Stanley Kubrick's unrealized projects
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Film director Stanley Kubrick worked on numerous film projects that were never completed.
The Burning Secret and Natural Child
In 1956, after the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) studio turned down a request from Kubrick and his producer partner James B. Harris to film Paths of Glory, MGM then invited Kubrick to review the studio's other properties. Harris and Kubrick discovered Stefan Zweig's novel The Burning Secret, in which a young baron attempts to seduce a young Jewish woman by first befriending her twelve-year-old son, who eventually realizes the actual motives of the baron. Kubrick was enthusiastic about the novel and hired novelist Calder Willingham to write a screenplay; however, Production Code restrictions hindered the realization of the project. Kubrick had previously expressed interest in adapting a Willingham novel Natural Child, but was also prevented by the Production Code on that occasion.
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After the success of 2001, Kubrick planned a large-scale biographical film about Napoleon Bonaparte. He conducted research, read books about the French emperor, and wrote a preliminary screenplay which has since become available on the internet. With the help of assistants, he meticulously created a card catalog of the places and deeds of Napoleon's inner circle during its operative years. Kubrick scouted locations, planning to film large portions of the film on location in France, in addition to the use of United Kingdom studios. The director was also going to film the battle scenes in Romania and had enlisted the support of the Romanian army; senior army officers had committed 40,000 soldiers and 10,000 cavalrymen to Kubrick's film for the paper costume battle scenes.
In a conversation with the British Film Institute, Kubrick's brother-in-law Jan Harlan stated that, at the time, the film was ready to enter the production stage and David Hemmings was Kubrick's favored choice to play the character of Napoleon, while Audrey Hepburn was his preference for the role of Josephine. Although Jack Nicholson was cast in the role. In notes that Kubrick wrote to his financial backers, preserved in the book The Kubrick Archives, Kubrick expresses uncertainty in regard to the progress of the Napoleon film and the final product; however, he also states that he expected to create "the best movie ever made."
Napoleon was eventually canceled due to the prohibitive cost of location filming, the Western release of Sergei Bondarchuk's epic film version of Leo Tolstoy's novel War and Peace (1968), and the commercial failure of Bondarchuk's Napoleon-themed film Waterloo (1970). A significant portion of Kubrick's historical research would influence Barry Lyndon (1975), the storyline of which ends in 1789, approximately fifteen years prior to the commencement of the Napoleonic Wars.
In 1976, Kubrick sought out a film idea that concerned the Holocaust and tried to persuade Isaac Bashevis Singer to contribute an original screenplay. Kubrick requested a "dramatic structure that compressed the complex and vast information into the story of an individual who represented the essence of this man-made hell." However, Singer declined, explaining to Kubrick, "I don't know the first thing about the Holocaust."
In the early 1990s, Kubrick nearly entered the production stage of a film adaptation of Louis Begley's Wartime Lies, the story of a boy and his aunt as they are in-hiding from the Nazi regime during the Holocaust—the first-draft screenplay, entitled Aryan Papers, was penned by Kubrick himself. Full Metal Jacket co-screenwriter Michael Herr reports that Kubrick had considered casting Julia Roberts or Uma Thurman as the aunt; eventually, Johanna ter Steege was cast as the aunt and Joseph Mazzello as the young boy. Kubrick traveled to the Czech city of Brno, as it was envisaged as a possible filming location for the scenes of Warsaw during wartime, and cinematographer Elemér Ragályi was selected by Kubrick to be the director of photography.
Kubrick's work on Aryan Papers eventually ceased in 1995, as the director was influenced by the 1993 release of Spielberg's Holocaust-themed film Schindler's List. According to Kubrick's wife Christiane an additional factor in Kubrick's decision was the increasingly depressing nature of the subject as experienced by the director. Kubrick eventually concluded that an accurate Holocaust film was beyond the capacity of cinema and returned his attention to the A.I. Artificial Intelligence film project.
Shadow on the Sun
In the early 1960s, Kubrick, a keen listener of BBC Radio, heard the radio serial drama Shadow on the Sun; written by Gavin Blakeney, Shadow on the Sun is a work of science fiction in which a virus is introduced to earth through a meteorite landing. At a time when Kubrick was looking for a new project, the director became reacquainted with Shadow on the Sun. Kubrick purchased screen rights from Blakeney in 1988 for £1,500. Thereon, Kubrick read and annotated a script before moving onto A.I. Artificial Intelligence. The tone of the unrealized project, as described by Anthony Frewin in The Kubrick Archives, is a cross between War of the Worlds and Mars Attacks!.
Lunatic at Large
On November 1, 2006, Kubrick's son-in-law Philip Hobbs announced that he would be shepherding a film treatment of Lunatic at Large. Kubrick had commissioned the project for treatment from noir pulp novelist Jim Thompson in the 1950s, but it had been lost until Hobbs uncovered a manuscript following Kubrick's death. As of August 2011, this project is in development for future release, with the involvement of actors Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell, and U.K. screenwriter Stephen R. Clarke.
A number of screenplays that were written by Kubrick, who was either hired on a commission basis or was writing for his own projects, remain unreleased. One such screenplay is The German Lieutenant (co-written with Richard Adams), in which a group of German soldiers embark upon a mission during the final days of World War II; During the time period when The German Lieutenant was planned as Kubrick's next production, the director explained his interest in making another war film:
... one of the attractions of a war or crime story is that it provides an almost unique opportunity to contrast an individual of our contemporary society with a solid framework of accepted value, which the audience becomes fully aware of, and which can be used as a counterpoint to a human, individual, emotional situation. Further, war acts as a kind of hothouse for forced, quick breeding of attitudes and feelings. Attitudes crystallize and come out into the open.
Other examples of unreleased Kubrick screenplays are I Stole 16 Million Dollars, a fictional account of early 20th century Baptist minister turned safecracker Herbert Emmerson Wilson (the film was to be produced by Kirk Douglas' company "Bryna", despite Douglas' belief that the script was poorly written, and Cary Grant was approached for the lead role); and a first draft of a script about the Mosby Rangers, a Confederate guerilla force that was active during the American Civil War.
Kubrick was fascinated by the career of Nazi filmmaker Veit Harlan, his wife's uncle, and contemplated creating a film of the social circle that surrounded Joseph Goebbels. Although Kubrick worked on this project for several years, the director was unable to progress beyond a rough story outline.
Umberto Eco, in response to an offer from Kubrick regarding a film adaptation of Eco's 1988 novel Foucault's Pendulum, declined due to his dissatisfaction with the film adaptation of his earlier novel The Name of the Rose. Additionally, Eco sought the role of screenwriter but Kubrick was unwilling to co-operate. Following Kubrick's death, Eco stated that he regretted his initial decision.
Prior to the commencement of work for 2001, Terry Southern suggested the production of a high-budget pornographic film called Blue Movie to Kubrick; Southern proposed the film as an attempt to reinvent the genre. Kubrick decided against Southern's suggestion in the belief that he did not have the appropriate temperament for pornographic cinema; also, Kubrick did not think that he could sufficiently reinvent the genre to truly elevate it. At the same time, Southern had begun writing a novel, also entitled Blue Movie (published in 1970), in which a highly regarded art film director named "Boris Adrian" attempts to create such a film—the book is dedicated to Kubrick.
Following J. R. R. Tolkien's sale of the film rights for The Lord of the Rings to United Artists in 1969, the rock band The Beatles considered a corresponding film project and approached Kubrick as a potential director; however, Kubrick turned down the offer, explaining to John Lennon that he thought the novel could not be adapted into a film due to its immensity. The eventual director of the film adaptation Peter Jackson further explained that a major hindrance to the project's progression was Tolkien's opposition to the involvement of the Beatles.
Kubrick also considered adapting Patrick Süskind's novel Perfume, which he had enjoyed; however, the idea was never acted upon. The novel was later adapted for the screen by Tom Tykwer, as Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.
While working with Ian Watson on the story for A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Kubrick asked Watson for a pre-print copy of his Warhammer 40,000 tie-in novel Inquisitor. Watson quotes Kubrick as saying, "Who knows, Ian? Maybe this is my next movie?"
Following a 2010 announcement about the development of the Lunatic at Large project, plans for the prospective production of two other unrealized Kubrick projects were also announced. As of August 2012, Downslope and God Fearing Man were in development by Philip Hobbs and producer Steve Lanning, in partnership with independent company Entertainment One (eOne). A press release described Downslope as an "epic Civil War drama", while God Fearing Man is the "true story of Canadian minister Herbert Emerson Wilson."
In a March 2013, Tony Frewin, Kubrick's assistant for many years, wrote in an article in The Atlantic: "He [Kubrick] was limitlessly interested in anything to do with Nazis and desperately wanted to make a film on the subject." The article included information on another Kubrick World War II film that was never realized, based on the life story of Dietrich Schulz-Koehn, a Nazi officer who used the pen name "Dr. Jazz" to write reviews of German music scenes during the Nazi era. Kubrick had been given a copy of the Mike Zwerin book Swing Under the Nazis (the front cover of which featured a photograph of Schulz-Koehn) after he had finished production on Full Metal Jacket. However, a screenplay was never completed and Kubrick's film adaptation plan was never initiated (the unfinished Aryan Papers was a factor in the abandonment of the project).
- Cocks 2004, p. 151.
- Cocks 2004, p. 149.
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- See also interview in "Show" magazine vol. 1, Number 1 1970
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