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New shit has come to light

September 17, 2010

A while ago I wrote a post about Steven Spielberg’s A.I.: Artificial Intelligence and Minority Report, and how I’d always felt both films stumbled to thawed, happy conclusions after their natural ends had come and gone.

Just this week I had an interesting corrective email from Ed Stern, the lead writing brain behind dystopic videogame Brink and a man clearly very keen on Kubrick. He said:

Years back I went to a Q&A with Jan Harlan, Kubrick’s brother in law and producer, and exec producer on AI. People were quite literally queuing up to snort at how Spielberg had botched the ending by making it all mushy, Godlight, long-deferred-but-finally-supplied-backlit-Son-Mother-hug-ish etc. And Harlan politely, patiently, insistently maintained that Spielberg made precisely and exactly the film that Kubrick had planned – not a line or shot or storyboard changed. But of course, if we’d seen it as a Kubrick-Kanon film, we’d think it was outrageously wry and biting and ironic or something, and not dismiss it as a schmaltzy corruption.

You know. Damn. As an observation on the two films my point still stands, but this certainly reveals the limitations of the auteurist shorthand (“Spielberg’s films”, “Spielberg’s endings”) I’m so used to applying to what is a collaborative process. Without getting totally insular or boring, it highlights a maddening aspect of discussing films academically or critically – that the production of any film is the result of hundreds if not thousands of shared decisions and creative coming-togethers, which makes the traditional vocabulary and author-centric approach of literary analysis problematic. It also makes writing about films without sliding into assumptions and make-believe inferences really hard.

None of which is news, and I’ve always enjoyed historical and industrial accounts of Hollywood as a way of avoiding this sort of writing. So I’m a little annoyed with myself for having fallen into the trap. Hey, I guess I thought Spielberg was a safe authorial bet. Who knew? (Ed knew).

The other thing Ed mentioned was Kubrick’s never-made Napoleon project, which along with Killer’s Kiss would’ve been the only original script he’d filmed. Which cheered me up, because the end of Killer’s Kiss, with a chase across an abandoned industrial metropolis and an eerie fight in a mannequin workshop, is fantastic. And also, on youtube.

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