Monday, December 3, 2012

Why Don't I Like Terry Gilliam?

Given the reaction to my tweet yesterday about Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I'm assuming there are quite a few big Terry Gilliam fans out there. I'd be accurate in that estimation, wouldn't I?

I've never been particularly fond of Gilliam's work although I do admit to not having seen all of it. Despite their ubiquity, especially in the online landscape, I have never quite understanding the fuss about Brazil or Twelve Monkeys, despite their obvious artistic flourishes. And, really, it's best we don't get started on Monty Python, okay? In fact, the closest I have come to truly enjoying one of his concoctions is The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which... well, I think we all know that's not the film most people would immediately go to when discussing Gilliam's strange oeuvre. I think I just like the sets and the costumes (deservedly Oscar nominated, might I add).

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is certainly a film that commands a certain level of respect amongst many. Having never seen it I figured I would attend a screening at The Astor Theatre (in 35mm, naturally) and educate myself. The lesson learned: I don't think Gilliam is for me. Granted, Fear and Loathing is probably a more extreme version of a Gilliam film - and one that demands a bit more of a knowledge of Hunter S Thompson than I have - but it also typifies the Gilliam style that I am routinely surprised to discover I don't respond to. I am almost always willing to give my time over to a director who is willing to bravely go to some very odd places (oh hai Tarsem Singh!), so I honestly don't know what it is about Gilliam that I find myself resisting.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, for what it's worth, has a frenetic energy that is frequently fascinating and often hypnotic. And yet I found it was never in service of a story and characters that I found appealing. Maybe it's my own attitudes towards drug use and heavy drug users, but I thought Duke and Gonzo weren't particularly interesting enough to warrant two hours of hyperactive, drug-addled repetition. I admit to being completely baffled as to what was going on for most of the time - something it has in common with Snow White and the Huntsman, which I also just watched, but that's the only time I'll ever compare the two - although at least one woman in the audience certainly made it known that she was more clued in than the rest of us. If you know what I mean.

With a style that seems to borrow from Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers, there is certainly some striking imagery to be found. Not enough to sustain the entire film, mind you, but at least the Johnny Depp's performance is a constantly interesting beast of contorting pleasure. Filled with constant spasming body movements that at times replicate those of old cartoon characters, goofy vocal ticks, and some rapid fire dialogue delivery, Depp makes a solid case for the film's existence. I also enjoyed the cameos by Christina Ricci, Christopher Meloni, Craig Bierko, and the stunning - STUNNING - Ellen Barkin, all of whom gave the episodic nature of the narrative (if "narrative" is indeed a word to be used in such a film) an evolving sense of intrigue. "What's going to come next?" Still, they can't make the actions any more interesting for me and the film is ultimately a celebration of the drug addled lifestyles that are not only terrifying to experience in real life, but frequently dull and excruciating to witness on celluloid. I'm sure their actions are all very hilarious if you take drugs and can recognise the effects, but much like The Big Lebowski (another film that belongs to the "arthouse stoner" set that I didn't too much care fore) I was ultimately left wanting. If I need to take drugs to enjoy a movie then it's probably not a very good one in the first place. But, hey, maybe that's just me.

What exactly am I missing here? Am I just not on his wavelength. I'd love somebody to try and sell me on Gilliam's shtick because there are too many films that I haven't seen by directors I love to spend much more time with a filmmaker that I am obviously unresponsive to. Anyone? Take it away in the comments...

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