Here is the story as it appeared in the Chouinard Foundation magazine in January 2002; it was told by Chouinard art instructor Watson Cross to his son-in-law:
Sometime in the early 1960s, in one of Watson’s drawing classes, one of his more beatniky appearing students just didn’t seem to have the slightest interest in drawing.
Missed classes, didn’t do homework assignments, put out sub-minimal effort when he attended, the usual slacking.
At one point, when it was fairly clear that Terry [Gilliam] was headed for a flunk-out, Watson sat down to talk to him.
Terry said he didn’t like drawing and really didn’t care if he could draw or not. Telling that to someone who thought drawing was on par with speaking caused Watson to feel indignation boiling inside – it was like telling a motorcycle cop the rules of the road didn’t apply because they were boring.
Watson tried to keep his cool and asked Terry how he planned to complete the semester. This was a “foundation” class and a large project was due at the end of the semester, so what was he planning to do for it?
I dunno, was the answer. After a few dead ends, Watson finally insisted that Terry do something or be flunked – was there anything he would want to do?
Probably in defiance that he would never get away with it, he piped up, “I wanna make a film.” Again, Watson felt his blood boiling. This was not a film class.
“A film, huh? What kind of film?” Watson asked.
“I dunno,” was the reply
At this point, Watson felt like he had the advantage, the better poker hand. “Okay, I’ll tell you what,” the instructor said, “I’ll excuse you from the remainder of the class and let you make a film for your final project. But your entire class grade will ride on your film. The class will decide if it is worth your missing all the studio, which they had to complete, okay?”
“Okay, I guess so.” Terry sheepishly departed. Watson had no idea whether he would ever see him again. And he didn’t, until the end of the semester.
On that final day, a bleary-eyed Terry straggled in late, passing the rows of student projects and portfolios, with his scraggly little roll of 8mm film.
The skeptical class waited while he threaded the rickety projector, pulled up the screen and darkened the room. His movie began… a combination of animated cutout shapes and hand-drawn forms and characters.
In a nutshell, the class loved the film – they insisted on seeing it again and again. Terry had clearly worked his ass off and had come up with an imaginative, fun project, winning everyone over, particularly the teacher.
Afterwards they talked. Watson asked him what he was planning to do next and Terry said he wasn’t sure if the school was behind him – he was thinking of going to London “where things are happening.”
Watson told him he had a lot of talent that he should put to use, then wished him luck.
Terry Gilliam did eventually end up in . By virtue of fate he picked the right pub on the right night and hooked up with five little-known comedians who called themselves Monty Python and who had a deal for a weekly television series.
Terry Gilliam’s outrageous, absurdist cut-out animations for that series were to become legend. He has since graduated to such films as Brazil, The Fisher King and Twelve Monkeys.
Watson was forever proud of that story. By challenging a directionless student to excel at something of his own choosing was to Watson the spark that gave Gilliam confidence in his abilities, an important part of the essence of the Chouinard experience.
(Used by permission of Dave Tourje, Director of The Chouinard Foundation, via Thornfield Productions, LLC.)
Here is old clip of Gilliam, from the Monty Python Museum, demonstrating his cut-out animation process for Monty Python’s ‘s Flying Circus:
Click here to see the Orwellian world Gilliam went on to create for his movie Brazil.
And here’s a famous Monty Python sketch about a hairdresser who really wanted to be a lumberjack in British Columbia — singing his heart out, backed by a chorus of Mounties:
After leaving Chouinard, I went on to open my store, Angel Vancouver, in 1978. Angel specializes in hand-painted clothing. We are continuing our 35 percent-off sale this week on select clothing to celebrate our store’s 35th year in business.
We also have new arrivals for women and kids of Desigual fall-winter 2013 clothing, with more expected next month. Angel has the largest selection of Desigual in Vancouver for men, women and kids.Angel Vancouver is located at No. 2 Powell Street in the Gastown district of Vancouver, Canada. Our store is on the corner of Powell & Carrall Street in Maple Tree Square, which is where Vancouver began. This historical photo shows the location of my store in 1886.
Click on angelvancouver at the top of page to see earlier posts.