It’s been 20 years since director Terry Gilliam began working on The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, an updated take on the Miguel de Cervantes classic. In that time Gilliam has had financing materialize and disappear as well as cast and crew members come and go. To call the production “troubled” would be an understatement, but the visionary director has never abandoned the concept, even if the story has been tweaked over time.
As it stands, with the gestation process finally finished, the movie stars Adam Driver as Toby, a commercial director on location with a new production. He reconnects with Raul (Jonathan Pryce), an amateur actor he worked with years prior on a student film and who over the years has grown convinced he is actually Don Quixote. The two embark on a series of adventures that blur the lines between reality and fantasy, much like Quixote himself.
After a long string of legal wrangling and other obstacles, the movie finally came to theaters last night in a one-time-only screening from Fathom Events before receiving a limited release next week.
There are a few different posters that have been floating around over the last several months as release dates have come and gone and distribution plans made and abandoned.
One has all the characters arranged above cloud alongside a windmill, other minor characters dancing on an open palm at the bottom of the image, the whole thing certainly communicating a sense of whimsy and fantasy.
Another takes a more abstract approach, showing a stick figure of Quixote lying on the ground with a massive spear piercing his torso. This may be the best of the bunch because of its minimalist approach, not trying too hard to be clever or communicate too much. It’s a simple message, but it works well.
What seems to be the theatrical poster has Quixote’s head in the background, with Toby riding his motorcycle out of it toward the camera while other scenes, characters and objects are arrayed around the rest of the design. It’s meant to suggest, at least, that this is all happening within Quixote’s head but is certainly a colorful image that sells the movie well.
The story laid out in the first trailer, finally released at the end of February, only makes sense if you’re really paying attention. Toby, we see, is having trouble bringing the vision of his commercial to life and passes the time seducing his boss’s wife. One day the actor playing Quixote starts acting as if he really is the adventurer and that Toby is Sancho. That takes the two of them on a series of hijinks, with the lines of what is and isn’t real getting blurrier by the moment.
It’s wonderful and feels exactly like a Gilliam film, which is just what we’re looking for.
Online and Social
The movie’s official website offers the trailer and a synopsis along with a two-part “Production Story” recap of the long, twisted road the movie has taken. In addition to the social profiles on Twitter and Facebook there was a separate page for the Fathom Events release.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
It’s likely Fathom has done some advertising for the movie’s one-night screening, but I haven’t seen what that might be. No other paid promotion appears to have been done.
Media and Publicity
Shortly after production had begun, a whole slew of behind the scenes pictures were released, perhaps to prove to everyone that this was actually happening. A few additional stills like this came out at random times as well. Problems still swirled around the movie, though, including a dispute over financing and rights that threatened an anticipated debut at Cannes. Strangely, that was followed by an international trailer that not only proved the movie *actually* existed but also lead to speculation it would make the Cannes debut as planned, though later comments from the festival’s director made it clear the legal wrangling was at least in part why it wasn’t scheduled.
Things simmered down for a bit with the news it was indeed going to screen out of competition as the festival’s closing film, though even that was later contested due to *new* legal and rights issues. Eventually it was officially scheduled as the festival’s closing night feature, but not before Gilliam suffered an illness – at the time reported as a minor stroke – and Amazon Studios, which had been on board for U.S. distribution, backed out due to the movie falling well outside the promised delivery window.
Kind of hilariously, a documentary about Giliam’s efforts to make the film was announced as coming from the same team responsible for Lost in La Mancha, a documentary about the *previous* attempt back in the late 90s/early 00s to get the film done. That’s a whole new level of “closing the loop.” After the screening was over Gilliam talked briefly about how glad he was just to have the movie out in the open finally and how he hoped it would find an audience. That revelry didn’t last long, though, as a judge ruled against Gilliam just before Cannes, finding he did not have the rights to the movie.
In late-July, Gilliam started sharing a handful of potential posters for public feedback and comments specifically meant for the international markets the movie was already cleared for release in.
A Fantastic Fest screening was announced, making it the North American premiere of the movie. It wasn’t until the middle of December of last year, though, that Screen Media finally picked it up for domestic distribution, tentatively scheduling a release date.
Gilliam was interviewed about the decades-long journey he took to get the film finally made and released.
The first clip released showed Driver’s director trying to tame his production and star. Another one later on shows Toby explaining to someone how his actor has gone crazy.
Of course much of the focus as Gilliam hit the interview circuit wasn’t the movie itself but its long road from inception to completion. That included recountings of the many different iterations of cast and crew that have come and gone over the years, his long history with not just Quixote but Quixote-like characters, how the legal troubles scared away Amazon and other distributors, how he’s not sure what he’ll do without this film hanging out there for him and more.
It’s almost impossible to judge the campaign’s effectiveness by any singular measure. Things have dragged on for so long and there have been so many different rumors, so many conversations, so much speculation that culling the wheat from the chaff almost can’t be done. It’s not that there hasn’t been an effective marketing push mounted here in the final months, as an official release was eventually finalized, it’s just that considering how things have evolved, shifted and changed over the years a formal campaign is almost secondary in selling the film to the public.
What that campaign symbolizes more than anything is Gilliam’s ability to will the movie into existence. It, as much as the movie itself, is the capstone on this project he’s been working on for over 20 years, proof that all that effort wasn’t completely in vain.
Still, Gilliam’s comment that he’s not sure what his like will be like without this looming on the back burner can’t help but come to mind. How will we judge the movie given it’s hovered over every other project he’s worked on in that time? How will we judge him? He’s come to be defined by this movie in the same way Brian Wilson was long defined by “Smile” in the years it remained an unfinished and unreleased Beach Boys record.
We’ll be sorting out the answers to those questions for years to come. In the meantime the movie is here, at least in some manner, and we can put all those issues aside. Whatever you or I think of the campaign that was mounted, it attempted to sell not the film that was started but the one that was finished, which is always the case. Most movies, though, don’t come weighted down with the baggage of so many outsized expectations, the majority of which the director himself is responsible for.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
Gilliam appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie and recount the bumpy road he’s been on for the last 30 years. Driver did “Late Night” a couple days later.