I Saw A Film!
If ever there was a Don Quixote-adjacent tale that Terry Gilliam could sink his giggling teeth into, this is definitely the one. I have read that Munchausen was loosely based on an actual renaissance bold liar, a soldier named Munchausen, who off-handedly told whopping tales as wild as having been on the moon. Which he insisted he had, even when strongly challenged.
The whole point of these tales is the absurdity and inconsistency. As a younger man I found the effort exasperating. Now that I’m a much older lout of a yarn-spinning variety myself, I am much more amused.
Gilliam is a master when it comes to these sorts of fantastic films, and it’s no wonder he chomped at the bit for so long to get a version of Cervantes on film (his is excellent and Johnathan Pryce, also in Munchausen, is terrific in the titular role). I love Gilliam’s vision and his fearless artistic gifts of choice. His isn’t the first Munchausen of course, the much respected and no doubt Gilliam admired Karel Zeman did a version in the early sixties that still stands as a landmark of cinematic beauty, but Gilliam produces more, a team of strangely skilled ne’er-do-wells, including perennial fave Eric Idle as a remarkably fast individual (a kind of renaissance Flash) and of course a dwarf, Jack Purvis, who can blow hard enough to create a hurricane-like wind (also borrowed from folklore) and old Russian/Finnish children’s adventure films. We also get Uma Thurman as Venus, and Oliver Reed as Vulcan – blowing steam out of his ears (Which I think Reed could do without special effects). Robin Williams has a role as the wacky king of the moon who frequently loses his head, indeed there’s a lot of talk of heads being lost, it was a common enough occurrence leading up to the twentieth century.
John Neville is delightful in the titular role and I know him from just about nothing else. It’s a shame as he’s quite charismatic. It isn’t hard to imagine his command of confidence and voice being enough to bamboozle, and I guess we’ll never know how much of his tales we’re meant to take seriously as his horse manages feats of acrobatics and his sword manages to cut through whatever he swings at.
This runs about 4 dollars on Prime (USA) and is well worth the nonsensical, magical, boastful amusement.