Last fall, Francis Ford Coppola went to the Toronto International Film Festival to unveil Twixt, his latest feature film. It didn’t go well — in fact, it went so poorly that there was some question as to whether the picture (unattached to a distributor) would see a release at all. It finally will, this weekend, with a single-theater engagement in San Francisco, but that seems like quite a fall for the director of The Godfather (even if his more recent work hasn’t exactly wowed us).
Meanwhile, a film that’s been in limbo for far longer than Coppola’s is inching towards a release: Dark Blood, the contemporary Western thriller from director George Sluzier (The Vanishing) that River Phoenix was working on when he died clear back in 1993. Sluzier put out a trailer back in May; last week, the film’s long-awaited premiere was announced for September’s Netherlands Film Festival. Those two resurrections got us thinking about other unreleased movies that we’re still itching to see; they’re collected for your reading (and partial viewing) pleasure after the jump.
The Other Side of the Wind
No acclaimed filmmaker left more unfinished and unreleased projects than the great Orson Welles, whose long history of disappearing funding and wandering focus left several incomplete pictures in the vaults when he died in 1985. The most tantalizing of them is The Other Side of the Wind, a semi-autobiographical film he shot in bits and pieces between 1969 and 1976. By this time, the filmmaker had been duly lionized for his contributions to the cinema, so fellow actors and (especially) directors were eager to work with him — but studios were still uninterested, so Welles had to attain his funding via a rather shady international backers. Their funds were intermittent or non-existent, and Welles ended up financing the film mostly out-of-pocket, and editing it in his free time, between acting gigs, over the last decade of his life.
After his death, the almost-complete film (and much of his unfinished material) was caught in a drawn-out legal battle between his daughter Beatrice and his longtime companion (and Wind co-star) Oja Kodar, and though Showtime — which had aired the excellent documentary Orson Welles: The One Man Band, featuring clips from the film — pledged completion funds, those copyright and ownership woes just recently came to a conclusion. The film still awaits completion and release, and we’re losing our minds waiting for it; it is, after all, the final film of one of our greatest filmmakers, and the clips we’ve seen hint tantalizingly at a daring, experimental, multi-media approach that seems decades ahead of its time.
The Pied Piper of Cleveland
One of the most famed and elusive unreleased movies of all time, this 1955 documentary was a profile of pioneering rock and roll disc jockey Bill Randle. That might make it interesting; what makes it desirable is the cast of performers showcased during the doc’s “day in the life of a famous disc jockey” (as it was subtitled). Bill Haley and His Comets show up, as do Pat Boone, Roy Hamilton, LaVern Baker, Johnnie Ray, and, in his first film appearance, a young man from Tupelo, Mississippi named Elvis Aaron Presley. Yet, somehow, the film has never been released — it’s so elusive, in fact, that some claim it’s a hoax film, that it never even existed. Evidence exists to the contrary, however; the 48-minute film screened at least once, at a Cleveland junior high, at the time of its completion, and it was seen on Cleveland television the following year. Its current whereabouts are unknown; Randle (who produced the film) reportedly sold it to Polygram in 1992, before his death, while others claim it’s sitting in the vaults at Universal, tied up in music rights issues.
The hullabaloo surrounding Johnny Depp’s casting as the Native American character Tonto in the upcoming Lone Ranger movie overlooked one interesting fact: Depp had played a Native American before, albeit in a movie that nobody saw. The Brave was based on a novel by Gregory McDonald, the scribe behind the Fletch series, but it couldn’t be more tonally or narratively divergent from his most famous books: it concerns a desperate young man (Depp) who takes a big cash offer to star in a snuff film — as the victim — in order to make money for his wife and children. Depp not only starred in the film — he co-wrote and directed it, and got his friend and Don Juan DeMarco co-star Marlon Brando to appear. But reviews were decidedly mixed when the film premiered at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, and though it was released internationally, The Brave never saw the light of a projector in the States. We’d still like to see it though — even in his worst films, Depp is always interesting to watch, and it’s his only directorial effort to date. On top of that, it’s one of the final film appearances of the great Brando (even if this wasn’t a period where he was necessarily doing his best work). It can be gotten, but only in shabby, bootleg versions; maybe Lone Ranger will finally get Depp’s other Native American movie some legitimate exposure.
A Day at the Beach
Roman Polanski had already achieved international success with classics like Repulsion and Cul-de-Sac, and American acclaim with Rosemary’s Baby, when he wrote the screenplay to A Day at the Beach, adapted from Heere Heeresma’s novel. There was some talk that he would direct the picture, but it was helmed by Polanski’s friend Simon Hesera; Peter Sellers did a cameo, under the pseudonym A. Queen (a none-too-subtle play on the character’s sexuality). Sellers’ involvement, in fact, is the main reason we’ve seen any of the film at all — his clip was included in the documentary The Unknown Peter Sellers. But the rest of the film remained unknown; though it played festivals in the years since its 1972 completion (including the 1993 Toronto Film Festival), it never received a proper release in theaters or on video.
A Woman of the Sea
Austrian-born Josef von Sternberg became one of Hollywood’s most distinctive directors in the 1930s, primarily via his unforgettable collaborations with Marlene Dietrich (including Shanghai Express, Morocco, and The Scarlet Empress). But he had an early and powerful champion: Charles Chaplin, who saw his debut film The Salvation Hunters and was so impressed by it that he hired the director to make a film for the Chaplin Studios. The picture, originally called Sea Gulls and later titled A Woman of the Sea, was a full-on drama — a rarity for Chaplin — and marked the only time he produced a film he neither wrote nor directed. It starred Edna Purviance, Chaplin’s regular leading lady, and marked his second attempt to make her a dramatic star. But when Chaplin and his associates saw the film, they decided it wasn’t commercially viable, so it was never screened or released — and the negative was reportedly destroyed a few years later, for tax purposes. That’s a real shame; we’d love to see what a Sternberg-Chaplin collaboration looked like.
While we’re in the silent era, it’s worth pausing to mourn the loss of Humor Risk, the never-released, now-vanished first film by the Marx Brothers. Shot around 1920 (nine years before their official debut, The Cocoanuts) between vaudeville performances in New Jersey, the low-budget silent comedy was shown exactly one time, at a Saturday matinee in a theater “somewhere in the most godforsaken outposts of the Bronx” (according to Joe Adamson’s terrific book Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Sometimes Zeppo), where the kid-heavy Saturday matinee crowd hooted, threw airplanes, and generally didn’t find the Marx Brothers all that funny at all. Stories vary about what happened next: some say the Marxes (particularly Groucho) were so disgusted by the entire affair that they burned the only print, while others say they slunk out of the theaters and left the print in the booth, and never bothered going back to retrieve it. It could still turn up — Harpo’s debut film, 1925’s Too Many Kisses, reappeared something like fifty years after it was considered lost — but we’re not holding our breath.
Hippie Hippie Shake
Set in London circa the swinging ’60s, and featuring Cillian Murphy, Sienna Miller, and all sorts of other people we like, Hippie Hippie Shake sounds like a blast — the true story of how the Australian satirical magazine Oz went to London and got themselves charged with obscenity. The film’s been in the works at Working Title Films since 1998, going into production in fall of 2007 and ready for release the following year. But it was postponed, ostensibly due to the bad press surrounding Miller’s fling with married actor Balthazar Getty, but subsequent release dates came and went without action — even though early reviews from preview screenings have been mostly positive. What’s the hold-up?
The Day the Clown Cried
Perhaps the most famous unreleased movie in Hollywood history, and for all the wrong (or right, depending on how you look at it) reasons, The Day the Clown Cried has become the go-to shorthand for ill-conceived vanity projects by actors way out of their depth. It tells the WWII-era story of a washed-up German circus clown named Helmut Doork who is detained by the Gestapo for mocking Hitler. He’s sent first to a Nazi prison camp, then to a concentration camp, where he is to entertain children before they’re sent to the gas chamber — though he ends up leading them to their deaths himself. So you can see why it was such an awesome idea for Jerry Lewis to direct and star! Yes, Jerry saw The Day the Clown Cried as the opportunity to make his big breakthrough as a serious actor and director, but the production was cursed from the start: beset by money problems, Lewis ran out of funds before the film could be completed, and found himself trapped in a legal battle with screenwriter Joan O’Brien, who hadn’t been properly paid for her work and who blocked the film’s release after seeing a rough cut, which she called a “disaster.”
The few who’ve spoken out after seeing it agree; Simpsons and Spinal Tap co-star Harry Shearer, who saw it in 1979, wrote years later that “seeing this film was really awe-inspiring, in that you are rarely in the presence of a perfect object. This was a perfect object. This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is.” Well, that’s enough of an endorsement to make any bad cinema connoisseur’s mouth water, but despite years of trying, The Day the Clown Cried seems forever stuck in the Lewis vault; he’s made various announcement over the years of attempting to wrap up the legal woes and get the movie seen (particularly after Roberto Bengini made the idea of a concentration camp comedy viable, if still not particularly advisable). But its legend has grown bigger than the movie itself, and Lewis refuses to discuss it, with interviewers reportedly warned not to bring up the subject with him.
Those are some of the unreleased movies on our wish list — what are yours? Let us know in the comments!