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Wednesday July 18th 2018

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen | 1989

The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen location: Belchite, Spain
The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen location: the ruined town: the ‘Mediterranean’ town besieged by the Turks: Belchite, Spain | wikimedia / kurtxio

Heaven’s Gate, Ishtar and The Cotton Club were elbowed out of the way as Terry Gilliam’s lavish fantasy hit the record books as the biggest lossmaker in movie history, reputedly clocking in at minus $48 million on what was originally budgeted as a $23.5 million movie.

Cost the earth it might, but at least the money is right up there on the screen. Filmed largely at Rome’s Cinecittà Studios, the movie, which utilised the services of longtime Federico Fellini collaborators cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno and art director Dante Ferretti, needed a staggering 67 sets.

Baron von Münchhausen was a real 18th Century German nobleman who did take part in military campaigns against the Ottoman Turks, but gained notoriety through the highly-elaborated version of his exploits.

The story of the compulsive fantasist, previously filmed in 1943 Nazi Germany, as Munchausen, inspired the name of Munchausen Syndrome – a psychological disorder which causes sufferers to draw attention by inventing imaginarry illnesses.

The film’s exterior locations were found in Spain, where the ‘Turkish Camp’ was filmed at the standard Euro-desert location of Almeria on the southern coast.

More interesting is the ‘Mediterranean’ town besieged by the Turks. The ghost town of Belchite, once home to 4,500 people and boasting an eclectic mix of Baroque and Gothic architecture, was mercilessly bombed during the Civil War in 1937. Left deserted and unrestored for fifty years, it was remembered by Ferretti as a location he had once scouted for Sidney Lumet’s unrealised project No Pasaran. It’s on the southern fringe of the modern town of Belchite, about 40 miles south of Zaragoza.

The town has been seen more recently in the opening scenes of Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winning El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth).