Marking a day no one—with the possible exception of Terry Gilliam—was sure would ever come, Terry Gilliam announced Sunday that he had completed principal photography on The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, a mere 17 years after he began shooting.
As chronicled in Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s unmaking-of documentary Lost in La Mancha, Gilliam first began filming his take on Miguel de Cervantes’ classic novel in the year 2000, but the production was in disarray from the outset and was eventually scuttled when it became clear that Gilliam’s elderly Don Quixote, played by French actor Jean Rochefort, was unable to ride a horse. Over the following decade and a half, Gilliam made numerous attempts to restart the production, with actors like Johnny Depp, Ewan McGregor, John Hurt, and Robert Duvall attached and subsequently unattached. Gilliam announced at Cannes last year that the cameras would once again begin turning that fall, but the project fell apart once again, only to resurface in March with Adam Driver and Jonathan Pryce in the lead roles. A fully shot film is far from a complete one, but it’s a major hurdle cleared and heartening news for Gilliam fans who have been longing for him to complete his dream project.
The completion of production on The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is also good news, because Lost in La Mancha shows Gilliam in the process of succumbing to his own myth, convincing himself that the world is a battle between creative madmen and the craven moneymen who stand in their way and that the best way to approach any obstacle is to charge right into it. The films he’s made since The Man Who first fell apart have been marked by a precipitious drop-off in quality. He never seemed to recover from the movie’s disintegration, but perhaps its completion will allow him to finally put it behind him.
For the moment, though, Gilliam is still Gilliam. Instead of popping champagne, he’s popped into the comments of his celebratory Facebook post to take on commenters accusing him of damaging a 12th-century Portuguese convent during filming. Dismissing a report from Portuguese broadcaster RTP as “ignorant nonsense,” Gilliam wrote, “People should begin by getting the facts before howling hysterically.” (A representative from the Portuguese government confirmed to the Guardian that an investigation was underway but otherwise had no comment.) Even when the path is clear, Gilliam is still finding windmills to tilt at.