Gilliamesque: A Pre-Posthumous Memoir by Terry Gilliam

Gilliamesque book coverOf all the men who made up Monty Python the one who certainly most struck me as most interesting was Terry Gilliam. Known for his work on the animations that linked their sketches (along with often being ‘the other one’ in the sketches) he has gone on to be a revered filmmaker in his own right, including making one of my all time favourites, Brazil, but he is one of the few people in the public eye and in his 70s of whom you hear little beyond his work.

Well after reading Gilliamesque, his autobiography, it’s clear why as he remains, in his own way, a very down to earth soul.

The main gist of the book is exactly what you’d expect, charting Gilliam’s life from his youth in Minnesota and California through formative experiences at university (surprisingly on a religious scholarship) and onto his work for various publications before achieving wider notoriety with the Pythons and beyond.

As with the best memoirs it is very easy to fall into reading this in Gilliam’s own voice and it sheds a lot of light on his life while never straying into any kind of sensationalism or slagging that, given his relationship with Hollywood over the years, one imagines could precipitate.

Terry GilliamDivided loosely into the stages of his life revolving around his career it offers insights on all sides of thing while leaving enough mystery to maintain one of the things that makes Gilliam’s work so appealing – quite how all of this fantastic imagery and spirit is contained within one person.

So we get nice stories about the interplay of the Pythons, what it was like meeting and working with Hunter S. Thompson and how it feels having a film literally washed away from you on the set of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote and figuratively on The Brothers Grimm and we get glimpses into his personal life and astonishingly active mental condition.

While Gilliam’s story is fascinating and engaging what makes this book quite so special is its presentation. At a ‘coffee table’ kind of size it is itself a Gilliamesque work of art, from the almost Joker like repeated ‘Me Me Me…’ around the sides to the new and archive artwork on nearly every page this is as much a visual story as a written one.

Along with the words this charts his life from early drawings and sketches to the airbrush work for magazines that led into the cut and paste animation style of Monty Python and on into the exquisite, eccentric, design work of his films from Jabberwocky and Time Bandits up to The Zero Theorem.

Terry Gilliam
Gilliam in 1970

While most of the subjects only have short parts (there’s a lot to fit in) it means the book flies along but is none the less engaging and interesting and in combination with the artwork makes it a must for any fan of Gilliam’s work or, really, anyone with an interest in his artistic style. The fact it also charts a life that could only have happened in the second half of the twentieth century just adds an extra layer and, at times, gives it a tone a kin to the work of the Beat writers of the 1950s.

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