In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Terry Gilliam

  • Introduction
  • Gilliam’s Writings
  • Essay-Length Overviews
  • Book-Length Studies
  • Films about Terry Gilliam

Cinema and Media Studies Terry Gilliam
Hilary Donatini
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 August 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0342


With a directorial career spanning over forty years, Terry Gilliam (b. 1940) remains rooted in the sensibilities of his early work in animation. Born in Minnesota and raised in the Los Angeles area, Gilliam, sometimes classified as a British filmmaker, has lived in England since the 1960s, renouncing his US citizenship in 2006. As the resident animator of Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969–1974), Gilliam created surreal and absurd vignettes from cutout images that complemented the live sketches. After partnering with fellow Python Terry Jones in directing Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Gilliam struck off on his own with Jabberwocky (1977). Many films followed in which one or more members of Monty Python appeared as actors under his direction. Though Gilliam’s works ostensibly cover diverse subjects—bureaucracy, virus outbreaks, and the gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, to name only a few—all engage with questions of the power and problems of the imagination in the face of an often-grim or oppressive reality. The overall look of a Gilliam film is unmistakable as well, with off-kilter shots meant to disorient the viewer and crowded mises-en-scène. His use of wide-angle lenses is so extensive that the 14-millimeter lens has been nicknamed “the Gilliam.” Deeply involved not only in camerawork but in many other aspects of production such as costuming, set design, and scriptwriting, Gilliam would seem to fit the definition of an auteur. However, in numerous interviews, Gilliam resists that label, stressing his collaborative approach and openness to suggestions. Indeed, the process of making and distributing his films has sometimes garnered as much, if not more, attention than the films themselves. Brazil (1985), The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), The Brothers Grimm (2005), and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2014) all faced disruptions and setbacks of various kinds. No production was bedeviled so long and in so many ways as The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2018), taking nearly thirty years to reach the screen. Frequently identifying with the main characters of his films in progress, Gilliam perhaps most resembles Don Quixote in his unstinting commitment to his vision, whether commercially successful or not, whether brilliant or baffling to critics or audiences.

Gilliam’s Writings

Cleese, et al. 2002; Gilliam, et al. 2001; Gilliam and Grisoni 1997; and McKeown and Gilliam 1988 are all published screenplays including Gilliam’s contributions. Gilliam and Thompson 2015 is the sole memoir, and Gilliam and Cole 1978 is the only work devoted to animation technique.

  • Cleese, John, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. Monty Python and the Holy Grail: Screenplay. London: Methuen, 2002.

    Black-and-white film stills appear throughout the text.

  • Gilliam, Terry, Charles Alverson, and Bob McCabe. Brazil: The Evolution of the 54th Best British Film Ever Made. London: Orion Media, 2001.

    This volume contains the “First-Draft Screenplay” of Brazil, which Gilliam wrote with former Help! assistant editor Charles Alverson, as well as the original five-page treatment of the film created by these often-antagonistic collaborators. McCabe’s highly entertaining introductory essay, which draws heavily on witty and combative conversations with Alverson and Gilliam, is an important part of the story of Brazil’s early development.

  • Gilliam, Terry, and Lucinda Cole. Animations of Mortality. London: Eyre Methuen, 1978.

    This early work serves as an instructional and entertaining guide to Gilliam’s cutout animation technique.

  • Gilliam, Terry, and Tony Grisoni. Not the Screenplay to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. New York: Applause, 1997.

    The unusual title of this volume derives from Gilliam and Grisoni’s acrimonious dispute with the Writers Guild of America over the writing credits for Fear and Loathing, since the organization ruled that the writers of a previous incarnation of the script be listed in the finished film. In addition to brief introductions by Gilliam and Grisoni outlining this context, this volume includes Gilliam’s complete storyboard drawings and two pages of black-and-white film stills.

  • Gilliam, Terry, and Ben Thompson. Gilliamesque: A Pre-posthumous Memoir; TG’s Bio(degradable) Autography; A Singular Person’s First First Person Singular Palin-dromic Biograph; My Me, Me, Me Memoir. New York: Harper Design, 2015.

    Bursting with images from Gilliam’s life and career and written with characteristic irreverence, this brash and exuberant memoir proceeds chronologically, turning to Gilliam’s directorial work at around the midway point.

  • McKeown, Charles, and Terry Gilliam. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen: The Screenplay. New York: Applause, 1988.

    Numerous black-and-white film stills appear throughout the text.

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