I did promise myself I’d spend more time sticking stuff here, and as we’re halfway through September, I haven’t forgotten. My biggest problem right now is time, and managing it effectively so that everything gets done in something approximating a realistic order. However, I’m finding that if I shove all the exercise into the start of the day? So much more productivity is being fostered as time goes on. All I have to do now is build up enough stamina to stay awake past 9pm and I’m golden.
However, that’s not why I’m here today.
I’d like to talk to you about ducts.
I’m in the process of writing Letters to My Heroes in the next couple of months, and in the list that was compiled one notable name was omitted: Terry Gilliam. I’m not quite old enough to remember Python on TV the first time around, and it was via Ripping Yarns that I first got to understand Michael Palin’s brilliance. I find the other members of the team funny, the movies clever, but there was never a real connection. That is until Gilliam produced Brazil in 1995: a hugely relevant piece of dystopian science fiction, and probably one of the most seminal influences on my journey to becoming a writer. So significant was this movie that I produced my own tribute that was subsequently entered for a BBC Radio Drama contest: if memory serves it was called ‘Wandsworth’ and I am utterly sure it was unmitigatedly awful. What this did do however was open a fairly closed mind to the understanding that ‘the future’ owed an enormous amount to what had come before, and that ‘the past’ often wasn’t the great and glorious place many of my elders made it out to be.
If I’m going to produce an accurate personal history of my influences and beginnings, I can’t escape the last ten minutes of the film, however hard I try. I know there’s probably no problem spoiling plot this long after release, but I can’t in good conscience give the ending away, even after all this time, because this was the first time I grasped how seductive cinema can be at spinning disbelief, if you allow the pictures into your subconscious. I can still remember the walk back to Liverpool Street, across bridges that no longer exist: the sense of utter desolation I felt at having happiness snatched from my mind. If that were possible with pictures, could the same be true with words? I owe Gilliam a great debt of thanks for that movie and so many others, and returning to New York in the summer bought another moment where he guided development back into my head.
The Fisher King embraces a lot of spots deep inside that I was, for a long time, uncomfortable talking about. Mental illness has always been a touchy subject to address, but with the benefit of time and awareness I understand now that the movie helped more with understanding the intractable nature of action and consequence. With two of my favourite actors in the lead roles, this was also the movie that finally tipped me totally in love with New York, after Ghostbusters. Discovering a key location by accident therefore whilst wandering NY in the rain could almost be prophetic, were my mind feeling that way inclined. It reminded that history is a part of process, and even if you are uncomfortable embracing parts of your past, it should not preclude the moments with real influence, especially as I learn to become a better writer.
One day, when finances will support, I’m having this neon sign made and hung in my office. As I neither possess funds or indeed have a space to hang it, the dream remains just that, but without this film I wouldn’t be here, and my imagination would not have evolved nearly as fertile. For that alone, Gilliam gets a nod on the Heroes List.
I hope one day I might meet him and tell him this in person.