FEATURE THE FISHER KINQ ‘
0F TH CENTUB
Former Python TERRY GILLIAM has gone Hollywood in a big way with his latest idiosyncratic offering. The Fisher King. Trevor Johnston meets the ever-voluble moviemaker and wonders whether it’s a sell-out or a masterpiece.
ou‘d probably have to be a social inadequate on hostility pills not to get along just fine with Terry Gilliam. Looking at least a decade younger than his 51 years. he seems to have an inexhaustible supply of youthful high spirits. decorating his snowballing conversation with a whirl of gesticulation or a contagious wheezy giggle that always reminds me of Dick Dastardly‘s animated pooch Muttley.
We‘re here to discuss The Fisher King. a big-budget Hollywood studio feature. and the first Gilliam movie not to bear a script credit by the director himself. Given the turbulent history behind the production of his last two movies. it‘s something ofa surprise that Terry Gilliam should find himselfdirecting such a film. 1985‘s totalitarian fantasy Brazil and the shaggy-dog lunacy of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen ( 1988) failed to win the hearts and minds of the industry‘s major power brokers. with their combination of spiralling budgets and unconventional storytelling leading to not a little friction with the studios. Universal shelved Brazil until Gilliam's high—profile protests in the media and acclaim from American critics forced them to put it out. Three years later at Columbia. Munchausen was quietly buried by a disdainfully paltry release pattern.
Fittingly. The Fisher King’s uplifting story of redemption. has raised Gilliam‘s own reputation from the dead and scaled the heights as the movie entered the American box office charts at number one and continues to do brisk business. Working from a vigorously inventive debut T
GThe List 8—2] November 1991
screenplay by Richard LaGravenese. there‘s much here that marks a considerable advance on what he has already achieved. In one of his most committed performances. Jeff Bridges is the initially smug talk radio presenter Jack Lucas. who bows out of a promising career when one of his regular callers walks into a downtown yuppie bar and machine-guns the clientele. Languishing later in an alcoholic slough of guilt. self-loathing and recrimination. Lucas bides his time behind the counter ofa video shop coasting through a relationship with its proprietress. the excellent Mercedes Ruehl. He then encounters Robin Williams‘ crazed down-and-out Parry who is searching for the Holy Grail in contemporary New York while being hounded by hallucinations ofan evil Red Knight. Medieval fantasies aside. it's the emotional truth ofthe tensions between Bridges and Ruehl and the touching sentiment ofthe film‘s central passage (in which Lucas grasps his chance to redeem himself by setting up Parry with his dream woman. gawky publisher‘s clerk Amanda Plummer). that lends The Fisher King an involving and resonant human side rarely touched upon in Gilliam‘s films to
THE FILMS 0F TERRY GILLIAM
Monty Python and the Holy Grail ( 1974) Jahberwocky(1977)
~ Time Bandits (. 1981) Brazil ( 1985)
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen(1988)
The Fisher King ( 1991)
Herein probably lies the explanation for the film’s major audience appeal. but some viewers contend that the film betrays the grim imaginings that made Brazil such a powerful experience and skates glibly over violent death. insanity and homelessness on the way to a final sequence that‘s quite self—consciously grandiose in its optimism. Having created one of the cinema‘s supreme nightmares. has Gilliam merely taken the tinseltown cash and delivered a superior ‘feelgood‘ movie?
Gilliam shifts uneasily in his seat. grimacing before he stumbles into a response. ‘That‘s too easy a label to stick on it.’ he reckons. ‘Maybe it is that. but it‘s a lot of other things as well. All I can say is that nowhere down the line did this come into being as a typical Hollywood product. I've always treated that whole system with a lot of venom. but it was very interesting going right on in there on this one.‘
By way ofa defence. he then proceeds to regale me with the rather haphazard set of conditions that led to him being asked on board the project in the first place. ‘Robin Williams was interested in doing it. and if you could get Robin Williams that particular
year then you could go ahead and make your