Having reviewed the excellent new Wings Of Desire special edition yesterday, I was shocked to find that Wim Wenders’ classic and esoteric tale of angels in Berlin was at one point set to end with a pie fight. All the footage – and I mean the footage from all four cameras covering the slapstick fight between Bruno Ganz, Otto Sander and Solveig Donmartin – is included in the 30 minutes of deleted scenes, and Wenders himself is offering a prize to whoever can edit it back into the film on Final Cut Pro (or whatever) most effectively.
Thank God, he recognises it was a mad end-of-shoot idea, and constitutes more the beginning of the wrap party for Wings Of Desire than the end of principal photography, but…blimey, he was close there, for a while.
It set me thinking of the other near-misses from cult film…
7: HOURS of incomprehensible shit – Fire Walk With Me (1992)
As a lover of Eraserhead, The Elephant Man and Dune, and a big respecter of Wild At Heart, Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, I have to date the release of FWwM as the point where the last of David Lynch’s very useful anti-psychotics left his system. I hear that drugs can be stored in body fat and release their effects in later years, when the fat becomes metabolised for sustenance; therefore a rigorous diet must have kept ‘Out To Lunch’ Lynch balanced enough to make the delightful The Straight Story (1999), before getting utterly lost again in Mulholland Drive (1992).
Anyway, this is a director who makes legendarily lengthy cuts of his movies (see Dune below), and FWwM/Peaks fans are still clamouring for the missing three hours of Lynch’s cinematic outing for his Twin Peaks retinue. ?yhW
Maybe it’s an Alien 3 deal, where the restoration of essential footage will suddenly make sense of the whole thing. But if it takes three hours extra for that to happen, it does suggest a certain want of narrative economy.
6: Jessica and Logan pose for ice-sculpture – Logan’s Run (1976)
My motives for wanting to see this, though not the purest, are mixed up with annoyance at how close this scene came to being in the movie. After Roscoe Lee Brown’s robot guardian ‘Box’ has welcomed our heroes to his ice-cave, but before he lets slip the fact that he has flash-frozen all the other ‘runners’ who came there looking for Sanctuary, the eccentric cyborg asks the stunning couple if they will pose nude for an ice-sculpture. Being good guests, they agree…
That scene was refused as too provocative for the rating that Logan’s Run was going for, but annoyingly it is rendered in the Marvel comics adaptation! Arghhh. So close.
Since I can’t really put Logan’s Run in twice, I’ll have to also mention the other legendarily missing scene, which is the bawdier original cut of Michael York and Jenny Agutter’s slightly-hilarious slow-motion escape from Richard Jordan through the ‘Love Shop’, which is basically a cross between Starbucks and a 70s orgy. Michael Anderson’s racier edit also fell victim to the MGM blue pencil, and the director admits on the commentary that the bowdlerised version familiar to audiences is only a shadow of it.
5: Kurt Russell gets the all-clear – The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter makes clear in the extras on The Thing (R1 release) DVD that Universal wanted coverage of a happier ending to his nihilistic cult shocker. Being a practical man and not committed to using it, Carpenter quickly threw together a set-up at the end of shooting where Kurt Russell is in a hospital, having been recovered from the arctic pyrotechnics that now close the movie, and being given a test that proves he is not infected. Russell gives a sigh of relief and that’s it.
I don’t know if the test given is the rather dramatic ‘hot metal’ one that proved a hallmark of the film, but Carpenter’s decision not to include this scene in the otherwise very comprehensive extras on the laserdisc/DVD Thing was the right one, in my opinion. This was not something I needed to see, and it was never part of the reality of the film. Apparently the scene was cut into the movie at certain test screenings; since it proved to have no discernible effect on general audience reaction, Carpenter was allowed to keep the finale bleak and bereft of comfort.
4: James Remar as Hicks – Aliens (1986)
Yup, Dexter’s dead dad shot a full two weeks on James Cameron’s sci-fi horror classic as Ripley’s squeeze before being replaced by stalwart Cameronite Michael Biehn. Reports at the time cited a family emergency, though Remar is said to have since admitted that it was due to his excessive drug-use at the time. In the same period Cameron was forced to replace an obstreperous director of photography, and was as plagued by British working practises as LV426 was by xenomorphs, legendarily having to stop work every three minutes for a round of bad sandwiches and greasy tea.
One shot of Remar’s work as Hicks remains in Aliens – as the camera pans down from the alien-encrusted walls to the marines approaching the reactor core, the Hicks walking away from shot is Remar. This was an early SFX shot using a hanging miniature that had just been trashed, and would have been prohibitively expensive to re-shoot. Luckily Remar looks away from camera as soon as it lights on him, and there’s really no telling anyway who is who with all that grungy military get-up.
3: Ripley slapped by Lambert – Alien (1979)
This minor deep-space cat-fight has actually surfaced in recent years, but was quite a curiosity until the Quadrilogy edition; the more so because, as with the Logan’s Run ‘box sculpture’ (see above), the scene was removed after the film had been turned into a graphic novel. So again, this was one that I got to see only in comic form.
Outraged that cool-as-ice Ripley wouldn’t let Dallas and her back on board with the infected Kane (a pretty fucking wise move foiled by the traitormatic Ash), Veronica Cartwright’s character lays into Ripley as soon as she arrives at the infirmary to see how Kane is getting on, but Parker (Yaphet Kotto) quickly intervenes.
Ridley Scott recounts on one of his several commentaries for various versions of Alien that he wasn’t getting the energy and conviction out of the conflict, and told Cartwright to really ‘go for it’ with the slap. Used to the feints, Weaver burst into tears when taking the full force of the blow and remonstrated with herself – so she recounts in Quadrilogy – because Ripley ‘would never have cried’.
Since I can’t mention Alien twice, I will also add that I would love to see more of John Finch’s takes as Kane, before John Hurt was called in to replace the very ill actor, who was subsequently diagnosed with diabetes. That said, the one shot of Finch in the role on the bridge of the Nostromo, which is available on the Quadrilogy edition, finds the actor clearly on the point of passing out. As this was one of his first shots for the film, there may be no more of Finch to see in the role.
2: The ‘star child’ blows up Earth’s nuclear arsenal – 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
The evolved Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) was originally to not merely go into orbit and gaze fawn-like at the camera but detonate the entire arsenal of Earth’s nuclear weapons. It would have been a ‘nuking from orbit’ that predated Aliens by nearly twenty years, and Kubrick is said to have avoided the idea ultimately because of its similarity to the conclusion of Doctor Strangelove. Since such an aggressive act would possibly mean the end of all life on Earth, this alternate ending paints 2001 in a shockingly different light…
Having spent millions of years growing a civilised race from a bunch of vegetarian monkeys, why punish the very war-like behaviour that you instilled in them yourself with your big black monoliths at the dawn of time? All the space-borne remnants of the human race were clearly dependent on Earth and a long way from any real colonisation, so in effect it would have been kaput for mankind. Perhaps the Star Child was intending to jettison Earth and its people like a second-stage rocket, and continue a new and better race via parthenogenesis?
Apparently special effects for the nuclear wipe-out were actually done – though not finished – by Douglas Trumbull. Again, as with Kurt’s miraculous escape in The Thing (see above), I’m not sure I ever want to really see it…
1: The ‘Little maker’ – Dune (1984)
This was for a long time a mystery to all but those who watched the ‘Alan Smithee’ version on network TV in the 1980s, which – in a typical ‘network-cut’ deal with the devil – traded off censorious snips for extended and non-controversial footage that never made it into the cinematic version. One of those cut scenes was an elaborate ritual where the Fremen show Paul how spice is extracted from the baby worms. It’s pretty disgusting, actually, and is found or found absent in various of the five known versions of Dune, but the Smithee abomination – a bloat-out at 177 minutes – definitely has it, and that has been released on DVD after many years of curiosity by fans.
In a side-note, an early script treatment of the adaptation, by Rudolph Wurlitzer (a writer on Sam Peckinpah´s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid) would have had the fugitive Paul Atreides and his Bene Gesserit mum, the Lady Jessica, in an incestuous tryst after the death of husband/father Duke Leto. Ridley Scott was behind the idea during his involvement on the project before David Lynch was invited to the helm, and the oedipal strand was then firmly nixed. Ten years later, Lynch would probably have done it…