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Gilliam at the 36th Deauville American Films Festival.
|Born||Terrence Vance Gilliam
22 November 1940
Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States
|Occupation||Actor, animator, director, producer, screenwriter|
|Spouse||Maggie Weston (1973–present)|
Terrence Vance "Terry" Gilliam ( //; born 22 November 1940) is an American-born British screenwriter, film director, animator, actor and member of the Monty Python comedy troupe. Gilliam is also known for directing several films, including Brazil (1985), The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), The Fisher King (1991), 12 Monkeys (1995), and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). The only "Python" not born in Britain, he took British citizenship in 1968.
Gilliam was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the son of Beatrice (née Vance) and James Hall Gilliam, who was a traveling salesman for Folgers before becoming a carpenter. Soon after, they moved to the nearby Medicine Lake.
The family moved to Panorama City, California, in 1952. Gilliam attended Birmingham High School where he was class president and senior prom King, was voted "Most Likely to Succeed", and achieved straight A's. During high school, he began to avidly read Mad magazine, which was then edited by Harvey Kurtzman; this later influenced his work.
Gilliam later spoke to Salman Rushdie about defining experiences in the 1960s that would set the foundations for his views on the world, later influencing his art and career:
I became terrified that I was going to be a full-time, bomb-throwing terrorist if I stayed [in the U.S.] because it was the beginning of really bad times in America. It was '66–'67, it was the first police riot in Los Angeles. [...] In college my major was political science, so my brain worked that way. [...] And I drove around this little English Hillman Minx—top down—and every night I'd be hauled over by the cops. Up against the wall, and all this stuff. They had this monologue with me; it was never a dialogue. It was that I was a long-haired drug addict living off some rich guy’s foolish daughter. And I said, "No, I work in advertising. I make twice as much as you do." Which is a stupid thing to say to a cop. [...]
And it was like an epiphany. I suddenly felt what it was like to be a black or Mexican kid living in L.A. Before that, I thought I knew what the world was like, I thought I knew what poor people were, and then suddenly it all changed because of that simple thing of being brutalized by cops. And I got more and more angry and I just felt, I've got to get out of here—I'm a better cartoonist than I am a bomb maker. That's why so much of the U.S. is still standing.—"Salman Rushdie talks with Terry Gilliam"
Terry Gilliam started his career as an animator and strip cartoonist. One of his early photographic strips for Help! featured future Python cast-member John Cleese. When Help! folded, Gilliam went to Europe, jokingly announcing in the very last issue that he was "being transferred to the European branch" of the magazine, which of course did not exist. Moving to England, he animated sequences for the children's series Do Not Adjust Your Set, which also featured Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin.
Gilliam was a part of Monty Python's Flying Circus from its outset, at first credited as an animator (his name was listed separately after the other five in the closing credits), later as a full member. His cartoons linked the show's sketches together, and defined the group's visual language in other media (such as LP and book covers, and the title sequences of their films). Gilliam's animations mix his own art, characterized by soft gradients and odd, bulbous shapes, with backgrounds and moving cutouts from antique photographs, mostly from the Victorian era.
Besides doing the animations, he also appeared in several sketches, though he rarely had any main roles and did considerably less acting in the sketches. He did however have some notable sketch roles such as Cardinal Fang of the Spanish Inquisition, "I Want More Beans!" (from "Most Awful Family in Britain 1974", Episode 45) and the Screaming Queen in a cape and mask singing "Ding dong merrily on high."
More frequently, he played parts that no one else wanted to play (generally because they required a lot of make-up or uncomfortable costumes, such as a recurring knight in armour who would end sketches by walking on and hitting one of the other characters over the head with a plucked chicken) and took a number of small roles in the films, including Patsy in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (which he co-directed with Terry Jones, where Gilliam was responsible for photography, while Jones would guide the actors' performances) and the jailer in Monty Python's Life of Brian.
With the gradual break-up of the Python troupe between Life of Brian in 1979 and The Meaning of Life in 1983, Gilliam became a screenwriter and director, building upon the experience he had acquired during the making of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Gilliam says he used to think of his films in terms of trilogies, starting with Time Bandits in 1981. The 1980s saw Gilliam's self-written Trilogy of Imagination about "the ages of man" in Time Bandits (1981), Brazil (1985), and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988). All are about the "craziness of our awkwardly ordered society and the desire to escape it through whatever means possible." All three movies focus on these struggles and attempts to escape them through imagination; Time Bandits, through the eyes of a child, Brazil, through the eyes of a thirty-something year old, and Munchausen, through the eyes of an elderly man.
Throughout the 1990s, Gilliam directed his Trilogy of Americana, The Fisher King (1991), 12 Monkeys (1995), and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), which were based on scripts by other people, played on North American soil, and while still being surreal, had less fantastical plots than his previous trilogy.
Well, I really want to encourage a kind of fantasy, a kind of magic. I love the term magic realism, whoever invented it – I do actually like it because it says certain things. It's about expanding how you see the world. I think we live in an age where we're just hammered, hammered to think this is what the world is. Television's saying, everything's saying 'That's the world.' And it's not the world. The world is a million possible things.—Terry Gilliam: Salman Rushdie talks with Terry Gilliam
As for his philosophical background in screenwriting and directing, Gilliam said on the TV show First Hand on RoundhouseTV: "There's so many film schools, so many media courses which I actually am opposed to. Because I think it's more important to be educated, to read, to learn things, because if you're gonna be in the media and if you'll have to say things, you have to know things. If you only know about cameras and 'the media', what're you gonna be talking about except cameras and the media? So it's better learning about philosophy and art and architecture [and] literature, these are the things to be concentrating on it seems to me. Then, you can fly...!"
His films are usually highly imaginative fantasies. His long-time co-writer Charles McKeown comments about Gilliam's recurring interests, "the theme of imagination, and the importance of imagination, to how you live and how you think and so on [...] that's very much a Terry theme." Most of Gilliam's movies include plot-lines that seem to occur partly or completely in the characters' imaginations, raising questions about the definition of identity and sanity. He often shows his opposition to bureaucracy and authoritarian regimes. He also distinguishes "higher" and "lower" layers of society, with a disturbing and ironic style. His movies usually feature a fight or struggle against a great power which may be an emotional situation, a human-made idol, or even the person himself, and the situations do not always end happily. There is often a dark, paranoid atmosphere and unusual characters who formerly were normal members of society. His scripts feature black comedy and often end with a dark tragicomic twist.
As Gilliam is fascinated with the Baroque due to the historical age's pronounced struggle between spirituality and logical rationality, there is often a rich baroqueness and dichotomous eclecticity about his movies, with, for instance, high-tech computer monitors equipped with low-tech magnifying lenses in Brazil, and in The Fisher King a red knight covered with flapping bits of cloth. He also is given to incongruous juxtapositions of beauty and ugliness, or antique and modern. Regarding Gilliam's theme of modernity's struggle between spirituality and rationality whereas the individual may become dominated by a tyrannical, soulless machinery of disenchanted society, film critic Keith James Hamel observed a specific affinity of Gilliam's movies with the writings of economic historian Arnold Toynbee and sociologist Max Weber, specifically the latter's concept of the Iron cage of modern rationality.
Gilliam's films have a distinctive look not only in mise-en-scene but even more so in photography, often recognizable from just a short clip; in order to create a surreal atmosphere of psychological unrest and a world out-of-balance, Gilliam makes frequent use of unusual camera angles, particularly low-angle shots, high-angle shots, and Dutch angles. Roger Ebert has said "his world is always hallucinatory in its richness of detail." Most of his movies are shot almost entirely with rectilinear ultra wide angle lenses of 28 mm focal length or less in order to achieve a distinctive signature style defined by extreme perspective distortion and extremely deep focus. Gilliam's long-time director of photography Nicola Pecorini has said, "with Terry and me, a long lens means something between a 40mm and a 65mm." This attitude markedly differs from the common definition in photography which qualifies 40mm to 65mm as the focal length of a normal lens instead due to resembling natural human field of view, unlike Gilliam's signature style defined by extreme perspective distortion due to his usual choice of focal length. In fact, over the years, the 14mm lens has become informally known as "The Gilliam" among film-makers due to the director's frequent use of it since at least Brazil.
The wide-angle lenses, I think I choose them because it makes me feel like I'm in the space of the film, I'm surrounded. My prevalent vision is full of detail, and that's what I like about it. It's actually harder to do, it's harder to light. The other thing I like about wide-angle lenses is that I'm not forcing the audience to look at just the one thing that is important. It's there, but there's other things to occupy, and some people don't like that because I'm not pointing things out as precisely as I could if I was to use a long lens where I'd focus just on the one thing and everything else would be out of focus. [...]
[M]y films, I think, are better the second and third time, frankly, because you can now relax and go with the flow that may not have been as apparent as the first time you saw it and wallow in the details of the worlds we're creating. [...] I try to clutter [my visuals] up, they're worthy of many viewings.
In another interview, Gilliam also mentioned, in relation to the 9.8mm Kinoptic lens he had first used on Brazil, that wide-angle lenses make small film sets "look big". The widest lens he has used so far is an 8mm Zeiss lens employed on The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.
Gilliam has made a few extremely expensive movies beset with production problems. After the lengthy quarreling with Universal Studios over Brazil, Gilliam's next picture, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, cost around US$46 million, and then earned only about US$8 million in US ticket sales. The film saw no wide domestic release from Columbia Pictures, which was in the process of being sold at the time.
In the mid-1990s, Gilliam and Charles McKeown developed a script for Time Bandits 2, a project that never came to be made. Several of the original actors had died. Gilliam also attempted to direct a version of Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, which collapsed due to disagreements over its budget and choice of lead actor.
In 1999, Gilliam attempted to film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, budgeted at US$32.1 million, among the highest-budgeted films to use only European financing; but in the first week of shooting, the actor playing Don Quixote (Jean Rochefort) suffered a herniated disc, and a flood severely damaged the set. The film was cancelled, resulting in an insurance claim of US$15 million. Despite the cancellation, the aborted project did yield the documentary Lost in La Mancha, produced from film from a second crew that had been hired by Gilliam to document the making of Quixote. After the cancellation, both Gilliam and the film's co-lead, Johnny Depp, wanted to revive the project. The insurance company involved in the failed first attempt withheld the rights to the screenplay for several years but the production was finally restarted in 2008.
Gilliam has attempted twice to adapt Alan Moore's Watchmen comics into a film. Both attempts (in 1989 and 1996) were unsuccessful.[clarification needed] Most recently, unforeseeable problems again befell a Gilliam project when actor Heath Ledger died in New York City during the filming of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.
On the other hand, Gilliam's first successful feature, Time Bandits (1981), earned more than eight times its original budget in the United States alone; The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) was nominated for four Academy Awards (and won, among other European prizes, three BAFTA Awards); The Fisher King (1991) (his first film not to feature a member from Python) was nominated for five (and won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress); and 12 Monkeys went on to take over US$168 million worldwide; whilst The Brothers Grimm, despite a mixed critical reception, grossed over US$105 million worldwide. According to Box Office Mojo, his films have grossed an average of $26,009,723.
Ever since his first Python-independent feature Jabberwocky, Gilliam has shown a propensity to work with particular actors in numerous productions. Up until the 1990s, each of Gilliam's non-Python films was to feature at least one of his fellow Monty Python alumni (particularly Palin, Cleese, and Idle), and for his finished projects Gilliam has worked with the following actors more than once (in order of first film appearance):
Other recurring collaborators include Gilliam's cinematographers Roger Pratt (Brazil, The Fisher King, 12 Monkeys) and Nicola Pecorini (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Brothers Grimm, Tideland, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus), and his co-writer McKeown (Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus).
J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, is a fan of Gilliam's work. Consequently, he was Rowling's first choice to direct Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in 2000, but Warner Bros. ultimately chose Chris Columbus for the job. In response to this decision, Gilliam expressed that "I was the perfect guy to do Harry Potter. I remember leaving the meeting, getting in my car, and driving for about two hours along Mulholland Drive just so angry. I mean, Chris Columbus' versions are terrible. Just dull. Pedestrian." In 2006, Gilliam added that he found Alfonso Cuarón's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban to be "really good...much closer to what I would've done." In retrospect, however, Gilliam has stated that he wouldn't have liked to direct any Potter film. In a 2005 interview with Total Film magazine, he said that he would not enjoy working on such an expensive project due to interference from studio executives.
In 2002, Gilliam directed a series of television advertisements called Secret Tournament. The advertisements were part of Nike's FIFA World Cup campaign, and featured a secret three-on-three tournament between the world's best football players inside a huge tanker ship, with the Elvis Presley song "A Little Less Conversation" playing during the advertisements.
In 1996, Gilliam directed the stage show Slava's Diabolo created and staged by Russian clown artist Slava Polunin. The show combines Polunin's clown style, characterized by deep non-verbal expression and interaction with the audience, with Gilliam's rich visuals and surrealistic imagery. The show premiered at the Noga hall of the Gesher theater in Jaffa, Israel.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, directed and co-written by Gilliam, was released in 2009. In January 2007, Gilliam announced that he had been working on a new project with writing partner Charles McKeown. One day later, the fansite Dreams reported that the new project was titled The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. In October 2007, Dreams confirmed that this would be Gilliam's next project and was slated to star Christopher Plummer and Tom Waits. Production began in December 2007 in London.
On 22 January 2008, production of the film was disrupted following the death of Heath Ledger in New York City. Variety reported that Ledger's involvement had been a "key factor" in the film's financing. Production was suspended indefinitely by 24 January, but in February actors Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell signed on to continue Ledger's role, transforming into multiple incarnations of his character in the "magical" world of the film. Thanks to this arrangement principal photography was completed 15 April 2008 on schedule. Editing was completed November 2008. According to the official ParnassusFilm Twitter channel launched on 30 March 2009, the film's post-production FX work finished on 31 March.
During the filming, Gilliam was accidentally hit by a bus and broke his back.
The UK release for the film was scheduled for 6 June 2009 but was pushed back to 16 October 2009. The USA release was on 25 December 2009. The film had successful screenings including a premiere at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival. The director stated his intent to dedicate the film to Ledger. Depp, Farrell, and Law donated their proceeds from the film to Ledger's daughter.
Gilliam made his opera debut at London's English National Opera in May 2011, directing The Damnation of Faust by Hector Berlioz. The production received positive reviews in the British press
Gilliam has several projects in various states of development, including an adaptation of Neil Gaiman's and Terry Pratchett's comic fantasy novel Good Omens. Other projects Gilliam has been trying to get off the ground since the 1990s are an adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities (starring Mel Gibson), an adaptation of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain (which has been adapted into movies several times before), and a script titled The Defective Detective that Gilliam has co-authored with Richard LaGravenese (who wrote Gilliam's The Fisher King before).
It was rumoured that Gilliam may direct – or be involved in the production of – the animated band Gorillaz' movie. In a September 2006 interview with Uncut magazine, Damon Albarn was reported saying "... we're making a film. We've got Terry Gilliam involved." However, in a more recent interview with Gorillaz-Unofficial, Jamie Hewlett, the co-creator of the band, stated that since the time of the previous interview, Damon's and his own fixation on the film had lessened. In an August 2008 Observer interview, Gorillaz band members Albarn and Hewlett revealed the nature and title of the project, Journey to the West, a movie adaptation of the opera of the same name based on a 16th-century Chinese adventure story also known as Monkey. In January 2008, while on set of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Gilliam stated that he was looking forward to the project, "But I'm still waiting to see a script!"
Zero Theorem was a planned feature film project by Gilliam. The science fiction film would have starred Billy Bob Thornton. Participating were producer Richard D. Zanuck and screenwriter Pat Rushin. When little was revealed about the nature of the film writer Pat Rushin suggested that his short story "Vow: A Prolix Parable" was an example of the screenplay's sensibility. An article at film website Tout Le Cine stated the film was to be about a reclusive and tortured data processing genius working on a mysterious project. Production was said to start May 2009. However, in June 2009 Gilliam stated that he had dropped the film having to invest more time than expected in the promotion of the 2009 film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus as well as in preparation for his film of Don Quixote.
After regaining the rights to the screenplay of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, Gilliam restarted pre-production in 2008, with Johnny Depp still attached to the project. The film will be reshot completely, and Rochefort's role will be recast. Michael Palin reportedly entered talks with Gilliam to step in for Rochefort and play Don Quixote. However, Gilliam revealed on Canadian talk show The Hour on 17 December 2009, that Robert Duvall had been cast to play Quixote.
On 16 December 2010, Variety reported that Gilliam is to "godfather" a film called 1884 which is described as an animated steampunk parody of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, with several former Pythons lending their voice talents to the project whereas Gilliam will be credited as "creative adviser".
Gilliam has been married to the British make-up and costume designer Maggie Weston since 1973. She worked on Monty Python's Flying Circus, many of the Python movies, and Gilliam's movies up to The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. They have three children, Amy (b. 1978), Holly (b. 1980), and Harry (b. 1988), who have also appeared in several of Gilliam's films.
In 1968, Gilliam obtained British citizenship, then held dual American and British citizenship for the next 38 years. In January 2006 he renounced his American citizenship. In an interview with Der Tagesspiegel, he described the action as a protest against then President George W. Bush, and in an earlier interview with The Onion AV Club, he also indicated that it was related to concerns about future tax liability for his wife and children. As a result of renouncing his citizenship, Gilliam is only permitted to spend 30 days per year in the United States, fewer than ordinary British citizens. Gilliam also maintains a residence in Italy near the Umbria-Tuscany border. He has been instrumental in establishing the annual Umbria Film Festival, held in the nearby hill town of Montone.
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