What Could Have Been #7 | The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

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What Could Have Been #7 | The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

As a fan of film, I love exploring behind the scenes. Reading about the production process, the special effects and the stories of what could have been.

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2000)

Terry Gilliam is one of my favourite directors but he never seems to have much luck when it comes to making his films.

After making his 1985 film Brazil, for example, the head of Universal studios, Sid Sheinberg, wanted to re-edit the film. He believed that audiences wouldn’t be prepared for a film with such a downbeat ending. Gilliam started a very public campaign against Sheinberg to get his cut of the film released. If you want to know more about this, then I highly recommend the Criterion edition of Brazil. The three disc set contains Gilliam’s directors cut, Sheinberg’s “Love conquers all” happy ending version (with approx. 40 minutes cut from the movie!) and a feature length documentary all about the battle between director and studio. (Damn I think I’ve just written myself out of another WCHB article!)

Move forward to October 2000 and things were even worse for Terry Gilliam. He was starting production of “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” starring Johnny Depp and Jean Rochefort. The story was a modern spin of the classic Spanish tale of Don Quixote, a Spanish nobleman called Alonso Quijano who renames himself as the title and sets out to revive chivalry after reading too many romantic novels. Along the way he meets a farmer called Sancho Panza and together they set out for adventure.

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Gilliam’s version was to have Depp play a 21st century advertising executive travel back through time to meet Don Quixote who confuses him for Sancho Panza. Jean Rochefort was to play Quixote and had spent seven months learning English especially for the film. This was to be Gilliam’s most ambitious film financed entirely with European money; he was no longer constrained by the Hollywood system.

Unfortunately it all went downhill from day one. The desert filming location in Madrid was near a NATO air base and the jets flying overhead were distracting and ruining the dialogue recording. It was decided they would carry on and re-dub everything afterwards. On the second day flash flooding washed away equipment and changed the colour of the environment making previously shot footage useless.

Then it was noticed that Rochefort was having trouble riding his horse and walking, he was obviously in great pain. They flew him home to his doctor and tried to carry on filming what they could without him. Unfortunately the bad news came back that Rochefort had a double herniated disc and couldn’t continue.

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Gilliam decided that this was the final blow for the project and production was shut down. The film was being documented from the very beginning by two French film-makers Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe who worked with Gilliam before on “The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of Twelve Monkeys”. This was a feature length documentary about the production of “Twelve Monkeys”, Gilliam’s 1995 film with Bruce Willis.

Entitled “Lost in La Mancha” the documentary tells the story of “The Man Who Killed” Don Quixote from the very beginning and shows all the trials and tribulations Gilliam went through to try and get his vision on screen. I found it very entertaining and one of the extras on the DVD is all the completed footage from the shooting that took place. Unfortunately there’s only a few minutes’ worth, but what is there is makes me wish for more.

Gilliam still intends to make this film in the future.

What Could Have Been… is a series first created by John (@UKFilmNerd) on the original version of theunheardnerd.com. We will be re-running the series in a weekly format, but if you can’t wait for the next instalment you can check it out now. [What Could Have Been… #1-12]


John Abbitt

About the author | John Abbitt

@UKFilmNerd | John loves film, and he used to write for his own website, The Tydirium Hangar Bay, in the late 1990s. Whilst that website became lost in the passages of time, John's love of film did not. He's back, writing for The Unheard Nerd.

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