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Jean Rochefort in
"Lost in La Mancha"
St. Quixote: Cannibals, Books, and Windmills
by Jürgen Fauth

Keep the River on Your Right -  

Stone Reader -  

Lost in La Mancha -  


Don Quixote would make a fine patron saint for Toby Schneebaum, Dew Mossman, and Terry Gilliam, the subjects of three documentaries about men who are stubborn, courageous, and slightly nuts. All three pushed forward for the sake of their art and their curiosity, paid dearly, and kept going regardless. The Knight of the Sad Countenance would have been proud.

TASTES LIKE CHICKEN: "Keep the River on Your Right"


Tobias Schneebaum in Peru
There could hardly be a better example of fearlessness than Toby Schneebaum, the gay and self-described "unattractive" painter and anthropologist who wandered into a jungle teeming with cannibals with only the vaguest of directions: "Keep the River on Your Right." Deep in the Peruvian rain forest, Schneebaum went native, engaged in indigenous rituals and sexual practices, and ate human flesh.

Forty-five years later, Schneebaum returned at the prodding of filmmakers David and Laurie Shapiro. His sentimental journey makes clear how deep Schneebaum's attachment runs: he made real human connections in the jungle and is equally at home in the huts and his Manhattan apartment. Schneebaum seems lonely and tired now, but once he hunted with the Akami and ate the Agkaimani's enemies. A moving portrait of an astounding life.

MEET THE AUTHOR: "Stone Reader"

Frank Conroy in "Stone Reader"

Dew Mossmann's courage led him into the jungle of the mind, with stopovers in the psychiatric ward. In 1972, he wrote a widely praised first novel only to disappear into obscurity. Filmmaker Mark Moskowitz's search for the elusive author serves as dramatic background for "Stone Reader," the portrait of a man who says once he starts typing, he can't stop.

A movie about books might seem like a doomed project, and there were moments when I wondered if Moskowitz shouldn't have written a nice essay for Harper's instead: when he's not interviewing anybody, there is little to show, and Moskowitz compensates with shots of butterflies, sunsets, the moon, and other images usually seen on the covers of New Age CDs. At 128 minutes, "Stone Reader" runs half an hour too long, and cutting these interludes would have helped to give it more snap.

Still, Moskowitz's infectious passion for the written word suffuses the film, and there are enough memorable moments to recommend it. Especially the interviews with writers, critics, and publishers (including Frank Conroy and Leslie Fiedler) on everything from one-book authors, the pitfalls of the publishing industry, and the risks of the writing life make the film worthwhile for anybody with an interest in reading or writing.

THE WINDMILLS OF HIS MIND: "Lost in La Mancha"

Although it's assembled in a much punchier style than "Stone Reader," Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe's "Lost in La Mancha" unfolds like a train wreck in slow motion. The movie begins with what could have been -- storyboards, costumes, and production art for a lavish version of "Don Quixote" by Terry Gilliam, the director of "Time Bandits" and "Brazil" whose visual style is as bizarre as it is grandiose.


Terry Gilliam with Jean Rochefort

It doesn't take long for the project to unravel. On location in Spain, Gilliam's stars fall ill, bad weather strikes, and NATO jets ruin complicated shots. Unfortunately, the final collapse is not very cinematic at all: the kiss of death comes in the form of financial collapse, investors and insurance adjusters squabbling about money. This Knight of the Sad Countenance goes out with a whimper.

Unless you are the kind of person who slows down to ogle the debris of car crashes in the other lane, you might want to skip the depressing "Lost in La Mancha." Seeing Gilliam's vision falter is simply painful and joyless. If you must see a true story of filmmaking against all odds, I recommend "Hearts of Darkness" for the astounding story of how "Apocalypse Now" was made. It has all the disasters "La Mancha" offers, including terrible weather and military interference-- as well as heart attacks, Dennis Hopper on acid, and Marlon Brando. Or better yet, see any of Gilliam's own movies instead, especially the unfairly maligned "Adventures of Baron Munchausen."


"Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal's Tale" is available on DVD (compare prices).

"Stone Reader" opens at the Film Forum in New York on February 12, with other dates to follow.

"Lost in La Mancha" is playing in theaters now.

 Related Reviews    Related Resources
• Chaos
• City of God
• The Einstein of Sex
• Band of Outsiders
• Pepe Le Moko
• Stone Reader Official Site
• Lost in La Mancha Official Site
• Keep the River On Your Right Official Site
• Documentaries

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