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The Lost & Unmade Projects Of Stanley Kubrick

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist March 4, 2013 at 11:59AM

Cinephiles woke up on Sunday to some exciting and unexpected news about a project from a filmmaker who continues to inspire debate and discussion more than a decade after this death. Steven Spielberg announced he would be taking Stanley Kubrick’s unmade, long-in-development “Napoleon” and bringing it to television as a miniseries. This is nothing short of monumental news, but as devotees of Kubrick know, it’s just one of a handful of projects that he either decided not to make or never got the chance to.
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Wartime Lies
"Aryan Papers" (aka "Wartime Lies")
Another intensively researched project like “Napoleon,” this one actually very nearly happened, with casting in place and shooting practically imminent before Kubrick pulled the plug. One could write reams about this particular Holocaust tale, but we’ll try keep it simple.

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 (“Jurassic Park”) 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.

This article is related to: Features, Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, Napoleon, Ridley Scott, Ang Lee


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