Sunday, 12 July 2009

The Imaginarium Of Terry Gilliam

A few, quick thoughts for those of you eager to know about The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus.

First, though, a bit of context. When I emerged from Leicester Square tube station at around 5.45pm on Friday and headed towards Soho for the Parnassus screening, there was a strong smell of smoke in the air, crowds on the streets, and TV crews and fire engines parked at the Old Compton Street junction with Dean Street, which is where the screening was due to take place and which the police had cordoned off. It turned out that an office building on Dean Street had gone up in flames and my immediate thought, other than I hope no one had been killed or injured, was that the screening was going to be cancelled, and that the curse of Terry Gilliam was somehow going to strike again.

Fortunately not. The screening went ahead and I have to report that for Gilliam fans, it's the film we've all been waiting for. Pure, unadulterated Gilliam from beginning to end — and the Gilliam of Time Bandits, Baron Munchausen and BrazilParnassus is perhaps the closest thing there is to actually travelling into the mind of one of cinema's most idiosyncratic and inventive artists.

The plot revolves around Christopher Plummer's thousand-year-old Parnassus and his wager with Tom Waits' Devil who's turned up, somewhat prematurely, to collect his winnings in the form of Parssus's soon to be sixteen-year-old daughter Valentina (model Lily Cole). Together with Andrew Garfield's eager Anton and Verne Troyer's faithful Percy, the four form a traveling troupe of actors and storytellers who find, one night, Heath Ledger's Tony hanging by a rope beneath a London bridge, a morbid scene made even harder to watch given Ledger's tragic death mere weeks after filming it. Figuring him to be The Hanging Man of the Tarot and a sign of good fortune in his long-standing wager with Old Nick, Parnassus welcomes Tony to their vaudeville stage show which features, as its main attraction, a special mirror — a portal into a magical wonderland young Alice would have approved of — which offers the entrant a peak into their imagination, whatever it maybe.

It's with this land that Gilliam cements his place as an amazing fantasist, the various CGI worlds brimming with surreal, Dali-esque fantasies and nightmare touches, be it a series of giant, floating Parnassus heads, or giant jellyfish, or rivers that transform into snakes, and a land in which souls are forced to choose between Parnassus or the Devil. It's in this land, too, that Ledger's Tony becomes Johnny Depp and Jude Law and Colin Farrell, a ploy that might well have backfired, a la Plan 9 From Outer Space, but works a treat, each actor not only looking like Heath to varying degrees but playing his character too.

It's a movie not without some flaws, but it matters not one iota. This was a movie from the heart even before Ledger's tragic and untimely demise. It's even more of one now.

Welcome back Terry, you were missed.


Anonymous said...

I'm so envious! Right now at, a fan support site, we're fighting to build up so much pressure that we'll finally get a distributor in the US (we don't have one yet!) and get wider releases throughout the world. Anyone who wants to join the effort (or just wants as much information about the film as possible), please go there. There are some cool things going on.

I love your review. It fits right in with other positive reviews I've seen--this is pure Gilliam, and Gilliam at his best. I can't wait! And I'm damned if I'm going to miss seeing it in a movie theater in my country because these guys can't figure out that this movie can attract a sizable audience.


Mark Salisbury said...

Thanks for stopping by jj.

I do believe I have stopped by your site before. Anything that helps the film get seen is a good thing. And certainly in the US.

Anonymous said...

They'll know you--your review went up on the homepage today (with the link). Come by and check it out!


Mark Salisbury said...

Will do.

Anonymous said...

Great to see you working...

Thanks for sharing...


Gina said...

Dali-esque fantasies? I approve. (And now I want to give the Dali museum another visit.) Thank you for the review, Mark! If possible, I am even more excited for Parnasses.

Lastly, since I read this while listening to the cast recording of The Mystery of Edwin Drood - I have to say, I think Gilliam could do an amazing film adaptation of this fantastic musical.