The world ended thirteen minutes ago, if the Jesus Crewdem at eBible Fellowship are to be believed (#WhenDaSquadLookingFanatical). And it feels different. How we’re all still alive is a mystery. Thirteen – no, now fourteen – minutes have gone by since the Earth spontaneously imploded, and yet here we are. People in earlier time zones are coping even better. The populace of the Samoan and Christmas Isles have done especially well in keeping their heads, remaining alive in a post-mortem planet for upwards of ten hours. Now that’s pluck. Somebody else in high spirits despite out-lasting the end times was Terry Gilliam, cartoonist, Monty Python alumnus, and director of such subversive classics as Brazil and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Yes, he was on dazzling form, prancing about the stage of the Royal Festival hall on what appear to be mountain goat legs, skipping his seventy four year-old body this way and that before settling down into the interview chair to talk with Will Gompertz of BBC Arts.
For Gilliam the world had already ended a week or two back when, in an incomprehensible blunder, Variety magazine published to their website an obituary honouring the life of this American cultural icon, who died aged ‘XXX’. To homage Gilliam’s first whirl in the director’s seat: he’s not quite quite dead. And, in fact, he’s feeling much better. Finding out what people will say about you after you’ve copped it is, apparently, a liberating experience. Dying, and coming back to life, and dying, and being resurrected once more, all on Wikipedia in the space of fifteen minutes, gives a man a new appreciation of the fleetingness of human existence.
Gilliam was there mostly to launch his new auto-arty-biography/self-portrait, Gilliamesque, which delves deep into the mind of a mad genius who knows and appreciates the genius of his madness, but never steps across the line into arrogance. More of an amused gratitude – that’s the way he seems to feel about his incredibly successful and varied career. Of the hilarious anecdotes on offer during the career-spanning chat were a couple of great stories about the making of his adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The screenplay was feverishly whacked out in a mere eight days, because Gilliam believed it had to be done quickly to keep everything in ‘Gonzo’ fashion. “This is Gonzo filmmaking, right here!”, he had proclaimed, sending the draft out to writing partners and producers. They all said it was utter shit. So he edited it for two more days. Everyone loved it. The second recollection focused on the real Dr Gonzo’s cameo as himself in a scene opposite Johnny Depp, who was also playing him. Take after take was ruined by Hunter, who kept on throwing perfectly good bread rolls at his director without relent. Finally, Gilliam figured out that if he put all of the beautiful extras on the table he needed the crazed drug-addicted sex hound to sit at then he might just get him to settle down long enough to capture the shot. “The bait was set. And the fish was hooked”.
Many other brilliant trials and triumphs were relayed to the adoring audience this evening but more than anything they were there for the man himself. They wanted to witness his manic energy for themselves, and see the walking, talking flesh-covered skeleton that was the creative force behind some of the finest cult movies of the 20th century. Nobody was disappointed. I checked.