In the latest of our Close Up series we look at one of HeyUGuys’ most treasured directors. Currently killing the Python (for the last time) on stage Terry Gilliam’s vibrant imagination and brutal humour has gathered him up a legion of fans who follow his every cinematic move with delight.
Though with a director such as Gilliam choosing a ‘best of’ list could easily be solved by pointing a link to his IMDb page I have chosen the elements of his work which I like the most. There are many, many more excellent moments and themes from his films, but as we near the release of The Zero Theorem on Blu-ray and DVD (out on Monday the 21st of July folks) we look back at those moments which made us fans.
The Kids are not what they seem.
A young boy holds his mother’s hand and watches silently as a man is gunned down running through an airport, his attention caught suddenly a blonde woman run after him, (his wife?) clawing at the distance, screaming as the man falls to the ground. A girl, dragged halfway across the country to a seemingly abandoned house opens up her toy suitcase open her new, broken, bed and pulls out a series of dolls heads on her bedstead carefully. Jack Lint’s children play with their toys on the floor of his office while he works away, rifling through the tedium of torture administration before the actual administration. Kevin, all of ten years old, helps a group of errant dwarves push the wall of his bedroom into oblivion while chased by the face of ultimate evil.
An age in single figures is no respite from the wicked whirl of Gilliam’s imagination. We are all innocents at the beginning of Terry Gilliam’s films, and by and by we emerge at the end very much older, and very much wiser.
Partying alone in The Zero Theorem
The party scene is an oddity-infused kaleidoscope, a whirlwind of those suffering from the modern condition. The torrent of bodies knocking together, oblivious to one another, the colour clash and undulating din is a sharp contrast to the pristine white computer simulation in Qohen Leth’s work finding the meaning (or not) of life. He is doomed to fail because, as in all of Gillian’s films, there is no order to be found. It is the chaos which is beautiful. Narcissism, self absorption and the bureaucratic chains are present in Gillian’s films to be faced, fought and broken although the escape is not always the happy ending one looks for.
As we saw above in Gilliam’s films the happy ending is blown up when it touches a piece of pure evil. The rug is always pulled from beneath you. The sunset is always fake.
Here’s a scene from Brazil which, despite the paltry video quality, is perfect evidence of Gilliam’s ability to unnerve and immerse us in his world. In Brazil the office of Jack Lint is a misshapen and seemingly evolving space – the editing and keen choice of lens evokes a discombobulation we share with Sam. Brazil, as we all know, has quite an ending itself.
When the Time Bandits reached the edge of the story, only to break through.
The safety of a child’s bedroom is fertile ground for Gilliam to induce all manner of nightmares. A beautifully shot scene involving a knight on his horse bursting from a wardrobe is just the beginning of a journey through time and space, good and ultimate evil.
They’ve met Robin Hood, sailed on the Titanic’s last night, and seen Agamemnon at the height of his powers yet on a grisly grey beach the bandits catch up with themselves and have nowhere left to go. Watching this scene as a kid I remember the strange sensation I had seeing the actors press their faces up against the glass wall; it was a strange opening up of horizons. That they had just stopped. The story could go no further until it suddenly could.
It may have been a cheap trick to solve a screenwriting problem and race to the end but it made for a visually enthralling moment.
Bonus clip – A delightfully decent and very Evil David Warner describing his evil plan evilly.
The whole of The Crimson Permanent Assurance.
Playing as its own self-contained short before the team divulged The Meaning of Life this wonderfully anarchic twenty minutes is arguably Gilliam’s last great hurrah with Python. That the City of London is a cruel mistress is well known; new blood, hungry wolves are often metaphors grabbed at when the soul-destroying turnaround of life through its streets are told. Here though Gilliam reverses things, infuses the scenario with an invasion of imagination. There are many reasons to love this short. It has themes Gilliam would go on to explore in later films (notably that the appearance of someone rarely determines their fate) but there is something perfect and pure about this.
Years later when I worked in the city’s oldest buildings and walked the balustrades of the most solid and ancient financial institutions I cannot deny that my eye did seek a moving building in the horizon, and I listened in vain for the cheers and hurrahs of this curious gaggle of rogue city gentlemen to fill the city sky.
The Evolution of the Story
This is a special bonus for you. A rarely seen twenty minute interview with Gilliam, ostensibly on the importance of storyboarding, which evolves into a masterclass on the creative process.
And another bonus is his twenty minute short film The Wholly Family, produced with Garofalo Pasta, who gave him free rein – as long as no-one dies. Fair enough…
The Zero Theorem is out on Monday, the 21st of July. It’s really worth your time – so buy it here.