Musings over a letter from Terry Gilliam
Pretty cool, huh? Can you imagine the surprise? My heart popped. Why was this happening? He is a famous film maker. I’m nobody. I was planning to write a post about his new short film, The Wholly Family, but how did he know?
After enjoying this sweet idea for about a nanosecond I realized that I wasn’t the only receiver of this mail. It had probably been sent out in thousands, if not millions of copies. It was just a marketing device.
If I understood Terry correctly (the letter was signed “Terry” and he’s addressing me “Dear Jessica”, so I suppose that means that we’re friends and it’s okay for me to call him by his first name), he had a suggestion for me. He wanted me to help him to promote his film, which is available as view-on demand by sharing it on Facebook. That would render me 10 percent of whatever profit he made on it, an offer I’m afraid I’ll have to decline; I don’t even have a Facebook page, so this letter was a bit of a waste.
But apart from that I suppose he’s doing the right thing. It’s probably a good idea for a filmmaker of today to engage in viral marketing if you want to stay in business and would prefer to try out your own ideas to work on the fourth sequel in a superhero franchise on decline.
The world is changing. We need to adapt. Terry realizes this. He’s a modern man; he’s flexible; he grabs the opportunities that arise.
And yet – I can’t completely rid myself of the thought that something is wrong. I can’t shake off the sadness in it.
The icky feeling
Terry Gilliam should be making the next Brazil or 12 Monkeys. He shouldn’t be doing this. It’s like watching the leading violinist of the best symphony orchestra in the world (knowing little of the classical music scene I can’t give you a name but you surely can thing of someone) turning into a street musician, playing for nickels and dimes.
I’m one of those who tossed him a few coins. That’s why I got the letter. I paid a couple of bucks to watch the film online through an offer at the website of The Guardian.
I’m not the only sponsor of Terry’s. He’s got a bigger one as well, in the form of a pasta producer in Italy which gave him free hands with two minor exceptions as long as they could slap their logo on the film, like any production company.
I suppose that’s a fair deal and while there actually is some pasta appearing in the film, I’d have to struggle hard to say that it’s a sell-out. I’ve seen far worse product placement in ordinary movies.
While Terry is doing the best he can to be cheerful and positive about it, it’s apparent that it’s not what he’d like to do if given the choice. The whole thing feels a bit icky.
The Guardian ran a live blogging event in connection to a Q & A session with Terry. Here’s a sample:
“7.07pm: Peter wonders if this is a route back into conventional film-making. Not really, says Terry, but it seems to be what people want. He doesn’t want to make films for the internet – movies are for the big screen, but that’s the way the world’s going.
7.07pm: Terry’s talking about the Italian premiere of his version of the Damnation of Faust. “Last year was my year of experimentation – short films and operas. I’m trying to work out a career for myself”.
7.09pm: The Wholly Family was a way to work in Naples. The only conditions from the pasta company was that it was set in the city (it is) and nobody dies (they don’t).
Terry says that short films like this are a realistic prospect for him because the middle group – those who don’t want to make blockbusters, but need a mid-range budget to realise their ambitions – are getting squeezed out of modern Hollywood.”
So Terry is making films for the internet when he’d rather make them for the big screen. And similarly I’d prefer to see his films on a big screen sitting in a comfortable armchair to looking at my computer screen, my ears covered with a headset, trying to convince myself that my desktop chair is just as nice (it isn’t). What a world we live in.
What feels even worse (and I’m reluctant to say it since I love some of his previous films so much and really want him to keep doing films): I wasn’t really a fan of this short.
One reason is that I’m not particularly fond of Italian circus music, masquerade traditions or dream sequences in movies (apart from in Inception) and The Wholly Family has all of this. But even so I might have overcome those aversions and liked it if it wasn’t for one major problem, which had nothing to do with Terry’s quality as a film maker: the film lagged. The staggering movements of the actors made them sometimes look as if they were doing a robot look-a-like peformance in a street. And what was worse: the sound didn’t sync properly with the picture. It was as if the voices and the images were different entities, kept in different layers and it made the whole thing quite unpalatable. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Not being a technician I don’t know who’s to blame. I suppose it could be a problem with my computer or IP, but I wouldn’t think so. I’ve got a high-speed connection and normally I don’t have any trouble watching streaming media.
Terry doesn’t want me to sit in front of a computer watching a staggering film where people aren’t allowed to die because it might look bad for the sponsoring pasta company. He wants the real thing as much as I do. But sadly enough this is the best we can get at this point.
There’s a good reason why nostalgia is the theme of the year at the Oscars. People dream back to a time when a movie was a movie and not a marketing vehicle for pasta to be spread over Facebook.
The toast of this week goes to Terry. For the problems I had I wish this film will be a success. And I wish that you’ll get back to where you belong. In a proper theatre.