Sunday, August 10, 2008

Terry Gilliam - Storytime (1968)

Back in 1985, when I was living in London, I was sifting through the Time Out, looking for something to do on a Saturday afternoon. By chance, I noticed that Terry Gilliam was giving a presentation of his animation at the ICA. It was billed as a children's event, but I didn't care. Brazil had just been released and I was a huge fan.

When I arrived, I was shocked to find that there were only about a dozen people in attendance. There were two family groups with kids and two lone dudes, like myself. After about ten minutes of Gilliam's animation, the families ditched, obviously offended. That left me and the two others scattered about the hall.

At this point, Mr. Gilliam asked us to come down and sit a little closer. What ensued was a private screening and conversation. The other guys were not really into saying too much, so it ended up just the two of us having a chat and watching some amazing short films and clips for well over two hours. He showed no sign of being irritated or upset by the small turnout, though he was rather self-effacing about his animation. He said that he never understood what all the fuss was about and that he thought it was all amateur silliness. In the interim, I was treated to a guided tour of his career from his days as a cartoonist for school papers and underground rags in Minnesota, to his induction into the Pythons all the way to the making of Brazil.

He also showed some clips from Jabberwocky, The Holy Grail and Time Bandits. He explained to me how he did the catapulting cow scene and pointed out a number of tricks and mistakes in his films that I am cursed to notice until this very day.

One thing he said that still amazes me was that on both The Holy Grail and Jabberwocky, they had literally run out of film stock and had to edit the movies around this. The last scene in the Holy Grail with the cops and the knights in the field cuts off for that very reason.

The climax fight scene in Jabberwocky was not in the script and happened completely by accident. The beast was actually a midget in a suit walking backwards. They had big fans for blowing wind and the set was rather noisy. Michael Palin tripped and fell and Terry called cut, but the monster didn't hear him and kept going. In the process, Palin's sword slipped up behind him as he hit the ground. The guy in the monster suit walked right into it. They had to work with it all in post and go with what they had as they had no more film for another take. Funny enough, it turned out to be a much more appropriate ending, as he had originally intended for the hero to defeat the Jabberwock head on.

Woody Allen once said that 90% of life is just showing up. I almost didn't go that day, but now I am certainly glad that I did. It was one of the more memorable afternoons of my life.


The Nag said...

Wonderful story!

John M. said...

I had a roommate, who has since moved to California, who to this day, refuses to believe that story.

I could go into all sorts of detail and he still wouldn't believe it.

The only sad part is, I know there are some things Gilliam said that I have since forgotten. There was a story about the closet scene in Time Bandits that I am still struggling to remember.

Michael Doyle said...


John M. said...

After that, I always try to err on the side of showing up. I can always leave.