The Unmade Films of Stanley Kubrick

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Submitted: December 25, 2017

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Submitted: December 25, 2017

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The Unmade Films of Stanley Kubrick

By

Ahmad El Hefny

24/12/2017

 In his fanatical devotion to make a film as good as he can, filmmaker Stanley Kubrick hasn’t made as much films as his colleagues. That doesn’t change the fact that his interests varied in several projects, other than the ones he almost made or the ones he simply showcased interest in bringing to life.

  1. Doctor Strangelove Sequels: During the 90s, Kubrick was interested in producing two sequels for his 1964 dark comedy, Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Chronicling the rise of Stranglove to power underneath the bunkers following the catastrophic events of the first film, the first sequel was to be titled either Son of Strangelove, or Turgidson’s Mother, or Into the Shaft, and the third one as Muffley Strikes Back. In the director’s chair, Kubrick personally vouched for Terry Gilliam (Time Bandits, Brazil, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) as the director. Reflecting on the project, Gilliam said, “I was told after Kubrick died – by someone who had been dealing with – that he had been interested in trying to do another “Strangelove” with me directing. I never knew about that until after he died but I would have loved to.”
  2. The Burning Secret: In 1956, when he was still unable to convince MGM to green light Paths of Glory going, he was offered to try adapting other projects. He showcased interest in The Burning Secret by Stefan Zweig, which detailed the complex relationship between a young boy, his mother, and the mysterious baron who enters their lives. Interested in the premise, Kubrick brought in novelist Calder Willingham to help write a screenplay. Due to the content of the novel, however, Production Code restrictions brought about the end of the project’s development.
  3. Natural Child: The other source material Kubrick attempted to give a shot in case Paths of Glory faltered was Willingham’s Natural Child, which concerns the bohemian lifestyle of two men and two women. Once again, due to the novel’s content, Production Code restrictions ceased the adaptation. Eventually, MGM decided to green light Paths of Glory.
  4. Shadow of the Sun: In the early 1960s, Kubrick heard the BBC Radio serial drama Shadow of the Sun, written by Gavin Blakeney. A science fiction piece, it concerns a virus arriving on Earth through a meteorite landing. In 1988, his interest in the project was reignited and he decided to give it a shot as a film. Eventually, he lost interest and decided to focus on A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. According to Kubrick biographer Anthony Frewin, he described the film’s script as containing a tone that is a cross between War of the Worlds and Mars Attacks!
  5. Flowers in the Attic: Kubrick showcased interest in adapting the 1979 novel by V.C. Andrews. The first in the Dollanganger series, it concerns the complicated relationship of a broken family. Kubrick was dissuaded from adapting it due to the incestuous nature of the novel concerning the two main characters.
  6. Veit Harlan Biopic: Kubrick’s fascination with the Nazis has often made him attempt to direct a film based around that era. One of the projects he considered was a biopic of filmmaker Veit Harlan, who worked under Goebbels making propaganda films, and who was also his wife’s uncle. Beyond a rough storyline, however, Kubrick couldn’t nail a satisfying manner to execute the project.
  7. Blue Movie: Prior to working on 2001, Kubrick was approached by Terry Southern, the screenwriter of Dr. Strangelove, to adapt an early draft of one of his novels, Blue Movie, which would eventually be released in 1970. The story concerned art film director Boris Adrian’s attempts to direct a high-budget porn film with A-list stars. Southern seriously felt that Kubrick would be the only one who can elevate the genre to literary merit. Despite watching several porn films for research purposes, Kubrick decided against the idea because he felt he was not the appropriate choice for the material, and that he can’t elevate the genre. Also, his wife, Christiane Kubrick, once told him, “Stanley, if you do this, I won’t talk to you again.”
  8. Perfume: Around the mid-1980s, Kubrick was interested in adapting Patrick Suskind’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. Set in the 18th century France, the story concerns a young man who carries an amazing sense of smell, and decides to create the perfect perfume by using the flesh of young women, leading to a path of murder. However, Kubrick eventually felt the novel’s usage of the sense of smell and the emotional resonance a scent can affect someone was too complicated to be done on visual terms, and gave up on it.
  9. Draco: During the making of A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Kubrick enlisted several writers to help him get a crack at the material. Among them was Ian Watson, who helped write a draft. During their work together, Kubrick knew of Watson’s Warhammer 40,000 work on The Inquisition War trilogy, with only the first novel, Draco (then called The Inquisitor) being published at the time, and told him, “Who knows, Ian, Maybe this is my next movie?” The story, the first in the Black Library’s Inquisition War omnibus, concerns the adventures of Jaq Draco, an Inquisitor of the Imperium, as he attempts to solve issues of internal affairs. These plans, whether to be followed or not, ended with Kubrick’s death, with Watson himself admitting to not being sure as to whether Kubrick was serious or simply curious.
  10. Dietrich Schulz-Koehnn Biopic: Following Full Metal Jacket, Kubrick was given a copy of Mike Zerwin’s Swing Under the Nazis, which chronicled the music scene during the Nazi era, and became fascinated with the figure of Koehn, who went under the pseudonym “Dr. Jazz” to write reviews of the scenes he attended. However, Kubrick couldn’t muster the strength to write a screenplay and was distracted by another Nazi-related project which had taken his attention away from the project, as we’ll discuss below.
  11. Eric Brighteyes: Despite being known as having a cold and cynical view of humanity, Kubrick did have a soft spot for children, so much so that he wanted to make a family film. The project he decided to pick for that audience would be H. Rider Haggard’s Eric Britheyes. One of the earliest examples of what would be called an epic novel, the story concerns a young man in Iceland who gets involved in trials, battles, and betrayals as he attempts to win the heart of the woman he loves. Anthony Ferwin, Kubrick’s assistant, said that novel was “…very, very dear to him,” as well as “had he lived, I’m sure he would have done it.”
  12. Pinocchio: Prior to his death, Kubrick wanted to adapt Carlo Collodi’s novel. For his research, he sent assistants to buy several Italian books concerning the novel. Emilio D’Alessndro, another of Kubrick’s assistants, said “He wanted to make it his own because Pinnochios have been made. He wanted to do something really big. He said: “It would be very nice if I could make children laugh and feel happy making this Pinocchio.” He had so much love for Pinocchio that he decided to infuse the novel’s themes into A.I.: Artificial intelligence, which is apparent even under Steven Spielberg’s direction.
  13. The Battle of Monte Cassino: The name of a series of four assaults by the Allies on the Winter Line in Italy held by the Axis forces during the Italian Campaign during World War II, Kubrick showcased interest in making a film about the events, gathering newspapers cuttings and analyzing the geography. He even managed to talk to a colleague who was present during the bombing, which was reportedly a traumatic experience for said veteran. For unknown reasons, Kubrick halted the project.
  14. The Lord of the Rings: In 1969, when United Artists bought the rights for J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings, The Beatles, being fans of the book, immediately jumped on board to make an adaptation starring them as the four main Hobbits, though John Lemmon did wish to play Gollum. Lemmon, who watched 2001: A Space Odyssey every week, went to Kubrick to propose that he direct it. Kubrick responded that the novel, a global-spanning epic with an ensemble cast journeying to the land of Mordor in order to destroy the One Ring, was too large in scale to be properly adapted without sacrificing the majority of the novel’s content. Keep in mind, this was before the notion of a franchise was as prevalent as it is now, a format that helped Peter Jackson be able to adapt the novel into three films. According to Jackson, another reason the film’s development was put on track was due to Tolkien not wanting The Beatles to have anything to do with the project. Years later, Paul McCartney and Jackson had this friendly exchange; “You did great,” said McCartney, with Jackson replying “But your music would’ve been amazing.”
  15. Downslope: In 1956, Kubrick wrote a screenplay that focused on strategic battles in the Shenandoah Valley between Union General George Armstrong Custer and Confederate Colonel John Singleton Mosby during the Civil War. As the battle of wits escalates, Custer begins to grow a deep, personal grudge against Mosby and the violence increases to a tragic conclusion. Working with Civil War historian Shelby Foote, Kubrick created maps and notes as to how he could shoot the film, but eventually, for unspecified reasons, the project was cancelled, even with the notion of Gregory peck being eyed for one of the lead roles. The most recent news concerning the project’s resurrection involved the idea of Marc Forster (The Kite Runner, World War Z) adapting the script as a trilogy.
  16. I Stole 16 Million Dollars/God Fearing Man: Around the period when he had developed a brief partnership with Kirk Douglas, Kubrick offered a screenplay based on the life of Baptist minister turned safecracker Herbert Emmerson Wilson. Although Kubrick eyed Cary Grant for the lead role, Douglas, who was to produce, thought the script was poorly written and cancelled it.
  17. Napoleon: Possibly the filmmaker’s lost magnum opus, Kubrick held a well-documented admiration for Napoleon, so much so that he patterned his eating habits after his idol, as well as utilizing his military tactics into his own strategies as a filmmaker. Originally his next title after 2001, the director compiled every book, painting, notes, and films relating to Napoleon and others associated with him. He even had his assistants head to the location of where the battle of Waterloo took place and bring back a sample of the ground just so he could scout for a location that would heavily resemble the battle ground as close as possible. He even went so far as to use index library cards and even used early computer catalogs to record a lot of his research. His top candidates for Napoleon were David Hemmings and Jack Nicholson, while he wanted Audrey Hepburn for Josephine. For the script, he used Felix Markham’s 1966 biography as the basis, finishing a draft that can be found online. Unfortunately, despite all the extensive research and clear devotion to the project, MGM and United Artists, who were to produce the film, refused due to the financial failure of 1966’s War and Peace and 1970’s Waterloo. Kubrick was very saddened by the refusal that he it took three weeks till he was able to recover from his depression and move on with adapting A Clockwork Orange. Eventually, all that research was for naught, since he utilized these notes as guidance for Barry Lyndon. Recently, there have been attempts by Steven Spielberg to adapt the script as a miniseries, with directors like Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner) and Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Life of Pi) touted to helm it.
  18. Aryan Papers: The closest he ever got to make a film about the Nazi Regime, Aryan Papers was based on Louis Begley Jr.’s Wartime Lies, which chronicled a young boy and his aunt as they disguise themselves as Catholics in order to survive. Joseph Mazello was to play the boy, while Julia Roberts, Uma Thurman, and Johanna ter Steege were to the top candidates for the main lead role. Eventually, Steege won the part. For research, Kubrick piled multiple notes about the Holocaust, watched propaganda films, and sent assistants to Czechoslovakia to scout for locations to shoot. The research took two years, and all seemed to be going well, until a problem arrived; Steven Spielberg had already finished and released his own Holocaust film, Schindler’s List. Distraught decided to cancel the project, since he didn’t want his film to be compared to Spielberg’s. Another factor, according to Kubrick’s wife Christiane, was that he was increasingly depressed by all that he had seen and read, and couldn’t handle it anymore. Reflecting on the film, Steege said, “We know that [Kubrick] was a perfectionist. We also know the dangerous thing for a perfectionist is that, at a certain point, he comes to a zero.” In 2005, there was a script rewrite of the script by William Monahan, and Ang Lee was considered to direct the project.
  19. The German Lieutenant: A year later after Paths of Glory, Kubrick decided to make a World War II film. Teaming with Richard Adams, the script told the story of two German soldiers and their dying friendship as they are ordered to blow a bridge that would serve as an advantage in the war. Eventually, the bridge is blown, but there is no celebration, as one of the soldiers dies and the other survives only to get a job at a postal service after the war. In an interview about the project, Kubrick said, “To begin with, 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 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. Conflict is natural, when it would in a less critical situation have been introduced in almost as a contrivance, and thus would appear forced, or – even worse – false. Eienstein, in his theoretical writings about dramatic structure, was often guilty of oversimplification. The black and white contrasts of Alexander Nevsky do not fill all drama. But war does permit this kind of contrast – and spectacle. And within these contrasts you can begin to apply of some of the possibilities of film – of the sort explored by Eisenstein.” Unfortunately, no studio was interested, and the project was canceled.
  20. The Exorcist: Like all directors, Kubrick was offered several projects that he denied, and he was one of the top candidates for The Exorcist. Although he liked the book, which detailed the exorcism of a 14 year old who seems to have been possessed by a demon, he decided that he wasn’t the right person for the project, and declined.
  21. The Shadow Knows: Before deciding on The Shining, Kubrick was interested in adapting The Shadow Knows by Diane Johnson, which detailed a woman feeling she is followed by someone or something. Eventually, Kubrick felt he couldn’t crack it as a film, but having then known Johnson’s background as an expert on Gothic Fiction, brought her onboard The Shining as co-writer.
  22. Interview with a Vampire: Anne Rice’s novel, which concerned a vampire looking back on his life since his transformation, was an instant success, and many companies approached the rights for a film adaptation. Kubrick was a top candidate to direct it. However, he wasn’t interested, and declined.
  23. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence: Based on Super Toys Last All Summer Long by Brian Aldiss, which concerned a robot in the shape of a young boy’s attempts to be “real,” Kubrick brought in the author to help write a script based on the material in the 70s. Along the way, progress stopped, with many believing that Kubrick felt that the technology was not yet sufficient to bring this story to life. The project was reignited in the 90s when he was offered to adapt Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire, his interest in the fantasy genre was restored, and he decided to try another stab at Super-Toys. He brought back Aldiss, who said of the project back in the 70s, “Stanley was intrigued by the story, but then Star Wars came out – and it was clear he was very jealous of Star Wars. He didn’t think it was as good as 2001. He said that what we really wanted was a whole lot of archetypical situations: a poor young boy who somehow had to make good, and had to fight some terrible evil in order to win the hand of the princess. Then we realized we were actually describing Star Wars.” They had differences to the material back then, and they still had it in the 90s, with Kubrick being influenced by E.T. “I couldn’t see how we could turn this vignette into a film,” said Aldiss. “We stuck at it for a while, but it wasn’t working. Then, gradually, I realized; this wasn’t Star Wars, it wasn’t E.T. It was fucking Pinocchio! The Blue Fairy! I worked with him for six weeks and I couldn’t get rid of that Blue Fairy.” Aldis eventually grew tired of the project and left, with Kubrick calling Arthur C. Clarke for input, who recommended Bob Shaw. He gave Shaw a copy of the story, Pinocchio, and Hans Moravec’s Mind Children, a book about artificial intelligence. The script concerned a robotic butler, but Kubrick wasn’t interested, so Shaw left. Ian Watson came in and gave it a shot, and then finally Sara Maitland shifted the script’s focus onto the relationship between David and his human mother. Her version had the mother as an alcoholic and the ending would have had David experiencing a reconstructed memory sequence in which he shaped his Mother in the figure of Bloody Mary to earn her love. Kubrick changed the ending to something closer to the final film, in which a race of advanced robots reviving the mother for a few brief minutes, allowing David to spend some time with her before her death. Maitland hated the ending, saying “It must have been very strong visual thing for him, because he wasn’t usually stupid about story. He hired me because I knew about fairy stories, but would not listen to me when I told him, “You can have a failed quest, but you can’t have an achieved quest and no reward.” Kubrick shot tests with robots and had Chris Cunnigham build a robot to “play” the main role. “I spent the entire year just developing this one robot head,” said Cunnigham. After some reservations as to whether he should direct the film, Kubrick offered the film to Steven Spielberg as director and with him as producer. Spielberg encouraged his friend to direct it himself, but then Kubrick’s death led to Spielberg accepting the task.
  24. One Eyed Jacks: Before Spartacus, Kubrick was brought onboard the project based on a script by Sam Peckinpah. Kubrick discarded Peckinpah’s script and wrote his own, and was ready to start casting, only to realize that Brando had already cast the principal actors, one of them being Karl Malden, who Kubrick didn’t think was good for his part, while Brando defended Malden. Realizing he can’t persuade Brando to change his mind, Kubrick left the project, with Brando in the director’s chair.
  25. Operation Mad Ball: In 1957, Kubrick saw the war comedy Operation Mad Ball and saw potential in making a spin off television series starring Ernie Kovacs’ Captain Locke that would follow him as commandment of a boy’s school. For research, there were visits to Black Fox Military Academy to meet real-life commandments. While the meetings were successes, the project quietly faded and was never heard from again.
  26. Lunatic at Large: After working with Jim Thompson on The Killing, Kubrick decided to try on an original project called Lunatic at Large, about am ex-carnival strongman with anger management issues who falls for a barfly. While not much is known about the story, there was a car chase concerning a railroad crossing with a train bearing down, a romantic sequence at in a deserted lodge, and the female character getting lost at a carnival where she meets several sideshow freaks. Occupied with Spartacus, however, Kubrick had to abandon the project.
  27. The Passion Flower Hotel: During the 60s, Kubrick expressed interest in adapting The Passion Flower Hotel by Roger Longrigg, which involved a group of young women from a girl’s school selling sexual services to the all boy’s school down the road. Possibly due to Production Code restrictions, he couldn’t have possibly successfully have adapted it even if he tried.
  28. Colette Biopic: Kubrick was interested in directing a biopic concerning the French author Colette (Gigi, The Vagabond) before deciding to focus on Aryan Papers.
  29. All the King’s Men: Robert Marshall’s non-fiction account of the M16’s attempt to dismantle Churchill’s Special Operation’s Executive peaked Kubrick interest, though he never gave much serious thought into directing it other than as consideration.
  30. Foucault’s Pendulum: During the 90s, Kubrick was interested in adapting Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, which depicted the formation of a cult over a fake conspiracy originally meant to be a one-off joke. However, Eco wasn’t satisfied with The Name of the Rose adaptation, and while rumors persist that the author did try to work with Kubrick but was disagreeable with the filmmaker, the truth is that one of the writer’s associate’s informed Kubrick that Eco wouldn’t be interested. Eco, knowing of this, quickly tried to reach to Kubrick and rectify that mistake, but couldn’t. He stated his regret over the misfortune years later. Kubrick went on to direct Eyes Wide Shut and passed away a week after completing the film.


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