Unfinished Films: Where Can I Buy My Ticket?

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This month  JODOROWSKY’S DUNE (2013) will finally be leaving the festival circuit and getting a wider release on March 21st. Frank Pavich’s new documentary chronicles the long strange and turbulent development of what many consider to be one of greatest unrealized films in cinema history and allows us to imagine what Jodorowsky’s unfinished film might have looked like if it had been completed. Jodorowsky’s unruly vision was based on Frank Herbert’s science fiction opus and featured production design by the Swiss surrealist H. R. Giger and French cartoonist Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, a soundtrack by the psychedelic rock band Pink Floyd and a cast that included Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson, Mick Jagger, David Carradine, Salvador Dali and Amanda Lear. Pre-production on this big-budget film started in 1974 and millions of dollars were spent before the project eventually fell apart. Unfortunately, Jodorowsky’s story isn’t uncommon and there are thousands of forgotten unmade movies that we’ll never get the opportunity to see although they may not have had the same ambition or scope as the long lost DUNE. With this in mind I decided to compile a list of some particularly intriguing film projects that never made it to the big screen. These are the forgotten dreams of frustrated directors and writers but from time to time I find them unspooling in my head and my imagination has transformed them all into minor and, in some cases, major masterpieces.

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LIGHTERS OF THE LAMP

Al Pacino & Frank Serpico

Pope Francis may have edged out Eric Snowden as “Person of the Year” at TIME magazine, but the contributions by the latter have had a deep and ongoing impact on our national psyche. A lot of whistleblowers wind up dead, behind bars, labeled traitors, or – like Snowden – on the run. Small wonder they’ve also found their lives dramatized on film. Their actions inevitably wrestle with big moral questions and all kinds of risks. They flirt with danger and sometimes succumb to tragedy. The high drama lends itself to the screen. Surely some 100 movies out there deal with the topic, many well regarded and yet to be seen by me. For example, I must have been asleep all of 2005, because I missed both The Constant Gardener and North County that year, films I still need to watch when time allows. My own short list must therefore be taken with a grain-of-salt. It’s not comprehensive so much as a casual cluster of what comes to mind. The consolation prize is that two of these will screen on TCM next month. [...MORE]

Extruded plastic dingus, for kids

Last week I posted here some embarrassing anecdotes about my experiences as a color timer in the early 1990s—and I’d intended to immediately follow it up with a sequel.  The first post was about Even Cowgirls Get the Blues—a film I knew was a commercial and critical disappointment, and I thought it was funny trying to pretend I was the reason for its problems.  And so the sequel would flip the story—a Hollywood film I came near, but which soared to great heights because I was kept safely far away from it.

Except when I sat down to start writing this, I was absolutely jaw-droppingly gob-smacked to discover that my whole premise was flawed.  To my utter astonishment, I learned that the Coen Brothers’ The Hudsucker Proxy was not considered a success.  I’m still trying to wrap my head around this.

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It’s Not Too Late to Start Again (Virus 1980)

The late 1970s and early 1980s were lousy with disaster flicks, a sub-genre to which Virus unquestionably belongs.  Apocalypse thrillers have always been in vogue, but they do tend to shift in tone with the cultural zeitgeist. But there was something about the Cold War era that gave rise to some wonderful end-of-the-world movies the likes of which we don’t really encounter anymore.  The bizarre illogic of the Cold War was somehow more conducive to nightmare poetry: two superpowers armed with enough firepower to destroy life on Earth countless times over, where in order to preserve the peace they each must threaten total war.  The only thing keeping those nukes in their holsters was the promise of Mutually Assured Destruction (quite appropriately, MAD).  Edward Albee couldn’t have thunk up any better.

And Virus, mind you, is the gift that keeps on giving.  It’s a rip-snorting good movie that packs in not just one apocalypse, but two.

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It’s the End of the World and I Feel Fine

If you are reading this, then the world didn’t end. I never put any stock in that whole Mayan calendar silliness–if I had, I wouldn’t have spent any time writing this. And so it is with absolute confidence in the continuation of the world that I am writing this, marking the non-pocalypse by paying tribute to some of my favorite end-of-the-world movies.

Let’s start by noting that in most cases, what we really mean by end of the world movies are not movies about the literal destruction of the planet. Every once in a while you get a Beneath the Planet of the Apes, where the world is actually blown to smithereens, but those are the exceptions. The real point is to explore the end of the world as we know it, that is, the end of civilization.

In my mind, you can divide these movies into three sub-categories, and I’ll offer an example of each.

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Movies About the Movies

The highly anticipated Hitchcock opens the AFI Film Festival on November 1. Based on the book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the drama interprets the behind-the-scenes production of one of the 20th century’s most influential films. I have not seen a trailer for the film, but based on the publicity stills, the makeup on star Anthony Hopkins results in an uncanny likeness of Hitchcock. Writer-director Sacha Gervasi (Anvil: The Story of Anvil; scriptwriter for The Terminal) lacks a sufficient track record to predict the quality of the drama, but Hopkins is sure to offer an interesting interpretation of the Master of Suspense. In addition to Hitchcock, a film called The Girl, which focuses on the director’s relationship with Tippi Hedren, is in the works. Toby Jones stars as Hitchcock, and Sienna Miller costars as Hedren.

Hitchcock and The Girl belong to that genre generally described as “movies about the movies,” a category irresistible to most film lovers. In doing research for this blog article, I was surprised at the diversity of the films that fall into this genre. There are biopics about beloved actors (Man of a Thousand Faces; The Story of Will Rogers); biopics that examine the adverse effect of Hollywood on the individual, particularly the star system and publicity machine (Frances; Harlow); dark exposes of those industry insiders corrupted by fame and power (Sunset Boulevard; A Star Is Born; The Bad and the Beautiful; Hollywoodland); and comic musings about the nature or history of Hollywood filmmaking (Sherlock, Jr.; Singin’ in the Rain).

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Zombie Watch: A Conversation With Dave Kehr about Paul W.S. Anderson

It was a banner weekend for Paul Andersons, as Paul Thomas Anderson and Paul W.S. Anderson topped the specialty and worldwide box office. As PTA’s vaultingly ambitious The Master has understandably dominated the cultural conversation, I wanted to create some space to discuss the ever-workmanlike W.S. One of the few directors to fully embrace 3D, creating dazzling depth effects on half the budget of most Hollywood spectaculars, he’s an endlessly resourceful stylist. Despite this, W.S. has long been one of the worst reviewed directors in the United States. One of his staunchest defenders has been New York Times film critic Dave Kehr,  so I went to see Resident Evil: Retribution 3D (rated 30% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes) with him at the Regal Union Square in Manhattan. Afterward we sat down and had an informal chat about Paul W.S. Anderson’s work and career. [Warning: Spoilers Ahead]

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Snapshots of the Fall

The art house film calendar that I program goes to press in two days and, although I’m still waiting for some confirmations, I’m sharing the rough-draft with TCM readers, along with some brief thoughts regarding the choices made.

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This Year at Marienbad

When I first encountered Alain Resnais’ famously impenetrable Last Year at Marienbad, roughly fifteen years ago, I watched it out of a sense of obligation.  I knew it to be an acknowledged “classic” by an important filmmaker from a pivotal moment in film culture.  I sort of had to watch it to maintain my cred.  But I went in prejudiced by its reputation as a prickly, off-putting exercise in beautiful but alienating imagery, unconcerned with entertainment or emotion.  Boy was I surprised when I found it to be completely engrossing.

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DTV Action Items (Part 2): Intro to Stone Cold Steve Austin Studies

This is Part 2 of 3 in my series on direct-to-video action movies.

In last week’s post, direct-to-video action expert Outlaw Vern modestly proclaimed that, “for the time being I think Stone Cold Steve Austin is the most prolific star with a good track record [in DTV].” In Part 2 of my industry shaking series on DTV fight films, I exhaustively investigate this claim. Steve Austin (born Steve Anderson) was the biggest star in professional wrestling for most of the past 15 years, perfecting the persona of a blue-collar hellraiser with a rabid anti-authoritarian streak. A series of injuries to his neck and back forced him to retire from the ring, and he’s been churning out DTV bare-knuckle brawlers  since 2009, after his one big bid for the theatrical market, The Condemned (2007), failed at the box office. While he hasn’t matched the insanely successful screen career of frequent WWE foe Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Austin is forging a worthy one of his own, albeit on the fringes of the movie business.

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