Ebony and Ivory

So I stole a pile of them. Some blowjob princess wearing a so-last-season headset in the reception area asked me where I was going. I immediately made myself look ambitious and sleep-deprived so I could pass as a mail room troll and replied, “I have to get these scripts to Hal Ashby right away.” “Whor” “Hal Ashby, the director. His last movie was with Jeff Bridges and Rosanna Arquette. God, don’t you read the tradesr” She masked the embarrassment born of her ignorance quickly, “Oh! See, I thought you said Al Ashby. You better get going.” As I left I saw her type “Hal Ashby” into her computer and by the time she figured out that he hasn’t made a movie since “8 Million Ways To Die” with Jeff Bridges and Rosanna Arquette in 1985 because he is fucking dead, I was back in my valley shithole reading “Ebony & Ivory” by Stuart Blumberg.

I tell you about this script because out of the ones I read it seems like this one has the best chance to get made and subsequently marketed down our throats. The draft I took a gander at was dated May 14, 2001 and tattooed 123pages. If you want to know about the writer, but are too fucking lazy to go to the IMDB, don’t worry, I did it for you. Senor Blumberg roomied with genius actor (and current Hayek dipstick) Ed Norton at Yale, wrote and produced his buddy’s movie “Keeping the Faith” and did a funny turn as the Car Salesman in “Fight Club.”

I’m sure his script will be changed when/if it is made by Imagine Entertainment and Universal Pictures, but I’m a lousy bastard, so I’ll review it anyway while trying to keep the spoilers to a minimum. “Ebony & Ivory” is a high-concept comedy about a wealthy, white plastic surgeon named Ted Pickford who has a lot of preconceived notions about his neighbor, a wealthy, black rapper named Master Peace. Master Peace, who also happens to have a lot of preconceived notions about Ted, has been cheating on his woman. To get revenge, she enlists her grandmother, an overweight voodoo priestess who farts a lot (did I mention already this will be from the producers of “The Nutty Professorr”) to cast a spell that will cause Ted and Peace to switch bodies.

The two live through each other’s skin, learn it isn’t easy to be a white surgeon or a black rapper and that they’re not all that different after all and become great friends at the end. It’s a feel good race relations satire. And since it’s written by a Yalie there are some good points made;particularly about the hypocrisy behind the business of hip hop and how the form has degenerated from the social commentary made by Grandmaster Flash and Public Enemy in the 80’s to the booties and Bentleys grandstanding of today. Blumberg’s ear for dialogue is very good and the characters are all nicely drawn with a few exceptions: the hyperactive, street slanging Asian intern at Peace’s record company who is a cheap plot deivce, offensive and, even worse, ripped off from Trey Parker’s “Orgazmo.” Ted Pickford is supposed to be very superficial and only attracted to the Barbie-ized bimbos he does boob jobs on, but I think that aspect of him wasn’t developed sufficiently enough to pay off at the end when he reconciles with his put-upon wife. And then there were the black racists.

Blumberg has the gonads to explore racism as a two way street. It’s not a very safe and popular choice–particularly in a movie that I’m sure will be heavily marketed to African-American audiences–to show how black people can be racist, but I’ve met Spike Lee and I gotta tell you, they can. Blumberg shows us these cracker hating people, but unlike the white racists who get their well deserved come-uppances, the black racists get off scott free and I’m sure it’s because Blumberg is afraid of offending somebody. White people don’t get offended when they see movies about the Klan, why should black people get bent out of shape seeing a narrow minded African-American learn that white people aren’t all badr

Blumberg comes dangerously close to saying that for a black rapper to be racist is not only socially acceptable, but justified. Growing up as an ethnic and religious minority in the Rocky Mountain bible belt, I have a problem with all forms of racism no matter who it’s coming from and I think that a script of this nature has an obligation to play it fair from all sides.

Now I’ll step off my soap box and tell you that the plotting of the script seemed pretty episodic and not very sharp, but that can be fixed through subsequent drafts. There were a lot of typos in the script, suggesting Blumberg was in a time crunch to get this thing handed in. Given the time, I bet he can fix the holes and maybe replace the fart jokes with material a little more befitting for one with an Ivy League education.

But look, the real appeal of this script to me was the examination of race relations in America. I hope Blumberg is allowed to explore these themes further and give some director somewhere the chance to shoot a comedy that is not also funny, but really thought provoking. There’s a chance here to make a 21st century “Blazing Saddles” and from what I’ve seen here, Blumberg has the talent to pull it off. But I’ve been in this fucking town too long and I am almost certain that Blumberg’s bosses–the people who raped the memory of Dr. Seuss and contributed to the castration of Eddie Murphy–will probably tell him to scale it back, make it safer, less potentially offensive, but with more jokes like the one where the pit bull fucks the toy terrier. I mean, Christ man, these people don’t even remember who Hal Ashby was…

Rating: B-

Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon

Having seen the masterpiece that is “AI,” I went inquiring for other un-produced works by my favorite Director Stanley Kubrick. I had heard some time ago that Mr. Kubrick had planned to make a film based on the life of Napoleon. The project, as many of his did, had consumed him for years on end before he was forced to abandon it. Contacting some friends with vast resources, I landed my nicotine stained hands on a copy of a screenplay of “Napoleon” authored by Stanley Kubrick. The script was once located on the Internet but is no longer available at the request of the Kubrick family.

The script, dated September 29, 1969, runs 148 pages and follows the life of General Napoleon Bonaparte. Kubrick credits nearly 500 books on the life of the general as his historical education. Kubrick’s touches are all over the script. It is certainly the grandest project he ever took on. The large production costs the film might have incurred are the main reason the studios shut it down. A number of large battle sequences are elegantly described and detailed. My film loving heart wonders what kind combat sequences he would have painted. Certainly, it would have looked nothing like “The Patriot,” coming from the same general period. The meat of the script is in the relationship between Napoleon and his wife Josephine. I felt a felting glance of the kind of interrelationship tangle Kubrick later wove into “Eyes Wide Shut.” The scenes involving the two are well written and reveal the heart of Napoleon’s character.

Kubrick’s artistic touch is seen throughout the scripts. Along with the grandiose battle scenes, Kubrick seems to be dreaming of great sets to shoot as he writes his script. There is an intoxicating bedroom design of Josephine’s that consists of a bedroom entirely covered in mirrors. Kubrick stages a number of love scenes in here and in one case adds a very Kubrickian note at the end of one: MAXIMUM EROTICA.

Kubrick’s talent was not in the writing department for most of his career. He often worked tirelessly with co-writers, exchanging drafts, rewrites and ideas. This script bears only his name and shows it in many places. The dialogue is often very weak and Napoleon’s rise to fame is accomplished too swiftly. This leads to a very slow and confusing start to the film as characters and quick set pieces dance in and out of the script. Yet, by the beginning of the films 2nd act I was engaged. Napoleon’s letters to his wife were the main cause of this. It is here that we really begin to learn about the man who is so successful on the battlefield.

However it is the strength of Kubrick’s visualizations that really caught my attention. His detail of battle strategies and there executions are flawless.

At the script’s conclusion Kubrick has provided seven pages of detailed production notes. They include some interesting tidbits: his intention to shoot 1.3 minutes of film per day, over a half a year in five different countries. Kubrick’s attention to detail can be seen as he takes extra care to describe the various uniforms of the many armies in the film. He apparently went as far as to meet with representatives from Romania and Italy to discuss using their military as extras. He also details firms in New York that can produce uniforms for the movie at a reduced price, since he does not see the logic in renting uniforms for such an extended shoot. (The studio must have loved this).

As for the all-important casting of the title role, Kubrick plainly states he would not like to see a leading Hollywood star play the role. He states:, “I want an actor between 20-35 who has the good looks of the younger Napoleon and who can be aged and made up to look like the older Napoleon. He should be able to convey the restless energy, the callousness, the inflexible will… also (his) tremendous charm.”

All this reveals the extreme care Kubrick took to this project. At the end of the script is detailed a number of steps he took in pre-production. It appears the film was very close to actually going to the full production stage. Everything from the lenses he needed to the films Art Director seem to be in place according to the Production Notes. So what happenedr

Since Kubrick led a very withdrawn life not much is known about him and his projects. We do know however that he went on to film “A Clockwork Orange” in 1970 and release the acclaimed film in 1971. So somewhere in-between the dating of the screenplay, September 1969, and soon there after his interests changed. What he did produce consequently can certainly raise few objections. (Editor’s note: Michel Ciment’s long out of print 1980 book Kubrick goes into some detail about a number of aborted Kubrick projects, including details from several interviews Ciment had with Kubrick which are printed in the book. I had to spend a pretty penny to acquire a copy for my own collection.)

The details that are available make the case plain; the vast production which Napoleon would have become simply hobbled the project. Yet, Kubrick never gave it up, continuing on planning to make the film until the time of his death. Napoleon was Kubrick’s hero and he never let die his desire to produce the film. He was one who could not live with failure and the non-production of “Napoleon” has gone down as one of the great tragedies of cinematic history.

I have learned however that Warner Brothers is planning to produce the film based on Kubrick’s script. Details are sketchy and no director has been announced yet. However the Internet is a vast and wonderful place and I have learned of rumors that Ridley Scott is interested in the script. Almost no details exist yet to confirm or deny this rumor, but it certainly is an interesting one.

It is apparent however that Warner Brothers is moving ahead with production on Napoleon and a number of other Kubrick projects including “The Aryan Papers” and Foucault’s “Pendulum.” The success of “AI” and the intense interest in Kubrick are obvious reasons for this. However part of me wishes to see Kubrick’s work remain as is, a piece of tragic forgotten majesty scrawled on paper. Then again if there anything as chilling and marvelous as “AI,” I might give that a second thought.

Ridley Scott doing Kubrick… oh, man. I don’t know if the masses would be able to handle that. I know it’s something I would rush out to see. “Napoleon” needs a fearless filmmaker, and in my humble opinion, Ridley Scott is the only current filmmaker who could pull it off with any modicum of success.

The ever elusive Mr. X wanted to add something into the mix about the Napoleon story. How hot has this project becomer Ridley Scott isn’t the only one taking a long hard look. Seems none other than Brian DePalma sees this to be the one film which can get his moribund career back on track after twenty years of crap, and may be trying to buy the rights to the screenplay directly from the Kubrick family.

That is just so wrong.

Rating: A