Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Magic Video

My friend Judy once wrote a story about a magic video cassette. You whack it in the VCR and tell it you want to watch some movie that actually exists but in a might-have-been version that doesn't- like, for example, the version of The Wizard of Oz starring Shirley Temple- and it duly obliges. There are rules. The films you ask it to play need to be ones that were actually mooted. A Shirley Temple Wizard is legit because at one stage Temple was slated to play Dorothy. A version with- I don't know- Jodie Foster isn't- because that was never on the cards.

It's fun to imagine the consequences. Would Garland have had a career without the Wizard? Would Temple's career have extended into adulthood if she'd had a mega-hit in her teens? Would Temple as Dorothy even have worked?

Some of these might-have-beens have world-historical consequences. Ronald Reagan nearly got to play Rick in Casablanca. Suppose Reagan had graduated to the A-list on the back of that film: would he ever have bothered to go into politics? Would there have been a Reagan presidency? Would the Soviet Empire have crumbled when it did?

I was thinking along these lines after reading that Albert Finney very nearly got to play Lawrence of Arabia. He was David Lean's first choice, he'd completed the screen tests- and only pulled out at the last moment because he didn't like the contract Sam Spiegel was trying to rope him into. Instead he went off and did Tom Jones- a good choice, but a smaller film that hasn't worn as well. If he'd done Lawrence- and who can doubt that he'd have been wonderful in it?- he'd have been the biggest actor in the world- with the biggest chances and choices- and I somehow doubt that he'd have frittered them away like O'Toole. Lawrence as it stands is a great movie, would it have been even greater with Finney?

My favourite might-have-beens are mostly to do with directors. In one wild moment Jean-Luc Godard was considered as director for Bonnie and Clyde- and who knows what the result would have been? Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde is sort of imitation New Wave but what if the most uncompromising actual New Waver had been in charge? Equally implausibly, Ingmar Bergman was considered as writer-director for the TV series that eventually became Jesus of Nazareth; he wanted to film it all on his Swedish island- and the producers baulked. Orson Welles spun out projects like sparks from a Catherine wheel- few of which got very far- but his idea for a movie about the French Mass murderer Landru did eventually make it to the screen- only in a version written and directed by its star, Charlie Chaplin. M.Verdoux is one of my favourite movies, but just imagine if Chaplin had damped down his enormous ego and let Welles take charge: Charlie Chaplin in a tragi-comedy scripted and directed by Orson Welles- oh my!
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