Finally got around to watching The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009), the latest flight-of-fantasy from Terry Gilliam… which features no less than three ex-St Trinian’s girls! First up was the divinely beautiful Lily Cole, playing ‘Valentina’, daughter of the eponymous doctor and subject of a wager between him and The Devil, which puts her innocent soul at stake! As Gilliam notes in his introduction at the London premiere, “she’s tall… she has bumps where you want bumps… [and] hair the colour of fire!”… but she also has the modesty to admit her inexperience as an actress in the accompanying “making of” featurette, so fair play to her. She certainly had some great coaches around her on that set! Next up came Paloma Faith as ‘Sally’, a random punter who gets (literally) dragged into the Imaginarium, and ends up being spat out the other side into a pile of rubbish! Harsh. Still, she does all right for herself in the end… and while Faith may not get many lines, she still manages to steal every scene she’s in with that impish grin of hers. Gilliam speaks very highly of her on the commentary… and even gives her album a plug at the premiere! Bless him. Finally, there was Montserrat Lombard playing the not-at-all-pivotal role of ‘Sally’s Friend’. Basically all she had to do was giggle and scream… but she did both with total conviction, so what more can you ask? Incidentally, Lombard’s GothWatch entry has swiftly become the most popular page on this site, bringing in an average of five hits a day!
Meanwhile, I also have to give a nod to Andrew Garfield, who does some fine work as the doctor’s hype-man, ‘Anton’, and easily holds his own against the A-list stars… although I doubt he had to strain his acting muscles too hard to pretend to be besotted with Cole! Weirdly, Gilliam claims on the commentary that Garfield hadn’t “done comedy” before this film… but a lot of his scenes in Sugar Rush were pretty comical… right?
As for the film itself, I’m still not quite sure what to make of it… Gilliam is very upfront about wanting to confound mainstream audiences and buck accepted storytelling conventions, so it’s a hard one to critique really. I definitely enjoyed watching it, and it stuck with me long after the credits had rolled… so in that sense, it was clearly a success. I think it probably would have had more emotional resonance if Heath Ledger had been able to play his character the whole way through… but obviously circumstances beyond the filmmakers’ control meant that a series of substitutes had to be brought in to fill his shoes. It works well enough as a conceit, and they were incredibly fortunate that the story was structured in such a way that the switcheroo was even possible at all… but I can’t help feeling it saps a lot of the punch from the later scenes, where ‘Tony’ devolves completely. So it goes.