Monday, February 22, 2016

Terry Gilliam looks back

Gilliamesque: A Pre-posthumous Memoir seems something like an episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus. There are episodes of wild, funny and often disjointed narrative with regular interludes of off-the-wall artwork by Terry Gilliam.

Yet Gilliam strikes me as a bit too angry for his book to be as much fun as Monty Python. He neither forgets, which is good for someone writing an autobiography, nor forgives, which is not so good from someone looking back on a long and productive life. He can laugh about his own failures, however.

He writes of a "shockingly happy childhood" in Minnesota and later Southern California. He went to church and Bible school, read Mad magazine, attended summer camp, loved Disneyland and received a scholarship to a Presbyterian college. Yet though he boasts at one point about being a non-conformist, simply because he never took LSD, he soon conformed to the spirit of the radical Sixties and has never looked back. Interestingly, however, he twice decries the fact that people today are "losing touch with the Bible." Bible stories, he says, are the "building blocks of culture" and children, his own included, suffer by not being more familiar with them.

Gilliam has lived in England for most of his life, from even before the Python years, and denounced his U.S. citizenship several years ago, although he continues to depend on U.S. audiences to make his movies profitable. He refers to Osama Bin Laden and George Bush as two of "the world's most irrational despots," but he has nothing good to say about Margaret Thatcher either.

He doesn't discuss Monty Python or the many movies he has directed as much as we might like, although I did greatly enjoy reading about the making of my two favorite Terry Gilliam films, Brazil and 12 Monkeys. Something I never realized is that Gilliam worked with Harvey Kurtzman on Help! magazine right after college. That magazine was a favorite of mine during my teen years.

As interesting as the text of the book is, I suspect Terry Gilliam, being Terry Gilliam, devoted most of his attention to the illustrations, which alone are worth the price of the book.

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