Terry Gilliam Was Making a Lost Stanley Kubrick Film Before Lockdown
As if film fans needed another reason to scream into the void, we’re now learning of another heartbreaking movie casualty of the pandemic lockdown. According to Italian outlet La Repubblica (via The Playlist), Terry Gilliam (Brazil, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) was set to film Lunatic at Large, a project originally developed by Stanley Kubrick, in September before lockdowns forced the project to collapse.
“I was doing a film that was originally an idea by Stanley Kubrick,” Gilliam said. “There was a script and I had a cast, but the lockdown has ruined everything.”
The original story is in the vein of a dark Agatha Christie-esque mystery in which one person among a group is an escapee from a nearby mental hospital. Kubrick originally commissioned the Lunatic at Large script from hard boiled novelist Jim Thompson (The Killer Inside Me, The Grifters) in the late 1950’s, after previously working with Thompson on The Killing and Paths of Glory. It was meant to be his next film after 1960’s Spartacus, but the manuscript was lost among the filmmaker’s copious files until after his death in 1999. Kubrick’s son-in-law Philip Hobbs has been trying to get the project going ever since, and in 2011 Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell were attached to star and Chris Palmer (The Boy with Chocolate Fingers) to direct from a screenplay by Stephen R. Clarke.
Here is a brief synopsis of the treatment from The New York Times in 2006: Set in New York in 1956, it tells the story of Johnnie Sheppard, an ex-carnival worker with serious anger-management issues, and Joyce, a nervous, attractive barfly he picks up in a Hopperesque tavern scene. There’s a newsboy who flashes a portentous headline, a car chase over a railroad crossing with a train bearing down, and a romantic interlude in a spooky, deserted mountain lodge. The great set piece is a nighttime carnival sequence in which Joyce, lost and afraid, wanders among the tents and encounters a sideshow’s worth of familiar carnie types: the Alligator Man, the Mule-Faced Woman, the Midget Monkey Girl, the Human Blockhead, with the inevitable noggin full of nails.
This would not be the first project Gilliam has attempted involving carnival characters. He previously attempted to bring Katherine Dunn’s novel Geek Love to the screen, as well as Paul Auster’s Mr. Vertigo, both of which took place amid circus sideshows. He was also set to produce the film The White Circus, which is still in development and involves a talking circus bear.
Instead of working on Lunatic at Large, Gilliam is instead working on a new book, remarking, “At the moment, what I’ve been doing is working on a book of my storyboards for all the films that I finished.” His most recent film was 2019’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, which the filmmaker completed after decades of false starts, and you can purchase it by clicking here!
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