Writing autobiography can be a perilous activity. The decision to write one in itself may be seen as a narcissistic proclamation of self-assured success, explicitly showing an awareness that people want to pay money to read about your life.
Terry Gilliam is in no way ignorant of this; instead, he embraces the bizarre concept, ridiculing the notion itself. His book, Gilliamesque, is subtitled a ‘Pre-posthumous memoir’, playing with the concept of autobiography with humorous light-heartedness. The printed ‘ME’ around the edges of the pages emphasises his self-awareness and humour, setting a precedent for the rest of the book. This enables him to talk from a paternal viewpoint, advising the reader in a way that autobiographers can not resist. This often feels patronising; however, they take the form of scattered didactic witticisms, adding to the charming ebullience of the book.
This memoir is worth reading for its artwork alone. Its psychedelic and surreal design is reminiscent of the obscure scenes present in ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ and presents the fantastical nature of Gilliam’s work. The carefully considered design of the book thus becomes as revealing about the author as the personal details of his life: indeed, an extension of his many colourful masterpieces. His design may seem incongruous with the information presented about his life. However, some readers may be disappointed to find that, despite the flamboyance of his works, Gilliam is a rather ‘ordinary’ character: a reassuring reminder that some of the best creative minds are also real people. The intimacy of the memoir creates a sense of privilege; by including impressively detailed fragmented memories from his early youth, Gilliam creates a comforting sense of familiarity.
As well as offering much detail about his personal life and a unique insight into his work, Gilliam also successfully includes contextual details about growing up in America throughout the late twentieth century. There is discussion of a range of topics, from the arms race to the rise of advertising, all told from Gilliam’s unique perspective. By providing details about such a broad span of topics, Gilliam is able to transcend the the conventions of autobiography. Indeed, this entertaining read is much more than a reflection on his life.
Image: Flickr/Paul Townsend