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Mark Suszko
on May 19, 2010 at 2:06:00 pm

If you have not seen it, you really should treat yourself to the documentary, "Lost In Lamancha", the behind-the-scenes doc on the ill-fated (nay, cursed) and unfinished Terry Gilliam production of Don Quixote.

In that documentary are some fragmentary samples of the Orson Welles production of the Quixote that met a similar fate to Gilliam's project. BTW, I think Gilliam and Welles are similar in many ways, including how studios treat them.

Anyhow, yesterday the wife and I were pawing thru old vinyl and movies at a resale shop and came across a DVD of the "restored" and "completed" Welles "Quixote" movie.

"That's weird," I said: "I'm pretty sure this movie was never finished, but abandoned halfway thru shooting. How did they...?"

For a three bucks we decided to try our luck.

Well, it was horrible. Painful. If you come across the thing, don't waste your money. It is the cinematic equivalent of finding that someone took the partly-built skeleton of a Frank Lloyd Wright house and finished it off with trailer park double-wide parts and some googie/post-modern flourishes.

What it is, is every trim and out-take they could find from the Welles project, edited together like it was a game of MadLibs, very little continuity.

Welles shot this without much sound, and in Black and White; the style in Europe at the time was still to not bother with sound much in the field, but instead to loop everything in post, and Welles particularly was comfortable with this from his radio background. he felt the audio treatmetn he'd eventually give this would be a huge plus. Only some of the fragments have Welles' audio work on them, though, and the producers found some guy who was not as good as Maurice LaMarche to fake Orson's voice over the rest of the parts he hadn't got around to voicing before the project was abandoned. That's hard: imitating Welles' voice itself imitating two or more other characters.

Worse, the aural and script interpretation of these characters is all over the map with no continuity. Welles did voices for the Sancho and Quixote roles in one style, with a certain personality, and the fill-in narrations are done in a completely different style and personality. Sancho keeps jumping between cynical all-knowing devious bastard and loyal, innocent trusting simpleton. There's also what looks like temp footage and stock b-roll stuck in here and there that just doesn't fit much. They also took promotional footage of Welles, shot during the filming of this movie, and spliced that in here and there as well, in ways that seem forced and surreal.

Welles and Gilliam's films both featured a Quixote that broke thru restrictinos of time and interacted with the contemporary world. But even taking that into consideration, the way they edited this stuff still doesn't make a lot of sense.

I can't think of a better way to insult Welles than to edit his stuff, badly, after his death, then put his name alongside of it.

Anything at all worthy in this DVD?
Some of the photography is quite striking compositionally. Like looking at an ElGreco come to life. The casting was pretty good as far as the look. The guy playing Sancho is actually pretty good, but his dialog is crap and all over the map thematically and motivationally, as if pages from two different scripts were shuffled randomly. Which may not be far from the truth. The movie feels like it's an Alzheimer's patient.

If you just played the raw footage without any sound, maybe just instrumental music, I think you'd have a more pleasant experience watching this, than enduring the sound track they put to this Frankenstein and trying to make sense of the way it was put together. I had to force myself to stick thru to the end.

When we finished, I turned to my wife and quoted Fred Gwynne from the movie "Pet Sematary"

"Sometimes, dead is better."

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Tim Wilson
Re: Quixote
on May 19, 2010 at 7:06:00 pm

"Lost in La Mancha" is truly amazing. It can be quite grim to watch Terry Gilliam's entire (moviemaking) world go entirely to poo, but he handles it as well as humanly possible, and is forced to admit at a certain point that yeah, there's always something else that can go wrong.

I was just thinking about this because, 10 years later, he's finally getting money together to try again! This one feels pretty interesting. Johnny Depp is no longer in it (although he helped save another star-crossed Gilliam picture, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus). Instead we have Ewan McGregor and, as Quixote, Robert Duvall.

Here's the story from Cannes.

And seriously, check out "Lost in La Macha."

Tim Wilson
Associate Publisher, Editor-in-Chief
Creative COW Magazine

My Blog: "Is this thing on? Oh it's on!"

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