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Wednesday, 10.20.04: Terry Gilliam

Terry Gilliam is one of those genius oddballs -- capable of anything, not always successful, but ready to experiment. I was never a fan of Monty Python's Flying Circus, not that I ever gave it a fair try. Gilliam was "the American Python." His career got started because he could draw. Then he volunteered to put visuals to some kind of funny audio production and his animation career was born. Somehow he got involved with the Pythons and figured out he could write. Then, when the Pythons started doing movies, a director was born.

I didn't know who he was till I saw the movie Lost in La Mancha. It's a documentary about his attempt make a film about Don Quixote. The project was a complete disaster. In the middle of production it had to be abandoned -- always instructive to see how geniuses can fail. Anyway, the film contains some of his animation, which got me intrigued by his style and methods.

I'm reading a book called Dark Knights & Holy Fools: The Art and Films of Terry Gilliam by Bob McCabe. I marked a page where he talks about how he produced 2-1/2 minutes per week of animated film for Monty Python: No computers, all manually done out of his London apartment, with cut-outs of his own drawings and copies of things from art books, colored with felt tip pens and an airbrush. Then he'd bring it all down to the BBC and shoot it on film. He says about those days:

I'm always in a rush, always trying to do more than I've got the time or the money for, so it's this constant battle of only going so far and then saying 'OK that's it, I've got to move on.' I do, because in the end I don't care that much. I care about the overall thing and that's what happened with the cartoons. There's an overall effect with engravings, airbrushing and photographs -- all these different techniques and media squeezed together into one thing. And that kind of collage work is something I couldn't even do now because I need the pressure of having to turn it out each week to be as free as that. Now if I was given the time, I'd try to make everything just perfect, which doesn't mean better.

I'm not sure why I'm so impressed by these words. Maybe it says something about where creativity and surprise come from. Don't overthink the thing. Don't plan for perfection. Just keep the spigots open and keep pouring out the product -- something interesting is bound to happen.

 

NOTES

Lost in La Mancha (2002)

Terry Gilliam: full filmography

Animations: his history as an animator

 

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