Narrated by Malcolm McDowell, Lost Kubrick: The Unfinished Films of Stanley Kubrick (2007) examines the films Stanley Kubrick developed but didn’t live long enough to make. Through interviews and abundant archival materials, this documentary examines some of these unrealized films in depth to discover what drew Kubrick to these projects, the work he did to prepare them for production, and why they ultimately were abandoned. Features interviews given by Kubrick’s longtime producer Jan Harlan, Jack Nicholson, and Sydney Pollack. H/T to frame-paradiso.
Based on the book by Louis Begley Jr., Kubrick penned a script entitled Aryan Papers, set in Poland during the Nazi occupation of WWII, telling the story through the eyes of a ten-year-old who recalls how his Aunt protected him by passing them off as Catholics in order to survive. Development started in the early 1990s (though the subject matter was something Kubrick had long wanted to tackle), and according to Kubrick: The Definitive Edition, Joseph Mazzello would be playing the young boy. And it seems at least two actresses were committed to lead the movie — Uma Thurman and Johanna Ter Steege. According to Thurman, “I was going to make a film with him — for a long time I was scheduled to make a film with him,” she told MTV about Aryan Papers in 2008. “I was contracted to do it and things happened and he shelved the film. He never made the film.” “It was devastating because it was an incredible part,” she reflected. “It would have been the part of my career, the best part I ever had been offered or had written for me, or anything.”
Meanwhile, the lesser known Steege (perhaps most familiar to audiences for her role in George Sluzier’s The Vanishing) revealed she was kept on the hook, with promises that cameras would roll. She declined other work all with the expectation that the movie would shoot, with continual confirmation from Kubrick and Harlan. But as Thurman noted, the movie was eventually canceled. “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,” Steege told The Independent in 2009, while Christiane Kubrick, the filmmaker’s widow, noted that the filmmaker became depressed “because of all the research he did” about the Holocaust.
And indeed, the research had another effect on the movie. “We spent nearly two years, day in day out, researching that. And in that same period Spielberg got the idea for Schindler’s List, did the pre-production, made the film, released it, and we were still shuffling index cards,” Kubrick’s assistant Tony Frewin told Vice. Kubrick, who had seen Platoon come out around the same time as Full Metal Jacket, was wary of having his Holocaust picture and Spielberg’s come out around the same time, and ultimately shelved it. Eyes Wide Shut co-writer Frederic Raphael has long spun an anecdote about Kubrick, that he had dismissed Schindler’s List by saying (something to the effect that) it was about success, while the Holocaust is actually about “six million people who get killed.” Whether or not this is actually true is unclear, but one should also note that the Kubrick family have largely dismissed Raphael’s memoir about working with Kubrick, Eyes Wide Open.
Again, Aryan Papers didn’t get made, but Warner Bros. still has the rights to the book, and in 2005 William Monahan (The Departed) was hired to write a new draft of the script. Meanwhile, Harlan has tossed out the idea of another filmmaker taking it on. “It would have to be really a good director. In the wrong hands, this would become a very cheap movie. But if Ang Lee wanted to do it, I would jump to the ceiling!” he told The Independent. —The Lost & Unmade Projects Of Stanley Kubrick
Unfolding the Aryan Papers is as much about a film that never happened as it is a portrait of the chosen lead actress Johanna ter Steege. It begins with images of Johanna taken in 1993 by Stanley Kubrick — they are of the wardrobe shoot for the film Aryan Papers. Johanna was to play the lead role of Tania, a compelling character. Tania is central to the film: she is a Polish Jew trying to save herself and her family from the Nazis. When we visited the Kubrick Archive, we were intrigued to look at the detailed research for a film that never made it into production. The amount of research is overwhelming and it seems to have overwhelmed Kubrick himself. The research left him very depressed and he abandoned the project. The work takes its title from Kubrick’s film and, intercut between stills of Johanna, are images from the archive of specific scenes Kubrick wanted to recreate and images from the Ealing Studios Archive of interiors, shot in 1939/40. The film moves into live action with footage of Johanna filmed now, fifteen years later, where she appears to come to life, recreating stills from the original wardrobe shoot. —Artists’ statement
Directors: Jane and Louise Wilson
Producer: Pinky Ghundale
Director of Photography: Alistair Cameron
Editor: Reg Wrench
Actress: Johanna ter Steege
Commissioned by Animate Projects and the BFI with The Stanley Kubrick Archives, University of the Arts London.
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