The D.O.A. (dead on arrival) Film Festival continues with a few minutes of footage from the scrapped 1931 pre-"Jurassic Park" dinosaur epic "Creation." The brainchild of stop motion animation pioneer Willis O'Brien, "Creation" used O'Brien's then startling special effect model-miniatures to tell the story of a man on an island filled with dinosaurs. (Or something like that. I don't have the time to read the full Wikipedia entry. Read it yourself, for Chrissakes). David Selznick, then the young, pudgy and arrogant head of production at RKO, looked at the footage and cancelled the film, allegedly due to its expensive and slow progress. But there's another wrinkle to this tale. Merian C. Cooper, who was already planning his "King Kong" (he conceived and produced the legendary pre "King Kong" "King Kong") was behind the scenes, advising Selznick to shitcan the movie due to its "boring" plot. In a year, Cooper would turn around and hire O'Brien to create the stop-motion Kong model effects.

This sounds to me like a typical Hollywood fuckover. Cooper clearly admired O'Brien's work and I would guess wanted his movie to be the first to showcase the techniques that O'Brien used and conspired to sabotage O'Brien's own film in order to have first dibs on the stop motion stuff. Four minutes of "Creation" are said to survive. The above posted stuff is referred to as "test footage" though I doubt O'Brien thought he was taking a test--he thought he was making his film. Still, it's quite chilling in its antique way--not only for the scary dinosaurs (part of what makes them scary is the antique herky-jerky nature of O'Brien's primitive but fascinating technique), but for the eerie abandoned film vibe that I'm getting into: a cancelled film is an unfinished story, and because it exists on celluloid the humans are there staring at us, wondering why they got left behind when the other fellas got to go to the theaters.

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Did you know that Alfred Hitchcock is a member of the D.O.A. Film Festival gang? (Yesterday I wrote about a new festival I'm starting, honoring unfinished/abandoned movies). Yes, Hitch had a dead-on-arrival (how befitting for him) project in the late 60s. Why this information eluded Donald Spoto, Raymond Durgent and other earlier Hitch-ographers baffles me. Above is a six minute selection of footage, with annoying French narration that I can't understand.

It was called "Kaleidoscope" and it pre-figured "Frenzy" in its obsessive story about a serial killer.  It was conceived in the late sixties, after the lousy "Marnie"/"Torn Curtain" double-header. Much as Hitch broke free from his 50s widescreen/technicolor style with "Psycho", here he intended to follow the New Wave and shoot a shaggy, loose and decidedly graphic story of sex and murder in New York City. A script--or a bevy of scripts--were duly prepared and abandoned. Apparently the itch of Hitch at this time was literally to go out and shoot free-style, a la the crazy kids of the period. Several unknown young actors were hired. But apparently Universal, Hitch's home studio, didn't like the idea of the project. Undaunted, Hitch pressed on and some "test footage" was shot--a photographer named Arthur Schatz did stills which the eventual footage was based on. Was it a sales reel to help change the studio's mind? If so, it failed to move them off the dime.

Now here's where things get hazy for me. Did Hitch shoot the test footage? Or did he have somebody else do it so he could get a handle on what it might look like? That might sound strange, but Hitch's art director Robert Boyle once said that the director would make him do a matte painting of a park so Hitch could sit the actors on a park bench in a sound stage, thereby saving him the trip off the studio lot to an actual park. Seriously. So the idea isn't as odd as it might sound.

In due time, the project was abandoned and Universal told Hitch to stop wasting time and make this perfectly good book that they owned. They knew he could get a slam-bang thriller out of it. And so we have "Topaze" instead of "Kaleidoscope". Hard to know if the world is the better or worse for it. Here's a nice, crisp webpage which gives the whole story along with screen grabs and a pleasantly short set of clips from the existing footage. The author of the page makes big claims for how the abandoned film would have changed cinema history. Well...

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Welcome to the D.O.A. ("dead on arrival") Film Festival. I've long wanted to start this much-needed addition to the glut of boring festivals that litter the country (the world?). My festival would be unique in that unlike all other festivals that showcase new and exciting material, we would be devoted to highlighting unfinished films, the ones that were begun and ran into some kind of production difficulties, forcing them to be abandoned. The films can be from any era and I have a feeling there'd be plenty of new material as well as old, given how easy it is for people to shoot a movie on their phone and edit it on their computer. Yet it is this very ease that I suspect causes people to begin projects and casually discard them. Fear not, failed filmmaker. You will have a home at the D.O.A. Film Festival.

We'll be showing a few of the classic unfinished debacles--the Charles Laughton/Josef Von Sternberg "I Claudius", the Orson Welles "It's All True", the Terry Gilliam "Don Quixote", the George Cukor/Marilyn Monore "Something's Got To Give".  But we'll also dig deep into the vaults for some of the forgotten ones, resuscitating the dailies of abandoned cinematic fiascos and allowing them their day in the sun.

There will also be script readings of movies that almost got made but never quite got to the first day of principle photography. This is a sticky category for, let's face it, most screenplays never get to the first day of principle photography. In order to qualify for this category, the movie has to have been put into active pre-production. Actors need to have been cast, director/line producer hired, crew gearing up before the film goes in the tank for whatever reason. Recently HBO had a wonderful 'failure to proceed' when Al Pacino walked on the Sandusky movie (which was deep into pre-production), causing Brian DePalma and the rest of the crew to pack up and go home without having shot a single foot of film. This must have cost them a million bucks or so. Maybe we can get Pacino to show up for the reading.

Finally, we will present one of the lucky newcomer failed filmmakers with the Palme D'Or of the D.O.A. Film Festival, the "Orson Welles Award" for best unfinished film--Welles was the undoubted king of the genre, having failed to finish at least half-a-dozen movies. We will celebrate the foolhardiness of all of us who leap into the void, hoping against hope that the bond company won't shut us down, the actor won't pull out at the last second, the money won't mysteriously vanish. Let's kick off with the marvelous BBC documentary on the abandoned Laughton/Von Sternberg "I Claudius". There's terrific footage of Laughton having breakdowns on the set and the whole explanation for why the film was scrapped still seems a little thin. Possibly the producer Alexander Korda saw the movie gradually disintegrating as Laughton fell apart and when co-star (and Korda's wife) Merle Oberon was in a car crash, he quickly moved to take the insurance and send the filmmakers home. Above is a clip of Laughton melting down. Below is the full doc.

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As all good things do, my tribute to my late mother Dorothy must wind down. I appreciate the nice words these posts seem to provoke from both friends and strangers. I will end quietly with a song that she told me fairly recently was one of her favorites. Hoagy Carmichael's 'The Nearness Of You'. Goodbye my wonderful mom. See you around the neighborhood...

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Above is a very charming duet--Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland performing "It's Gotta Be This Or That" with a quite clever set of special lyrics that openly mock Sinatra (who's remarkably good-humored about it).

What has this to do with my mother? Well, one of the great joys in her young life was seeing Judy Garland in 'The Wizard Of Oz' playing a girl named 'Dorothy'--which was my moms name. So moved was she by the story of young Dorothy that she went out and got her hair cut just like Judy's in the movie so she could BE Dorothy. Her love and admiration for Judy Garland was life long.

But then there's Sinatra. For reasons I never could quite grasp, my mother didn't simply dislike 'Frankie' (as the bobby-soxers of the time called him). She loathed Frankie with a passion bordering on the mentally deranged. She referred to him as a 'gangster', a 'low-life', and--this with a solemnity that I remember finding chilling--"a very very evil man". What caused this almost irrational hatred of the greatest singer of his generation? I never knew. I posited once to her that it must have had something to do with her being such a hipster and not wanting to be one of the crowd of young girls who swooned over him. She just shrugged and said, "something like that". Whatever the reason, she's taken it to her grave and I will puzzle the mystery for the rest of my days. Somewhat guiltily, I have to add that I've always loved Frankie and that I kept that fact a relative secret from my mom.

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