Want to understand how horribly unjust the movie business is? Want a perfect example of creativity stifled by unrealistic commercial aims and even more perplexing professional bias? Terry Gilliam has been making movies for 35 years, and in that time, he’s managed a creative canon of ten. Ten. Compare that to someone like Shawn Levy (whose made the same number of films in a mere decade and a half) or Dennis Dugan (who Adam Sandler keeps hiring despite the fact that his 14 films in 23 years have failed as examples of entertainment or ability) and you can sense the cinephile outrage rising. As a member of the Monty Python troop, Gilliam gave us animated nightmares, his cut and paste perversions resulting in some of the series best moments. As a filmmaker, he’s crafted so many meaningful masterworks that, when something new is announced, fans automatically assume the best before (sometimes) receiving significantly less.
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You hear it all the time: “It wasn’t as good as (name source).” “He didn’t look like how I envisioned ‘X’ to be.” “I wish ‘so and so’ would have been cast instead of ‘so and so,’” and so on. It’s the universal razz against movies, especially when made from a known media source like books. As long as there has been celluloid, there’s been movies based on famous tomes, and as long as there have been movies based on famous tomes, there’s been opinions of how respectful and/or disrespectful said films are to said source. Just recently, people got their Jazz Age juices flowing over what Baz Luhrmann dared to do to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s beloved The Great Gatsby. Sadly, all he really did was contemporize and glamorize a rather faithful retelling of the dodgy doomed romance. So sue him.
Growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, it was a yearly end of school ritual. We would sit in our living rooms, Libbyland Dinner’s cooling on the TV tray, waiting for the Big Three Networks (yes, we only had ABC, CBS, and NBC back then, along with PBS and various UHF options) to announce their Summer Saturday morning cartoon selections. We would wait to see what was returning, what Sid and Marty Krofft had up their sleeve, and what new offerings would become our watercooler (read: local park and/or playground) conversation pieces. Today, with 24-hour networks devoted to animation and dozens of daily examples to enjoy, there’s an overload that even the most ADD-addled child would find daunting. The same applies to adults who like animation. Certainly there are choices for the mature viewer within the kiddie spectrum, but sometime, the options are adult swim or Comedy Central oriented.
We love them. Obsess over them. Rant when they don’t work and get even angrier when they insult our intelligence or expectations. From the moment turn of the century audiences cringed at the sight of a locomotive coming straight at them, the movies have meant more to us than, perhaps, any other medium (settle down, TV—and you too, music). We adopt their dialogue, follow their mandates on fashion and fame. We enjoy the looks into lifestyles we could never envision for ourselves while eagerly tweaking emotions (anger, fear, laughter, sorrow) that we normally try to avoid. So it makes sense that, eventually artists involved in the craft would want to explore the meaning of movies. Take them apart. Reference and homage them. Perhaps, even go so far as add commentary on their creation. This movies about the movies become a Bible of sorts, a window into a world that, without filter, comes to mean so much to us.
How do you see the future? If you were someone living in the salad days of the ‘50s and ‘60s, there were promises of interstellar exploration, flying cars, high tech lifestyles, and meaningful medical breakthroughs. We’d cure all diseases, live like royalty within our own slick scientific reality, and never once worry about modern maladies like hunger, war, or death. This is Utopia, the perfect portrait of a supposed shape of things to come. Yet for every optimist there’s an opposite, a pessimistic perspective that’s part luddite, part ludicrous. It’s not a fear of technology that inspires these people, but where said advances will take us. Eventually, they believe our “U” will turns into a Dystopia, a horrible place where the End Times dictate our destiny.
// Notes from the Road
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