Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

I know many of my readers don't know why I have kept the title of my travel blog as "Munchausen Adventures." As a child I saw a movie which stayed with me till date. It was about the adventures of a German Baron

Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von Münchhausen (11 May 172022 February 1797) (often spelled Munchausen in English) was a German baron born in Bodenwerder, who in his youth was sent to serve as page to Anthony Ulrich II, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, and later joined the Russian military. He served until 1750, in particular taking part in two campaigns against the Ottoman Turks. Returning home, Münchhausen supposedly told a number of outrageous tall tales about his adventures. He died in his birthplace of Bodenwerder.

According to the stories, as retold by others, the Baron's astounding feats included riding cannonballs, travelling to the Moon, and escaping from a swamp by pulling himself up by his own hair (or bootstraps, depending on who tells the story)

The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen (or Baron Münchhausen's Narrative of his Marvellous Travels) by Rudolf Erich Raspe — a collection of tall stories published in 1785, based on the German adventurer Karl Friedrich von Münchhausen, but with many debts to earlier works. The tales were adapted and re-published in German by Gottfried August Bürger in 1786 as Wunderbare Reisen zu Wasser und zu Lande, Feldzüge und lustige Abenteuer des Freyherrn von Münchhausen and became much more popular in this edition.

Terry Gilliam adapted the stories into the 1988 film The Adventures of Baron Munchausen [sic], shot in Belchite, Spain, and at the Cinecittà Studios in Rome. The film starred John Neville as the Baron

and nine-year-old Sarah Polley as Sally Salt. Supporting the Baron as his faithful crew were Eric Idle, Charles McKeown, Winston Dennis and Jack Purvis. The film also featured Uma Thurman, Oliver Reed, Jonathan Pryce, Sting and Robin Williams (credited as Ray D. Tutto).

The film begins in an unnamed and war-torn European city in the late 18th century (dubbed "The Age of Reason" in an opening caption), where, amidst explosions and gunfire from alarge Turkish army outside the city gates, a fanciful touring stage production of Baron Munchausen's life and adventures is taking place.

Backstage, city official "The Right Ordinary Horatio Jackson" (Jonathan Pryce) reinforces the city's commitment to reason (here meaning uniformity and unexceptionality) by ordering the execution of a soldier who had just accomplished a near-superhuman feat of bravery (Stingin a cameo), claiming that his bravery is demoralizing to other soldiers. Not far into the play, an elderly man claiming to be the real Baron interrupts the show, protesting its many inaccuracies. Over the complaints of the audience, the theater company and Jackson, the "real" Baron gains the house's attention and narrates through flashback an account of one of his adventures, of a life-or-death wager with the Grand Turk, where the younger Baron's life is saved only by his amazing luck plus the assistance of his remarkable associates: Berthold (Eric Idle), the world's fastest runner; Adolphus (Charles McKeown), a gunman with superhuman eyesight; Gustavus (Jack Purvis), who possesses extraordinary hearing, and sufficient lung power to knock down an army by exhaling; and Albrecht (Winston Dennis), a fantastically strong man.

When gunfire disrupts the elderly Baron's story, the importance of saving the city eclipses the show. The Baron wanders backstage intending to die, until the exuberantly enthusiastic questioning of Sally Salt (Sarah Polley), the young daughter of the theater company's leader, convinces him to remain living.

Insisting that he alone can save the city, the Baron escapes the city's walls in a hot air balloon constructed of women's underwear, accompanied by Sally as a stowaway. The balloon expedition proceeds to the Moon, where the Baron, rejuvenated by the adventure of escaping to the moon, finds his old associate Berthold, but angers the King of the Moon (Robin Williams), who resents the Baron for his romantic past with the Queen of the Moon (Valentina Cortese). A bungled escape from the Moon brings the trio back to (and beneath) the Earth, where the Roman God Vulcan (Oliver Reed) hosts his guests with courtesy and Albrecht is found. The Baron and Vulcan's wife, the Goddess Venus (Uma Thurman), attempt a romantic interlude by waltzing in air, but this cuts short the hospitality and Vulcan expels the now-foursome from his kingdom into the South Seas.

Swallowed by an enormous sea creature, the travelers locate Gustavus, Adolphus, and the Baron's trusty horse Bucephalus.The Baron (who again appears elderly after being "expelled from a state of bliss," in his words) struggles with the conflicting goals of heroism and a peaceful death, before deciding to escape by blowing "a modicum of snuff" out into the sea creature's cavernous interior, which causes the sea creature to "sneeze" the heroes out through its whale-like blowhole. Back ashore, the Turkish army is located but the Baron's associates are now too elderly and tired to fight the Turk as in the old days. The Baron lectures them firmly but to no avail, and he storms off intending to surrender to the Turk and to Jackson; his cohorts rally to save both the Baron and the city.
During the city's celebratory parade, the Baron is shot dead by Jackson. An emotional public funeral takes place, but the denouement reveals that this is merely the final scene of yet another story the Baron is telling to the same theater-goers who were attending the theater in the beginning of the film. The Baron calls the foregoing "only one of the many occasions on which I met my death" and closes his tale by saying "everyone who had a talent for it lived happily ever after."
An ambiguous finale reveals that the city has indeed been saved, even though the events of the battle apparently occurred in a story rather than the film's reality. The Baron rides off on Bucephalus. As the Baron and Bucephalus are bathed in the light of the sun parting through the clouds, they apparently disappear, and the credits roll over a triumphant blast of music.


  1. Aah, can't read so much, my patience doesn't allow me to... but whatever it is , it seems good. To be true, i'm not that much into this film line, so u see...

  2. See the movie I found it hilarious, saw it many years back

  3. Yo hi --

    I'm the world's biggest fan of the Gilliam movie and the legendary Baron himself.

    There was a beautiful animated Munchausen movie made in the old East German regime, very much worth tracking down, very dream-like.

    Raspe's book (a later edition is delightfully illustrated by Doré) launched the Baron into mythology, but a little bit can still be gleaned about the real Munchausen.

    He apparently was an authentic parasite, schnorrer, lecher, satyriatic and pathological liar. Well, in small simple words -- a world-class creep and bum.

    BUT ... he's authentically revered by the Swedes. He was freeloading and leching in a Swedish castle when an enemy army headed his way, looting, killing, pillaging. Just before he skeedaddled, the Baron rolled up some exquisite ancient tapestries and buried them in oilcloth. After the invaders were gone, the Swedes dug up the tapestries, and you can still see them in a museum in Upsula today. Their salvation is credited to the Baron.

    Or so I've been told.

    A German woman told me when she was a little girl, she went on a school trip to a dark, seedy little tourist-trap museum dedicated to the Baron, and saw, among dozens of extraordinary artifacts, the very cannonball he flew miles over the battlefield on.

    Oh, me? Well, like you, I love to travel, but nothing much out-of-the-ordinary to report. When the Zeta Beam's not broken, I spend a lot of time on Planet Vleeptron, in the Dwingeloo-2 Galaxy. I have a holiday time-share in Ciudad Vleeptron, around the corner from the Shoe Mirrors Underway station. Here's the Underway map


    ... drop by if you're ever on Vleeptron, whose last war, the 2nd Garlic War, ended 31,222 years ago. On Vleeptron, the days of the week are named for delicious sausages (today is Bangerday), and Ciudad V. has tons of great music clubs, quite the nightlife. I like to take side trips to the nearby planets Yobbo, Hoon and Björkguðmundsdóttir.

    I'm a guy, so I can't visit the all-women planet Mollyringwald, but you can.



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