Terry Gilliam’s memoir is as unique as the man himself. Known for his work with Monty Python and as a director of films like Brazil, Time Bandits, and Twelve Monkeys, Gilliam’s work has always had a surreal quality that makes it instantly recognizable. His “Pre-posthumous Memoir” happily possesses a similar quality.
Most authors would write a memoir that is a prose account of their life, and maybe they would include a couple pictures of the highlights for added effect. Gilliam, originally a cartoonist and animator, naturally flips this idea on its head and sticks pictures all over the book, drawing attention to them with handwritten notes. Sometimes the pictures are a direct reference to the text, sometimes they are tangentially related to the text, and occasionally they have no apparent connection to anything outside of Gilliam’s head.
What we get reads less like a book and more like a collage of many art pieces. The actual text of the memoir ends up being just one piece of many that ties the others together. You could probably only read the handwritten notes and pictures and still get a good sense of Gilliam’s life and personality. The pictures scattered throughout the book are a collection of old family photos, sketches, illustrations, magazine ads, set photos, and more. Gilliam’s early years in advertising and comedy magazines include some of the most surprising work, with hints of what the artist Gilliam would later become.
As far as story content, Gilliam spends a lot of time on his childhood and formative years before Monty Python and his work in Hollywood. We get a great glimpse into his decision to leave America for Britain, and his own self-proclaimed ability to somehow always be in the right place at the right time. Readers looking for in-depth details about the making of his films won’t find much besides the occasional hindsight infused self-analysis of his choices. Gilliam instead seems to be most interested in connecting the dots of his life after the fact, trying to make sense of the events that led him to being such an offbeat artist. We’re treated to an excellent journey into the mind of an artist who after an illustrious career spent questioning the boundaries of reality finds himself asking those same questions, just in newer (and sometimes stranger) forms. He never quite gets an answer, and fans of his work should find this is no surprise.
– Alex Strine
Gilliamesque: A Pre-Posthumous Memoir
by Terry Gilliam
2015, 352 pages, 7.9 x 10.2 x 1 inches