From one great master of the unfinished film (Samuel Fuller, Tigrero) to another (Don Quixote), a gag finish that is the key to the whole enterprise.
A film as amusing as the poem must be a masterpiece.
The obvious citations include Chaplin’s The Great Dictator for the rival merchants, Bergman’s The Seventh Seal for the penitents, Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey for the knightly POV, and Stroheim miraculously for the ending. A great critic is Mel Brooks for several gags transposed into History of the World: Part I and Spaceballs (he makes the Bishop an Abbot in Robin Hood: Men in Tights).
Canby of the New York Times woke up and wrote, “marvelously demented British comedy”, Variety was not impressed, Time Out Film Guide could not make it out, neither could Halliwell’s Film Guide, nor the Illustrated London News.
It is now clear that what makes this a Handmade Film is its disdain of computer animation. As a matter of fact, its subject is the revolt of the Evil One by means of the “technological dawn” or the “Silicon Revolution,” which proceeds by degrees from microwave ovens through cellphones to computers, ultimately allowing the Supreme Being to be universally supplanted, Monty Python’s Paradise Lost.
These stages are mirrored in the film, which introduces into the Monty Python arena actors like Ralph Richardson as the Supreme Being, Ian Holm as Napoleon, and Sean Connery as Agamemnon. The title characters are wonderful performers, and a key turn is provided by John Cleese as Robin Hood (“I’m Hood,” he says, cheerfully).
The opening is a startling English version of the American suburban-life parody, and set the tone for E.T. and Poltergeist the following year. Reference is made to The Wizard of Oz and La Belle et la BÍte in the course of a film which may be said to be Monty Python given cinematic resources and room in which to work.
construction of a beautiful joke. A
Assuredly one of the finest things in cinema.
The central metaphor of this film, which is a now-famous version of Kafka and Orwell, constitutes a substantial invention in that it manages to convey a particularly exquisite double-edged sword consisting of a nightmare realm and a conditional dream.
Stylistically this is a considerable advance even upon Time Bandits. It speeds up the activity of the editing into a consecutive “magic mirror” derived from Keaton’s discovery (in The Projectionist) of continuity as permutations of background. In Time Bandits, the camera suddenly rolls on “Ancient Greece,” and you are there. Brazil accepts the modality of camera and Moviola to piece together a lambent cinematic continuity without repetitions.
Once or twice only, the technique shows at this stage the modifications it has undergone. Lowry starts to ascend in an elevator, sees Jill in the lobby and reverses course: the elevator descends past the lobby and into the basement. Richard Lester would have done this with a medium shot framing the elevator and Lowry inside it viewed from the lobby, but Gilliam cuts to a needless close-up which neutralizes the gag but prepares the reverse angle in the basement, where two repairmen place a sign on the elevator cage reading “Out of Service,” apparently. Either way, the patrimony is Keaton’s.
A tremendous shot in the Ministry of Information is repeated in The Fisher King: long dolly-out, track left, dolly-in. The technical accomplishment of this is traceable right to The Third Man.
Innumerable citations include Never Give An Inch and You Only Live Twice. The tortuous history of the final cut is characteristic of the time.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
The commodious opening is from Bergman’s The Magic Flute, Russell’s The Devils, which is directly cited later as a “correction,” when Venus (Uma Thurman) and not the transvestite King rises from the waves in Botticelli’s shell, and above all Cyrano de Bergerac, which is the main formal touchstone.
The Saracen is at the gates, Munchausen takes the stage against an impostor to relate his adventures (which include fighting the Saracen). He has spent some time in Leviathan like Jonah, but the large-scale joke is twofold. In the heavens, he has excited the jealousy of the Man in the Moon (Robin Williams), and in the underworld that of Vulcan (Oliver Reed). Once this spatial distribution of dry wit is established, the film has made its point as succinctly as Lord Byron ever did.
The great invention is Munchausen himself (John Neville), and from this it’s easy to see how Gilliam proceeded to Don Quixote. As far as the studio’s neglect of the film is concerned, a studio executive cut the coffee-bar scene from Losey’s The Servant just because for the life of him he couldn’t see what it was in aid of.
The Fisher King
Visible extremes meet like sore thumbs in a test of roadworthiness. Pity ‘tis, to see them so, but let the Holy Grail be sought, etc.
Reader, that item is a brummagem trophy on the bookshelves of a wealthy New York oppidan who would rather be dead...
There’s a nice
touch of Welles at the end—cut to headline held by patient in wheelchair,
wheeled off to show
The structure is very rich and, for once, has excited a good deal of informed comment. This makes available the observation that Mahler probably learned from conducting Strauss, large structures permit small effects.
Gilliam achieves a genuine eeriness in his time travel per se, it’s enchanting for the traveler to miss ’96 for ’90, with the specific information provided that his psychiatrist drives a ‘94 Cherokee, it makes a game of the calendar. There’s a kind of Slaughterhouse-Five alternance of reality that’s useful and interesting in itself and in much the same terms. And the Hitchcockisms have no doubt been taken into account, The Magnificent Ambersons as well.
The marvelous subtlety of the thing is a consideration hard to adumbrate. Borges has Hitler a suicidal maniac who not only dreamed of destroying Germany with him, but also of making all men rise to his occasion in total war. To this it might be added that Jewish populations in Europe remain diminished.
It’s the subtle point here, to look at it from another point of view, that a prominent act has the forces behind it and impelling it beyond the time of its eventuality, or that a thing being done has still the character of fate, so that, as Borges says, a certain kind of response fulfills unseen wishes of the actor. Here, specifically, it’s a murder observed in childhood that has untold consequences many years later in a great swath of destruction that cannot have been envisioned at the time.
There’s another thing, however, that’s enchanting, and that’s the surrender of the hero to his “madness”, because the psychiatrist is so charming, her world so fair, while she slowly realizes he isn’t mad at all (this has probably been commented upon as well). The nuance of musical, novelistic structures that recur and foretell is achieved with great freedom, probably indicating the utility of the distancing lens.
The Brothers Grimm
For a madly misunderstood movie, look no farther. The groundwork of an analysis is laid with the brothers as thaumaturges of the Handmade Films school earning a living by dramatically representing a witch, for example, and quelling her in superstitious times.
The French occupy
And so you get the dramatic ranges of a completely unified plot complained of by critics as nowhere to be found.