January 2, 2017


Terry Gilliam (1940-) b. Minnesota, USA.

Terry Gilliam

Terry Gilliam was educated at Birmingham High School, showing skill at an early age in drawing by amusing himself and family with strange alien figures. While the Brit-based Pythons were worshipping The Goon Show, Gilliam’s formative years were obsessed with Kurtzman’s influential comic book Mad and both his writing and drawing work predominantly reflected this. Crucially, it was during work on Help! that Gilliam met John Cleese for the first time, but the magazine eventually folded. Cleese introduced Gilliam to producer Humphrey Barclay involved in 1967 on a little programme entitled Do Not Adjust Your Set with Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Erie Idle. Indeed, Barclay, having initially bought two sketches off the animator, even wrote a letter keeping Gilliam out of the American Army while he worked on the show. With the landmark piece Elephants, Gilliam found his niche with cutout animation, grabbing influence and indeed raw material from the great masters. If inspiration wasn’t forthcoming Gilliam would journey to The National Gallery and plunder images from heroes like Albert Dilter, Dote and Bronzino’s Venus and Cupid – the foot of Cupid becoming the icon for a Python generation. However, Gilliarn’s non-judgmental appreciation of artistic imagery found him equally at home rummaging through the pages of 1920s Sears and Roebuck catalogues to create the most potent ‘look’ of Monty Python comedy. Gilliam was the missing link that fused Python as a unit and, uniquely, was given total control over his animations. The others would provide the closing idea for an often-uncompleted sketch and the beginning of the next one, and, as often as not, Gilliam would turn up with a can of film, camera ready for insertion into the episode. His best and most violently funny material came from sitting at his desk, pent-up with frustration and weariness, at two or three in the morning, while the various sound effects either came from the cheesy BBC library or Gilliam. Python made Gilliarn wealthy, so he surrounded himself with priceless images by Dali, Max Ernst and his favourite artist, Bosch, and living in a handsome Highgate Heights Victorian house with his wife, make-up expert Maggie (married in 1973), who had worked on Python, and daughter Anny Rainbow. Holly Dubois was born in October 1980 and Gilliarn’s son, Harry Thunder, followed in May 1988. Python also gave him an opportunity to direct films, co-working with Terry Jones on Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) and graduating to his scatological movie solo debut Jabberwocky (1977). Following Jabberwocky Gilliam pushed for his script of The Ministry, later to become Brazil (1985), and toiled with a fantasy idea called The Minotaur. With no takers showing interest Gilliam tried for a commercial children’s adventure film, roped in Michael Palin to add a lighter touch to his grotesque obsessions and whacko – Time Bandits. The fantasy trilogy, young boy – Time Bandits (1981), young man Brazil, old man – The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) provided Gilliam the director/writer with major hassles with narrow-minded studio heads and astronomical budgets. Eventually, he broke his golden rule of only directing his own scripts and accepted the comparatively easy option of simply directing a Hollywood-based movie. No writing, no Pythons, just Gilliam directing – The Fisher King (1991) proved enjoyable and successful. 1994 saw him finally signed up to direct Bruce Willis in the future nightmare of Twelve Monkeys (1995). Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), an adaptation of the Hunter S. Thompson novel, proved too faithful to the book for mainstream success despite an excellent performance from Johnny Depp.

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