Awesome Men Throughout History: Terry Gilliam
This week’s Awesome Man Throughout History—Terry “The One American Guy In Monty Python” Gilliam—is a celebrated and revered film director who has made some classics (Brazil, Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas), some utter crap (The Brothers Grimm), and a lot of movies that fall somewhere in between.
But I don’t really want to talk about his films all that much, because his animation work is much more fun and much less likely to be a series of overly expensive, stressful productions that underperform at the box office half the time anyway. Animation is the perfect medium for Gilliam’s weirdness and obsession with madness-as-escapism.
Gilliam got his start working for Help!, a satire magazine founded by former MAD Magazine editor Harvey Kurtzman, as a strip cartoonist and animator. He met John Cleese through that magazine, and was introduced to most of the other Pythons when Help! folded and Gilliam moved to England to work on Do Not Adjust Your Set, a British children’s television show.
Gilliam also claims to have left America because of a rising tide of conservatism in the late 1960s, during which he was harassed by police on the regular for being a “long-haired hippie.”
Anyway, Gilliam’s animated sequences on Do Not Adjust Your Set—and later, and Monty Python—are what made his style famous, and they’re fabulous living collages of his own artwork (which is very blobby and strange) and random clippings from classic paintings.
The famous Monty Python foot, for example, came from Agnolo Bronzino’s “Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time.”
The time and budget constraints forced on him by the realities of 1970s British television forced him to work with found materials, which he chopped up and animation using stop motion techniques, and the resulting visual stream-of-consciousness became his trademark.
Monty Python would have been a good sketch show on its own merits, but Gilliam’s work gave it a sense of anarchy—of tearing down things that were old and pompous and putting them in a new, sillier context—that made it stand out against not only its contemporaries in television comedy, but against television comedy in general. Gilliam’s animation was a huge part of that show’s personality.
I could ramble on about how much I love the guy’s work all day, but instead I’ll just leave you all with this video of a young, longhaired Terry Gilliam explaining his technique.
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About Rick Mosely Rick is the editor for TSB magazine.