rushdie & Terry Gilliam: A Conversation from the 29th Telluride Film Festival documentary (54 mins), IFC Focus: Terry Gilliam documentary (58 mins), 6 "Sound Bites" featurettes (approx. 29 mins total), gallery of Terry Gilliam's storyboard art, gallery of Benjamin Fernandez's production design art, gallery of Gabriella Pescucci's costume design art, theatrical trailer, animated film themed menu screens with sound and music, languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none

"This project has been so long in the making and so miserable, that someone needs to get a film out of it... and it doesn't look like it's going to be me."

What happens when a production crew, brought in to chronicle the making of a film for a featurette on an eventual release on DVD, actually documents a piece of cinema history, in effect, creating the actual movie instead of some throw-away bonus feature? The answer to that question can be found here, in Lost in La Mancha.

In August of 2000, director Terry Gilliam (best known for his days in Monty Python, and his creation of Brazil and 12 Monkeys), after ten years of stops and starts, went to Spain to finally shoot one of his dream projects: The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. The film was to be a modern revisioning of the Cervantes' classic story Don Quixote. Johnny Depp would star as an ad exec who is thrown back through time, landing in the 17th Century to fill in as a confused Sancho Panza - sidekick to the old, crazy, but morally dedicated titular hero. Gilliam had his crew in place, he had his locations set and he was ready to roll. Unfortunately, fate had other plans. Jet fighters, rain, flood, and a major star having several health problems were just a few of the bigger problems Gilliam's faced. But there were many, many more, and all of them are here in this must see documentary.

Doomed productions with chronicles almost more fascinating that the actual films are not new. Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now has Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo has Les Banks' Burden of Dreams, and Gilliam's own 12 Monkeys has The Hamster Cycle and Other Tales of 12 Monkeys, which was made by the same fellas behind Lost in La Mancha: Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe. The big difference is, all of those documentaries illuminate the productions of films that exist, while this documentary is about a film that probably never will - at least with the vision seen here. And although a film about an unfinished film has been done before ( 1965's The Epic That Never Was, focusing on Josef von Sternberg's 1937 version of I, Claudius, which would have starred Charles Laughton - available on the DVD of the 1976 version of I, Claudius) there hasn't been one that took place while the unfinished film was being filmed. In this case, Fulton and Pepe were there, on the set, catching everything as it went down. As a result, we're given a rare and unusual view on the whole thing.

When the last frame of this intriguing documentary flashes in front of your eyes, you will have a very definite opinion of Gilliam as a filmmaker, how producers work to pass the buck, how clueless investors are and how corporate bureaucracy can kill artistic vision. Don't be fooled by reviews of Lost in La Mancha that paint Gilliam as some quixotic filmmaker chasing down his movies with a certain madness evident in his eyes. Yes, the guy thrives in chaos, but as the whole production begins the fall apart around him, he's the only one who doesn't loose his head in same fashion. Gilliam is an artist with a vision - to blame his directorial style for the downfall of the production is silly.

The quality of this documentary on DVD is pretty damn good, when you consider that it was shot on hand-held digital equipment. Once you allow for that, you'll find that the picture quality is actually very clear, with bright colors and nice detail. Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 and sounds fine, when you once again consider the source. This was location sound, and was never meant to be reviewed as an actual film. As such you get drop outs, and a few harder to understand sequences, which are filled in with subtitles. It's not rich, it's not active, but you get the point and that's what's important.

Although the extras aren't packed, this is a two-disc special edition, so there is plenty to see. All the extras are on the second disc. First up, and substituting for a commentary, we get a series of five interviews with the cast and crew. There's Gilliam discussing the film, Depp talking about his relationship with Gilliam, both members of the directing team of Fulton and Pepe talking separately and producer Lucy Darwin giving her impressions. All five combined are very informative and fun - a commentary would have been great, but this works in its stead.

Next up are the deleted scenes. There are nine deleted scenes, each with nice little text introductions by the directors explaining why they were cut. Usually it was for length, or the fact that the shots heralded too much gloom or did so too early. These are interesting for the most part, but even more interesting is the look at a jettisoned stylistic attempt called "video portraits" that were laid into the film. Apparently, test audiences didn't like it so it was ditched, but it's actually no too bad. Maybe in another documentary it would have worked better.

Included on this disc are two very interesting pieces of video, of about an hour each. The first originally appeared on Telluride Community TV during the Telluride film festival in 2002, and features reclusive writer Salman Rushdie interviewing/conversing with Gilliam about the film and a variety of other topics. The other is a career spanning discussion with Gilliam by New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell, held during the L.A. County Museum of Art retrospective: "Tilting at Windmills: The Fantastical Worlds of Terry Gilliam." An edited version of this interview appeared on IFC, but here we get the whole thing. Both of these interviews are pretty incredible, and absolutely worth your time.

The Sound Bites section contains six video featurettes made from unused interview footage (which are a little more informative than entertaining), detailing aspects of the film production and why it fell apart. For those who want to know a little more about the project, these interviews are a nice companion piece to the film and other extras.

The Storyboards and Production Stills section includes lots of production drawings and Gilliam's storyboards from the film, without much context - which is a shame and makes it not too worthwhile as an extra. The storyboards, in particular, suffer from poor presentation here. Rather than showing you storyboard frame per screen, you get four... and the sketched-line style of the artwork is hard to appreciate without the closer inspection of the detail. There are only three frames where we get to see the complete storyboard. On the other hand, Benjamin Fernandez's production designs and Gabriella Pescucci's costume designs are given the full screen treatment and they look good. But don't be confused by the title of the section - there are no actual "production stills" to be found, just concept art and storyboards.

Rounding out the disc are trailers. The first disc contains a large collection of cross-promotional trailers for other Docurama releases, but more important is the theatrical trailer for this film on Disc Two.

If you love movies, Gilliam's especially, then Lost in La Mancha is a great documentary and a must own DVD for your collection. Without DVD, this film would simply not exist, making this disc a perfect choice for inclusion in this book. Any production that starts life as an added value featurette, only to go on and represent a fascinating moment in cinema history all by itself is a huge feat. And to be able to show us the inner machinations of filmmaking is a priceless gift to film fans everywhere.

Todd Doogan
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