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A Very Candid Terry Gilliam Unloads On 'Transformers 3,' 'Tintin,' 'The Dark Knight' & John Williams

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by Drew Taylor
December 5, 2011 1:38 PM
36 Comments
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If there's one thing we know for sure, it's that Terry Gilliam is really, really grumpy. And or at least, very hilariously candid. Maybe it's the fact that he's constantly marginalized, besides having the oversized imagination and actor loyalty that would (you'd think) make him a big time Hollywood asset, or that every movie he's involved in seems to be an anguished, never-ending process that results in films as lackluster as "The Brothers Grimm" and "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus" (oof). While we haven't been able to depend on quality films (or indeed films at all) from him in the last couple of years, we can at least count on Gilliam shooting his mouth off about big time films and famous filmmakers, because, really, what can the establishment possibly do to him at this point?

While talking to the LA Times' Hero Complex blog, Gilliam let loose on a whole slew of topics, with each rant more cantankerous than the last. No matter how outrageous his comments are, you get the sensation that he really, truly does feel this way about the movies; this isn't some empty-hearted attention-grab. First on his list of offenders: Michael Bay and "Transformers: Dark of the Moon." While it's easy to write off Bay's simplistic storytelling, the last hour or so of the movie, when it becomes a full-on war movie in Chicago, was hard not to be tickled by (on the most primal level). Gilliam, however, was not impressed.

"The latest ‘Transformers’ movie was on the plane coming over to Los Angeles. It’s horrible and there’s all these phallic things going on. I just couldn’t even deal with it," he told Hero Complex. He then went on to describe why, precisely, he was disappointed. "C’mon, leave some room for me, as the audience. The audience is totally excluded, you just sit there and watch the explosions. I couldn’t tell you what the movie was about. A lot of the audience is happy not to get involved. They’ve been working some [awful] job all day long and you just want to go out to a movie. That’s fine, that’s great. But I prefer something that catches you off guard and makes you think and feel and walk out different from when you came in."

Gilliam also demands a level of realism from his giant-robots-destroying-Chicago stories (comparing the film to a video game, of course): "...The building falling down and everything, there are great images but how can people slide down a crashing building without consequence, without physics? It’s just numbing. The movie hammers the audience into submission. They are influenced by video games but in video games at least you are immersed, in these movies you’re left out. And in the movies, humans are only there to fall and run around and, somehow, go through windows without getting cut to shreds." But really, Terry, if people were cut to shreds, wouldn't that have jeopardized the all-important PG-13 rating?

Next on the Gilliam hit list: composer John Williams. While Gilliam might come across as a wee bit of a big fucking asshole in this interview, we can totally agree with him on this point. In fact, we're pretty sure that orbiting satellites could catch us rolling our eyes during the opening moments of "War Horse," when Williams' score was on full blast. Anyway, this is what Gilliam says: "John Williams is a great musician but, wow, enough John. It isn’t his choice, of course, it’s the directors who allow him to take over a film and tell you exactly what you should be feeling every second of every minute of the film." So very, very, true.

Speaking of Williams, one of the movies he scored this year, "The Adventures of Tintin," also makes Gilliam sleepy. "I’ve seen it and it’s also relentless. Unrelenting. Can you just slow down for a moment? There is no arc of the character for once, at least, it’s just, ‘Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go, and now get ready for the sequel.’" Ouch.

Even the technical achievements of the film, including chase sequences staged in long, unbroken "shots," can't inspire much enthusiasm from the director. "The chase scene is extraordinary but it’s strange that everyone is excited that it’s a single camera move but, um, it’s an animated film! Big deal." Clearly Gilliam's perception of how an animated film is made is some geek sitting at a computer who types in the phrase "chase sequence" and out pops the finished product. Because, you know, it doesn't take unparalleled artistry and years of painstaking work to craft one of these things (stuff that you'd think Gilliam would be sympathetic to given his track record and knack for disaster-prone projects).

Still on the subject of 'Tintin,' Gilliam finds faults with its narrative too: "I read one article that said that they had to put several Tintin stories in there to pack it out. But actually you didn’t. Just tell one and slow down a bit and let people breathe. I think there’s an insecurity because it’s not even a roller coaster anymore; because at least a roller coaster slows down at some point and has dips and tension.”

More confusing is Gilliam's consternation at filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and James Cameron for, um, knowing how to move the camera. "I always wanted to do more with the camera when I was younger. When I first started seeing stuff that Spielberg was doing I remember thinking, ‘God, how does he move the camera like that?’ That’s brilliant.’ And even Jim Cameron, too, I was so envious of that stuff. I know I can’t do it. I don’t have the money to do it. And I don’t actually quite have the skills." He says that the most elaborate camera movements he has done were in "Brazil," which he admits he ripped off from Stanley Kubrick and "Paths of Glory." The "I don't have the money to do it" comment is telling, since it helps keep Gilliam framed as a perpetual misunderstood underdog (people like Darren Aronofsky, who are able to accomplish lush visual sweep on miniscule budgets, would probably disagree with this assessment). Gilliam goes on to defend his meat-and-potatoes approach, coming from the same "simpler is richer" mindset: "My stuff is really old, classical [stuff]. There’s a wide shot, a mid-shot and a close. [Instead] it’s about using juxtaposition or you counter something and let the ironies float through. To me it’s always been about the ideas. It’s not the technical skill because I’ve been limited in that."

Bafflingly, Gilliam also saves some swipes for Christopher Nolan, which is odd because Nolan seems to be doing what Gilliam has only hinted at: make intellectually ambitious films, dipped in sweet surrealism and heady existential conundrums, on a large scale. But no. Gilliam is horribly disappointed in him too. "The car chase stuff in ‘Dark Knight’ is a video game; it is shot-for-shot, as you would get it in a video game like 'Grand Theft Auto.' He’s got a weird balance; he understands all of that – the energy of it – so he chooses to put it in there yet he’s also a very intelligent filmmaker who can do all sorts of things."

And no, the trippiness and inventive flair of "Inception" didn't impress Gilliam either: "With ’Inception,’ I wondered why all of the dreams were action movies. Don’t people have other dreams? And what’s interesting about the films are they are asexual. Maybe that’s the problem." While when we reviewed "Inception" last summer, we made note of its odd lack of sexuality, Nolan's movies aren't universally asexual - there's sexuality in both "Insomnia" and "The Prestige," which, while hinted at, remains a strong undercurrent. Gilliam goes on to diagnose the lack of whoopee in Nolan movies as a systemic issue, saying, "Women can represent danger in them but no one seems to be having sex in these movies. In society overall, we have all this porn, 24 hours a day, so everyone can [masturbate] but I wonder is anyone having real sex anymore? I ask myself these questions."At this point we're not even sure what Terry Gilliam was being interviewed for in the first place. Look for his next movie to come out in who-the-fuck-cares, and for him to keep shooting his mouth off until that far off release date.

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36 Comments

  • Drew Taylor | January 17, 2012 11:02 PMReply

    I am a terrible, sub-Kotaku writer.

  • chris | December 7, 2011 8:09 PMReply

    Drew:

    Try being a journalist and just report what Gilliam said. Your "perspective" is not needed.

  • cbh | December 6, 2011 3:10 PMReply

    What I find troubling in the tone of your post is the suggestion that once a director is not financially successful he should rather shut his mouth.

  • Ian | December 6, 2011 7:51 AMReply

    Terry may no longer make good movies, but that doesn't mean he's not right about pretty much everything he touched upon. He seems to have a big head, but I would too if I made Brazil.

  • brou | December 6, 2011 2:20 AMReply

    Fun to see the "hilariously grumpy" of the first title transforming into the "Very Candid" of the title now.

  • Max | December 6, 2011 1:29 AMReply

    Seriously, is everyone commenting fucking retarded? Oh, yeah, Terry Gilliam was a fantastic filmmaker like 10 years ago and then he started making nonsensical garbage like The Brothers Grimm and Imaginarium. He's being a shit in this interview, hands down. So he should expect to get shit in return. Okay, great, he made an obvious comment about Michael Bay being all up in his own ass and being all about explosions and shit - nothing to write home about, man. We all knew that.

    When he starts ripping into Nolan - I really have to object, because he's making the same dumb-ass comments people made in ridiculous hypercritical arguments about a solid film. "Bleh, dreams shouldn't look like that, bleh..." Okay, aside from the fact that Nolan had to hold your fucking hands throughout the entire story in hopes that you might grasp the idea that the dreams were by design realistic so that the mark (feel free to zone out right now like you apparently did at this part of the movie) would not realize they're dreaming - you know what, watch the movie again, you need to.

    And the point that, I think, was being made was that Nolan is one of the few current filmmakers who can make happy marriage between something that is intellectually engaging while also visually captivating. Clearly something Gilliam tried with his last couple of films but - come on, be real - failed miserably. The chase scene in TDK was awesome. Everyone, including Gilliam, needs to stop trying to pull out these empty critiques to validate themselves. There's nothing wrong with it. It is an action sequence in a Batman movie. Gilliam straight sounds like a bat-shit grandpa, whining about how "everything in these dang movies looks like video-game hooplah!"

    There's nothing wrong with this post.

  • Sven | December 6, 2011 1:18 AMReply

    Mr Taylor needs a break... Can't you just leave Gilliam's comments for what they are, without having to give your own comments?

  • Captain_Celluloid | December 5, 2011 9:05 PMReply

    Yes, Terry Gilliam is grumpy . . . . yet he doesn't seem petty or vindictive . . . . why he even acknowledges what he perceives to be his own filmmaking shortcomings . . . .
    and what he says is, well you know, INTERESTING.

    He's made some great films.

    He has earned the right to be grumpy.

    Have you, Drew?

  • Noah R. | December 5, 2011 8:39 PMReply

    I don't understand why a filmmaker shouldn't be allowed to criticize other filmmakers without being pilloried like this. You don't have to like Gilliam's work, but what is so terrible about an artist speaking his mind? He's not personally attacking anybody like Vincent Gallo; he just didn't like Inception or Tin Tin. Big deal.

  • Lloyd | December 5, 2011 8:23 PMReply

    Gilliam is a great filmmaker with interesting and valid opinions about films, what a very weird & depressingly patronising tone there is to this article. I haven't read something as smug and stupid as this in a while.

  • Cde. | December 5, 2011 7:24 PMReply

    Gilliam is right about most things here.
    I'm surprised anybody finds Inception 'trippy' or 'surreal'. For a movie about dreams, it's incredibly dull. Rather than dream logic and free association, it's all bound by rules that the characters painstakingly explain to the audience. Who has dreams like those? Gilliam nailed it when he compared them all to standard action movies. Nolan dulled the most interesting thing about the concept.

  • hmm | December 5, 2011 5:02 PMReply

    "By the way, what have you ever done that's so great? Do you create anything, or just criticize other's work and belittle their motivations?" --Steve Jobs

  • hmm | December 5, 2011 5:03 PM

    Re: this writer's attitude toward Gilliam.

  • Erik | December 5, 2011 4:47 PMReply

    As others have said, Terry Gilliam has a point on most counts, and *especially* when it comes to Nolan. The Dark Knight and Inception aren't bad movies by any means, but when compared to any cinema other than mainstream blockbusters they are hardly very thought-provoking or challenging.

  • Jiggity | December 5, 2011 4:10 PMReply

    Gilliam's current career stasis summed up in one word: TIDELAND

  • brou | December 6, 2011 2:14 AM

    which is a good film, thanks.

  • Rufus | December 5, 2011 3:36 PMReply

    He's Terry Gilliam. Can't a film maker have opinions on film making? Especially one as talented as he? I could understand the tone if he were some anonymous dude on the internet or Tyler Perry but he's neither one of those things.

  • Javier | December 5, 2011 3:15 PMReply

    calm down Drew

  • tristan eldritch | December 5, 2011 2:45 PMReply

    Come on, he's got a point about most of those things. A continuous camera shot is less impressive in an animated movie than in a feature - because in animation, while the work is undoubtedly extremely pain-staking and creative, you completely control and create the environment, and don't have to contend with the thousand and one things that can go wrong with a continuous take in the real world.
    The one thing I find odd is the way he picks on the car chase scene in the Dark Knight, which at least was much better than the abysmal hand to hand combat stuff in that movie.

  • hank | December 5, 2011 3:05 PM

    see my link below

  • hank | December 5, 2011 2:43 PMReply

    "because Nolan seems to be doing what Gilliam has only hinted at: made intellectually ambitious films, dipped in sweet surrealism and heady existential conundrums, on a large scale. "

    are you sure? Gilliam has a point. http://vimeo.com/28792404

  • Scott | December 5, 2011 2:36 PMReply

    I also agree with pretty much everything Gilliam says here, and I'm not even a fan of his. What's egregious about this post is that Drew Taylor is outraged – OUTRAGED! – that a director without big hits is expressing actual opinions in an interview, when everyone knows you can't have opinions unless you've won Oscars or have made more than $100-million at the box office. (Big, big sigh.)

    And as to his point about unbroken shots in Tin Tin, he's right – in animation (even old hand-drawn animation) an unbroken shot is no more hard to achieve than an edited together sequence, because there is no temporal reality being photographed. The whole movie could easily be one long shot, if Spielberg wanted. I'm not saying the movie isn't as a technical achievement – I haven't even seen it – just that single-take shots don't present the same challenge in animation (or even motion capture) as they do in live-action.

  • Styles | December 5, 2011 2:18 PMReply

    I don't know why you felt you needed to write a Gilliam hit piece. He is totally right about everything he said. Transformers and John Williams do suck. You are the one who comes off as a big mouthed jackass.

  • zatopek | December 5, 2011 2:10 PMReply

    Gilliam is right about everything that's quoted here. And I'm not sure what the writer means by Nolan's "sweet surrealism"? Copy-pasting M.C. Escher to make your action film more dreamy is hardly the kind of surrealism I'd call 'sweet'.

  • pt | December 5, 2011 2:07 PMReply

    When Terry Gilliam is blasting the highly intelligent, unique, and very creative Chris Nolan, you know he is the ultimate jealous hater. At least all of Nolan's films are good, I can't say that about Mr. Gilliam. Most of Terry 's recent filmography are incoherent and self-indulgent mess of dog poo. I guess most people become unbelievably cantankerous at his old age.

  • Wash | December 5, 2011 2:03 PMReply

    This from a man who made ONE good film. Twelve Monkeys, I'm looking at you. Brazil, I am not.

    How many Oscar nominated Directors can a guy take a swipe at in one interview? It sounds like SOMEBODY is still upset that he can't make his dream movie about a guy chasing windmills.

  • rotch | December 5, 2011 2:01 PMReply

    This sounds aweful when you pile it all together in one single note. Links to sources would be appreciated, to read the quotes in context. I read the Transformers quote and didn't find it grumpy at all.
    Also, I find his observations on Inception spot-on.

  • rotch | December 5, 2011 2:24 PM

    I see. That Hero Complex pseudo-piece is terrible. I don't understand your need to quote it and label it as "empty-hearted attention-grab".

  • Kevin | December 5, 2011 2:09 PM

    It's all from the Hero Complex interview linked up top.

  • brou | December 5, 2011 1:58 PMReply

    Hilariously grumpy Drew Taylor... You hate Gilliam so much that you can't even see when he's doing self-criticism ("I don't actually quite have the skills" ).

    And I don't know what you're talking about with Aranofsky ("The Fountain" costs more than "Parnassus"... and it sucks).

    And of course "Clearly Gilliam's perception of how an animated film is made is some geek sitting at a computer who types in the phrase "chase sequence" and out pops the finished product. ". Let's all forget that Gilliam co-founded Peerless Camera, one of the biggest Visual Effects company in UK, which used CGI in "Baron Munchausen" in 1988. But you must be right, Gilliam must be an old fool not knowing how you handle all this animation stuff.

  • Brody | December 5, 2011 1:45 PMReply

    Wait...you almost sound offended that someone might be able to resist the charms of a Transformers movie. I can't imagine being bored enough to ever watch one of those things.

  • [A] | December 5, 2011 1:43 PMReply

    the images are over the text!

  • john | December 7, 2011 4:44 PM

    I'm having the problem as well, using Chrome in Windows 7 - when I hit "about" it tells me it's up to date with this number: 15.0.874.121 m

  • The Playlist | December 5, 2011 3:11 PM

    Chrome in PC or Mac and what version?

  • evilnik | December 5, 2011 3:10 PM

    it happens with me too. couple of times. and oh google chrome./

  • The Playlist | December 5, 2011 2:51 PM

    What browser are you using [A]?

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