By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com January 30, 2014 at 3:42PM
"Que Viva Mexico"
Who Made It? Soviet silent master Sergei Eisenstein, the pioneering genius behind "Battleship Potemkin," among others.
What Was It About? A sort of travelogue/tribute to Mexico, traveling from the Mayan civilization to the Spanish colonial era to the revolution to a Day of the Dead celebration in the present day.
How Far Did It Get? Eisenstein shot between 175,000 and 250,000 feet of the film in 1931, roughly equivalent to as much as 50 hours, before the backers, seeing no end in sight, pulled the plug.
What Happened? Eisenstein had been lured to Hollywood in 1930, signing a short-term contract with Paramount Pictures, but couldn't agree with the studio on a project — the only one that came close, an adaptation of Theodore Dreiser's "An American Tragedy" (later filmed as "A Place In The Sun"), was ultimately shut down by campaigning by anti-Communist activists. He was released from his contract by the studio, but pal Charlie Chaplin introduced him to progressive author/novelist Upton Sinclair (whose "Oil!" would nearly seventy years later be the basis of Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood"). Together, they cooked up a plan for an apolitical film about Mexico, produced by Sinclair and directed by Eisenstein. The Mexican government insisted that they be given the power to censor the film, but shooting soon began, with the intention that the project would be completed by the April of 1931. But Eisenstein, who was still trying to work out what the project would be, whizzed past that deadline, with more and more film being shot, and with the coffers running dry. Furthermore, having deferred a few times, Stalin had ordered the director to return to the USSR, labeling him a “deserter.” Stalin tried to pit Sinclair against the U.S. authorities, but it backfired, and the producer, furious, shut down production and ordered the film, and Eisenstein, back to the U.S. The director was refused a new visa for the U.S, after customs found caricatures of Jesus and pornography in his baggage, and he was sent to New York to prepare for return to Moscow. He would later say that he had lost interest in the project, while Sinclair and distributor Sol Lesser cut the remaining footage into two features and a short — "Thunder Over Mexico," "Eisenstein In Mexico" and "Death Day," which were released in 1933 and 1934. Nevertheless, others over the years attempted to reconstruct Eisenstein's vision: film critic Marie Seton, who was close to the director, cut a version called "Time In The Sun" in 1939, while Soviet filmmaker Grigori Aleksandrov, who'd collaborated with Eisenstein on the original shoot, produced a cut under the original title in 1979. Eisenstein, meanwhile, restarted his career in the USSR, though was still held under suspicion by Stalin, and had another unfinished project in his future: a third part of his epic "Ivan The Terrible" which started rollinfg in 1946, but when Soviet censors refused to release 'Part II,' production was cancelled after the shooting of several scenes, and Eisenstein died two years later.
"The Other Side Of The Wind"
Who Made It? The undisputed king of the unfinished movie, Orson Welles.
What Was It About? Welles himself told fellow master filmmaker John Huston, who took the lead role in the movie that the film was "about a bastard director... full of himself, who catches people and creates and destroys them. It's about us, John." Influenced by underground techniques (and foreshadowing the current trend for found-footage pictures), the film detailed the last day in the life of filmmaker Jake Hannaford (based on Ernest Hemingway, and played by Huston), and his competitive relationship with a younger rival (played by Peter Bogdanovich), as filmed by the various hangers-on at his 70th birthday party. The cast also included Susan Strasberg, as a Pauline Kael surrogate, Joseph McBride, Mercedes McCambridge, Dennis Hopper, Paul Mazursky, Claude Chabrol and even a very young Cameron Crowe.
How Far Did It Get? Over the course of five or six years, Welles shot almost everything he needed: about ten hours of negative exist. The major scene not shot was the car crash that kills Hannaford, and Welles never recorded the opening narration, which he intended to perform himself. He even edited about 40-50 minutes worth of film.
What Happened? As ever with the director, the production itself was fairly chaotic. Filming began in 1970, mostly of the film within a film, but at the time, he hadn't cast the central role, and so was limited in what he could shoot. Furthermore, a 1971 tax bill left Welles heavily in debt, and as such, he had to go and work on other projects, including "F For Fake" and acting in "Waterloo" and "Treasure Island." Huston was cast in 1973, and filming resumed, but due to some financial difficulties (including alleged embezzlement by a Spanish producer), it came in fits and starts, with shooting not completed until January 1976. But even that wasn't the end of the road. Welles took three years to cut together forty minutes of film, but some of the funding came from the brother-in-law of the Shah of Iran, and when the Iranian Revolution came about in 1979, the negative was seized by Ayatollah Khomeini's government as an "asset" of the previous regime. They eventually released it, but with Welles having since died, it caused a number of lawsuits about the ownership of the negative, with his daughter Beatrice Welles, and longtime mistress and collaborator Oja Kodar among those staking a claim. The original negative remained locked in a vault in Paris, though various work prints still existed elsewhere. An end looked to be in sight when cable network Showtime agreed to fund the completion of the project in the 1990s, and in the 2000s, the legal issues looked to come to an end as Beatrice Welles was paid off. But in 2008, another challenge surfaced, from Paul Hunt, who worked on the film, and producer Sanford Horowitz, who claimed that they also owned the movie. In theory, the legal battles have now been resolved, but it's unclear if Showtime are still backing the project, although twenty minutes of scenes were released on the internet in 2012. We talked to Peter Bogdanovich, who vowed to finish the movie with producer Frank Marshall, late last year, and the director/star told us: "The problem is that a lot of different people own parts of it or claim to own parts of it. And so the chain of title is difficult to establish. But it keeps inching forward and we keep getting closer and closer and things fall apart again. It's just a very, very difficult situation. I think it will get done some time, but not in the near future.”
"The Day The Clown Cried"
Who Made It? Comedy legend/philanthropist/filmmaker/sexist Jerry Lewis. It would have been his eleventh feature as a director, but when it failed to be completed, Lewis wouldn't direct again for another eight years.
What Was It About? An adaptation of a novel by Joan O'Brien, it saw Lewis play Helmut, a German circus clown, who is arrested and sent to a prison camp after mocking Hitler. He begins performing for the Jewish prisoners on the other side of the fence, and is coerced by the authorities to help lead the children into the gas chambers. Distraught, he eventually accompanies them into the chamber and dies with them.
How Far Did It Get? Lewis did shoot the entire film, although he had to dig into his own pocket to see it through the final stages.
What Happened? Lewis had been approached by Belgian-born producer Nathan Wachsberger in 1971 about directing and starring in the project, and though he was initially resistant, eventually committed to the film, with shooting getting underway in April 1972 in Sweden. However, although Wachsberger had promised that the film was fully financed, he seemed to have been not entirely telling the truth, as film equipment failed to turn up, and money proved tight on set, with cast and crew allegedly going unpaid. Lewis did manage to complete the film after putting up some of the money himself, but once it wrapped, the actor/director and the producer continued to feud, with Wachsberger threatening a lawsuit, and retaining control of the negative. Lewis kept a rough cut, and announced publicly in January 1973 that the film would premiere at Cannes that May, but it never materialized, presumably because of the ongoing legal issues. In 1992, actor/comic/"The Simpsons" voice Harry Shearer wrote an article for Spy Magazine in which he claimed to have seen a rough cut of the film in 1979, writing of it, "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." He also quoted original author Joan O'Brien as saying that the film was a "disaster," and that she'd never allow it to be released. Lewis appears to agree, saying at a Q&A last year that, "I was ashamed of the work, and I was grateful that I had the power to contain it all, and never let anyone see it. It was bad, bad, bad." And in Cannes a few months later, he doubled-down, saying "It was bad work. You'll never see it and neither will anyone else." But a few months later, while reiterating that he'd never release the picture, Lewis told Entertainment Weekly that he was proud of the film, or at least aspects of it. Interestingly, the same year saw some behind-the-scenes footage of the movie leak out: if Lewis is to be believed, the only chance we'll have to see anything of the film for a long time to come.
"Who Killed Bambi?"
Who Made It? The script was penned by Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren and legendary film critic Roger Ebert, curiously. Softcore supremo Russ Meyer was at the helm, though strangely, "The Accused and "Over The Edge" filmmaker Jonathan Kaplan claimed that he was director of the project in Vice a few years back.
What Was It About? A punk-rock version of "A Hard Day's Night," it starred the Sex Pistols, who set out to bring down British society.
How Far Did It Get? Ebert says that a day of filming (involving the shooting of a deer) took place before the film was shut down. The footage was later reused by McLaren for Julien Temple's "The Great Rock and Roll Swindle."
What Happened? In a 2010 blog post commemorating McLaren, who passed away that year, Ebert wrote that he received a phone call from Meyer telling him that 20th Century Fox were looking to make a movie starring the Sex Pistols, who'd recently exploded into fame, and that Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious had demanded the men behind their favorite film "Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls" -- namely, Meyer and Ebert, who directed and wrote it, respectively. McLaren flew out to Los Angeles to meet with the pair, who agreed to work on the project, and Ebert stayed in the city to bash out a screenplay. Once completed, Meyer flew to London to prep the film, with Marianne Faithful among those to sign up to the movie, and shooting began, only to grind to a halt almost immediately (Meyer suggested on "The Incredibly Strange Film Show" in the 1980s that he shot four days of the film). McLaren would claim that Fox finally got around to reading the script, and pulled the plug, but as Ebert says, "this seems unlikely because the studio would not have greenlighted the film without reading the script." Meyer seems to have suggested that McLaren misrepresented the financing, and the involvement of Fox (and successfully sued him for libel when he claimed that Meyer had personally shot the deer in the scene), while Meyer biographer Jimmy McDonough claims that the film was shut down when 20th Century Fox board member Princess Grace Kelly objected to another X-rated film from the director, despite the immense success of "Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls." With all three principals behind the project now sadly passed, it's unlikely we'll ever know the real story behind this one. But you can read Ebert's script, which the critic published a few years back on his websiteand watch "The Incredibly Strange Film Show" excerpt below.