a brief history of three momentous films that didn’t make the cut…
In the mid-1960s, with his career at a low ebb following the critical failure of Marnie and an ambivalent response to Torn Curtain, Alfred Hitchcock worked on a groundbreaking experimental film that would have represented a radical change in his style-possibly heralding a new late phase of cinematic creativity.
Kaleidoscope was the story of a serial rapist and killer. It was initially envisaged as a kind of prelude to Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. There would be several murders, including an attempt on the life of a decoy policewoman – an idea that particularly excited Hitchcock – and a Psycho-style stabbing. And the director intended to use story details from infamous UK criminal cases (including an acid bath murderer and a necrophile).
This could have been Hitchcock’s darkest film. Indeed, Hitchcock himself worried that some scenes might be too frightening for the audience. In a bold move, he wanted to tell the entire story from the perspective of the killer, envisaged as an attractive, vulnerable young man (Hitchcock later decided that the character would be gay). More radically, he planned to experiment with innovative filming techniques such as hand-held filming and natural light.
Unfortunately, MCA studios turned the film down as they apparently thought that the protagonist was too “ugly”, a decision that rankled with Hitchcock for the rest of his life. All that remains now of his experiment is an hour-long tape of silent footage – and the tantalising prospect of a new wave of Hitchcock films in a new vérité style, influenced by the European avant garde, to whom he had become a deity.
In the 1920s, the pioneering Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein changed the face of cinema with his celebrated Battleship Potemkin – a seminal illustration of his theories of montage. And if he had succeeded in completing Que Viva Mexico, his ambitious social history of Mexico, weaving together its myths, art, religion, and social history, he might have changed cinema history once again.
Unfortunately, Eisenstein’s financial backer, the American novelist Upton Sinclair, cancelled the production before filming was completed in 1932. In part this was due to the film’s extended delays and increased expenses brought on by arduous working conditions in Mexico, as well as Eisenstein’s increasingly epic conception of the film. However, a telex from Stalin presenting Eisenstein as a traitor to Russia also weighed heavily on the project. The director was forced to return to Russia empty-handed. Although Sinclair promised to send him the footage, he was prohibited from doing so by the Russian state.
Que Viva Mexico represented a breakthrough in Eisenstein’s artistic development. Gone was the social realist approach to montage; in its place came an innovative improvised approach, a freer, more personal kind of cinema, exploring picture composition and mise-en-scène, anticipating directors like Von Sternberg. He was never again to achieve this kind of creative freedom.
Several versions of the film were culled from the footage, but none bear comparison to Eisenstein’s ambitious vision, notwithstanding the fragmentary beauty of Edouard Tisse’s stark vivid images. However, the influence of the film’s imagery can be seen on directors such as Luis Buñuel, John Huston and Orson Welles.
Although Orson Welles left a myriad of incomplete films during his 50 years in cinema, Don Quixote was his most enduring passion. He began filming in 1955 and continued in Mexico, Spain and Italy over the following decades, bringing together the cast and crew whenever he could raise the finance. Indeed, Welles was still talking about finishing the film months before his death in 1985. Don Quixote was Welles’s great obsession. “What interests me is the idea of these dated virtues [like chivalry] and why they seem to speak to us, when by all logic they are so hopelessly irrelevant,” he said in an interview, revealing that this was a key theme of his films. In Welles’s film, Quixote was a timeless figure who leaves 16th-century Andalusia to confront modern Spain and the modern world.
The film mutated countless times over the years. Unable or unwilling to finish it, Welles continued proliferating images and stories, not unlike the style of Cervantes’ book. All that was left at the end of Welles’s life was 300,000ft of film footage poorly organised and distributed across the world.
A hastily “restored” version of the film, put together by Jess Franco in 1992, director of exploitation films such as She Killed in Ecstasy, was received with revulsion. It offered only occasional glimpses of Welles’s brilliance and Francisco Reiguera’s superb performance as Don Quixote.
Over the decades, Welles indiscriminately accepted films in order to raise finance for this film. This was not the only sacrifice he made. At the end of editing Touch of Evil, he rushed off to Mexico to film Don Quixote. And Universal studios, taking advantage of his absence, radically re-edited his dark noir masterpiece.
also see Kubrick’s “Napoleon”…