We only get to see movies in their completed form. You”ll only ever see the final cut, and maybe some deleted scenes on a DVD. Unless, of course, you happen to be friends with a filmmaker who lets you see the movie-making process.
Needless to say, there are plenty of films that never make it to completion. Some get stalled in the concept phase, like the case of Alejandro Jodorowsky”s Dune adaptation, which became the subject of a recent documentary. Some get through greenlighting and some of the filming process, only to fall apart later, leaving us with pieces of the project.
Here”s a look at projects that almost made it. Our lives are the worse for not having these films in them. We think.
1. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, Terry Gilliam.
Gilliam meant to follow 1998″s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas with this film, but never quite made it. It was to tell the story of a modern-day ad executive who becomes “unstuck in time” and travels back to 17th-century Spain to meet Miguel Cervantes” famous character, Don Quixote, and partake in his adventures. Gilliam had a budget of $32 million and even more bad luck: a flash flood destroyed the expensive sets, and lead actor Jean Rochefort suffered health problems. The film shut down in 2000, but a documentary about it, Lost in La Mancha, was released in 2002. Gilliam still wants to complete the film, and is aiming to do so in 2015.
2. Kaleidoscope, Alfred Hitchcock.
After an artistic and commercial slump, Hitchcock decided to get experimental and conceived Kaleidoscope. The film was to be a graphic murder mystery, and would have included then-new filming techniques like natural lighting, hand-held filming, and point-of-view camera work. It would have also been quite shocking for 1968 standards (and today”s) with a story about serial killers, necrophilia and rape. Perhaps because of the subject matter, Hitchcock couldn”t find the funding and scrapped the project. There”s about an hour of raw footage, some recycled into his later film Frenzy, and some NSFW stills found here.
3. The Works, NYIT.
This could have been the first 3D computer animated movie ever if it finished filming. It was finally shelved in 1986 after ten years in the making. The technology of the day couldn”t realize the film”s lofty aspirations. The programmers and computer engineers making it at the New York Institute of Technology were really good at programming, but no so much at film making. The film never had a director or an editor, which are kind of important. It would be nearly another decade until Toy Story became the first 3D animated movie in 1995.
4. The Aryan Papers, Stanley Kubrick.
Kubrick had many unfinished projects, such as A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, completed by Steven Spielberg in 2001. The one that came the closest to completion was his World War II drama, based on Louis Begley”s Wartime Lies. The story tells of a Jewish boy and his aunt who survive the Nazi invasion with forged papers declaring them “Aryan.” Everything was going fine until Warner Bros. realized that it was scheduled to come out a year after Spielberg”s Schindler”s List, and abandoned the project.
5. Something”s Got to Give, George Cukor.
This screwball comedy starring Marilyn Monroe, Dean Martin, and Cyd Charisse began in June 1962. Behind schedule and over budget, Fox stopped its production a few weeks later. Marilyn Monroe missed a lot of time due to frequent illnesses, and was subsequently fired. The film would be re-cast and released as Move Over, Darling a little over a year later, and only 37 minutes of the original survives. It would be too late for Marilyn, though. She died in August.
6. Who Killed Bambi? Russ Meyer, Roger Ebert.
This would have been the punk response to A Hard Day”s Night, starring the Sex Pistols, who rose to fame in 1978. Roger Ebert wrote the screenplay, and Russ Meyer, known for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, was to direct. After only one day of shooting, though, Princess of Monaco and former actress Grace Kelly, a Twentieth Century Fox board member, shut the project down, objecting to its X rating.
7. Uncle Tom”s Fairy Tales: The Movie For Homosexuals., Penelope Spheeris.
This collaboration between comedian Richard Pryor and the director was a satire in which a group of Black Panthers kidnap a rich white guy and put him on trial for America”s racial crimes. We”ll never know exactly, though, because after a fight with his wife, Pryor destroyed the negative. Some footage still exists, though. A short clip aired during a Richard Pryor retrospective in 2005, which caused Pryor”s widow (not the wife he fought with) to sue Spheeris and Pryor”s daughter for allegedly stealing the film. No word on where the homosexuals are.
8. My Best Friend”s Birthday, Quentin Tarantino.
Only 36 minutes of the original 70 survive of this black and white 16mm movie; the rest were lost in a fire. The movie follows Clarence, played by Tarantino, who tries to surprise his best friend for his birthday, and of course all his efforts backfire. Tarantino worked on the film sporadically from 1984 to 1987, and while it”s definitely his early work, you can see the beginnings of his signature, wordy style in the surviving footage.
9. Nailed, David O. Russell.
In keeping with the surreal happenings in his prior film, I Heart Huckabees, David O. Russell”s follow-up centered on a waitress, played by Jessica Biel, who survives a freak nail gun accident that leaves her with multiple personalities. There”s something involving a corrupt congressman (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) and general weirdness. The film had serious financial issues, and Russell is a famously difficult director. So difficult that James Caan walked out after the first day because he and Russell got into a fight over the proper way to choke on a cookie.
10. Dark Blood, George Sluizer.
This film was almost finished with 11 days of shooting left when star River Phoenix died from a drug overdose. The rights went back to the insurance company, prompting director Sluizer to spend the next 14 years retrieving the film and piecing it back together as best as he could. It would eventually screen, unfinished, at European film festivals in 2012 and 2013.
11. The Other Side of the Wind, Orson Welles.
Welles worked on this film from 1969 until 1976. It centers on an aging Hollywood director engaged in a rivalry with a younger one. It incorporates found footage elements, which was a new concept at the time, as well as graphic material. The film had many issues. Welles had trouble with the IRS, which interfered with the movie”s creation. Because it was also partially funded by the Shah of Iran”s brother-in-law, Ayatollah Khomeini”s government seized the footage. There were other legal issues, and the film never wrapped. Star Peter Bogdanovich and producer Frank Marshall would still like to see it completed in the near future.
12. The Day the Clown Cried, Jerry Lewis.
Okay, maybe we”re happy this one was never finished. So is Jerry Lewis, apparently; he stated that he was “ashamed” of the movie. It follows a former clown, played by Lewis, in a Nazi concentration camp in WWII. Due to issues regarding the rights as well as financial problems, the project never finished. There are only two copies of this film in the world, one in Stockholm Studios, where it was made, and one in Lewis” private archives, where it”s locked up. “I was grateful that I had the power to contain it all, and never let anyone see it,” he said. “It was bad, bad, bad.”
Aside from the Jerry Lewis movie, it”s possible that these unfinished films may lend something to cinema history, even if they didn”t turn out to be critically acclaimed. But the world may never know.
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