Longed-for unrealized projects
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I recently enjoyed a double-bill of Black Swan and The Fighter. While I enjoyed The Fighter a lot, I couldn’t help but wonder what the film would have been like if Darren Aronofsky had stayed on as director as was originally intended. This is turn got me wondering about those great unrealized projects that litter the pop-cultural landscape: Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon, Pete Townsend’s Lighthouse, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s version of Dune, all of which have something fascinating in them that I would have loved to have seen come to fruition. So, I ask you, what unrealized projects fascinate you the most, and would you most like to have seen/heard/read? —Edwin
Back in 2008, when Chinese Democracy finally came out, The A.V. Club put together an Inventory of other famously lost projects that we’d like to see happen someday, but we limited ourselves to projects that were still at least barely within the realm of the possible. Some even came to pass in the following years—the lawsuit over Zack Snyder’s Watchmen disappeared in a puff of money and the film was released; Boondock Saints 2 and the Tron sequel eventually came out as well. But while there are plenty of still-fascinating, still-unrealized projects on that inventory list, it didn’t touch at all on projects that will certainly never happen.
With that in mind, part of me still wants to see Terry Gilliam’s Watchmen, even though I think he was sensible for abandoning the project as unfilmable. And even though his version certainly would have been less faithful, since I don’t think he’s capable of making a film without injecting his pet themes about the necessity of fantasy, and its relationship with reality. And even though his slapdash, improv-heavy, loose cinematic style wouldn’t have meshed well with Alan Moore’s consciously controlled web of connections and allusions. And even though his usual rags-and-tatters visual aesthetic wouldn’t have been as appropriate to the story as Zack Snyder’s icy overproduction. Basically, I think the Gilliam version would have been a complete mess, but it would have been a film only Terry Gilliam could have made. And while I certainly wouldn’t have loved it, I’m still hugely curious about exactly what he would have done with the material, and what the finished project would have looked like. For that matter, I’m still vaguely holding out hope that Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote will make it to a screen someday.
Okay, just one more… The Fall director Tarsem was at one point in negotiations to direct Constantine, the film adaptation of the Hellblazer comic, which eventually became a ridiculous Keanu Reeves movie. Words can’t begin to describe my longing to see that version.
CRS (Child Rebel Soldier)—Kanye, Lupe, and Pharrell’s bruited supergroup, who’ve put out a couple of MP3s, but no album yet. Speaking of which, the Nasal Poets, which was mentioned in an issue of Grand Royal, but never really came to pass: Q-Tip, Ad-Rock, B-Real.
I’m going to restate one that was in that Inventory, but that I didn’t write: the Deadwood movie(s). Those of us who watched the series when it aired saw it go out with a whimper—not necessarily with too much unresolved plot, but with characters we wanted to know a lot more about. There was probably a great historical moment that would’ve served as an endpoint to the series—annexation, perhaps—but we’ll never get to know the fate of Seth Bullock or Al Swearengen, which is a bummer. The rumored movies offered promises of tied loose ends, and they seemed like a reality for at least a little while. But David Milch quickly squashed the idea, as too much time elapsed after the show’s finale. And now he’s going to make a Heavy Rain movie. Alas.
Part of what made Robert Altman such a prolific filmmaker was his ability to keep several irons in the fire, which means his career is littered with projects that never came to fruition. In some cases, that’s probably for the best, but I always wish he’d been able to follow through on his desire to make a film about Charles Correll and Freeman Gosden, better known as Amos ‘N’ Andy. Whether peering backstage in A Prairie Home Companion or exploring the distorting effects of company-town culture on 1970s Los Angeles in The Long Goodbye, Altman was especially sharp on the nature of performance, and it’s tantalizing to think what he might have done with the story of two white writer-performers whose vocal caricatures of two black country bumpkins transformed the cultural landscape of the United States. Correll and Gosden’s minstrel-show stereotypes nonetheless had a salutary effect on the culture at large, particularly when the show transferred to TV, necessitating the casting of black actors, and that’s the kind of contradiction Altman thrived on. And the fact that the idea grew out of conversations with Harry Belafonte, himself a political radical who made his name embodying and subverting racial stereotypes, indicated there were some thrilling ideas on the table. Belafonte and Altman finally teamed up for Kansas City, a muddled film that came to life only when jazz musicians were playing or Belafonte’s rage-filled gangster commanded the screen, but the thought that there might have been another film in them is a heady one.
As The A.V. Club’s resident grunge-ologist, I’ll suggest my favorite unrealized album from my high-school years, which was the record Kurt Cobain supposedly was going to make with Michael Stipe after In Utero. Whether it ended up being a full-on collaboration or a Cobain solo effort, the prospect definitely got me excited as a teenage fan of Nirvana and R.E.M. Based on how well Nirvana’s posthumous live album MTV Unplugged In New York turned out, it stands to reason that Cobain’s professed plans to make an Automatic For The People-style collection of mournful ballads could’ve turned into one of the all-time great wallowing albums ever. But it ended up being just another example of what the music world lost when Cobain committed suicide.
This could still theoretically happen, but I’m not holding my breath for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Scientology roman à clef, The Master, to ever hit screens. Or even really begin filming. According to reports in September, the film has been put on indefinite delay after Anderson and stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jeremy Renner “kept coming against a wall” during rehearsals. (That’s according to Renner.) It’s perfectly possible that Anderson reached a creative impasse on the project; he’s only completed just five films in the past 14 years, and his intense, perfectionist approach to filmmaking almost assuredly sends him down dead ends from time to time. But man, I wish he’d manage to pull this one together, however difficult it might be to get a Xenu-mocking screen-screed produced in Hollywood. Partly it’s that I’m endlessly fascinated by stories on L. Ron Hubbard’s magnificent farce of a cult, the ballooning, cyclopean madness of desperately insecure people feeding off each other’s paranoia, and a hack science-fiction writer’s conception of a world plagued by the millennia-old ghosts of dead aliens. Partly it’s that Hoffman seems like a brilliant choice for the role, and I’d love to see Renner getting more interesting work after The Hurt Locker. Partly it’s that Anderson is just so good at depicting the magnetic draw of obsession, and the comfort of building families that no one else in the world can understand. Mostly, though, it’s been three years since There Will Be Blood, and dammit, I want more.
For years, when Martin Scorsese talked about upcoming projects, the talk always turned to an adaption of Nick Tosches’ Dean Martin biography Dino: Living High In The Dirty Business Of Dreams. Tom Hanks would have played Martin. He played him on Saturday Night Live, and casting an actor to refine a character that began as a caricature fit perfectly with the themes Tosches explores in his book, which considers the many layers of performance involved in stardom. The book portrays how much of one’s self one must give up to create a public persona, how hard it can be to sustain it, and how it’s sometimes harder still to walk away from it all. Cameras were ready to roll on a script Scorsese developed with Goodfellas screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi. But they never did.
There was good reason to be initially excited for T.I.’s new album last year. It was to be called King Uncaged, and T.I. promised it would have the impact of Tupac’s All Eyez On Me. The cover depicted T.I. sitting on a throne, with a lion behind him. (He originally wanted to shut down Times Square for the photo session, but the city of New York wouldn’t let the lion into the area.) It was going to be an aggressively self-hyping album: “some songs I talk about me being the shit on every level,” T.I. promised. And while it’s doubtful he would’ve dropped something as iconic as Eyez, T.I. is so good at being self-aggrandizing that this seemed like a guaranteed monolith of fun swagger. But then T.I. had to go and violate his parole and go back to jail, and a cocky album became No Mercy, a whiny series of overwrought confessionals, and easily his worst album. Somewhere, King Uncaged is, uh, caged until T.I. performs enough public acts of contrition; it’s doubtful it’ll ever be exhumed.