If there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that Terry Gilliam is really, really grumpy. And or at least, very hilariously candid. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s constantly marginalized, besides having the oversized imagination and actor loyalty that would (you’d think) make him a big time Hollywood asset, or that every movie he’s involved in seems to be an anguished, never-ending process that results in films as lackluster as “The Brothers Grimm” and “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus” (oof). While we haven’t been able to depend on quality films (or indeed films at all) from him in the last couple of years, we can at least count on Gilliam shooting his mouth off about big time films and famous filmmakers, because, really, what can the establishment possibly do to him at this point?
While talking to the LA Times’ Hero Complex blog, Gilliam let loose on a whole slew of topics, with each rant more cantankerous than the last. No matter how outrageous his comments are, you get the sensation that he really, truly does feel this way about the movies; this isn’t some empty-hearted attention-grab. First on his list of offenders: Michael Bay and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” While it’s easy to write off Bay’s simplistic storytelling, the last hour or so of the movie, when it becomes a full-on war movie in Chicago, was hard not to be tickled by (on the most primal level). Gilliam, however, was not impressed.
“The latest ‘Transformers’ movie was on the plane coming over to Los Angeles. It’s horrible and there’s all these phallic things going on. I just couldn’t even deal with it,” he told Hero Complex. He then went on to describe why, precisely, he was disappointed. “C’mon, leave some room for me, as the audience. The audience is totally excluded, you just sit there and watch the explosions. I couldn’t tell you what the movie was about. A lot of the audience is happy not to get involved. They’ve been working some [awful] job all day long and you just want to go out to a movie. That’s fine, that’s great. But I prefer something that catches you off guard and makes you think and feel and walk out different from when you came in.”
Gilliam also demands a level of realism from his giant-robots-destroying-Chicago stories (comparing the film to a video game, of course): “…The building falling down and everything, there are great images but how can people slide down a crashing building without consequence, without physics? It’s just numbing. The movie hammers the audience into submission. They are influenced by video games but in video games at least you are immersed, in these movies you’re left out. And in the movies, humans are only there to fall and run around and, somehow, go through windows without getting cut to shreds.” But really, Terry, if people were cut to shreds, wouldn’t that have jeopardized the all-important PG-13 rating?
Next on the Gilliam hit list: composer John Williams. While Gilliam might come across as a wee bit of a big fucking asshole in this interview, we can totally agree with him on this point. In fact, we’re pretty sure that orbiting satellites could catch us rolling our eyes during the opening moments of “War Horse,” when Williams’ score was on full blast. Anyway, this is what Gilliam says: “John Williams is a great musician but, wow, enough John. It isn’t his choice, of course, it’s the directors who allow him to take over a film and tell you exactly what you should be feeling every second of every minute of the film.” So very, very, true.
Speaking of Williams, one of the movies he scored this year, “The Adventures of Tintin,” also makes Gilliam sleepy. “I’ve seen it and it’s also relentless. Unrelenting. Can you just slow down for a moment? There is no arc of the character for once, at least, it’s just, ‘Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go, and now get ready for the sequel.’” Ouch.
Even the technical achievements of the film, including chase sequences staged in long, unbroken “shots,” can’t inspire much enthusiasm from the director. “The chase scene is extraordinary but it’s strange that everyone is excited that it’s a single camera move but, um, it’s an animated film! Big deal.” Clearly Gilliam’s perception of how an animated film is made is some geek sitting at a computer who types in the phrase “chase sequence” and out pops the finished product. Because, you know, it doesn’t take unparalleled artistry and years of painstaking work to craft one of these things (stuff that you’d think Gilliam would be sympathetic to given his track record and knack for disaster-prone projects).
Still on the subject of ‘Tintin,’ Gilliam finds faults with its narrative too: “I read one article that said that they had to put several Tintin stories in there to pack it out. But actually you didn’t. Just tell one and slow down a bit and let people breathe. I think there’s an insecurity because it’s not even a roller coaster anymore; because at least a roller coaster slows down at some point and has dips and tension.”
More confusing is Gilliam’s consternation at filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and James Cameron for, um, knowing how to move the camera. “I always wanted to do more with the camera when I was younger. When I first started seeing stuff that Spielberg was doing I remember thinking, ‘God, how does he move the camera like that?’ That’s brilliant.’ And even Jim Cameron, too, I was so envious of that stuff. I know I can’t do it. I don’t have the money to do it. And I don’t actually quite have the skills.” He says that the most elaborate camera movements he has done were in “Brazil,” which he admits he ripped off from Stanley Kubrick and “Paths of Glory.” The “I don’t have the money to do it” comment is telling, since it helps keep Gilliam framed as a perpetual misunderstood underdog (people like Darren Aronofsky, who are able to accomplish lush visual sweep on miniscule budgets, would probably disagree with this assessment). Gilliam goes on to defend his meat-and-potatoes approach, coming from the same “simpler is richer” mindset: “My stuff is really old, classical [stuff]. There’s a wide shot, a mid-shot and a close. [Instead] it’s about using juxtaposition or you counter something and let the ironies float through. To me it’s always been about the ideas. It’s not the technical skill because I’ve been limited in that.”
Bafflingly, Gilliam also saves some swipes for Christopher Nolan, which is odd because Nolan seems to be doing what Gilliam has only hinted at: make intellectually ambitious films, dipped in sweet surrealism and heady existential conundrums, on a large scale. But no. Gilliam is horribly disappointed in him too. “The car chase stuff in ‘Dark Knight’ is a video game; it is shot-for-shot, as you would get it in a video game like ‘Grand Theft Auto.’ He’s got a weird balance; he understands all of that – the energy of it – so he chooses to put it in there yet he’s also a very intelligent filmmaker who can do all sorts of things.”
And no, the trippiness and inventive flair of “Inception” didn’t impress Gilliam either: “With ’Inception,’ I wondered why all of the dreams were action movies. Don’t people have other dreams? And what’s interesting about the films are they are asexual. Maybe that’s the problem.” While when we reviewed “Inception” last summer, we made note of its odd lack of sexuality, Nolan’s movies aren’t universally asexual – there’s sexuality in both “Insomnia” and “The Prestige,” which, while hinted at, remains a strong undercurrent. Gilliam goes on to diagnose the lack of whoopee in Nolan movies as a systemic issue, saying, “Women can represent danger in them but no one seems to be having sex in these movies. In society overall, we have all this porn, 24 hours a day, so everyone can [masturbate] but I wonder is anyone having real sex anymore? I ask myself these questions.”At this point we’re not even sure what Terry Gilliam was being interviewed for in the first place. Look for his next movie to come out in who-the-fuck-cares, and for him to keep shooting his mouth off until that far off release date.