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(photo credit: Courtesy photo)
'Frightening children is a good thing," Terry Gilliam told a standing-room-only audience at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque last week after a screening of his most recent film, The Brothers Grimm. Dressed in a flowing white shirt and white cowboy hat, the director explained, "The modern world seems to be frightened of frightening children. But children are not so easily frightened. They're parasites, vampires. They suck everything out of you. I don't feel sorry for them," he said, adding, "I've got three."
Outrageous comments are nothing new for Gilliam, who is in Israel to direct the Russian clown, Slava Polunin, in the show, "Diabolo," that is running at the Noga Theater in Jaffa. The director, who started out as the only American member of the irreverent British comedy troupe, Monty Python's Flying Circus, and created the group's bizarre animated cartoons, has directed some of the most brilliant and difficult to categorize films in movies today. Often funny, several of his films have depicted nightmarish worlds of the future, such as Brazil (1985) and 12 Monkeys (1995). He's also one of the few directors who can combine production design of jaw-dropping originality with strong and complex storytelling.
The Brothers Grimm, a story that mixes fact and fiction as Will (Matt Damon) and Jake (Heath Ledger) Grimm travel the French-occupied German countryside in the early 1800s making a living as scam poltergeists, only to meet up with real witchcraft they can't control, was "made for family audiences," he said, in spite of graphic scenes of death and mutilation. Gilliam, who has had a history of sparring with studio executives (usually because they think he's spending money too extravagantly on his productions), was reported to have clashed with the Weinstein brothers of Miramax making Grimm. Gilliam confirmed this, but said, "The final product, I'm very happy with...I always tell people in Hollywood, 'I want to make my mistakes because I think my mistakes will be more interesting than your mistakes.'"
In spite of the high budget for Grimm, Gilliam said that the story and characters were the key. "We went out of our way not to be a big-budget special effects film. Not like Van Helsing and, uh, the Peter Jackson films," he said, referring to the Lord of the Rings series, which Jackson directed. He insisted that while he enjoyed Lord of the Rings," he wondered how "the heroes never get hurt. You can fight 10,000 Orcs and not get a bloody nose."
His next film, which he said would be released soon, is Tideland, a low-budget story starring Jeff Bridges and child actress Jodelle Ferland, about a girl who goes to live with her father in the country after the death of her mother. "In a movie like Grimm, you're spending a quarter of a million dollars every day you're working. It makes the work much more pressured."
Talking about his one legendary fiasco, a production of Don Quixote starring Johnny Depp he had to abandon mid-way through the filming (which became the subject of the documentary, Lost In La Mancha), Gilliam said he still dreams of making a film of the Cervantes classic. "'Don Quixote' is about taking on impossible challenges...I have to invent really difficult mountains to climb every time I start a project...All my advisors are against it, they say, 'Move on.' To get involved with it you have to be as crazy and mad as Don Quixote."
This is Gilliam's second visit to Israel, but he said we won't be seeing a movie with a Middle Eastern setting from him any time soon. "I usually make films about things I know about. I'm not a Middle East expert," he told The Jerusalem Post.
Reminiscing about directing Bruce Willis in 12 Monkeys, in what many feel is the actor's best performance ever, Gilliam said, "I told him, I don't want Bruce Willis, superstar. You come as an actor, you come alone, you can't bring your entourage." He had to stop Willis from putting on "the steely-eyed expression," he used in his action films, but said that otherwise they worked well together.
"Making films is really difficult most of the time. I don't enjoy it, but it's still the best job in the world," he said. Discussing the notion of the "director's cut," that is often included in DVDs, Gilliam said, before he literally ran off to a waiting car to attend a performance of "Diabolo," "Every film of mine you see, that's the director's cut."