Terry Gilliam: ‘Most People Don’t Experience What True Obsession Is’
Eyewear brand Persol, recognizable to style watchers and cinemaphiles alike as the company behind Steve McQueen’s specs and Marcello Mastroianni’s La Dolce Vita chic, debuted an exhibition in honor of cinematic artifacts in Chelsea.
“Persol Magnificent Obsessions: 30 Stories of Craftmanship in Film,” will be open to the public at Chelsea’s Center 548 through Sunday, June 19 before traveling to Paris and Milan. The exhibit features mixed-media looks at past “obsessions,” from sound design (Alan Splet and Ann Kroeber’s soundscape for “Blue Velvet”) to costume design (Milena Canonero’s sumptuous clothes for ‘Marie Antoinette,’ whose color palette was taken from a box of macarons) to set design (Mark Friedberg’s use of Rajasthani craftsmen to decorate ‘The Darjeeling Limited’). The exhibition’s theme is linked to Persol’s message about its products’ artisanal values and the 30 manual steps required to make one pair of glasses.
The opening night’s guest of honor, director Terry Gilliam, was quick to talk about his reputation for cinematic obsessions. “I liked the idea of something about cinema and obsession,” the director said on the rooftop terrace, during a quiet moment before the party kicked into high gear. “It’s a term that gets used a lot but most people don’t experience what true obsession is.”
“Ideas take me over. They possess me,” he said. And once ideas take over, it’s a battle to “clear it out.” When it works, there’s a film to show for it. “Other things, you work on for years and it doesn’t happen. Those are the ones that take a lot of energy out of you. There’s been several of those.”
“I’m not a director for hire,” Gilliam said. “I only do films when I’m obsessed or possessed. I’m always impressed with directors for hire. They take any old thing and show up for every day. I have to be driven, because I don’t like getting up to work every day.” He laughs softly.
That seemed as good a segue as any to ask Gilliam about his most recent work, a short film funded by an Italian pasta company. Trailers for “The Wholly Family” are online, showing a typically whimsical off-kilter Gilliam spectacle, with dancing clowns, a wide-eyed child and puppets. Gilliam said the company, Garofalo, only had two requests: That the film take place in Naples and no one dies. It was not different, the director says, than seeing Warner Bros. before the credits. Last summer, Gilliam directed a web cast of an Arcade Fire concert, which was presented by American Express.
This could signal the start of more corporations moving into funding films that blur the line between ads and films. “There’s no product placement. It’s just a movie,” Gilliam said. “There’s so many commercials coming out. So why not be a patron of the arts?”
“It’s as if we’re moving back into the era of the Medicis, and big corporations are thinking, well, if we can support the arts or something interesting, it will reflect on them,” the director said. And as for the directors: “Wherever the money comes from, we go.”
The director, who jokes that’s he’s currently jobless and looking, was hopeful that “The Damnation of Faust,” his debut as an opera director, now currently playing to London crowds, and with upcoming dates in Italy and Belgium, may eventually have its day stateside.