By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist January 30, 2014 at 3:42PM
"Uncle Tom's Fairy Tales"
Who Made It? The film was a collaboration between legendary comic Richard Pryor, in what would have been his first major film role, and then film-student Penelope Spheeris, who'd go on to direct legendary documenatries "The Decline Of Western Civilization (Parts I, II and III)" and, most famously, the original "Wayne's World."
What Was It About? It's still somewhat unclear. David and Joe Henry's recent biography of Pryor, "Furious Cool," says that the film was about a group of Black Panthers who abduct a wealthy white man and put him on trial for all racial crimes in the history of America.
How Far Did It Get? Shot in 1968 or early 1969, the film appears to have been completed, and Spheeris edited the film at the end of '69, except for a short break in order to give birth to her daughter.
What Happened? According to "Furious Cool," Spheeris had apparently assembled about 45/50 minutes of the movie — they were working towards a cut that they would show Bill Cosby, who it was hoped would attach his name to the project, presumably as a producer. She screened it to Pryor in the basement of his house, with the film then collecting in a bin under the Moviola, when Pryor's second wife Shelley Bonis stormed in, furious with her husband. According to Spheeris, Pryor and Shelley fought until the comic, screaming "You think I love this film more than you? Watch this?," picked up the negative and tore it into pieces. Spheeris spliced the fragments back together as best she could, and they screened the results to Cosby, who may or may not have bought the negative (Pryor's memoirs says that Cosby agreed to pay for a final edit, then commented "Hey, this shit is weird," convincing Pryor to shelve the film, only for the negative to be stolen from his house, while Spheeris speculates that Cosby buried the movie to hurt Pryor, his main competition). A brief clip of the film, from dailies Spheeris says she found years later, was screened at a tribute to the comedian shortly before his death in 2005, which caused Pryor's wife Jennifer Lee to sue both the director and Shelley's daughter Rain, claiming that they must have been behind the theft of the print in the 1980s. The suit is apparently still pending.
Who Made It? Henri-Georges Clouzot, the suspense mastermind behind "Les Diaboliques" and "The Wages Of Fear," among others.
What Was It About? An expressionist psychological thriller about a hotelier driven mad by the sexual jealousy caused by his younger wife. Italian born actor/singer Serge Reggiani, and Austrian actress Romy Schneider ("What's New Pussycat?") had the lead roles.
How Far Did It Get? About three weeks of filming took place before the plug was pulled.
What Happened? Clouzot had been stung by criticism from the New Wave filmmakers, who attacked him repeatedly in Cahiers du cinema, and so the filmmaker set out, with an essentially unlimited budget from Columbia Pictures (there were three separate crews, with as many as 150 people working simultaneously), to make something more avant-garde with his 1964 film, "L'Enfer." Surviving footage looks rather remarkable, although Bernard Stora, then an intern on the project, would later comment, "It seemed clear from the beginning they didn't know what they were doing." Once filming began, a Gilliam-esque series of nightmares took place. The summer shoot took place in record-breaking temperatures. It emerged that the lake by which the film was being shot, a crucial part of the movie, was set to be drained in a few weeks, leaving Clouzot 20 days to wrap the movie. And that looked to be impossible when the often-difficult Clouzot fell out with Reggiani, principally because he was forcing the actor to run up to ten miles a day in the sweltering heat—the actor claimed to be suffering from Maltese fever, and quit after ten days. Clouzot attempted to replace him with "And God Created Woman" and "Amour" star Jean-Louis Trintignant, but the actor smelt something fishy and declined after a visit to the set. Instead, Clouzot decided he'd try and rewrite the film around the absence of his male lead. But a few days later, while shooting a lesbian love scene on the lake, he suffered a heart attack, and insurance agents finally stepped in. Still, it survives better than most—Claude Chabrol made a film based on Clouzot's script in 1994 starring Emmanuelle Beart, while the surviving footage was unveiled in the excellent 2009 documentary "Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno."
Who Made It? Nouveau Vague legend Jean Luc-Godard, who shot the film in 1968 with the help of famous documentarians D.A. Pennebacker and Richard Leacock.
What Was It About? An attempt to capture the spirit of revolution in the American underground at the time, mixing documentary footage with dramatic reconstructions, shot almost entirely in unbroken rolls of film.
How Far Did It Get? The film (the title of which stands for "One American Movie") was shot almost entirely. But it wasn't the production that was the problem...
What Happened? By 1968, the increasingly politicized Godard was frustrated with the film industry in France, and the way that the revolution seemed to be running into the ground. But he was soon approached by documentarians Pennebaker and Leacock, who had convinced PBS-forerunners the Public Broadcasting Laboratory, to finance a film that they'd work on with Godard. Filming began in October '68, and involved a mix of documentary footage, interviews and staged scenes (including one where Rip Torn, wearing first a Civil War army uniform , then present-day khakis, lectured an Ocean Hill elementary school classroom). Jefferson Airplane and Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver were among the other subjects. But, according to Richard Brody's book "Everything Is Cinema," Godard disappeared to Canada in November, beginning to put together projects there, having seemingly lost confidence in "One A.M." His absence meant that Leacock and Pennebaker were financially liable to PBL, and their company was forced into bankruptcy as a result. Godard returned to finally look at the rushes in the spring of 1970, but announced his disinterest in the project, and walked away again. In the event, Pennebaker cut together his own version (including footage he'd filmed of Godard on set), and entitled it "One P.M," which stands for, depending on who you're talking to, for either "One Parallel Movie" or "One Pennebaker Movie." It premiered in June 1971, and now pops up on the rep circuit from time to time. Or you can just watch it below.
Thoughts? If you could choose one, which one of these projects would you most like to see if that was possible? And there's plenty of other unfinished, abandoned and scrapped films out there in the history of cinema. Any others you'd like to see for a future installment?