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Comic Books, Film
Welcome to the three hundredth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous two hundred and ninety-nine.
Comic Book Legends Revealed is part of the larger Legends Revealed series, where I look into legends about the worlds of entertainment and sports, which you can check out here, at legendsrevealed.com. I’d especially recommend you check out this installment of Musical Legends Revealed to discover how a Broadway musical directly affected the legacy of a U.S. President, plus also the true origin of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic tune, “Edelweiss.”
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Since this is the 300th installment of Comic Book Legends Revealed, this week you will get more than TRIPLE the regular amount of legends! In fact, we’ll be taking up the entire weekend with Comic Book Legends Revealed! The second part is posted here and the third part is posted here. The special theme this week is that there will be one legend related to each one of the Top Five Writers and Top Five Artists from our recent Top 100 Comic Book Writers and Artists countdown! So that’s a total of ten legends! And all about the biggest names in comics! In fact, Part 3 on Sunday will contain perhaps my most requested legend of all time! So be sure to come by every day this weekend to get the full experience of Comic Book Legends Revealed #300!
COMIC LEGEND: Stan Lee never finished the screenplay he was working on with famed French New Wave director Alain Resnais.
STATUS: Quite Literally Both False and True.
Stan Lee was #5 on the Top 50 Comic Book Writers countdown.
Alain Resnais first gained notoriety with his classic documentary about the Nazi concentration camps, Nuit et Brouillard (Night and Fog), which was one of the first documentaries to tackle this very difficult subject upon its release in 1955.
Emboldened by his documentary success, Resnais turned to feature films, and his first film, 1959’s Hiroshima mon amour, firmly placed him right up there with the best of the French New Wave scene.
His 1961 film, L’Année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year in Marienbad), also gained a ton of acclaim.
Interestingly, though, for the dark subject matter of his early films, Resnais was a big fan of comic books. In fact, before the release of Hiroshima mon amour, Resnais was hoping to adapt Herge’s TinTin album, The Black Island.
Around this same time, he tried to do a film based on Red Ryder!
So it is not much of a surprise that when he visited New York City in the late 1960s/early 1970s (some time between 1968 and 1971), he made a point of seeking out Stan Lee. The two men became friends and Resnais told Lee (well, at least Lee said that Resnais told him) that Resnais learned English through reading Marvel Comics! Around that time, the two decide to work together. Resnais, you see, never writes his films. Instead, unlike many directors, he not only treats his screenwriter as a valuable piece of the puzzle, but as “co-auteur,” and much in the theater tradition, Resnais treats the screenwriter’s words as practically sacrosanct.
In any event, soon after meeting Lee, he decided to collaborate with Lee.
And here is the rub. I’ve received a number of questions over the years (well, three, but three is a number!) about the extent to which Lee worked with Resnais. Did they ever get anything done? Obviously they never made a movie together, but what DID they do? Some readers insist they completed a screenplay while others feel that they never did (thinking that it was just another one of those projects you hear about that just went nowhere).
The trick is that they did BOTH – an aborted project and a full-out screenplay. You see, Lee and Resnais collaborated on TWO proposed films!
In a 1972 article for the Harvard Crimson, writers Phil Patton and Sharon Shurts noted:
What emerged was a script for a film to be called The Inmates. The setting was to be the Bronx, which, Resnais says, has for the Frenchman all the attraction of the exotic. Then the problems began. Resnais went to producers and offered to shoot the script for a million dollars. No, they said, to do it right you would have to go to Japan for special effects and spend three million: for a million it would only be an “intellectual” film. Now a second script by Stan Lee also seems doubtful of acceptance by American producers, and Resnais speculates on the irony that he may end up shooting The Inmates in a mock-up of the Bronx in Yugoslavia.
A collaboration of Alain Resnais and Stan Lee, if it is ever realized, may well be a combination as significant and as perfect as that, eleven years ago, of Resnais and the French author Alain Robbe-Grillet, in the creation of Last Year at Marienbad.
In an interview with David Kraft for the FOOM (Marvel’s mid-70s fan magazine), Lee spoke of the film:
It’s called The Inmates, and it has to do with the whole human race, why we’re on Earth, and what our relationship is with the rest of the Universe. It poses a theory which I hope is a very original, unusual one. But it’s done in human terms, like a regular story; it’s not a far-out science-fiction thing. It’s very philosophical – but there is a lot of science fiction. I think it’s a great story. I’ve written the treatment for it, and I suggested that Alain get another screenwriter to do the screenplay based on my treatment. It’d still be our story: I’d still be involved in it; yet, this way, we wouldn’t have to wait. But he keeps saying he wants it to be my script completely – he wants it to be my language.
Over twenty years later, Stan Lee was still speaking of trying to do something with the project. It never make it past the treatment stage. So to reader Jay S. who wrote in to say that he heard that Lee and Resnais never really got any substantially done on the Inmates, you are correct.
However, soon after they met, Lee DID complete a DIFFERENT screenplay! This one was called the Monster Maker.
It was about a B-movie horror director (think Roger Corman) who tries to move out of that niche and direct a high budget, expensive movie and finds he needs to go back and rely on his monster making skills to help himself succeed. While Corman is a comparison, the script also clearly had some basis in Lee’s own life. In Jordan Raphael and Tom Spurgeon’s book on Lee, Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book, they show the clear connection between Lee’s life and his script…
At one point in the movie, Larry Morgan tells his ex-wife, Catherine, about his new, meaningful work. She glows with pride: “Larry, you must have known how I always felt about those shallow horror films of yours. I always wondered how you could bring yourself to keep grinding out such juvenile, unintellectual pablum. But now, to think of you tackling a worthwhile theme like pollution — to think of you turning your back on commercialism in order to say something that must be said — Oh, Larry — I can’t tell you how thrilled — how proud of you I am.”
In an amazing 1987 interview with Lee, Pat Jankiewicz got Lee to go into detail about why the film never got made…
In France, they do screenplays differently. In those days, it didn’t cost much to make a movie there, and he had me put in everything but the kitchen sink! He wanted a lot of “big scenes,”so I put them in. We gave it to a producer who liked it and bought it for $25,000. It’s pretty petty now, but it was a lot money then, which I split with Alain! The producer said, “The only thing is, you’re going to have to cut a lot of this stuff out, or I can’t afford to make it,” and my nutty friend Alain said (adapting thick French accent) “Shhtan will not change a word!” – one of these moralistic ideas. It’s like that joke – “Pay him the two bucks!” I said “Alain, I’ll change it, I’ll change it!” “No, you wheel not change a word!” Well, the goddam script is still sitting there, on a shelf somewhere.
Amazingly enough, in both instances, Resnais’ deep respect for the work of his writer collaborators ended up squelching both films. The first screenplay not getting made, though, clearly soured Lee on writing full screenplays when he could just do treatments.
Imagine how Stan Lee would have been viewed differently if he either movie with Alain Resnais had gotten made during the 1970s?
Thanks to Patton, Shurts, Kraft, Raphael, Spurgeon, Jankiewicz and, of course, Stan “The Man” Lee himself, for the information. Be sure to pick up a copy of Jeff McLaughlin’s collection of Lee interviews titled, Stan Lee: Conversations. That’s where I read the Kraft and Jankiewicz interviews. Oh, and thanks to Jay S., Ralph and Samantha for the suggestions over the years that I discuss Lee’s work with Resnais.
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