Monday, February 23, 2009

Barren Munchausen??

Well, I’ve finally finished The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen which I began here. And what’s most surprising? That the wild escapades are nowhere near as outlandish as they have been made out to be over the years. Oh sure, the Colossus of Rhodes comes to life, a horse gallops to drink and cannot quench its thirst because its entire half a body is gone and the Baron can take out a bear while fighting with several other men… but nothing as wacky and utterly fantastical as other tales have made him out to be!

Then again, I had been reading the “first incarnation” of the Baron by Raspe. Certainly there has been quite a lot of time to embellish and add upon the stories over the decades. And thankfully, storytellers have. But I’d been (excuse me) surprised by certain things not being originally part of the scenes. Such as the now iconic plight of the Baron riding a cannonball. It’s not just in Terry Gilliam’s movie, but can be seen in the old German motion picture as well. Where did it come from? Obviously one of the embellishers in the tradition of the Baron’s mode of relating his adventures. But as for who added it or what version it first appeared in… well, the internet is way too thick with information on the Gilliam movie and such to wade through. (I’ve tried.) And I’ve too much on my plate to trek to the library. So, I will just have to be content knowing that there are many people who contributed to the creation of a narrative giant.

It is thusly difficult to say how much of Terry Gilliam’s wonderful epic came from his own imagination or other sources of the Baron. Oh sure…there are similarities of elements - Raspe has plenty of hot air balloons, Vulcan’s pit, a giant fish and impossible feats…but none of it is to the degree or magnitude of the film. And I don’t mean that it can just be chalked up to making it more sensational for the movie. In general, despite the incorporated elements, there is little to do with the first written Baron. For instance, I had been looking forward to knowing more about Munchausen’s servants: Adolphus, Berthold, Gustavus and Albrecht. They do not exist. I have not been able to discern whether or not Terry Gilliam and Charles McKeown created them or not. Perhaps the servants were merely for the “gather the old friends” device to thread the adventures together. Either way, they are marvelous and ingenious. I honestly believe the additions (including the troupe of actors staging his adventures) to be nothing short of brilliant. Bravo!

I watched the featurette/documentary on the DVD, hoping for some explanation as to the Baron's adventures…and all I learned had been that Gilliam began his fascination with the Dore drawings for the Raspe stories. Okay, I also found out that the Moon sequence had been intended to be more like Rapse's. Much more like it. But due to the constraints and misfortune during the production, it had to be revamped entirely. As for the rest of it, I’d imagine he and McKeown ransacked other adventures as well. But where and what and how much? It seems for now I shall not know.

Although it might seem so in this post, the Baron's surprising adventures are not so startling. They are just a bit exaggerated. I can only delight in the fact that many have pulled a Baron Munchausen and the truth of their lie is fantastically incontrovertible.

Long live the Baron!

The Baron Conundrum
Recounting the Baron's Tales, Finally (or Again.)


Danielle Mari said...

Color me impressed. I tried once, many moons ago, to read it. Couldn't get through the first paragraph.

BTW- Best punny title ever.


Jurgen Vsych said...

McKeown and Gilliam invented the theatrical troupe. They've done it again for their upcoming Heath Legder film IMAGINARIUM OF DR. PERNASSUS.

Peter said...

I had expected that they added the theatrical troupe. It's the friends/servants of the Baron that I'm curious about. I realize they are connected in the film, but I didn't know for sure if the actual characters appear in some other set of the Baron. Thanks for the comment and info! :)

Daisy Porter said...

And I just finished a novel about Munchausen syndrome by proxy: _More Than It Hurts You_. Excellent read.