Books: Paperbacks Somewhere between Breughel, Bergman and Richard Lester

The death of Stanley Kubrick after finishing Eyes Wide Shut, and the resurrection of Terrence Malick with The Thin Red Line, have swung the spotlight firmly onto the figure of the maverick director. And if there's one contemporary film-maker who defines the auteur theory by managing to air a consistent stylistic and thematic vision within the boundaries of commercial cinema, it's Terry Gilliam. Accordingly, Faber have wheeled out one of their biggest guns to take on the man and his movies: Ian Christie, co-editor of essential film-shelf volume Scorsese on Scorsese, author of Arrows of Desire, the definitive study of Powell and Pressburger, and writer of the BBC centenary of cinema series The Last Machine - presented by Gilliam.

Thankfully, Gilliam doesn't seem to have much time for being an autocrat. Yes, he took out a famous full page ad in Variety addressed to the head of Universal Pictures: "Dear Sid Sheinberg. When are you going to release my film, Brazil? Terry Gilliam." Yes, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen almost doubled its budget from $23m to $40m, and was taken over first by completion bond company Film Finances and finally by Lloyds of London. But amid all the grandiose concepts, abandoned scenes, studio wrangles and lost footage, the image which frequently comes to mind is Gilliam the harassed summer camp drama teacher, cancelling his ambitious production of Alice in Wonderland because he realised he'd bitten off more than he could chew.

Born to an Episcopalian family in Minnesota, home state of the Coen Brothers and their Fargo, the rebellious liberal arts graduate got his big break early. As assistant to Mad editor Harvey Kurtzman on humour magazine Help!, he was surrounded by satirists from Robert Crumb to Woody Allen, and at one point a couple of guys touring with the Cambridge Footlights: John Cleese and Graham Chapman. A month at film school (he couldn't stand the politics), a stint in the National Guard (to avoid Vietnam) a trip round Europe (a sort of cultural Disneyland), and a period with the LA Free Press (selling cartoons all the while) ended with a flight to England, a reunion with Cleese, and a meeting with Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Eric Idle. And the rest is Python.

Until 1977, that is, when he tired of sharing directing duties with Jones and wanted to have a go on his own. Jabberwocky, co-written with the man he replaced at Help!, Charles Alverson, built on the gore and grime of Monty Python and the Holy Grail to produce the prototype Terry Gilliam movie: the reluctant hero, the eccentric heroine, the uncertain quest, and a background somewhere between Breughel, Bergman and Richard Lester. Time Bandits, the second production from HandMade Films following Monty Python's Life of Brian, took him further away from Python and closer to Brazil, the movie which, even after the success of The Fisher King and Twelve Monkeys and the controversy surrounding Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, still defines his career.

So far, so fascinating. Unfortunately, because another book has covered the same ground - The Battle of Brazil by Jack Mathews, from a rival publisher - this one has edited out the episode which shows Gilliam at both his most reasonable and most pugnacious: the epic struggle to rescue his dark 130-minute final cut from executives demanding an upbeat two-hour movie. However, when it comes to themes - ie the stuff that really matters - there's no faulting either of them, and as Spielberg polishes his second Oscar, it's interesting to read why Gilliam prefers 2001: A Space Odyssey to Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Kubrick ended with a question rather than an answer, and mysteries are more intriguing than explanations.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas