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The Adventures of Baron Gilliam

The Adventures of Baron Gilliam (photo)

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When Heath Ledger passed away in January 2008, he was in the midst of shooting his second collaboration with famed filmmaker and former Monty Python member Terry Gilliam. His death should have doomed “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.” But Gilliam, who’d already had “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” fall apart, as famously documented in 2002’s “Lost in La Mancha,” is no stranger to on-set calamities. After some soul-searching and prodding from supportive colleagues, the show went on, this time with the help of Gilliam’s pals Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, all of whom play fantasy versions of Ledger’s charlatan, Tony, when he passes through traveling showman Dr. Parnassus’ magical Imaginarium mirror.

Given the film’s conceit about a portal to a world in which dreams come true, the role swapping is a device that’s not only clever but that seems like a natural outgrowth of the story, which wrestles with issues of mortality in a way that dovetails creepily with what went on behind the scenes. In New York in October for Monty Python’s 40th anniversary reunion, Gilliam sat down with me to discuss his struggles to finish “Parnassus,” the film’s unnerving real-life parallels and the habit of revisiting the same themes.

How was the Monty Python reunion?

It’s over! That’s the great thing. I don’t have to be a Python for the next ten years.

Was there any contentiousness in the air?

No, we all like each other now. If it looks contentious, we’re just playing. Being that distant from having to work together makes such a difference.

And now there’ll be another long hiatus…

Yeah, no one has any intention of working together as such. Eric [Idle]’s been busy ripping us off for a couple of years with “Spamalot” and other things. Mike, Terry [Jones] and I live five minutes from each other in North London. But all five of us together at the same time is a rare event.

12182009_DrParnassus11.jpgMoving on to “Parnassus” — when Heath died, was there an immediate concern that the film would go the way of “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote”?

That was the first clear thought: it’s over! Fuck! We spent a lot of time, and he goes and doesn’t turn up for work.

It was actually a hard time, and so confusing. You’ve just lost a very close friend, and your movie is stopped. I actually gave up, said, “It’s over. Fuck it. I don’t care.” Luckily, I’m surrounded by people who pay no attention to my whims or my needs. And they kicked me as I lay on the ground until I got up and started coming up with some solutions.

At what point did you realize you couldn’t let it lie?

A crucial part was calling Johnny [Depp]. I basically just called to commiserate. He said, “Well, whatever you decide to do, I’ll be there.” That stopped the money running away. And these few people around me, my daughter, the DP, they just wouldn’t leave me alone. I was so pissed off at them. [laughs]

So the moneybags just up and ran?

I wasn’t dealing with them directly, but it was clear that the movie was over. When your star dies halfway through, you don’t finish the movie. But it was the conversation with Johnny, which was then passed on without my knowing to the reasonable people, that slowed down the retreat and gave us some time to start thinking.

For me, the hard part was trying to get my head around the idea of it. I wanted to salvage it. Once I decided that, the rewriting went very quickly. It was clear, because suddenly you couldn’t do that, you couldn’t do that, oh I could do that, well if I did that, and dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-BING.

12182009_DrParnassus6.jpgThe premise presents a natural way to work around Heath’s absence. Was that structure there from the get-go?

Yeah, it was all there. It was small things — if the first guy who goes through the mirror has his face change, we’ve established that you don’t have to look like yourself when you go through. That was already inherent in the script. I had to drop certain scenes, which in retrospect was actually good. That’s why, at one point, I wanted “Parnassus” to be co-directed by Heath Ledger and Terry Gilliam, because he was forcing me to do things posthumously!

For instance, where Jude Law turns up, when the woman says “reach for the clouds,” she wasn’t originally holding a brochure with Jude’s face on it. By establishing him as the person that Tony aspires to be like — successful, etc. — that generates the idea that, oh, even Tony changes his face when he goes through, because he wants to be like that guy. [But] the dialogue, like Johnny’s about dying young, it was all there.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.