This week the Music Box is showing the new documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, which details Chilean cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowksy’s failed attempt to adapt Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel Dune. The film shows us the production materials designed by Jodorowksy that illustrate his (suitably ridiculous) vision for the film. Film history is duly marked by the form’s major accomplishments, but, really, you could argue that film history has been shaped by the films that didn’t make it to screen too. Such storied examples as Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon, Orson Welles’s adaptation of Hearts of Darkness (initially primed as his debut feature), and Alfred Hitchcock’s Kaleidoscope have as much to say about each filmmaker’s impact and influence as the films they actually made. And the examples don’t end there. Here are five failed films I’d most like to see.
5. Alain Resnais/Stan Lee collaborations Indeed, the French master filmmaker and the American king of comics had not one but two possible projects in mind during the early 70s. It seems like an incredibly unlikely pairing until you remember that Resnais loved comic books. And, besides, many of Resnais’s films have a distinctly fantastical air that surely would have gelled with a superhero story, though the project that came closest to fruition, The Monster Maker, was a more down-to-earth story of a B-movie director and his aspirations to make serious and well-respected work.
4. Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Jesus, aka The Life of Jesus Dreyer first got the idea to make a film about Jesus of Nazareth after finishing The Passion of Joan of Arc in 1927. As he illustrates in the introduction to the film’s screenplay, Dreyer aimed to depict Jesus as a social and political activist rather than a divine, supernatural being. He also sought to erase the long-held notion that the Jews were somehow responsible for Jesus’s death; with the help of historical texts, his script demonstrates how Jesus died a political death at the hand of Roman occupiers. Dreyer approached metaphysical matters by way of psychological realism, so a project like this may well have ranked among his very best films.
3. David Cronenberg’s Frankenstein This one seems less like a failed project and more like a small idea that somehow got out of hand. Producer Pierre David approached Cronenberg about possibly adapting Mary Shelley’s novel, and when Cronenberg agreed that it sounded like a good idea, David took it upon himself to take out a full-page ad announcing the film’s impending release. Of course, the film never materialized, and Cronenberg had already essentially made a Frankenstein film with The Fly, yet the prospects of seeing the Canadian horror master’s take on Shelley’s gothic text is very enticing.
2. Robert Bresson’s Genesis Bresson had a few intriguing projects go unrealized—a docudrama about Saint Ignatius of Loyola and a collaboration with Albert Camus on an adaptation of La Princesse de Clèves—but this one strikes me as the one with the most promise. Bresson envisioned the film as a stripped-down telling of the first book of the Bible, and he was set to make it in 1963 with producer Dino De Laurentiis, but reportedly abandoned the idea during a series of test shoots when he couldn’t get his animal actors to behave the way he wanted. He flirted with the idea again in 1985, but decided against it; had it come to pass, Genesis likely would have been his last film, a truly poetic paradox, suitable given Bresson’s religious practices both in life and onscreen.
1. A Confederacy of Dunces, in general There have been numerous attempts to adapt John Kennedy Toole’s comic masterwork. Over the years such directors as Harold Ramis, Steven Soderbergh, David Gordon Green, and John Waters have either expressed interest or worked directly on an adaptation, while actors like John Belushi, John Goodman, Chris Farley, Will Ferrell, Jack Black, and Zach Galifianakis have been tapped to portray the quixotic Ignatius J. Reilly. I don’t buy into the notion, as some do, that the novel’s sprawling narrative and large cast of characters are naturally resistant to a film adaption—most attempts have been thwarted by legal issues more than anything else—and any combination of director and actor above strikes me as interesting. Maybe Soderbergh, who claims he’ll only work in serialized television for the rest of his career, can find a way to make it work as a TV miniseries.