Flop Films Re-Assessed
We got to five on this site last time around: I reviewed very obscure filmsÂ to the complete disinterest of my readership. Here was I eager to discuss bonkers storylines with anyone who’d listen and you lot were like middle-class housewives at a book club; two minutes of interest followed by a heated discussion about the difficulty of finding a decent gardener.
So I thought I’d try again, but go into a little less detail this time. Unsurprising news; authors love a good story. They’re what I looked for when I started going to the cinema, whereas if I go with my art director pal Martin, he’ll give a film the thumbs-up according to its colour palette.
So, to ‘The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus’. Terry Gilliam might seem like a cursed director. The disasters of ‘Brazil’ and ‘The Man Who Killed Don Quixote’ are well documented, but on this one he had the talented and vital Heath Ledger die on him halfway through the shoot, most likely of medication taken to counteract pneumonia. It looks to have been a cold, wet, damp shoot.
Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is cursed to live forever, at war with the Devil (Tom Waits). He survives by telling stories from his ragged sideshow but the modern world is not interested. Literally; portly shoppers stagger out of megastores to be confronted by his performances with Lily Cole and Andrew Garfield but their eyes and imaginations are dead; they are mystified and bored by storytelling.
Heath Ledger’s remaining unfilmed scenes are filled by Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, a concept which works beautifully. They take disinterested shoppers through a tinsel mirror into impossible landscapes, where good or evil may befall them.Â But Parnassus has a secret involving his beloved daughter…
On second viewing you can see how perfectly the pieces fit. The story becomes part King Lear, with Goneril and her sisters played by the three added stars. The hanged man under the bridge is a Tarot symbol reflected in the Thames but also Roberto Calvi, ‘God’s Banker’. The film is unashamedly fantastical but rooted in a grim reality where people care more about buying plastic rubbish than being told a story.And for once the CGI effects are intended to look absurd and unreal. It’s the ending that got me this time, a bittersweet moment that breaks the heart.
But there are also some great big flaws; Like his predecessor Richard Lester, Gilliam never knows when to leave the soundtrack free of babbling, busy voices. He never has a quiet moment; it’s all too manic and slapstick, as if he too is frightened that his disinterested plebs will wander off. Parnassus’s sidekick dwarf is extremely tiresome. Lily Cole is painfully underused. And who is the film aimed at? Too bleak for children, too strange for mainstream audiences. But what a rare and wonderful thing it is on occasion.