You hardly need to be a daily reader of our humble blog (though if you’re not, what’s wrong with you?) to know that there are few filmmakers we are more eternally fascinated by than Spike Lee, despite, and let’s be honest, often because of his predilection for pissing people off. Lee is an epochal figure even away from the feuds and the tiffs and the controversies; we will never forget just how awestruck we were when we first saw “Do the Right Thing” and went on to enjoy the fruits of the independent filmmaking scene that it pretty much revolutionized. If Lee had never made another film, he’d deserve our attention just for that. But of course, Lee has made other films, and if anything, the way he has subsequently swung wildly from near-genius (“The 25th Hour,” “Malcolm X,” “4 Little Girls“) to what the what? (“Girl 6,” “She Hate Me,” “Kobe Doin Work“), and regularly visited all points in between, makes us even more interested in tracking his output.
This week, another first for Lee opens up in theaters—”Oldboy,” his first remake (you can read our review here). Of all the highways and byways of his career, we have to say “U.S. remake of foreign original” was probably the one we were least eager to see him explore, but a little research reveals the difficulty Lee has experienced, almost from the off, in getting many of his passion projects off the ground. And so perhaps we can cut him a little slack for taking on a less creatively intriguing project if the opportunity presented itself, especially with his previous two features “Miracle at St. Anna” and the lower-profile “Red Hook Summer” underperforming commercially and critically. Don’t believe us? Here’s a rundown of just ten of the myriad projects to which Lee was once attached, and which never, for one reason or another (but mostly just one reason: money) came to fruition.
“Inside Man 2”
In 2006, Lee’s always zigzaggy career took a major zag when he flirted, in earnest, for the first time with the mainstream, with the heist thriller “Inside Man.” And the mainstream flirted right back, delivering Lee’s biggest-ever box office and marking him out, contrary to his rep to that point, as a filmmaker whose sheer directorial confidence could lend gloss and texture to a film that, really, had little to do with race relations, black history or other four-quadrant audience turn-offs. However, we shouldn’t overstate “Inside Man”’s success: $184m is certainly nothing to be sniffed at, but the film had also had a higher than average budget (for Lee) at $45m, and an immensely bankable lead and a stacked supporting cast in Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Willem Dafoe and Christopher Plummer, so those numbers were solid, rather than immediately screaming “sequel.”
But a sequel was almost immediately mooted. It almost felt like Hollywood was kind of relieved that they suddenly had somewhere to put Lee and didn’t want to mess with the formula too much, despite the first film’s story being based around the kind of twisty tricksiness that made it a feel like a one-off. A little hampered by the writers’ strike and also the fact that he was writing “Righteous Kill” around this time, screenwriter Russell Gewirtz (for whom “Inside Man” had been his debut) took a stab at a script which duly leaked online. Gewirtz’s “Inside Man 2” essentially retained the Washington and Owen characters from the first, but put them in an entirely different plot in which they form a reluctant partnership (in fact, in Washington’s case an unwitting one, since he still doesn’t know that Owen is his nemesis from the first picture) in order to take down a vicious gang of Eastern European diamond thieves. It also apparently featured a slightly larger role for Jodie Foster’s “fixer” character this time out (you can read an analysis here).
But by September of 2008, when word on Lee’s involvement with the sequel was confirmed (it had always been assumed/rumored), the screenwriter being mooted was in fact “Hotel Rwanda” director Terry George, who had done some punching up on the original, apparently, according to Lee’s DVD commentary, adding the Nazi subplot and the diamond ring element. By January 2009, rumors that George’s script would focus on Owen’s gang of thieves were themselves debunked by Lee, who said “not anymore” and revealed that George was only at the end of the first act thus far. Washington, Foster, Ejiofor and Owen were all said to be returning, though. Then, an eerie silence descended, too eerie in retrospect, considering Lee had hoped the film would be shooting by the end of that year, until word officially dropped in April 2010 during an ESPN interview, of all things, that the project was dead, with Lee referring to it in the past tense pretty definitively: “We were going to do ‘Inside Man 2,’ but it didn’t work out.” It seems that the issue that has dogged Lee throughout his career has returned, and even on this most apparently bankable of projects—a sequel to an already successful film—Lee hadn’t been able to find funding. He told Charlie Rose in 2011 “ ‘Inside Man’ was my most successful film, but we can’t get the sequel made. And one thing Hollywood does well is sequels. The film’s not getting made. We tried many times. It’s not going to happen.” Of course, in the interim, Lee’s Hollywood cachet had no doubt dimmed somewhat with “Miracle at St. Anna” underperforming so drastically (something which apparently led Lee to change talent agencies). Still, the whole process did seem to prime Lee to take something of a “one for me and one for them” approach, which is perhaps the roots of the Lee joint that’s in theaters this week—not a sequel, but that other most Hollywood of projects, a remake (for all we’re not supposed to call it that).
The James Brown Biopic
So back in December 2006, when we were all still in rompers, Lee was officially attached to a gestating biopic of The Hardest Working Man in Showbiz, The Godfather of Soul, Mister Dynamite, The Man of Many Nicknames, James Brown. In fact the announcement, with typical Hollywood timing, came the day after Brown’s death (he died on Christmas Day that year). By that stage, the script had already been through several incarnations, with Brown himself involved at all stages, having met with original screenwriter Steve “Feeling Minnesota” Baigelman, and then given rewriters Jez and John Henry Butterworth (Doug Liman’s “Fair Game”) full access to his estate and his personnel. Lee was to do a subsequent pass himself.
Initially Lee cast Wesley Snipes as Brown, saying determinedly in early 2009 “We’re doing it together – it’s going to happen”—this despite delays that Lee claimed were due to studio bosses being reluctant to find the money to mount biopics of black celebrities. His plan was to dub Snipes’ singing voice, however, as he said “I want to hear James Brown’s voice. That’s just my personal taste… I know Joaquin Phoenix in ‘Walk the Line,’ he did some of the singing, [but] I’m a purist.” However this was also around the time that Snipes’ tax evasion chickens came home to roost, with the actor being handed a three-year sentence which he appealed against in vain, and which he began in December 2010.
The next actor who was linked in any serious way to the role was Eddie Murphy (though Chris Brown and Usher were apparently also approached, according to James Brown’s daughter). Murphy himself had always taken an active interest in the project, in fact endorsing Snipes’ casting back in the day saying “he turned into the action dude, but Wesley has all the talent… James Brown isn’t just singing and splits, you gotta be able to act, you gotta get chased in a car in a crack haze and shot at. Wesley could pull that off, you need to be an actor.” With Murphy himself back in favor following “Dreamgirls” for a while it certainly looked like the Lee/Murphy/James Brown dream team combo was going to become a reality.
Of course, we never really know what’s going on behind the scenes as it’s happening, but it turns out that after Brown’s death, the rights issues around the all-important music became much, much thornier, and the various interested parties apparently did not agree on Lee as the director of the project. In fact Murphy alluded to these issues already in March 2012, saying “there’s the most incredible script that Spike Lee worked on that has everything in it, but you have to get the rights from the people who have the rights to James’ story… and getting them all together… which makes it hard to come together… but I hope it comes together, it’s a great, great piece” so perhaps the news that, in October 2012, in fact the directorial chair would be filled by “The Help” ’s Tate Taylor shouldn’t have come as too big a surprise. Taylor’s incarnation will star “42”’s Chadwick Boseman alongside Jill Scott, Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Lennie James and Keith Robinson. But we have to say that the shift from Lee to Taylor has dampened our enthusiasm for this one a bit. With the film originally imagined as a warts-and-all, uncompromising take on the superstar’s incredibly dramatic life story, we can’t help but feel Taylor’s “Get On Up” may pull a few more punches than Lee’s version would have. But we’re willing and ready to be proven wrong.
Still, as sorry as we may feel for Lee over this whole affair, spare a thought for producer Brian Grazer, who has been trying to get a Brown biopic off the ground since feathered bangs were in… the nineties. Ok, fine, he’s still a gazillionaire superproducer, so you don’t have to feel too bad, but still, next year’s “Get On Up” will mark the culmination of a lot of work (including bringing Mick Jagger on as a producer), even without Lee’s involvement.
“Brooklyn Loves MJ”
For whatever reason, and possibly because simply not enough time has passed for anyone to feel like they can take an adequately objective look at the man’s life and enormous legacy, but more likely because of, we can only imagine, crazy rights issues around the music, fiction features about Michael Jackson, or even featuring him as a background pop cultural touchpoint, are surprisingly thin on the ground. Word’s even gone quiet on the gestating biopic that was being shopped a couple of years ago. Which is one level on which the evaporation of Lee’s “Brooklyn Loves MJ” is disappointing, but mainly we’re kind of gutted because this one sounded like such classic Lee material. As much as we enjoy his more accessible, less idiosyncratic projects (Lee’s matured into a consummately accomplished filmmaker whatever the material), our hearts always kinda leap when we hear him linked to material that sees him return to his Brooklyn roots, and this script would definitely have been just such a return.
Set largely in the Fort Greene neighborhood of the titular New York borough, Lee’s original screenplay, apparently inspired somewhat by a yearly community party to celebrate the singer’s birthday that Lee is involved in, was going to deal with the effects and injustices of the gentrification process, as the lead, a Brooklyn-based DJ tries to organise a block party in Jackson’s memory. He’s opposed by the white leader of a local residents association, but also comes into conflict with his brother, a local gang member, in a storyline that really sounds like it would have espoused the Lee staple of racial instability while adding in the contemporary edge of gentrification in an Obama-era climate, as well as seeing him embrace new elements, like a reported full-on musical number. The actors who were rumored to be interested included returning Lee collaborators Samuel L. Jackson, John Turturro, Anthony Mackie, Rosie Perez and Kerry Washington, along with, apparently Julianne Moore likely as, we can only guess, one of the WASP-y new inhabitants.
In fact had things gone to plan, Lee would have made “Brooklyn Loves MJ” in 2010, before, or possibly instead of “Red Hook Summer,” which premiered in Sundance in 2012. In interview there, however, Lee said that like so often in his career, budget had proven an insurmountable obstacle to getting a film of its scope and ambition made at that point. “[‘MJ’] was something I was not able to finance myself,” he said. “[‘Red Hook Summer’] was done with a SAG low-budget agreement. That film, I could not have done like that.” However at the same 2012 festival, he told us that he did hope that “Brooklyn Loves MJ” might be up next, though he literally knocked on wood as he said it.
But so much for that superstition. Obviously, what actually rolled next for Lee was “Oldboy,” but as late as August of last year he was still talking about the possibility of ‘MJ’ getting made at some point. So from his point of view, it’s not off the table and this is one we really hope sees the light of day and doesn’t get filed away forever.
In June 2008, the switchboards lit up briefly with the announcement, via press release, that Spike Lee’s production company, 40 Acres and a Mule, had optioned the book “Time Traveler: A Scientist’s Personal Mission To Make Time Travel A Reality,” which Lee was slated to adapt into a screenplay and to direct. Lee’s involvement might on the surface seem a strange fit for a director not known for his sci-fi leanings, but in fact the book is part memoir, and was written by and about Dr. Ronald Mallet, one of the first ever African-Americans to gain a Ph.D. in theoretical physics. It documents his own life story, from a deprived and poverty-stricken childhood, through the death of his father (an event to which Mallett traces his desire to be able to go back in time) and on to his career as a scientist culminating in what according to the press release, New Scientist’s editor called “an actual blueprint for a time machine.” Which well, okay, wow. But still, Lee’s comment that the project was a “fantastic story on many levels (and) also a father and son saga of loss and love” suggests that his focus would be more human interest than theremin-soundtracked science fiction. Which is kind of a shame if true, because we’d love to see what Lee would do in such an atypical genre.
Anyway, since that announcement word’s gone deathly quiet on this one. Mallett himself referred to the film as “in development” in a 2011 interview, and our sister blog Shadow and Act, in its pre-Indiewire days, ran a comprehensive piece on the book’s potential for adaption along with some speculative casting. But from Lee himself, there’s been nada, and the garrulous Lee can usually be relied upon for a nugget or two if things are even remotely a going concern. And while the time travel angle does pique our interest, the danger that this might become a standard triumph-over-adversity biopic with but a light dusting of physics, does loom rather large judging by what we’ve heard so far. Still perhaps all this will become moot when Mallett’s time machine gets up and running and he can go back and make sure the film is already made by now. Or maybe it does work and he already went back in time to suppress the film version, thus creating our current reality and, more importantly, this blog post? MIND BLOWN.
“Save Us, Joe Louis”
The second of a trifecta of biopics about seminal figures from black history, none of which Lee, to his frustration, has ever been able to get off the ground (James Brown and Jackie Robinson being the other two—see above for the story of the James Brown picture, while this year’s “42” suggests his Jackie Robinson project is now totally defunct), Spike Lee’s mooted Joe Louis movie was maybe the one we were most interested in, on paper anyway. Slated to focus specifically on the rivalry between Louis and Max Schmeling (and we always appreciate biopics that take the approach of highlighting one aspect or period of the subject’s life rather than trying to cram in every Potentially Meaningful moment from the cradle to the grave), it was all the way back in 2000 that Lee was first linked to the project. Indeed, it was suggested that his disappointment at losing the Muhammad Ali biopic to Michael Mann prompted him to go in search of another tale of a black boxing hero, though we’re sure it wasn’t quite as simplistic as that.
He was joined in the endeavor by boxing historian Bert Sugar and Budd Schulberg, the legendary screenwriter of both “On the Waterfront” and boxing pic “The Harder They Fall,” himself no slouch when it comes to knitting social and cultural context deep into the fabric of a screenplay. The slant Lee and Schulberg were taking was reportedly overtly political, as the two boxers became symbols of opposing ideologies (Louis was a hero for African-Americans during the immediate prewar period when Hitler himself had championed the German-born Schmeling) prior to becoming friends despite it all in their later retirement. As Lee told ESPN: “The hook is the relationship—as adversaries, as political tools, as opponents in the ring, and as friends—between Max Schmeling and Joe Louis, and the arc of their lives. They engaged in perhaps the greatest two minutes of sports and warfare of the entire 20th century, symbolically speaking.”
It was the film Lee was actively trying to mount when 9/11 happened, in fact he had had a meeting with Arnold Schwarzenegger for the role of Schmeling the day before, he remembered in 2011. Obviously it didn’t come together at that point (but you can read a script review of this draft here), but neither did it go away with Variety reporting in 2005 that script work had been ongoing by both Lee and a then 93-year-old Schulberg, and Lee saying that historical figures like FDR, Hitler Mussolini and Sugar Ray Robinson would feature and calling it a “David Lean caliber film.” In 2006, Schulberg mentioned that Lee had spoken to Terrence Howard about the lead role (Vin Diesel, had been rumored at one point too, oddly), and that Disney was reportedly interested to the tune of $35m, roughly half of what the production was estimated to need. Schulberg also explained the title: “That is based on the story of a young black kid that’s being executed. When they strapped him down, attaching all the things to him, he actually cried out, ‘Save me Joe Louis!’ In fact we have that scene in the film. Joe Louis was like a god really.”
But it looks like, story of his life, and of this list, Lee couldn’t get anyone to pony up the other half of the budget and the film lost whatever momentum it had once built up. That said, of the three biopics mentioned, it’s the only subject that hasn’t had a big-screen adaptation greenlit elsewhere, so perhaps we can keep the home fires burning for this one a little longer. Lee himself has certainly never removed it entirely from the realm of possibility.
Of the many projects we discuss here, the one that’s kind of unthinkable that anyone else might direct is “LA Riots,” a recreation of the events leading up to and away from the infamous week of racially charged civil unrest in Los Angeles in 1992 following the acquittal by an all-white jury of four police officers charged in connection with the vicious videotaped beating of Rodney King the previous year. It’s sort of the film that Lee seems born to make, and yet, and yet…
So it was back in 2006, a year of frenetic activity for Lee following his biggest-ever box office hit “Inside Man” that saw a slew of projects suddenly come (back) to life now that they were sprinkled with the magic dust of a recent (modest) hitmaker, that it was first announced that Lee was to helm a film based on those controversial, incendiary events. Regular collaborator Brian Grazer of Imagine Entertainment was set to produce, and the film was to be scripted by John Ridley, who wrote both “Red Tails” and this year’s “12 Years a Slave.” A couple of years later and Grazer was again enthused about moving the film onto the front burner, though with a new screenwriter involved: Terry George, who Lee and Grazer would also tap for the second go-round at the “Inside Man 2” script. Grazer told the LA Times in July 2008: “John Ridley wrote a great script, but it needed a little more focus, so we put Terry George on it to do a rewrite. The script is due in two weeks, and, having worked with Terry before, we’re expecting that it should be something that’s ready to shoot.” So with him insisting that Lee was going to deliver a more egalitarian and multi-perspective look at the riots than detractors might have feared (and seriously, what?), there was a brief flare of hope that Lee would be behind cameras on this one before the year was out.
But already in February of the following year, those hopes had been dashed. Lee told MTV in not-at-all-veiled disgust that the budget for what had to be, in his eyes, a film of a certain breadth and scope, could not be found. “How can you scale back the LA riots?! That’s not the movie I want to make. The studio said, ‘Scale it back.’ What’s the point?” At that same time, however, Lee was refusing to let go of it altogether saying “It’s not dead. But it’s…it’s on the shelf. Let’s use that term. It still should be made—I want to make it.” Usually, that’s where the trail on Lee’s stalled projects goes cold, but this one has an odd postscript. In 2012, following Rodney King’s death, and with the Trayvon Martin murder trial still ongoing, the project came back to life, but this time as a rumored directorial vehicle for “Fast Five” and “Fast & Furious 6” director Justin Lin. It was a strange move, regarded as possibly there as a prestige pic that might keep golden goose Lin from straying from the Universal fold, but with Lin more recently lined up for the next installment in the ‘Bourne’ franchise, and about a million other projects following the blockbuster success of his last ‘Fast/Furious’ go-round, “LA Riots” seems to have, yet again, gone cool. Either way, it seems that Lee is not going to be the one to throw a trashcan through this particular window any time soon.
Jackie Robinson Biopic
So earlier this year, you may recall, “42” was released (our review here), a film written and directed by Brian Helgeland and detailing the life and achievements of legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson. In fact the film marked the end of more than 15 years of gestation, a process enabled, but also occasionally hampered by Robinson’s widow, Rachel, who was the driving force behind the project, but also had, understandably, specific ideas on how she wanted it handled that saw some drafts not meet with her approval. During that period, however, one of the developing projects that came closest was that championed and developed by Spike Lee. Lee worked closely with Rachel Robinson (indeed he expressed his happiness that she’d have the satisfaction of seeing a version of her husband’s life on screen even if it wasn’t his version), and apparently was nearly ready to roll, but financing fell through about five years ago. Now we understand that studios are notoriously gun-shy about financing films about black protagonists, but this also has to be an example of Lee’s bad timing and/or ‘difficult’ reputation because we can’t imagine that he was asking for a great deal more than the $40m stumped up by Legendary for “42,” and that picture got greenlit for a neophyte director with an unknown lead.
But Lee had become philosophical about it all already by 2008, saying “I’ve been at peace for a long time, in fact, it’s not just Jackie Robinson. I have a trilogy of films I’ve tried to make back after “Malcolm X” but nothing got made because of financing. Jackie Robinson was first; Joe Louis was second, and most recently was James Brown.” But this was in response to the news that Robert Redford’s rival Jackie Robinson project backed by ESPN was going ahead. About “42,” which has little to do with either his or Redford’s version (though Redford was working with Helgeland on his more Branch Rickey-centric take, prior to Legendary Pictures coming aboard), Lee hasn’t managed to sound quite so magnanimous. Earlier this year he told EW that while his version “was dead a long time ago” he couldn’t bring himself to go see “42” yet, as it would be “too painful. Here’s the thing, though: I’m happy for Rachel Robinson. But for me, I can’t see it yet. I will, but I can’t yet.”
As part of the post- “Inside Man” 2006 scramble to make hay while the sun shone and pile projects onto his plate like a starving orphan at a banquet, Lee was also attached to “Selling Time,” a high-concept sci-fi action film (also described as a supernatural thriller), intially to rewrite but also potentially as a directorial vehicle. The original script, by ex DreamWorks TV president Dan McDermott, was bought by Fox all the way back in 2001, and details the downbeat “Groundhog Day”-style premise of a man who “sells” off chunks of his life in order to be able to relive his worst day over and over, presumably to get it right, or to make something right. In fact, Lee’s directorial connection to this project was only ever tenuous—it had prior to his involvement been linked to Forest Whitaker as a directing possibility. And while reportedly Lee met with Tom Cruise as a potential star in a version he’d direct, both men seem to have cooled on the project fairly rapidly. Indeed, after Lee exited, his draft of the script was rewritten by Derek and Steven Martini before being put on a shelf somewhere to gather dust for a few years. Recently, however, it coughed back to life in October of this year when Will Smith was reportedly very close to a deal to star in it, and the script, in the hilarious way of Hollywood, has made its way all the way back to original writer Dan McDermott for another pass. But aside from Lee not really ever having shown much interest in the genre (barring “Time Traveler,” see above) we’ve never really heard anything at all from the helmer about this one, so we’re going to have to assume, IMDB In Development listings be damned, that he’s forgotten all about it by now.
“Untitled Marion Barry Project”
Any trawl through Lee’s catalogue of unmade films will find you constantly bumping into familiar names in terms of collaborators, but perhaps no title boasts more than the biopic of notorious Washington Mayor Marion Barry, to which Lee was attached back in late 2011. The film was to be scripted by John “12 Years a Slave” Ridley (who worked on the original incarnation of Lee’s abortive “LA Riots”), was set up at HBO, which had backed Lee’s Katrina documentaries and was home to the Mike Tyson-inspired, Lee co-created boxing drama show “Da Brick” until it wasn’t, and most excitingly was to feature Eddie Murphy in the lead role. Murphy, you’ll recall from several thousand words ago, was at one time the frontrunner to play James Brown in Lee’s biopic before nasty old Tate Taylor stole the march on that one.
Frankly put, Marion Barry’s life story is cray, a rise and fall and rise and fall and rise and (you get the message) narrative that encompasses his civil rights activism and four terms as D.C. mayor, but also his imprisonment, and the infamous incident, recently echoed by Toronto’s favorite son Rob Ford, in which a videotape of him smoking crack cocaine was leaked to media. Certainly Lee had all the elements in place to do justice to this larger-than-life figure, and with Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood (authors of the book “Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, D.C.“) and Dana Flor and Toby Oppenheimer (documentarians behind “The Nine Lives Of Marion Barry“) all on board as consultants, it can be assumed that the slant would have been maybe less scabrous, but no less controversial, than that espoused by the Chris Rock-scripted, Jamie Foxx-starring 2002 version that never got going. Barry himself has so far refused to comment on the Lee film.
Still, we’ve not heard a peep about it since, and if this list has taught us anything, it’s to be wary when word on a Spike Lee project goes quiet. But really, it feels like this could be a great vehicle for the maverick-but-maybe-mellowing filmmaker to team up at last with the maverick-but-maybe-mellowing movie star.
“Porgy and Bess”
In something of a coup, if we do say so ourselves, in August 2012, when we sat down with Lee during press rounds for “Red Hook Summer,” we’d already put together the long-murmured rumors of his interest in adapting “Porgy and Bess” into a movie musical with a recent tweet that indicated he’d just been to see the Tony-winning Broadway revival of the Gershwin show. When we asked him about it, Lee confirmed that he was at that point trying to get his film version to happen, but, hold our horses, he had been engaged in that process for more than ten years. The main issue this time out wasn’t even budget (looks like he never quite got that far), but a complicated rights tangle involving the estates of George Gershwin and of DuBose Heyward, on whose libretto (and 1925 novel) the famous folk opera was originally based. Part of their hesitance was apparently due to historic disappointment over the now difficult-to-find 1959 version, which, despite a wonderful cast including Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis Jr. and Pearl Bailey, featured poorly dubbed singing voices in addition to other production problems like an acrimonious change of director mid-shoot.
“I want to make it, but I’m in long discussions with both estates,” Lee told us back then adding that it had long been an ambition of his to direct a musical. “Porgy and Bess” the opera details the attempts of a disabled beggar living in Charleston (Porgy) to save the woman he loves, Bess, from the clutches of her violent lover Crown, and from the drug dealer Sportin’ Life, and features some absolutely knockout tunes in the form of “Summertime,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “Bess You Is My Woman” and the goosebump-inducing “I Loves You Porgy,” so it would be fascinating to see what Lee would do with a screen version. However, Lee’s name went deafeningly unmentioned when, in April of this year, Variety reported that producers Mike Medavoy and Bobby Geisler were developing a “reenvisioned and updated” version of the opera, and that they had secured the cooperation of both estates. In fact, Marc George Gershwin (nephew of George and Ira) said, “We get approached a lot with ideas that aren’t very good but Mike [Medavoy] has a great track record. We’re confident that he’s going to able to find the right director and writer. And we already have the music.” Which seems to imply that to their knowledge, Lee who had been petitioning them for those very rights for a decade or more, has no involvement with this new take. Which, if it’s true, well, ouch.
These are hardly the only rumored projects of Lee’s that haven’t come to pass—he also had a couple of projects that were to star Justin Timberlake, one being his big-screen version of “Rent,” which was of course was taken on in 2005 instead by the chalk to Lee’s cheese, Chris Columbus. However the second was still alive as of last month, anyway, and is “Spinning Gold,” a biopic of Neil Bogart, the producer behind acts as diverse as Curtis Mayfield and the Village People. In 2012, meantime, Lee suggested that he might in future tackle a Stevie Wonder documentary, which we would see a little more hope for than for some others on this list being as Lee has a relationship with Wonder, and a track record of getting documentary projects off the ground with comparative ease. But the one we can be kinda sure about now, since Lee’s successful if controversial Kickstarter campaign is the awesomely titled “Da Blood of Jesus” or occasionally “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus,” which featuring Zaraah Abrahams, Steven Tyrone Williams and the great Michael K. Williams, is already in the can as of October. Asked to describe it, Lee as ever kept plot details schtum, but said “It’s scary. Humorous. Bloody. Sexy. [Blood is a] metaphor. As we all know, human beings have many addictions. Drugs, sex, alcohol, power, money, Air Jordans. In this one they’re addicted to blood. We shot in New York, Martha’s Vineyard, and we’re editing now.” So we’ll be hoping for more news soon on a potential festival premiere next year, with a newfound appreciation of how apparently unlikely and tortuous it is for any Spike Lee film ever ever to make it to our screens.
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