Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys

12-monkeys-tv-logo

I had one of those days where nothing seemed to go right.  I went to walk my dog around the lake and locked my keys in the car and so on.  I decided that it was best if I didn’t leave my house the rest of the day.  I figured if I went out I would end up driving my car into a bridge embankment like an unguided missile.  So tonight I’m staying in and watching the movie 12 Monkeys for the first time in years.  Although I have caught parts of it on TV, I haven’t watched it from start to finish since it was in the movies in 1995 when I was still in high school.  I’ve always been a big Terry Gilliam film, but I remembered this movie as more of a thriller than it being one of his signature pieces.  I thought it was the kind of movie that was totally entertaining, but once you knew the solution to its mysteries, that it didn’t have the multiple watch value of some of his other films.

My memory, as usual, was wrong.  The movie is another one of his sic-fi movies, as is The Zero Theorem that I just reviewed.  And although at the foreground of this movie is a highly entertaining mystery thriller, in the background is many of the themes that Gilliam delves into in other works.  In a world that is absurd, who is really crazy, and who is really insane?    Are those that believe put their faith in the order of the world, an order that was constructed by man, any more sane than those that question things?  The normal world, or sane one, is one that tortures animals, heavily medicates people that are outside of that norm, and that plays games with nature.

Gilliam, as usual, does an excellent job at creating an imagined future.  He does this by creating a future that looks lived in.  Even though this movie came out in 1995, his vision of the future doesn’t seem dated.  It is a future created by someone with a boundless imagination and true artistic ability.  It has an element of steampunk in its look.

However, most of the film takes place in 1990 and 1996.  He takes what was then roughly the present and disorients the viewer to it by using the weird angles and wide angle lenses that give the his films a distinctive look.  This not only helps to mirror the insanity of its characters, but also allows the viewer to view the everyday with a fresh perspective.  It is like we are seeing things that we see every day for the first time. Another way that he exposes the absurdity of our world is by combining things that exist in reality in unique ways.  Pink flamingos fly through a northeastern city.  In a hallway in the mental hospital early in the film a janitor stands on stilts.  All of these things exist in our world, but the way they are combined makes you realize the strangeness that is lurking just below the surface of our world.

Although I felt The Zero Theorem had more to say, and was therefor for me a better film, this movie is actually more accessible.  The narrative takes less work for the viewer.  Both are brilliant films, but in different ways.  The Zero Theorem and his movie Brazil are more heady and full of ideas, but 12 Monkeys has a more compelling narrative.  It really depends on what kind of scene you want to get into.  For the first time Gilliam viewer or the more casual movie fan I would probably recommend something like 12 Monkeys.  If someone was looking for a stranger and more intellectual, if you enjoy surrealism and philosophical underpinnings, then I would probably steer someone to Brazil or The Zero Theorem.  

Advertisements

The Zero Theorem Review

maxresdefault1

Terry Gilliam’s latest movie is one of his masterpieces.  The Zero Theorem, staring Christoph Waltz, is a subversive science fiction movie that uses the future to show us our present.  It is full of ideas, great performances, and is a visual wonder.

The movie follows Q, someone that works a mundane office job, as he tries to solve the zero theorem, which is a mathematical equation that will prove that life is meaningless.  Q is a damaged individual that takes no joy out of life.  He is an introvert that tries as much as possible to avoid human communication.  He wants to work from home, so that he has even less contact with others.  He unwillingly goes to a party at his supervisor’s house.  There he meets the boss of his company who grants his wish to work from home as long as he will work on the theorem.  At the party he also meets a young and beautiful woman that shows interest in him.

Q spends his days waiting for a phone call that he believes will give him the meaning of his life.  Much of the film deals in symbolism like this.  The phone call represents anything outside of ourselves that we believe will give us the answer to life’s mystery.  The dialog in the film, like the film itself, jumps back and forth between the absurdly comic and of a more philosophical nature.  However, just because the film deals heavily in symbolism, does not mean that the main characters are not three dimensional or that the world is not fully realized.

Visually the film is an absolute masterpiece, both for the cinematography, the realization of the world that the characters in habited, and the sheer amount of ideas that are on the screen.  In Q’s house there is a crucifixion where Jesus’s head is replaced by a camera that watches Q’s every move.  In his office he is working on what looks like an absurd video game with a video game controller replacing the typical office keyboard.  I have worked several office jobs in the last ten years and working on a meaningless video game is not too far from the truth of what a great deal of office work is like.

The colors explode on screen.  Every scene looks like it was carefully orchestrated.  Every nook and cranny of the film looks like it had thought put into it.

The film is like our world, but on steroids.  If the capitalism that runs our country is allowed to continue one can imagine that this is what our world will turn into.  Commercials follow Q down the street as he commutes to work.  The party scene, with its garish colors and cartoonish behavior, looks like a modern nightclub taken to its logical conclusion.  The characters work ridiculous jobs that bring no meaning to their lives.  Terry Gilliam is showing us the absurdity of our world.  He is just pushing things a little further so that the everyday becomes new again.

Even though this film is very subversive, it is not without heart.  I don’t want to spoil the ending, but the film is not without some small sliver of hope.  Gilliam knows what is important despite how much we get wrong.

If you are a fan of Gilliam’s work than I highly recommend this film.  if you don’t know any of his work, but are willing to try something that will make you think, then give this film a try.  Some critics have described this film as Gilliam-lite, but I don’t agree.  This is a unique filmmaker operating at the height of his powers.  This is like a modern update of his masterpiece Brazil.   While Brazil dealt with a dreamer in the middle of a  bureaucracy, this movie imagines a future where corporations run everything.

On a personal note I watched this movie the night of the election.  Feeling somewhat depressed I decided to watch something else other then the returns.  It was one of those instances where art makes one feel less alone.  I thought, “Thank god someone understands what is going on.”  Gilliam is a tremendous filmmaker and we are lucky to have him amongst us.  He is one of those rare souls that uses his imagination to paint the world as it truly is.

The Films of Terry Gilliam

gilliam

The Films of Terry Gilliam

I often mention the films of Terry Gilliam.  He is one of my favorite directors.  The above link is to a retrospective of his work.  For those of you that are not overtly aware of his films, this is an excellent place to get an overview.  I agree with the retrospective that The Brother’s Grimm, while having some things to recommend it, is his weakest film.  Visually the film still has many Gilliam hallmarks, but the script is the most generic of his movies.  Tideland is one of my favorite of his films, but it is also one of the most challenging, and it is best if you become accustomed to his style before watching that. I believe the themes of that film are easier to understand once you have some insight into the way Gilliam sees the world.  Jabberwocky, his first movie outside of Monty Python, while worth checking out, feels to me as if Gilliam was still finding his voice, as later films are more substantial.  So if you haven’t seen any of Gilliam’s films, I would check those three out later for the reasons stated above.  Otherwise read the captions and dive in where you please.  Gilliam is one of the true visionaries of the medium.

This is Pil Review

image

If you want a recent album that dances to its own strange logic, check out the Public Image Ltd. album This is Pil.  It came out in 2012 and I shamefully admit that I am only grasping it in its full glory now.  John Lydon’s PIL collective has issued its fair share of ground breaking moments, from Metal Box to The Flowers of Romance.  It isn’t as easy to break ground in today’s music business, but this album creates its own aura.  

First of all Lydon (Johnny Rotten) is fine form.  His lyrics range from direct political attacks to the completely surreal.  “England has died”, he sings on one song, while on another he sings, “You wanna see me mushroom.”  In a song called Lollipop Opera you have a good idea what kind of mushrooms he is singing.  This is festival music.  It is meant to challenge and be enjoyed by large groups of people.  If Terry Gilliam made a record, well you get the idea.  It is subversive and fantastic.  David Lynch inspired dread also comes to mind on a few songs. This is the most dread infused PIL album since This is What You Want…This is What You Get.

For the first time in a long time PIL sounds like a band.  The rhythm section plays giant dubby parts like early Pil.  Lu Edmonds,  formerly of The Damned, as well as an earlier incarnation of PIL, plays guitar and a multitude of instruments in the higher frequencies.   His playing is truly something to behold.  Listen to Deeper Water, maybe the best track on the album, as his playing on that song is magisterial.  

This album is not an older band cashing in.  It is as vibrant and hungry as any new band out there, pushing the boundaries of what music can do. 

If I have any criticism of this album it is only that the first track, which is the weakest, goes on too long.  But overall this is a true return to form, that not only doesn’t tarnish the band’s legacy, but expands upon it. 

The album sounds mostly live, with a minimum amount of overdubs and studio effects.  There is just enough added to each track to add some interesting textures, without taking the focus off of the four piece unit. 

This album is not for everyone.  Lydon and his cohorts are not afraid to create sounds and dabble in ideas that are uncomfortable at times.  However, those that are brave enough to take the journey will find a small piece of uncharted territory to visit. 

Favorite Tracks:
One Drop
Deeper Water
Human
Out of the Woods

An Interview With Terry Gilliam

Terry Gilliam: Hollywood is just “gray, frightened people” holding on for dear life http://www.salon.com/2014/09/19/terry_gilliam_hollywood_is_just_%e2%80%9cgray_frightened_people%e2%80%9d_holding_on_for_dear_life/
.
An interesting interview with one of my heroes, director Terry Gilliam. 

Terry Gilliam’s Work is Way More Influential Than You Think

Terry Gilliam’s Work is Way More Influential Than You Think

I’m really looking forward to seeing Gilliam’s new film The Zero Theorem.  The above article is an interesting article about how Gilliam has influenced the world of film.  Even if you don’t know who Gilliam is you have probably seen one of his films:  12 Monkeys, Time Bandits, Brazil, The Fisher King, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas just to name a few.  Gilliam was also a member of Monty Python.

The new film is a dystopian satire like Brazil.   I have read that the movie features things like a statue of Jesus with a security camera for a head.  Through grotesque imagery Gilliam is able to make the absurd parts of our world, yet ones that we have become desensitized to, seem new for the first time.  His fantasy is a critique of our reality.

Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory

I apologize about being off the grid yesterday.  When you do this thing yourself you are going to miss days, even if you dread it.  Yesterday passed like one of those time lapse shots before I realized I hadn’t gotten any posts up. 

Anyway, I am back to reading Monty Python Speaks after finishing Morrissey’s Autobiography.  For those of you that might be interested in Autobiography, I will have further comments on it, but I need a few days to think about it.  Anyway, I was reading section of the Python book that dealt with Life of Brian this morning.  Apparently the title that they originally came up with was Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory!  I about spit out my coffee.  I have watched Brian several times and all the special features that come with the DVD, so I had probably heard this fact before, but I didn’t remember it upon reading it today. 

Eric Idle came up with the title while drinking.  He and Terry Gilliam, while continuing to drink heavily, started to think of ways you could make the story of Christ funny.  What if the maker of Christ’s cross was a carpenter of poor craftsmanship?  Once bringing the story to all of the Pythons they all reread the Bible.  They decided what Christ actually said was good, so they didn’t want to belittle him.  However, they felt that there was tons of room to make fun of the people around him. 

They spoke of how anyone that would interpret Christ’s words and tell you how to believe it was performing a political act.  Interpretation is a political act.  They thought the people that did such a thing were worthy of making fun of.  Fair targets.  So anytime someone gets in a furor over something they say is blasphemous, ask yourself what it is degrading.  Does it lessen the meaning of something, or does it lessen the power of someone who wants to control the way others see the world?

Anyway I love the Pythons and thought Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory was a great title.  A good laugh to start Friday morning, at least I hope so.