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Showing posts with label Brazil. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Brazil. Show all posts

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Three Tweets [maybe more ?] about Woman at War (2018)

Three Tweets [maybe more ?] about Woman at War (Kona fer í stríð) (2018)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

16 May

Three Tweets [maybe more ?] about Woman at War (Kona fer í stríð) (2018)

Postlude (with TAKE ONE) :

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Going for the double

This is a review of The Double (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014
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5 April

This is a review of The Double (2013)

Anyone who is familiar with the trailer for The Double (2013) (though we should know that trailers are not made by the film-makers) is not going to expect Dostoyevsky’s novella to be any more than a jumping-off point for the film (as Thurber’s story is for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)), but what the trailer does do is to suggest misleadingly* that the latter is also a benign, and less dark, study in the nature of inadequacy.

Particularly at the start (before we meet Simon James’ double), it feels as though co-writers Richard Ayoade (who also directs) and Avi Korine (from that family whose members brought you, amongst other things, Spring Breakers (2012)) have ‘mashed up’ sources such as those that follow (although that feeling of making reference, or borrowing, does dissipate somewhat over time, as the propulsive nature of the telling takes over (please see below)) :

* Gogol’s story ‘The Overcoat’ (some see Dostoyevsky’s work, four years later, as a rebuttal of Gogol’s works)

* Yury Tynyanov’s Lieutenant Kijé (as popularized in Western Europe by Prokofiev’s Suite, Op. 60, distilled from his film-music)

* Brazil (1985)

* Rear Window (1954)

* Elements of Lynch (not least the feel, look, and sound of the world of Eraserhead (1977))

* Even The Apartment (1960)

Without saying more, one will see – unless one guesses – what aspects of the film correspond with the earlier material to make this disturbing whole, driven along by the Glass-like rapid string arpeggios of Andrew Hewitt’s score, or the low-frequency rumbling that makes the corridors seem so unnerving …

And that apart from other disturbances in James’ life of the kind given by Sally Hawkins in a nice authoritarian cameo, let alone the increasingly hostile security guard (IMDb puzzlingly says that it is ‘rumored’ that this was Kobna Holdbrook-Smith’s role), or the grumpy service in James’ local café (asked why he comes back here, he says that he is ‘loyal’ – and one cannot conceive of James doing anything very domestic in his flat, with utensils that look to be of grandmaternal origin).

In an early scene, in an underground train equally devoid of comfort (or a sense of the common good), we imagine that it must be a nightmare of the type in (1963), or a parody of one – James is, in what is established here, seen to be so labile that we have to hope hard that he can show himself as in the Mitty film, and maybe wonder whether he is more in the vein of Ronnie Corbett’s Timothy Lumsden in Sorry !.

In this film, partly because we are influenced to identify with Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg), partly because we look for an emergence into real life of The Replicator** (in the form of Paddy Considine), which James says is his favourite t.v. programme, we invest a hope in what might happen. We believe that Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) might respond to James (whose interest in her is reminiscent of that of Josef K. in Fraülein Bürstner in Kafka's The Trial ?), if he knew the right thing to do, and we believe in the notion from Roxanne (1987) (and its more illustrious antecedents) that he might he helped to, and for, his own good.

It might have been fun if Wasikwoska had doubled the part of Melanie, played by Yasmin Paige, to mimic Eisenberg’s duality : as it is, we are offered an insight into her character’s fragility, which has been exploited by a knowledge of that of James, and we see her torn, although not in a way that is not unusual in cinema (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) ?), between what attracts everyone else and the likelihood (which, with Marilyn’s Lorelei, fatally attracts, or at least fails to repel) of getting hurt.

Of course, the theme of betrayal by a seeming friend is an age-old one, pre-dating Judas, and which has resonated ever since, in, for example, the tables being turned on K. in Kafka’s The Castle by his assistants (themselves a form of substitute). Here, far more was possible with the topic of identity theft than the film encompasses, and it prefers to stay within the general bounds of what is a person and what about a person is perceived to make him or her worthwhile.

In the end, subverting the messages of James’ powerlessness (as we provisionally thought that it had to), it offers the sort of Pyrrhic victory*** that we know, for Ray, from In Bruges (2008). It is not unlike many other endings (e.g. from episodes of Star Trek (original series only, please) or Dr Who, amongst others), and so concludes the piece, nowhere near Dostoyevsky (unless we make some massive inferences), because there had to be some ultimate resolution.

That said, principals Wasikowska and Eisenberg are both excellent, and the film is not without an effect from how it contrasts the homeliness and colour of her flat with that of his, as well as from Hewitt’s score, and the levels of tension that it gives to this cheerless universe.


* NB Contains a spoiler As does IMDb : A comedy centered on a man who is driven insane by the appearance of his doppleganger (sic).

** Shades of The Reprisalizer from Matthew Holness’ A Gun for George (2011) ?

Here, the t.v. series is a sort of Orwellian distraction from the predominant greyness of life in this place and time, though it is less clear that it is a degraded world of the kind that Gilliam’s referenced film gives us, or a reimagined instance of the early computer age a parallel for the world of the pre-Soviet government department.

The real Replicator in the film is Hannah (probably in more senses than one), because she is a junior member of the copying department, operating what some might describe as a steam-punk take-off of the large and clunky Xerox® machines from the late 1970s : James and she are amongst the few of an age in this organization. Her boss tells James that any sensible person would want two copies (which proves to be astute, although James does not want another he), not just the one that, as a pretext for being there, he keeps coming up and asking for.

*** You could even posit a reference to the scene with the Patronus across the lake in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)…

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Faber & Faber's [Film Director x] on x series

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
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15 August

After a special screening of Time Bandits (1981) the other night, I have sought out Gilliam on Gilliam (edited by Ian Christie).

I did so, because these books are an excellent sourcebook of what, in interview with a suitable person from the world of film (in some way), directors have to say about their works, almost invariably grouping comments by film (or period) - I cannot commend them more warmly, and would certainly not be where I am without Woody Allen on Woody Allen (edited by Stig Björkman).

In the chapter that deals with Bandits, I have learnt, for example, how :

* Connery helped Gilliam with filming in Morocco, when there was more to do with shooting the fight than two days allowed, and the older man simplified his task for him

* Sir Ralph put Gilliam through various tests, both before accepting being God, and then in God-like mode, but was still a trouper

* The scene where the mirror / boundary that separates the Bandits from the fortress had not been originally written (and, if it were conceivable, more screen business, this time with Edwardian spiderwomen, had bridged from escaping the giant to getting to the fortress), but had arisen from David Rappaport's aloofness from the rest of his team

* The ending would have been different, if Connery had first not used up his fourteen days in the UK (and so it could not be shot as planned), and, because Gilliam then nabbed Connery when he came to the UK to see his accountant

* Palin had written the role of Robin Hood for himself, but had accepted that Cleese would be fine when billing / financial reasons had required

* The scene in Holy Grail where the animals are thrown over the castle walls was done (as this information impinges on effects in this film), and also the cage scene in Bandits

* Gilliam says that he had never read C. S. Lewis (or known of his use of wardrobes*)

As I hope that I may have demonstrated, a way of learning about films from the inside, and a book in which I shall next be reading about Brazil (1987)...

NB The British Film Institute (@BFI) now has an interview with Gilliam on its web-site...


* I think that Christe errs, in his end-notes, in considering The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe first of the books(though the ordering and publication history scarcely make matters clear).

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Sunday, 4 August 2013

The World’s End – or Shiva, The Four Horsemen and The Fates trashing it all

A quasi-mental-health appraisal, rather than a review, of The World’s End (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
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4 August

* Contains more spoilers than a packet of chip-sticks its usual quantity of contents *

This is a quasi-mental-health appraisal, rather than a review, of The World’s End (2013) – though written not by a psychiatrist or psychologist, but by a mental health advocate of around a decade’s standing.

The approach taken will involve a broad brush, but also some fine brushwork, sketching and chiaroscuro, as does the film.

So what does it mean ? What seemed to be an AA (Alcoholics’ Anonymous) meeting at the start was actually whatever your choose to call it out of a community or planning meeting, and thus a deliberate misdirection to put one off the scent of what and who Gary King (Simon Pegg) is. The voiceover that introduces the personnel of five constituting the main gang makes clear that King is The King (though not in that Elvis sort of sense [also Gary King, Steven Prince, Andy Knight[ley] ? ]), and this titling / description only takes its full force in retrospect :

In my view, the whole film is a free fantasy in dream / psychotic form – I use the words as a pair because I am influenced by knowing of psychologist Richard Bentall’s writing and believing that the mechanisms of the mind that are, and are behind, sleep are operative in psychosis. This means that what ‘happens’ has the same status as the closing sequence of Brazil (1985), i.e. it is wholly real to Sam (Jonathan Pryce), whatever constriction and lack of freedom is in our, as audience / witness, doomy realization of where he is and in what condition.

The clue to it all is in King’s bandaged wrists, of course, with the label of a psychiatric unit : yes, that was not the AA meeting that we took it for, but few are privileged enough to have participated in or witnessed the type that it is. At the very end, after an apocalyptic strafing of Earth, King is leading a new band of five – they demand water, he is told that only he, and not what are called blanks, can be served, and the scene and film close with (yet) another fight.

People who will be disappointed by the It was all just a dream interpretation (of this and other films, etc. (though I hope not that of Brazil)) miss what I have just sought to convey : King’s reality is just as real as anyone else’s, and what, after all, is a film other than a large team of people’s contrivance, maybe based on a book or play, maybe not. For, whether it is sitting in the dark with The Truman Show (1998) or The Agamemnon, Plato would probably still say (The Republic) that we are pleasing ourselves with shadows cast on the wall of a cave, ignoring the source of light that projects them.

So questions such as Does Earth really get destroyed ? or Why does The Network¹ disembark from earth ? only have meaning on the level of interpretation of the semiotics of King’s experience of psychosis / dream. Yet, functionally speaking, there are ostensible drawbacks to this schema :

(1) King would have to be presenting his own history at the opening of the film - whether it is anecdotal or documentary (or mixed) in nature - to himself, to a real (the community, etc., meeting) or imagined other, or to both. However, it is incidental to the by-and-large linear nature of the narration – in terms of a film, it sets the scene, much as the establishing material does, say, in The Magnificent Seven (1960²), or the opening sequence of t.v.’s The Likely Lads.

(2) That said, the self-reflexive nature of the narration then means that King concealing his wounded wrists (real or no, although a second viewing does reveal he does have straps across his wrists, akin to the stirrups of ski-pants), but chancing to expose them to Andy Knightley (Nick Frost), during a dogged attempt by King to drink at the final watering-hole, has to be seen in therapeutic terms (and / or in relation to any alcoholism) – the consequence of revealing what has happened to King effects a reconciliation with Knightley before ‘the bar drops’, a lovely Bond-type touch³. (It matters not whether Knightley ever existed or, if he did, was ever in any close relation to King, because the film / madness / fantasy has its internal logic : see A Beautiful Mind (2001) for one cinematic paradigm of psychotic delusion.)

(3) The delusional nature of the depicted events in and of the fictional Newton Haven⁴, culminating in a charged fireball that makes the effects of many a film look modest, give way to King’s best schoolfriend, Knightley, narrating times beyond that explosive happening, much as, in a way, old Tom Hanks (Zachry) does around the campfire at the close of Cloud Atlas (2012). Knightley not only fights strenuously with King not to have that final pint, until he sees the bandages, the tags, but - as King does not have that pint - serves as a mechanism for him not completing The Golden Mile, seeing off The Network, the fireball that ensues.

Yet, as it is King’s psychosis or dream - not our filmed entertainment - why should he not picture a devastated world where he (as before the reunion) is (symbolically ?) lost to Knightley, but where he is still a leader (which, in a Yul-Brynner fashion, brings us back to The Seven and hell-raising) ? On the level of psychological analysis, the controlling force of The Network, the threat posed by the blanks, the separation from the school chums (and imagining their fate) could represent the closure that King seeks (a loaded psychiatric / psychotherapeutic term that might be overlooked, since it has ceased to be jargon and become commonplace).

Does he make a symbolic mental breakthrough to our new buzz-word of ‘recovery’ – or, as in Brazil (or Birdy (1984), Spellbound (1945), etc.) is it an escape from the horror / trauma of the real situation (attempting suicide, being detained, the psychiatric unit ?). At any rate, King, who is ‘never wrong’, seemingly defeats The Network (though potently supported in this by Knightley, who has just learnt the truth about King) by his dogged refusal to comply and maintaining that it is human to err (the quotation from Pope is daubed on the fence behind Knightley), which, on a plot level, is as flimsy as some escapes from certain death of Bond or The Doctor (to name but two), unless…

Having taken the dear reader this far, I have to confess that the only way to know whether this hypothesis hangs together in more than words is to go back to Newton Haven and revisit The Golden Mile !

In the meantime, it is best to invoke a Freudian-type principle that it does not matter what Edgar Wright, the director of the film (and its co-author with Pegg), meant by it, any more than does Terry Nation in his scripts : the meanings are there and open to analysis. (NB If you seek to analyse my own motives in setting this out, be assured that Wormwood dictated this to me, and every word is his, faithfully recorded by me for this very purpose.)

Well, I went back to Newton Haven, have added to the above in the light of it, but not redacted my view - so, Happy Drinking !


¹ Whose voice I failed to place as that of Bill Nighy.

² IMDb claims that there is a remake fixed for 2015… with Tom Cruise.

³ Not to mention the full evocations of the gallery-space below, ranging from the various tribunals in the Potter films to lecture-theatres and public dissections.

⁴ Actually, recognizable as an amalgam, more or less, of Letchworth Garden City and Welwyn Garden City.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Monday, 17 June 2013

How Time views After Hours (1985)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
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1 June

This story had to be told - one way or another, although it was written for New Empress Magazine's issue (number 10), with the theme of Time in cinema, it resisted inclusion.

Finished, it would have looked at Eraserhead (1977) and seen whether Brazil and After Hours (1985) were both indebted to Lynch, but had gone in different directions with it (a bit like particles flying out from a sub-atomic collision)...

In late 1983, there proved not to be the sustainable will – or, with it, the money – for Martin Scorsese to make The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), which he had also insisted had to be shot in Israel (adding to the cost). As he says in Scorsese on Scorsese (Faber & Faber, London, 1996 (updated version)), he sublimated his rage at the studio for thinking Christ ‘not worth the trouble’ (as Barry Diller at Paramount told him, apologizing for not saying before that they were pulling the plug) : he looked around for another film to make.

Not being able to see himself make either, Scorsese turned down Beverly Hills Cop (1984) and Witness (1985), and so ended up, again, in the world of independent film with After Hours and, ultimately, with Fassbinder’s cameraman, Michael Ballhaus. Before then, a few things happened on the way…

In New York, Scorsese got to see a script that he liked. It was owned (i.e. they had the film option) by Griffin Dunne (Dunne played Paul Hackett, the male lead) and Amy Robinson (who had appeared in Mean Streets (1973), and was, with Dunne, a co-producer of After Hours). In his own words, Scorsese started reading it and really liked the first two or three pages. I liked the dialogue […].

This is where things got interesting, because Scorsese had apparently been told that it had been written by Joseph Minion in a class at Columbia University (and been given an A in the Graduate Film Program), whereas that seems not to have been the whole story.

Even I, as a fourteen-year-old, learnt the basic rules of plagiarism : even if others had not also decided to lift material for their essay from the introduction to our edition of Julius Caesar, which made ‘the borrowing’ obvious, one could not simply pass off something as one’s own, and had to cover one’s tracks. (Either that, or acknowledge one’s sources, of course*.)

In this case, as blogger Andrew Hearst reveals (linked from the film’s Wikipedia page), there was a radio monologue called Lies, written, performed and broadcast by one Joe Frank for NPR Playhouse in 1982. On Hearst’s blog, it can be heard in full, and runs to around 11 minutes, providing the broad synopsis for around the first one-third of After Hours.

One might just about be able to listen to it and not be spot the relation to After Hours if one had not seen it recently: were it not, that is, that bagel-and-cream-cheese paperweights made of plaster of Paris are a bit of a give-away (even if a five-dollar bill flying out of the cash-cradle, and through the window, of a taxi and leaving Hackett without cash is not already). Where I cannot agree with Hearst, because what he writes does not take account of how screenplays get written and end up in production, is what he makes of the evidence.

Hearst writes ‘Minion’s IMDb credits are pretty thin after the early 1990s, so his career seems to have been really hurt by this, no surprise’. It is, of course, an easy assumption to make, but do we know that Minion was credited with the screenplay as the (willing ?) fall guy for someone else’s theft of the plot, because there appears to be nothing against which to check the story about the screenplay and the Columbia course ?

The real mystery is that anyone would attempt to pass off Lies in the guise of After Hours without changing some very significant details, some of the more obvious of which have been mentioned. Is it, so we are being encouraged to understand Minion, that we have to imagine him inexperienced and greedy, and so getting himself a bad name by miring the picture in the litigation that Hearst talks about ?

I have not looked for evidence of the court case, not just because it is so long ago (and I would not know where to look), but also since, if there had been an out-of-court settlement, only the fact of the case’s existence, which we probably suppose, would have been apparent. Scorsese, of course, makes no mention of the issue in interview, and even the injured Frank, according to Hearst, was being reticent to name the film that paid him off.

All that we have to hope is that he got a good settlement, because, comparing his performance and the film, it is all there, right down to the characterization of Rosanna Arquette (as Marcy), whom Hearst described as ‘interested and indifferent at the same time’. As for what happened to Minion, there seems to be a bigger elephant in the room than that :

Dunne makes a perfectly good, nervy Hackett, and the film gets good ratings on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes, but, looking at Dunne’s career and judging it from IMDb’s page for him, he seems to have achieved more as director and producer than the rather bitty parts and t.v. work on the other side of the camera.

Yes, things happen - or do not happen - in a career quite unfairly, and maybe After Hours, as the Rotten Tomatoes figures show, had the critical appraisal, but insufficient popular appeal, to allow Dunne to move on from there.

Or maybe there was no moving on from a persecution-complex character such as Hackett, hounded by highly organized vigilantes within hours of visiting the area, giving off signals of being attractive to women, but dangerous, and ending the film dusty and dazed back at the office where he began it.

The all-too-often quoted opening words of ‘Burnt Norton’ from T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets – which lose significance out of context – have a place here, in looking at what, if I am not mistaken, is a film directed by Scorsese that made too little impact on its release :

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.

I have not seen Dunne in anything else, but I am grateful to him for wanting to get this film made and being Paul Hackett, and I am sure that others will be for what he has produced or directed since.


* Which I do not think that the film credits do with an even bigger theft, that of a story by Franz Kafka that he incorporated into the scene in the Cathedral in his unfinished novel The Trial (Der Prozess), where Josef K. is told a parable about the law, Vor dem Gesetz (Before the Law). The story is lifted straight into the film in the context of the bouncers to the club that Hackett needs to enter, and it feeds into the film's uneasy quality of persecution, witch-hunt and - although Dunne is not Jewish - maybe anti-Semitism.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

What sort of beast is Dark Horse?

This is a review of Dark Horse (2011)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
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5 July

This is a review of Dark Horse (2011)

One is not exactly left, as David Lynch arranged in Eraserhead (1977), with a feeling of being uncertain what, if anything, has happened, and it's not quite the ending-after-ending impression left by how the Lord of the Rings trilogy winds up in and with The Return of the King (2003), and yet both elements are there: the latter promises resolution, the former confuses such a notion with presenting, amongst other things, a head being turned into an adjunct for pencils.

As Lynch's film did, therefore, there is a questioning in Dark Horse of what 'a story' in a film is for, whether it is to satisfy and lead us, a bit like a classical sonata, from some sort of stasis into the turmoil of a movement in a minor key and back into the catharsis of the closing outer movement, or whether its roots are in the New Wave and before, which, in Buñuel's case, gave us, at the time time when the wave was breaking, the puzzle of The Exterminating Angel (1962).

Just about anything has been fitted into that pattern of things going bad and turning good again, from 10* (1979) to You've Got Mail (1998) or, as I recall, One Fine Day (1996). Much more interesting is when Scorsese gives us, in After Hours (1985), a film that takes us back to where we began, but with an amazing and satisfying - not from moral or plot point of view of - artistic resolution, in a whizz around Paul Hackett's office. Or Gilliam - when he could still be gutsy - with that sickening moment inside the cooling-tower at the end of Brazil (1985).

Subverting building up to an ending - or the expected ending - is one thing. Some view life as linear, and expect the beginning to be at the start. Others might prefer the sort of narration that Betrayal (1983), pretty close to the stage-play, gives us, and might relate more to a muddle of dream, day-dream, imagination, and sheer fantasy, such as, probably more convincingly than Dark Horse, films like Allen's Deconstructing Harry (1997) (or, for that matter, Stardust Memories (1980)) give us.

Though I do not think that writer / director Todd Solondz is aiming at that here: this is not Thurber's Walter Mitty gone slightly more wrong, but has, as it develops, really far more resonance with something very different, a sort of US Enter the Void, but without certain embellishments.

Rather implausibly, you might infer from trusting what I am saying, IMDb seeks to sum up this work in a sentence as:

Romance blooms between two thirty-somethings in arrested development: an avid toy collector and a woman who is the dark horse of her family

Hell, if that were what this film is about, it wouldn't deserve the time of day! These are superficialities, substituting for an appreciation of what the film implies about the creation and distinegration of personality, hope and desire. It is possible that reviews are more on target than what I have quoted, but I don't think that I want to trust having to wade through many opinions that will just criticize this film for not being what it is not - if, though, they were misled by IMDb's said 23-word snapshot (probably little worse than many a trailer), perhaps it is fair for them to air their grievances there.

Confused - probably stunned - as I was when I came out of Dark Horse and incoherently tried to formulate a response in talking to Jon, who was ushering, I gratefully received his affirmation of that feeling, and I shall, at some point, be following up his recommendation of Solondz's Happiness (1998)...

This review is dedicated to Jon, with thanks


* Which, before Baywatch, might have been seen as exploitative (probably of Bo Derek), if it didn't arrive at a convenient moral ending.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Tired old nag of a film (2)

More views of - or after - Cambridge Film Festival 2011
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25 January

And the amazing thing is that Peter Mullan (who could have done with being given a lot more to do in Trainspotting (1996) than the role of Mother Superior) is in this opus:

Some may not know his name, though - whatever one thinks of its ruling idea - he added immensely (as did his opposite number, Olivia Colman) to Paddy Considine's conception of Tyrannosaur (2011), but, for me, this is almost as incongruous as realizing that Robert De Niro really was playing the part of Tuttle in Brazil (1985)*!

* I haven't seen it since, and should, as it is a great film - than which many a Gilliam production is a pale (or very pale) lamp**.

I also must have known at the time, but I have just been reminded, that he had the great Tom Stoppard alongside to temper his inclinations on the writing side - I wonder if anything reveals how those two got on (other than in the finished film)...

Interesting also, I think, that Terry Jones was accepted as the director of the Python films (more or less, give or take a few grumbles about his perfectionism regarding certain aspects of a take, whilst ignoring what others sometimes thought more significant). Which could have been because Gilliam was in so many ways in a different relation to the others or that he simply had not developed in that way - not, at any rate, until his contribution to The Meaning of Life (1983).

** And I do not know whether I am being unfair to Gilliam for his direction, or to Robin Williams for that certain worthiness that he seems to have in all his acting (or to both), but The Fisher King (1991), for whatever it could have been without, sadly gave rise to a feeling akin to having gorged on too many Easter eggs (when that time of the year, marking Christ's death, necessarily had a highly chocolatey character, such that one could easily do it)!