Despite Variety’s recent claims of his demise, Terry Gilliam is yet at large. As the cartoonist turned filmmaker’s 75th birthday approaches, he shows no sign of slowing down. Having spent the greater part of this year hopping continents in a whirlwind of publicity, taking his 2014 feature, The Zero Theorem, to Europe, touring with his production of Berlioz’s rarely performed opera ‘Benvenuto Cellini’, and joining his fellow Pythons for a reunion trip to New York, all while maintaining his whimsical yet considerable social media presence, Gilliam’s trademark verve and verbosity appear as strong as ever.
And somewhere between, or perhaps during his travels, the man who refuses to kill Don Quixote found time to compile his emphatically pre-posthumous memoirs. Stemming from a blogging project begun by his daughter Holly, Gilliamesque pairs Gilliam’s recollections of his life and career with some of the choice findings from among the “dusty boxes” in Gilliam’s archive, or “freezing loft”. Where Holly’s blog was an exciting prospect for casual fans and researchers alike, delightful in its primacy, the glossy tome that Canongate have produced is a pleasure in itself.
For readers familiar with Gilliam’s career in Hollywood, the tongue-in-cheek emblazoning of the pages’ edges with the repetition of “me me me” will provide amusement, if not surprise. The jacketless matte hardback is a pleasant weight in one’s hands, not quite as large as the coffee table book that it was originally intended to be, nor so light as a run-of-the-mill autobiography, and its glossy pages strike a perfect balance between text, image, and white space that acts as a reflection of Gilliam’s whimsical narrative.
Beginning, as one would expect, with his childhood in Minnesota, before detailing his formative years at Birmingham High School, his beginnings as a cartoonist in Fang! magazine at Occidental College, and moving through the milestones of his move to Britain, involvement with Monty Python and subsequent break into filmmaking, Gilliamesque lays emphasis on the personal aspects of Gilliam’s life, largely skipping over the nuts and bolts of the makings of much of his feature filmmaking. As such, it acts as an augmentation to the existing literature on his life and work rather than an authoritative text.
And while the book offers an enjoyable and easy read with several moments that prompted this reader to bark with laughter, its offerings of selected material from Gilliam’s attic-archive tantalise and frustrate at equal turns. Though the material presented in the book has been, to date, largely unseen, it serves to pique rather than whet this reader’s appetite for the treasures that did not make it on to these glossy pages. The inclusion of Gilliam’s early sketches for school projects, childhood photographs, and academic applications acts as an interesting offset to his recollections, but the use of storyboards and sketchbook material to illustrate the later chapters on some of his cinematic works are vexing in their status as extracts.
But this is a minor quibble; Gilliamesque is, one reminds oneself, a memoir, and not “The Art of Terry Gilliam”. Perhaps one day we shall see “the large, expensive, high-class coffee table book of [his] artwork” written of in the book’s introduction. But in the meantime, Gilliam’s filmmaking is well documented elsewhere, and Gilliamesque makes an attractive and valuable addition to the libraries of long-time enthusiasts and newcomers alike.