Terry Gilliam Tries to Revive Dark 'Tideland' Terry Gilliam's Tideland was panned by film critics and audiences alike when it was released in 2005. But he hopes the disturbing tale of a girl, whose parents are drug addicts, finds an audience on DVD.
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Terry Gilliam Tries to Revive Dark 'Tideland'

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Terry Gilliam Tries to Revive Dark 'Tideland'

Terry Gilliam Tries to Revive Dark 'Tideland'

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The filmmaker Terry Gilliam found it necessary to begin his latest movie with a disclaimer.

Mr. TERRY GILLIAM (Director, "Tideland"): Hello. I'm Terry Gilliam. And I have a confession to make. Many of you are not going to like this film.

INSKEEP: Gilliam was urging people not to walk out on his movie "Tideland," an appeal that not everybody followed. In the movie, Jeff Bridges plays a father who trains his own daughter to measure out his doses of heroin.

(Soundbite from movie, "Tideland)

Mr. JEFF BRIDGES (Actor): (As Noah) Now, you don't go shortchanging Daddy, will you, sweetheart?

Ms. JODELLE FERLAND (Actress): (As Jeliza-Rose) I won't. Don't you worry.

Mr. BRIDGES: (As Noah) Long time for Daddy's vacation.

Ms. FERLAND: (As Jeliza-Rose) Not too long this time, Daddy?

Mr. BRIDGES: (As Noah) Oh no. Just a little vacation.

INSKEEP: "Tideland" comes from the former Monty Python troupe member and creator of such successful films as "The Fisher King" and "Brazil." But of his latest film, the New York Times reviewer said Gilliam stumbled into a no man's land, the one between the merely bad and the completely indefensible.

Let's be frank here, sometimes you have that blockbuster hit movie that's very badly reviewed, sometimes you have the well-reviewed movie that does poorly at the box office. You managed to do a movie that was poorly reviewed and did poorly at the box office.

Mr. GILLIAM: Excellent. That's consistency. That's what we're looking for.

INSKEEP: This is a movie that makes you squirm, that makes you wonder why you don't walk out. And yet you feel another impulse: to protect the little girl played by Jodelle Ferland, who's only 12 years old, wandering through the fields, playing in the wreck of a school bus. The drug addict's daughter owns decapitated dolls whose heads become her imaginary friends.

(Soundbite from movie, "Tideland")

Ms. FERLAND: (As Jeliza-Rose) Dear little ones, sleep, and dream, dream, like (unintelligible).

INSKEEP: Starting today, the movie gets a second chance as it comes out on DVD, and Gilliam gets a second chance to explain why he thinks this story matters.

Mr. GILLIAM: It was a book. Mitch Cullin, who wrote this book, sent this to me and it was sitting there. In fact, it turned out he only wanted a quote for the cover, but I got excited about it and thought it would make a wonderful movie. Because it seemed to be a very different view of a child's imagination and how a child deals with whatever life throws at him or her.

INSKEEP: Did he at that point say, wait a minute. I just wanted a blurb. There's no way you'll ever make this into a film.

Mr. GILLIAM: There was that kind of feeling. Exactly.

INSKEEP: Yet something compelled Terry Gilliam to film the story of Jeliza-Rose trying to reach her increasingly catatonic father.

(Soundbite from movie, "Tideland")

Ms. FERLAND: (As Jeliza-Rose) This is radio Jeliza-Rose. You receive me? Over. This is radio Jeliza-Rose. Am I coming on clear? Over.

INSKEEP: It wasn't easy for Gilliam to get his message to skeptical film investors.

Mr. GILLIAM: Money is usually in the hands of men in suits. And I began to feel this subject matter needed women with money, at least I thought they would understand it. And that's in fact what indeed happened.

INSKEEP: Why did you think female investors would understand this more?

Mr. GILLIAM: Because they're girls. They're women. They've been through what a little girl's been through, and they've dreamed and played like little girls.

INSKEEP: I'm just imagining you in some executive's office trying to make this pitch. Well, there's this girl and her father's a heroin addict and she prepares the needles. Dead people around the house, eventually. You don't want to give away too much. But she retreats into her fantasy world.

Mr. GILLIAM: Yeah. I mean...

INSKEEP: Is that the pitch?

Mr. GILLIAM: I keep saying, though, it's a cross between "Alice in Wonderland" and "Psycho." It's really - it's about people in search for love. It's about relationships. It also is about, you know, drugs, sex and necrophilia. What more would you want in a movie?

INSKEEP: What is it that keeps you making that pitch to more and more people after the first several say there's no way I'm going to put money into this?

Mr. GILLIAM: Because I think it was genuinely a good story to tell. The fact is a lot of the public won't like it. But I'm actually interested in the part of the public that will.

INSKEEP: So you've attended a bunch of screenings of this film?

Mr. GILLIAM: Endless screenings.

INSKEEP: What are the points at which people walk out?

Mr. GILLIAM: It depends on the audience. Here's an interesting one. We were at San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain. They started walking out very soon. The idea of a little girl preparing heroin for her father was shocking. Nevertheless, we won the critics prize there. So it's about the audience.

INSKEEP: So one point is where you initially see this girl preparing heroin for her father.


INSKEEP: I'm imagining there's maybe another cohort of people that might walk out when the girl is sitting on a dead man's lap?

Mr. GILLIAM: Yeah. They don't understand love. They don't understand the love of a parent - a child for her parent. These are - when I did this, there's no question that I'm being provocative. Because normally children on films are sweet little things. They're awfully clever. Most of them talk like, you know, a 20-year-old. Or when something goes wrong, they weep and sob, and they're so sentimental.

The reality is, I think, children are much more resilient than that. In the instance of this little girl, her parents are both drug addicts. So here's a little girl who's dealing with her parent's needs. She's almost the adult in the family.

I don't like drugs. But I'm not - don't want to deal with them in a kind of hysterical close your mind, don't think or talk about them way that so many people want to deal with drugs.

INSKEEP: You have in this film, as you said, a little girl whose parents are heroin addicts. And the film was panned by many critics and not well seen. Another film, "Little Miss Sunshine," which has also a little girl and an older drug addict who's looking after her, and it was raved about. What do you think the difference is between those two movies?

Mr. GILLIAM: Theirs is very cute.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GILLIAM: Theirs is very entertaining, you know. But it's all done in a pretty jolly way. You're not - I don't think you get involved in them. They certainly don't stick with you. They certainly don't stick with me. I think the one thing I can say about "Tideland" is that people who allow it to take them over and think about the images, the ideas, don't go away.

INSKEEP: Let's be brutal about this.

Mr. GILLIAM: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Will it be a little harder for you to make the next movie because of the way this one first was (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: I'm sorry to laugh. But...

Mr. GILLIAM: No, they'll be all right. I have to every few years make a successful movie. That allows me to make the next ones. The reality is, the simple reality is, it depends who I - what actors I get to be in my next movie. That's how I'll get the money. Not on me, on my reputation, good or bad. It will be the actors.

INSKEEP: Terry Gilliam's latest film is called "Tideland." It's out on DVD. You've heard him on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

At npr.org, you can see clips from the movie, plus Terry Gilliam's disclaimer that begins "Tideland."

(Soundbite from movie, "Tideland")

Mr. GILLIAM: I was 64 years old when I made this film. I think I finally discovered the child within me. It turned out to be a little girl. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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