Terry Gilliam

Benicio Del Toro and Johnny Depp embodying Dr. Gonzo and Raoul Duke in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

Benicio Del Toro and Johnny Depp embodying Dr. Gonzo and Raoul Duke in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

  • Born:  1940
  • Rank:  52
  • Score:  571.20
  • Awards:  LAFC
  • Nominations:  Golden Globe
  • Feature Films:  11
  • Best:  The Fisher King
  • Worst:  Tideland

Top 5 Films:

  1. The Fisher King – 1991
  2. Monty Python and the Holy Grail – 1975
  3. Brazil – 1985
  4. 12 Monkeys – 1995
  5. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – 1998

Top 10 Best Director Finishes (Nighthawk Awards):

  • 1985 – 3rd – Brazil
  • 1991 – 3rd – The Fisher King
  • 1995 – 3rd – 12 Monkeys
  • 1998 – 10th – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Terry Gilliam started life as a Python, of course, and he started his directorial career as a Python.  Even when he started branching out, he still kind of remained a Python – making Jabberwocky as his first solo film, then making use of Michael Palin in his brilliant Brazil, the film that made him who he is.  Brazil was such an epic struggle, both to get it made, and then to get it into theaters.  He snuck critics into a showing and he won Best Picture and Director from the LAFC, which finally got the film moving.  It remains a brilliant allegory, both for the Orwell aspect, but also for getting the film made.  Then he went and sank millions into Munchausen, and it shows in the technical aspects, but lost tons of money.  He turned around and made use of an outside script and came up with his best film (The Fisher King).  After other false starts, he made 12 Monkeys, then followed it up with Fear and Loathing.  He then tried for years to make Don Quixote, finally giving up (but immortalized in Lost in La Mancha), finally making Brothers Grimm and Tideland in quick succession.  He’s supposedly finished Imaginarium, but I’ve made a policy that I only believe Gilliam films exist after I see them in the theater (and by that policy, can pretend Tideland doesn’t exist, because I saw it on video).

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – #14 film of 1998

Roger Ebert doesn’t get it.  I remember reading his review when the film came out and saying, “the hell with it, he just doesn’t get it.”  But I get it.  Because I’ve read the book so many damn times.  And by now, I’ve seen the film so many damn times.  And the book so perfectly comes to life in the film.

There were the arguments over the damn writing credits.  Alex Cox was a pain in the ass and Gilliam never got his writing credit, but he was the one who really put the script together, who really found a way to make the book come to life.  And not just the most important parts of the book (most especially the speech – if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see the movie and read the book).  But he made all the moments come to life (now when I read it, I can only hear Johnny’s voice saying “We can’t stop here – this is bat country.”).

Casting Johnny was the most brilliant thing they could have done with this film.  They even had him read the audio book, because he so perfectly captures the essence of Hunter’s voice.  His performance wasn’t to Ebert’s taste, because it is the kind of mannered, odd performance that you would normally see in a Coen Brothers film that bothers him so much, but he really embodies the character.

But there was always going to be the question of how to make the drug sequences come to life.  Can you really have people turning into lizards?  How do you deal with a character like Lucy and what they may or may not have done to her?  But the visual effects are among the best things in the film.  It was like they took the actual Steadman illustrations and somehow brought them to life.  I imagine that is what Hunter actually saw (and what a brilliant move having Hunter himself show up in the acid scene).

The last thing I feel I should mention is the soundtrack.  Some of the songs on the soundtrack are terrible songs.  But they so perfectly fit the mood of the moments in the film.  And if you actually get the soundtrack, there is dialogue from the film.  And there is no better way to hear “Get Together” then to hear the speech before it.  And thinking about that high and beautiful wave.