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The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus: Let Them Eat Cake

05/25/2011 03:00 pm ET

If The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is the new Wizard of Oz, as one fan enthused at the Closing Night screening at this year's Hampton's International Film Festival in October, then filmmaker Terry Gilliam is indeed the man behind the curtain.

"To make a film," he said looking wizard-like in a loosely fit colorful coat at the recent Crosby Street Hotel premiere, to a crowd that included Patti Smith and Michael Stipe, "a magic mirror comes in handy--in case of tragedy."

Of course "Parnssus," which opens on Christmas day, will be haunted as Heath Ledger's last movie. Through the suspension of disbelief audiences can believe, that passing the prop's threshold, the doomed actor morphs into Johnny Depp dancing with a frump who loves shoes, Jude Law on outsized stilts, and Colin Farrell ferrying the ethereal, leggy Valentina (Lily Cole) in a gondola.

"This film is death and love," said Gilliam noting the bittersweet: out of an unpredictable untoward event comes the love of the three actors who stepped in. Some fans cannot think of the film in any other way.

Gilliam's vision is indeed amazing, taking the dreamy psychedelic phantasmagoria of his earlier classics, Brazil and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, to a new level in modern day London juxtaposed with the antique carnival world of Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), in a father-daughter story, and a Faustian bargain with Mr. Nick (Tom Waits).

The celebration had its own devil's pact, and a tale of father and daughters, featuring a special customized cake (www.BCakeNY.com) commissioned by his daughter Holly. Daughter Amy is one of the film's producers. And for a touch of real magic Gilliam told me with a nod to "Fear and Loathing," he found out after his writing this script (with Charles McKeown), the late author Hunter S. Thompson had lived on Parnassus Street in San Francisco
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