Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Class: Time Bandits

Ginger Ale Battered Fried Prawns w/Cilantro-Lime Tartar Sauce
RMS Titanic Asparagus Salad w/Champagne-Saffron Vinaigrette
Petto d' Anatra Arrosto con Mostarda di agrumi (Italian Roast Duck w/Citrus-Mustard Preserves)
Polenta Cremosa (Creamy Polenta)
Greek Fruit Salad w/Feta Cheese

If you follow this blog I don't have to tell you that I've been recuperating from a herniated disc which is why I haven't been posting much. Also, real work beckons, and so I've been trying to catch up with that work I'd taken on before I got infirmed now that I can sit and am off the pain meds.

And I was on the radio this week. KOOP Radio's Lights.Camera.Austin with your host Robert Sims interviewed me. It's posted here.

The idea for this class came from one the chefs who works with me at the Cooking School, Scot Loranc, who was leaving working full time at the school and opening a food trailer. Since we wouldn't be working together any more, I asked him if there was a favorite film of his he'd like to have me do... provided, of course, it would be a movie I would want to do teach. He responded, "Time Bandits." My eyes lit up and I said instantly, "But, of course. Time Bandits, it is, amigo." So off I went to rewatch the film to figure out what the menu would be. And it came quite easily.

Class went very well. Smaller than I hoped (no pun intended), but everyone left quite pleased.

I'm going to be back up in Montreal for the summer doing some writing and other stuff, so I apologize that posting will continue to be light. I hope to have another post up during that time, but no promises at this point. But as you'll note above, the next class will be in September which will be my 20th class and the 3rd Anniversary of Chef du Cinema! Hope to see you then, for sure.

Time Bandits is available for purchase from Amazon, and can be streamed via Hulu (for free, if you can put up with a commercial or two), Amazon and NetFlix.


"Kevin: Why does there have to be evil?
The Supreme Being: Ahh, I think it has something to do with free will

First, a preface: Co-writer and director Terry Gilliam is probably still most famous for being the American member of the Monty Python comedy troupe. If you are unfamiliar with them, what's wrong with you? But seriously, if you are reading this on some other planet, here's some general info, then spend some time here at their official website, then just find and watch as many episodes as you can.

But our story begins some time after the group had loosely disbanded. The television show was done with, they had made a couple of movies together, and would, after Time Bandits, make a few more films together.

Okay, Rewind. Actually our story begins with Gilliam being born in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1940, then his family moved to Los Angeles when he was 11 years old. During the 1960's, after being repeatedly harassed by police for being a long-haired, hippie looking fellow, even though he was the art director at an advertising agency, he decided to leave and move to England. "I was really getting disillusioned with this country, and I believed that I'd either end up a full-time revolutionary or dead," he said.

He had met future Python John Cleese (and star/director of Chef du Cinema pick A Fish Called Wanda) in New York, when they were both involved with a magazine called Help!, produced by ex-Mad magazine genius Harvey Kurtzman. (Others who worked at the magazine included artist Robert Crumb (subject of Chef du Cinema pick Crumb) and feminist author Gloria Steinem.) When Gilliam arrived in London, Cleese helped him find work as a cartoonist/animator.

Originally, Gilliam was an adjunct member of the Python group, strictly providing animated bits for the television show, then became an official member, and appearing in the films alongside the other members. Gilliam then directed his first feature film in 1977, Jabberwocky, which received mixed reviews by critics, but gained cult status amongst Python and movie fans.

Because no studio wanted to make the Pythons' first film The Life of Brian, it wound up being produced by a company formed in 1979 by the Pythons' manager, Denis O'Brien, and one of his other clients, former Beatle George Harrison, which they dubbed Handmade Films, initially just for that film. As Harrison recalled, when O'Brien presented him with the idea of becoming a movie producer, "I let out a laugh because one of my favorite films is The Producers, and here we were about to become Bialystock & Bloom." The company has since gone on to produce other ex-Python films, as well as classics such as Mona Lisa, Withnail & I, and Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels.

Fast forward, and as Gilliam recalled, "I was trying to get another film off the ground through Handmade [that film would eventually be made - Brazil - and if you're unfamiliar with the epic struggle to get it made and distributed, there's a whole book on the subject!], and Denis O'Brien who was running the company didn't understand and he wasn't interested and he kept stalling, and so in frustration one weekend I said, 'I'm going to write something for all the family....'

"And on one weekend all this stuff poured out," he continued, on the DVD commentary. "The first image I had was of the horse coming through the wardrobe. And then I thought, “Oh, that's good. And let's make a film through a child's point of view, so the camera's always low.' And I thought, 'The problem with that is the idea of one kid trying to hold the whole film together would be difficult. So let's surround him with a gang of people of similar size.' So we ended up with a group of dwarfs around him. Once horses coming out of the wardrobe, a gang of dwarfs, and a kid came together, the film followed very quickly on and was easy."

"[Terry] had written a couple of sides of paper which [he] appeared with one day in my kitchen," recalled co-writer and actor, and fellow Python, Michael Palin. "And it was really pretty much all there, including the name I think, Time Bandits, which [Terry] had always felt was only going to be the working title and have to change it eventually.."

"[Michael's] skill was to know all the short people in history. All the powerful short people, which is an incredible source of knowledge which most of us don't have," Gilliam added.

"So [Terry] said, 'Will you write it with me?'" Palin explained. "And I said, or maybe he said, but it was agreed, that he should write basically the plot – very carefully and very thoroughly – and what I would do is to come in and just sort of beef up some of the characters. As it happened in the end, I think, we both worked on plot, but the initial idea and the general drive of the story were all from Terry. Where I suppose I came into my own was in suggesting historical periods we could go back to, because I have a degree in history – and it had been first time it had been any use to me. Also, to write the characters because, I think, Terry liked the way I wrote characters, whereas he could drive a lot of the action and all that. So that's how we did it. It's really sort of 60 or 70 percent Terry and 30% my stuff."

"The idea of God chasing we'd built in," Gilliam said. "I think some of that came from [second unit director and editor] Julian Doyle who felt we needed a motor under the thing, pushing it. I know he was certainly pushing me to get more of that idea of being pursued by the Supreme Being and also by Evil, David Warner. So you kept this little pressure under the whole thing."

"I think Napoleon was clear because he was about an empowered venture and to rob Napoleon seemed a good thing," he continued. "[I]t was a great moment to rob him and then end up in the middle ages where there's Robin Hood who then takes it all. So it's this constant thing of them failing which was important. And there's also a sense of a kid, with all of his heroes, and we're deflating them as we go through the whole movie. We're just pulling the rug from underneath them."

"A basic theme of Time Bandits [was] the notion of this little boy searching for his heroes and finding most of them coming up a little short," Gilliam went on to explain (and pun intended, I'm sure.) "Napoleon is a drunken runt obsessed with height and Robin Hood is an upper-class twit who hasn't a clue about poor people. Even Agamemnon, who treats the lad well, turns him down when the boy wants to learn swordplay. Instead, Agamemnon teaches him magic tricks which he says at one point are far more useful in life."

Actually, the idea of Agamemnon's magic tricks came from the actor who played him, Sean Connery.

"The problem writing the scenes with Agamemnon and Kevin [the young boy]," Gilliam admitted, "were that we were used to always being clever and we would overwrite things – try to write clever or funny or interesting lines. And the reality was that it worked best by cutting everything out. These kinds of relationships don't need much, they're implied. And when we first met with Sean and started talking about this part, he said, 'I can do some magic tricks.' And we incorporated it in. I love the fact that Kevin wants to be taught how to kill Trojans, sword fight, and doing all the things boys like doing – killing and maiming, but the great hero who actually does do the killings, teaches him magic. So we just turned everything on its head. We discovered the more we cut out of the dialogue, the more we cut out of the scene, the better it got. What more do you need? You've got a great kid and a great hero. And doing the magic tricks is fantastic. We let magic sort of float all through the Agamemnon sequence."

"It was similar in a sense like the Python films in that the world, through the eyes of a child, is a pretty bizarre and absurd place where grown-ups do very strange things," noted Palin. "What we were able to do here was really present a boy's book of heroes, and we were able to play them as such – that was their role in the film. They were to be heroes. Whereas in Python, I don't think we really could have played this Connery thing without a few laughs along the way, without a little bit of debunking of the myth. Here, we can actually use the myth."

Elsewhere, Palin said, it was also like writing Python "in the sense that when we had written sketches in Python, large chunks, and you couldn't get from 'A' to 'B,' Terry would very be deputed to do an animation, and they would be very ingenious and get you through, phew! It happened with [Time Bandits], I just felt at certain points I could write the bulk of say a Napoleon scene or the Ogre scene, or whatever, but not to get from one to the other. And then Terry would give you these wonderful falls through space and through the walls and all that, which is great stuff. And that was just technically so good and so enabled us to move on quite quick and get away from things, and as we wanted to. And I think generally speaking we did."

As they fleshed out the character of Kevin, the young boy, Gilliam found himself recalling his own childhood in America.

"[Kevin's] family was to be the kind of family, not that I grew up with, but were surrounding me in America, who were total materialists," Gilliam explained. "Things were what mattered. That's why we covered their sofas in plastic. I remember growing up with that, where seats in a car or sofas were always covered in plastic. To preserve them for what I do not know, possibly for resale, but I doubt it. It's really the religion of materialism. And they watch game shows where people are humiliated and put through the most awful things in the hopes they will get a little bit more money and goodies. The plastic then followed through, so that when we get to Evil, his assistants are covered in plastic. It became a metaphor for all that was wrong with the modern material world."

Palin added that they felt Kevin had to be "a fairly conventional boy in many ways – the house he comes from, what he reads and all that. Except that, in contrast to his parents who are all about what gas cooker they're going to get next, they're entirely consumer preoccupied, Kevin is still reading stories and there's still this feeling of imagination – which is really the key to the film. The film is celebrating a child's imagination and where it can take you, and the fact that it should be encouraged. Because if you suppress the imagination, you end up like the parents sitting there in plastic sheeting watching someone do something for them on television. So the boy was very important not to have audiences feel he was odd or quirky. He had to be someone they could identify with and not someone who would dominate the world he was in, but take you through into these worlds and look a them with a kind of wonderment. But also, someone who had a nice sort of way of talking to his heroes. There has to be an element to that little boy that he could just talk to his heroes and form a relationship with them very quickly, and that it can be a convincing relationship, and then off they go to somewhere else. So there was a lot of levels to work on. He had to be an ordinary kid who was extraordinary; an ordinary kid who has extraordinary adventures."

Gilliam noted that in regards to the Bandits themselves, it is Palin who "really gets all the credit for making them so diverse and rapacious and awful and wonderful."

"They were very much like Pythons, like mini-Pythons," added Gilliam. "There was the leader, and then there was the second who really thought he could do it better, then there was the animal one.... I think I know which one I was."

With the script done, Gilliam went to shop it around Hollywood, "and nobody wanted to know about it,” he said. “So George [Harrison] once again put up the money to make this film. The finished film we took to the studios and no one wanted to buy it. So we ended up with a company called Avco/Embassy which was the smallest of the majors, really a mini-major. They hadn’t had a hit in ten years. But they had a distribution system. So George and Denis guaranteed the prints and advertising and we basically used the machinery of their distribution."

Now as for casting, for the part of Kevin, his leading young boy, Gilliam looked at several children. Then finally at one casting call a boy who was there to audition came with his mother and the boy's brother in tow. And in typical Gilliam form, he wound up casting the brother who wasn't really there for the audition, Craig Warnock.

One of the big problems in getting the film financed was that their lead actors were a cast of generally unknown dwarfs and a child who'd never acted before. So, it became very important for Gilliam to fill the other roles with "name" actors - which, ironically, then ate up a significant portion of the budget.

"I had seen Ian Holm first in Alien," Gilliam said, "and he was quite powerful. Then I saw him in a television version of The Misanthrope and he was brilliantly funny. Ian had always been known for being a very serious, powerful actor and not doing comedy. But I saw him in that and he was so funny, and I thought, 'That's who we gotta get.' Because he was the right size, he had the incredible power and intensity you need for Napoleon, and yet, the humor. He was astoundingly funny. And this accent he's developed for the part is amazing. I don't know what it is. I think it's Sardinian or something."

As for Shelley Duvall, Gilliam said, "[She] was a friend of Eric Idle – we meet all of our famous friends through [fellow Python] Eric Idle – and Shelley was always a wonderful, odd, peculiar performer and a great sense of comedy, so we dragged her over to England."

Now, originally, "I was to play Robin Hood," Palin admitted.

"This we better make clear," stated Gilliam. "This is one of the great sacrifices for the film. And Michael gets full credit for this because he was going to play Robin Hood in the scene he wrote for himself. And to help get the money we had to hire the tall guy." The "tall guy," of course, being John Cleese. Palin then wrote himself a smaller, recurring role as the male half of the "unrequited lovers" that we meet again and again through time, along with Ms. Duvall.

"The Robin Hood scene is something I'm enormously fond of," Cleese recalled. "But of course what's strange about it, is that I was only there for a day and a half. And when you just come in and out, you don't have time to get a very strong sense of the movie.... The real reason I wanted to do it, is that when I read the pages, the first thing it said was, 'Robin Hood (to be played like the Duke of Kent.)' And I suddenly saw this as one of those occasions when a member of the Royal Family, for no reason whatsoever, goes out on Cup Final Day and walks down the line, shaking hands with these footballers who are just about to play the most important football match in their lives, and some f@cking Duke is there, smiling and wishing them luck. And you want to think, 'What is the point of this absurd bit of medieval pageant? Get out of there! If you want to watch the match, good luck to you, your Grace. But stop holding up 100,000 people and millions on television so that an obscure member of the Royal Family can shake hands with the participants who have nothing to do with this.' And once I got this feeling about it, that extraordinary, 'How long have you been playing right back? Can you kick with your left foot at all, I wonder,' and all that crap that goes on in those meaningless conversations, the whole idea in portraying Robin Hood as the Duke of Kent, just appealed to me enormously. And when I say that, I don't really know a great deal about the Duke of Kent, I'm talking about the Duke of anywhere at all."

How Sean Connery got involved had to do with a joke Gilliam & Palin wrote in the screenplay. "There's a great bit in the script where it says... 'The mask is pulled off at the end of the fight to reveal none other than Sean Connery, or at least an actor of equal or cheaper stature,'" recalled Craig Warnock, who plays Kevin. "It was our little joke," agreed Gilliam. But then, "Denis O’Brien was playing golf with Connery and Connery’s career at that point was really at its nadir. He had done some wonderful films that weren’t working. For what ever reason he liked the idea of this and he came on board. I think he was very important to the success of the film.”

As for David Warner, "The script for Time Bandits arrived at my agent's office," the actor recalled, "with an offer to play the role of the Evil Genius, and I read the script. There was something that I couldn't particularly visualize in my mind, but I knew from Terry's work on the television with the Pythons and his reputation that he was going to do something fantastic visually with this piece. As far as I was concerned, as the Evil Genius, it gave me the opportunity to not only play the Evil Genius, but playing comedy, which is something I have played before but not many people knew or know me for comedy. So I was able to have a bit of villainy, but that wonderful delicious kind of absurd villainy."

"I love the fact that Evil has surrounded himself with such stupid people, such incompetence," noted Gilliam. "And yet, he's insistent that he's the most powerful creature in the universe, but it's clear to everybody that he's a disaster." I will note that Gilliam has acknowledged Evil's headdress was inspired by HR Giger's designs for Alien.

"Apart from the fact that David really made the character his own," Palin added, "what we provided, and I think the idea behind the character, was a sort of love of modern technology – which he didn't quite understand, but he loved all the potential of it. The theme of technology not working goes throughout the film, like at the very beginning it's about gadgets you can have in the home and they're always watching television. It's sort of a version of a flawed modern world where technology will take over. And I think what both Terry and I feel about technology is that there are wonderful things it can achieve, but it does tend to depersonalize people if you're not very careful. The more we rely on machines, the less we have to talk to each other, the less we have to try to understand each other, the less we have to put up with people whose views are very different from our own. So you get this sort of technical blandness to the whole thing, which we were playing on with some of the characters in this film, especially the parents, and in some ways with the Evil Genius."

Now as for the Bandits themselves, "It was interesting casting the Time Bandits because there's only a limited number of people who can play characters who are four feet high," explained Gilliam. "We were really lucky to have a great collection. David Rappaport had been with several different wonderful comedy groups. Ken Campbell is a wild man in England and I remember first seeing David with him. David used to be a teacher actually, very bright. The others like Kenny Baker was R2D2. He's been stuck in a tin can for most of his career. Actually, Malcolm [Dixon], Michael [Mike Edmonds], and Jack Purvis again, all ended up being Ewoks and Wombles. They get stuck inside furry costumes and nobody ever gets to see who they are. They're never real people. Again for me, it was really interesting... to take these guys who are not normally allowed to be heroes like Sylvester Stallone or Bruce Willis, and allow them to be heroes, and to treat them [as such]. And to never to really comment on their size. They just happen to be smaller heroes than normal.

"Tiny, who plays Vermin,was actually part of the Harmonica Gang here. There had been harmonica shows in the 40's and 50's, both in America and England, where they would have like six guys playing harmonicas and there would always be the little guy at the end. And Tiny was that man in the English harmonica gang.

"During the course of making the film, there was a bit of a division between the rest of the gang and David Rappaport. David felt he got the job because he was a great actor, not because he was a great four foot actor. There's a subtle difference there. And he always kept himself separate from the rest of them. So there was a certain antagonism building up within the group, which was very good because it was really what the characters were about. So we wrote this scene [about 2/3rd's in] which gave the gang a chance to attack David, and he had to fight back. It's an ugly scene, and I really liked it because they came alive. All the frustrations they'd felt in the making of it came out in this scene.

"I wanted to make them as violent as possible," Gilliam continued. "They're awful people. We didn't want anybody to be cute and cuddly and lovable in this film. They're greedy little bastards, and that's the way we played them. I love the fighting within the group all the time, especially between Strutter and Randall. Randall's a know-it-all, but Strutter is clearly the guy who knows better but doesn't have whatever it is, the ruthlessness, to lead. The character that actually came out best was Wally (Jack Purvis), who became a very strong character.

"It was actually dangerous because these guys are not stuntmen. You get very nervous. On a regular film, you can stunt double people, but there aren't stunt doubles for guys this size. So they were like precious beyond belief, because they had to do their own stunts, and we couldn't afford to let them get hurt. We were always on edge about that. Most of the guys can't swim, and they're out there and it's miserable, and they were genuinely frightened, but they did it. And that's why I was so bowled over by these guys, because whatever it took they would do it, despite the fact they were endangering themselves."

But in the ensuing years, Gilliam said, "What's sad is Tiny died eventually.... Jack Purvis was in a terrible accident. He was parking his car, the car backed up, and he got caught between the car and the wall and broke his neck. Mike, Malcolm and Kenny are still alive and kicking and well. David committed suicide in Hollywood [in 1990], which is a terribly sad thing because he was having, by any standards, a good and successful career, but Hollywood has this thing that whatever you do, it's not good enough, there's always more. David was incredibly intelligent, and I think it's difficult when you're really intelligent out there and somehow feel you're compromising, you're cheating, whatever it is going on, and he killed himself."

Finally, there's Sir Ralph Richardson, one of England's greatest actors, who plays God. "Getting him to be in the film was an interesting thing because he interviews his directors," Gilliam recalled. "He tests them. I had to go to his house on a Sunday morning.... We sit down and start talking about the film and he makes it hard work for you. He makes it harder work because he was plying me with gin 'n' tonic. This is on a Sunday morning, and I don't drink much anyway, and he's pouring alcohol down me. And I realize this is a test. He's going to try and get me drunk and see what happens. And I've got to keep speaking intelligently through the whole course of this thing.... At each point I had to match him, had to keep up with him while I'm downing my gins. And this is hard, hard work."

"I remember the day Ralph Richardson came in to play God," added Palin, "it was like having God on the set because this great man is one of most revered English actors. So any ideas Sir Ralph Richardson came up with, we were sort of forced to discuss it. And considerably, he had a lot of ideas, like 'I think this post box should be over here, dear boy.' And so we're going, 'Oh yes, yes. Sir Ralph.' So the scene is very much the way Sir Ralph wanted it. I realized the price you pay to have great performances like that is that you do have to sacrifice the script as it is in many ways... you have to let them invent and create things."

A little bit of trivia here, as mentioned above in regards to Evil's headdress being inspired by Alien, the Giant wearing the boat was also inspired from another source - artist Brian Froud. "There's a book he did once on pixie or giants, and there's a character in there in the water with a boat on his head, and I stole it from him. And it's as sinful as that, folks," Gilliam admitted. Also, the shot of the Titanic sinking, "It actually is the footage from Night to Remember that had been colorized for Raise the Titanic [Gilliam mistakingly referred to it as "Sink" the Titanic], and then we got it from them and we slowed it down further. So it had been colorized and slowed down," Gilliam said. And finally, Evil's lair was inspired from 17th-century Italian artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi.

Now there were some changes made to the film along the way, due to editing, or budget and/or time constraints. For example, there was a sequence involving some "spider women" who entrap Kevin and the Bandits. "We actually filmed this," noted Gilliam, "and it was marvelous. But it now required a scene on either side to get us from the giant to the fortress, and we had run out of money. So we needed a very cheap way of getting from point A to Point B. An invisible barrier is pretty cheap, so we shot that." The invisible barrier bit remained, but the spider women were cut.

"And then we got to the end of the film," Gilliam explained, "and we didn't really have a good ending. I [then] remembered my first conversation with Sean and he said, wouldn't it be great if at the end he played the fireman? And I remembered that he just happened to be in London because he was in tax exile then, he had one day [when] he was on his way to see his accountant and I said, 'Stop by the studio.' And he stopped by the studio, I put him in a fireman's outfit, did two shots — one where he puts the boy down, winks, and then he climbs in the cab, shuts the door, winks. That was it. I didn't write the scene until a month later, it was shot with doubles, that whole end sequence, and it works!"

With the film completed, the next hurdle was dealing with the marketing and distribution folks, who historically are not visionaries.

"We were about to distribute it and we're doing the trailer, and the marketing guys said, 'You can't show these little guys,'" Gilliam recalled. "And I said, 'What do you mean you can't show 'em? They're the film. It's their film.' They said, 'No. People don't want to see them. They don't want to go movies and see little guys.' Because what had happened was there was a film called Under the Rainbow, about the making of Wizard of Oz with Chevy Chase playing the lead and it was full of little guys, obviously. And the film was a disaster. But who gets the blame? Not the film. Not Chevy Chase. It's the little guys who get the blame and they decide the public doesn't want to see this. And it was a nonstop battle to get through this nonsense."

The ending of the film, however, was the biggest battle Gilliam faced with the suits. “The idea of a children’s film where the parents blew up was not possible. We had a screening in Fresno, California," Gilliam said. But near the end of the film the projector screwed up and people were quite pissed by the time they left the theater. So, "On the questionnaire, there were all these questions. One of the questions was ‘What was your favorite part of the film?’ and one of the answers was ‘The end.’ I took the cards home, because it’s very nice to read them because you see the handwriting. You can see the anger, you can see the joy of the person writing this stuff. It was clear that because of this terrible sound system and so many people leaving that the part they liked best about the film was the end. It was over is what they meant. But when you looked at the statistics the next day, the part of the film that was most loved about the film was the end because of the parents blowing up! So I won and got the parents blowing up!

"This is very important at the end of the film when [the parents] find the piece of burnt Evil in there," he continued elsewhere, "because parents have to listen to their children, and they don't. And so they die – which is only right in a children's film. That's the part children liked and that's what the parents were frightened of. I remember at an early screening of the film, and this is a turning point, when we came out afterwards, we asked the kids what did they think. The first little kid came out and we asked, 'What's your favorite part of the film?' And he said, 'Oh, when the parents get blown up.' And that was rather crucial. What was interesting was that little boys seemed like that and little girls had a problem. They said, 'Who's going to look after him?' But little boys knew they didn't need looking after."

"The film opened and I didn't think it was going to do much," he continued. "It ended up being number one for five or six weeks. It is still the most financially successful film I’ve done in America. What it did do was give me enough credibility so we could make Brazil, so it's a very important film in my life.”

"I find it interesting how both kids and adults like this film," Gilliam noted, "because on the one hand there are very smart ideas in it that adults can go with, and kids like it just because it's what it is. In a strange way, it's a chance to become a kid again without all the mawkish sentimental crap that normally comes with kids films. Hopefully, I'm never speaking down to anybody. When we made it, I remember I said, 'We're making a film that's intelligent enough for children, and exciting enough for adults.' I thought that was going to be the line on the posters, actually."

Other last few decades, there's been a running thread of talk about a sequel or reboot or whatever. Let's just hope they don't.

The last thing I want to bring up is perhaps the great question of the movie - did this adventure really happen in the film or was it all in Kevin's imagination? "To be in his bedroom is the whole film basically," Gilliam has said. "It's all there. So we planned it accordingly, and luckily got most of it there. I'm always curious how many [people] spot how much is there – the chessboard that's angled up just like in the fortress of ultimate darkness. All those things, they're there."

"When I watched it again recently," said actor Craig Warnock, "I saw something else which I've never seen before [in Kevin's bedroom] which was the theater, which becomes Napoleon's theater. And for me, to see something new is quite astounding. And all the toys on the floor, the checkered chessboard set, and the knights and the cowboys on the floor. It's quite brilliant as it all ties in, in the end."

So is it just a fantasy... or not? You get to decide.


"I was a patron saint," Terry Gilliam said of the reaction he has received from the little people community to Time Bandits. "I was canonized I think. It's been very strange. It's very interesting because I've been a lot of places and all the little people all used to come up to me and say, 'Thank you for treating us like human beings.' That's part of the thing I wanted to do. I was so tired of seeing these guys in Womble costumes, stupid costumes, or tin cans like R2D2. And I thought, here is a chance to let them be heroes."

Dwarfism, according to the US National Library of Medicine, "is a person of short stature - under 4' 10" as an adult. More than 200 different conditions can cause dwarfism. A single type, called achondroplasia, causes about 70 percent of all dwarfism. Achondroplasia is a genetic condition that affects about 1 in 15,000 to 1 in 40,000 people. It makes your arms and legs short in comparison to your head and trunk. Other genetic conditions, kidney disease and problems with metabolism or hormones can also cause short stature."

And just to be clear, the term "midget," is today considered to be offensive. It was a term popularized by PT Barnum and others who similarly displayed dwarfs for public amusement in the 19th and 20th centuries - and so has a very negative connotation to it. Worse than being displayed, however, were the Nazis, who were particularly fond of performing medical experiments on dwarfs during WWII.

Little People have apparently been with us from the early days of humankind. "Long before any writing appeared about dwarfs, they could be found in artwork created in every culture and in every time period," wrote Betty Adelson, in her book, The Lives of Dwarfs: Their Journey from Public Curiosity Toward Social Liberation. "Images of dwarfs were plentiful in the ancient world, in the stone carvings and sculptures of Egypt, the vases of Greece, and the stone reliefs of India. They were a prominent subject in the art of the Mayas and were models for rare bronzes in Benin. Dwarfs are portrayed in ancient Chinese ceramics and in Japanese prints, as well as in the folk art of garden sculptures, which began to appear in sixteenth-century Europe and have persisted into our own times."

For example, according to Dr. Chahira Kozma, of the department of pediatrics at Georgetown University, "Dwarfs were accepted in ancient Egypt; their recorded daily activities suggest assimilation into daily life, and their disorder was never shown as a physical handicap." There were even two Egyptian gods who were dwarfs - Bes and Ptah.

In film, dwarfs were often employed in the silent era as doubles for infants and children. In 1938, a Western/Musical featuring all little people cast, The Terror of Tiny Town, was produced. It is still considered to be one of the worst films ever made, and won the Golden Turkey Award for "Worst Cinematic Exploitation of a Physical Deformity." It would be hard to dispute that the most famous movie featuring dwarfs is The Wizard of Oz.

In 1984, documentary filmmaker Jan Krawitz made a highly-acclaimed film about little people, called Little People. Twenty years later, she returned to the subject with another film, Big Enough. Below is the opening of Little People.


Okay. How did we get to this menu? It's all related to the various locations in the film. I'll talk ya through it.....

First off, we've got the appetizer. When the Time Bandits are captured by the fishing net of the Ogre (Peter Vaughan), he's kvetching to his wife (the lovely Katherine Helmond): "There used to be a time when you could be sure of catchin' old boots, cans, hatracks, boxes. Now it's prawns all the bloody time!" And so we have prawns. I thought I'd give a little twist with the ginger ale in the batter and it came out quite nice. Actually, I thought I'd read something about both ogres and ginger ale/beer coming from the same part of Scotland, but that turned out to be lies. So say la vee.

Next up we had the delicious asparagus salad which was one of the dishes served in first class on the Titanic. The recipe came from Last Dinner On the Titanic: Menus and Recipes from the Great Liner, by by Rick Archbold and Dana McCauley.

For the main course we have the Petto d' Anatra Arrosto con Mostarda di agrumi (Italian Roast Duck w/Citrus-Mustard Preserves). So, this connects to the Napoleon sequence. Why? Here goes.... Where and when the Time Bandits meet up with Napoleon is in Italy at the Battle of Castiglione. This Italian dish comes from the North of Italy, so it would have beens something eaten around Castiglione. And when the Time Bandits first land there, they do so on amongst some ducks. Now later, when they have dinner with Napoleon, I couldn't tell what they were eating, so that was no help, but I had the ducks to work with.

Now according to Bon Appetit magazine, "Canard à l'orange, with its sauce bigarade, named after the bitter oranges it uses, is thought to have been first cooked up by the Florentines as l'anatra all'arancia and brought to the French court by Catherine de' Medici." So we have this French/Italian dish with the ducks.

Finally, the sequence with Agamemnon has a party where roasted pigs are cut open and a cornucopia of fresh fruits fall out. So I put together a fruit salad of fruits you'd find in Ancient Greece.

You'll have plenty left over of the mostarda, so I'll tell you it goes great with lots of things - fish, chicken, pork. You could also stir fry vegetables (like carrots) with a little mostarda. Heck, you could put some on your buttered toast and you'd be very happy.

And now we're done. As always.... cook, eat, watch, and enjoy!

Petto d'Anatra Arrosto con Mostarda di agrumi (Italian Roast Duck with Citrus-Mustard Preserves)
adapted from recipes at La Cucina Italiana magazine, April 2009
Click Here for Printer-Friendly Version

Serves 4

For Citrus Mostarda:
(makes about 3 cups)

4 small navel oranges (if using large navels use 2)
3 lemons
1 1/2 cups honey (preferably Acacia honey)
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 fresh rosemary sprigs (about 4-5 inches long)
2 tablespoons dry mustard
2 tablespoons dry white wine

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

Fill a 2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan with 4 cups water; bring water to boil.

Meanwhile, cut and discard 1/2-inch from the tops and bottoms off of the oranges, then score once, cutting down only into the peel and not into the fruit. Peel the skin and pith of the orange in one (or more) large pieces (use fruit to make some juice to have while you're cooking). Cut the peel into matchstick-sized strips about 1/4-inch wide. Repeat with the lemons (NOTE: Reserve 1 tablespoon of juice for recipe).

Add citrus peels to water and return to boil and cook for 1 minute. Drain peels and run under cold water to cool. Pat dry with paper towels.

Next, combine honey and 1/2 cup cold water in a large saucepan; bring mixture to boil over medium-high heat. Add peels, reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 25 minutes. Remove mixture from heat and let rest for 10 minutes. Return mixture to simmer and cook until peels are semi-translucent and honey syrup is reduced to about 1/2 cup, about 25 minutes more.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, combine sugar, 1 cup cold water and lemon juice; bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is clear and slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add rosemary sprigs; let syrup cool for 10 minutes, then remove and discard sprigs.

Set a fine-mesh sieve over the sugar water saucepan, drain peels, letting honey syrup in with sugar water. Transfer peels to prepared baking sheet and cool to room temperature. Stir together the liquids to combine evenly.

In a small saucepan, whisk together mustard and wine. Set over medium-high heat and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture is thick and smooth, about 3 minutes. Add mustard mixture to syrup mixture and whisk well to combine.

Transfer peels to a heatproof mason quart-sized glass jar with a lid. Pour syrup over peels, seal jar and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to 10 days.

For the Duck:

1 1/2 pounds boneless duck breasts (with skin)
salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Score duck in a crosshatch pattern with a small sharp knife; season with salt and pepper.

Heat butter in a cast-iron skillet and cook over low heat until melted. Place duck, skin-side down, into skillet and cook until fat is rendered and skin is golden and crispy, about 40 minutes.

When almost done, preheat oven to 375ºF.

Strain fat from pan; flip duck, transfer to oven and cook for 5 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes, then thinly slice. Serve with mostarda, a nice creamy polenta, and some sauteed greens.

Official Terry Gilliam Website
Dreams: The Terry Gilliam Fanzine
The Terry Gilliam Files @ Wide Angle/Closeup
Michael Palin's Travel Website
Gilliam & Palin on Time Bandits @ YouTube
Time Bandits: 25 Years Later, by Rick Drees
The Recreation of the Map from Time Bandits @ Metropolis Graphics
Little People of America Website

Time Bandits DVD/Blu-Ray/Streaming
Time Bandits, the Movie Script
Time Bandits Comic Book
Buy a Time Bandits Map @ Etsy

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