Tenacity in the face of modern distribution. Disturbing commitment to a project trying to abandon him time and time again. Only Terry Gilliam could have such back in making a movie. A feature that took him nigh on two decades to make. The result? A fine feature. One that will leave little, if any, lasting impression. A noble sacrifice to have Don Quixote adapted and there for future generations to use should they hope to avoid reading. Noble. He Dreams of Giants is a follow-up to Lost in La Mancha, a documentary about how Gilliam failed to make an adaptation of Don Quixote the last time around. What this means is that the ratio of documentaries about Gilliam’s failure to make a film adapting the writings of Miguel de Cervantes outweighs the number of adaptations Gilliam has made of Cervantes’ work.
Funny thing, that. Because for all Lost in La Mancha was a terrifying and glum experience adapting well where Gilliam did not, He Dreams of Giants should feel like a poetic gut punch. A rallying cry for the artists that failed to fail and succeeded later down the line. A return to the top, a vision realised so many years later when production studios decided to fund and feature Gilliam’s work. Naturally, Don Quixote and its troubled release were another death knell in the stunning career of Gilliam so far. He Dreams of Giants is just that. A terribly moving documentary that sees a creative at his wit’s end. Seeing Gilliam over decades of footage, ageing and ever-frustrated since 1989 when he first began this adaptation, is stunning.
Gilliam’s “impossible dream” as the press called it in 2000, was eventually realised. Many directors have to suffer to get their projects made, and it is almost taken for granted now. Martin Scorsese working tirelessly to accomplish Silence and The Irishman springs to mind. With Gilliam, his career feels sullied by an uphill struggle and demented stress that overwhelms documentaries similar to He Dreams of Giants. Disaster after disaster. The iterations that followed and the coverage of those disasters have taken their toll. He Dreams of Giants is on hand to document that decades-long journey of suffering.
Was it worth it? Gilliam has no idea. He Dreams of Giants soon loses its way to windows of why artists suffer, the futility of art and the difficulty of creating good art. They are interesting avenues to follow but have very little to do with Don Quixote beyond the obvious connection of it being relatively difficult for Gilliam. He is, after all, suffering for his art. Aldous Huxley once asked whether an artist could do anything if they were not suffering. For Gilliam, it would appear suffering and great artwork in motion with one another. Discovering that as a wider proponent of Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s documentary is fascinating. Gilliam desires that persistent dream of creativity, to weather the storm time and time again. Whether the results are achieved is by the by, seeing He Dreams of Giants provides an understanding of suffering independent of critical or commercial success for the project it evaluates.