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Zavvi’s A To Z Of Directors | Terry Gilliam

Zavvi’s A To Z Of Directors | Terry Gilliam

After a short break, our Zavvi A to Z of directors is back, and what better way to get back into the swing of things than to feature the weird and wonderful world of Terry Gilliam. Gilliam is famed for his extreme low/high angle camera shots, often distorting perspective and creating as surreal angle from an otherwise conventional scene.  Films such as 12 Monkeys and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas are full of ‘Dutch-angle’ shots, which, combined with Gilliam’s own blend of magic realism, create a unique world with an exclusive perspective.

Starting out as a cartoonist and animator, Terry Gilliam was involved with John Cleese, which ultimately lead to his involvement in Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Apart from appearing in a few sketches, he mainly took up animating duties on the show. After the breakup of the Monty Python gang, Gilliam found his way as a director, taking with him the influence of surreal comedy no doubt.

Creating a surreal world – Establishing a weird style

Straight into his directorial career, Gilliam’s interest in animation and fantasy was obvious with the production of Jabberwocky, Time Bandits and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. It was however, his films produced in the nineties that wore the true stamp of individuality and created ‘The Gilliam Effect’.

This effect was the magical realism that allowed everyday scenes to become lucid and loose, almost hallucinogenic. In 1995, 12 Monkeys became a key example of this style. The future sci-fi looked like crazy, bug-eyed view on the future. The dystopian film takes us into the world of James Cole, (Bruce Willis) who is housed inside a mental hospital after travelling back in time and appearing mad to the world. Gilliam’s styling in this film portrays true madness, and after the extension of the theme in 1998’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, it became a standard.

Profiling a Gonzo Legend – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

Perhaps one of the most famous cult films of all time, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is most known for its hallucinogenic drug scenes and surreal visuals. Now a critically-acclaimed film with a massive following, it stands as a great testament to it’s subject, gonzo-journalist Hunter S. Thompson. 

Adapted from a book of the same name, Fear and Loathing follows the story of a sports journalist and his attorney, as they drive across the Western states of the USA in search of the American dream. The duo are armed with a toolbox of drugs; amphetamines, uppers, downers, marijuana, ether, mescaline and much more. The narrative is a true story, filled with over-the-top drug binges and sweating fits of insanity; Gilliam of course shows everything and displays it with surreal optical visuals perfectly.

Dazed, confused and disorientated – the physicality of Gilliam’s style

When watching Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, you’ll often find yourself moving backwards in a disorientated state of shock, the shots are that extreme. You may feel nauseous in the drug binges scenes, off-balance when the car steams ahead at 120mph, and excited when the drugged-up double act start walking into a bar.

The angles put you into second person perspective on a strange, voyeuristic roller-coaster ride that sets you off balance as an uninvited guest into a world of madness and crazed oddity.

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Tom Pitts

Tom Pitts

Film Editor

Independent & foreign film aficionado, Pilsner lover and Rocket League troll. I’m a big fan of the work of directors like Wim Wenders and Wes Anderson, and a sucker for pretty cinematography. Will take an isometric, turn-based tactical RPG over an FPS any day of the week.


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