A Strange Preview: Stanley Kubrick’s The Downslope


You read correctly. The late Stanley Kubrick will be reanimated to direct his original screenplay, which will star the late Clark Gable, William Holden, and Gary Cooper, although I may be mistaken about that. The director of such classics as Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, and Roller Boogie wrote The Downslope very early in his career.

Stanley Kubrick’s unproduced 1956 screenplay “The Downslope,” a historical drama set against the backdrop of the Civil War, is being developed as a feature film trilogy, with Marc Forster (“World War Z,” “Monster’s Ball”) attached to direct and produce the first installment.[…]

The story, which Kubrick developed with Civil War historian Shelby Foote, focuses on a series of bitter battles in the Shenandoah Valley between Union Gen. George Armstrong Custer and Confederate Col. John Singleton Mosby.

According to the announcement, Kubrick spent years researching and writing the film, creating meticulous maps and notes along the way. The revived project is said to have the blessing of the Kubrick family.

Of course, Steven Spielberg’s A.I. was also a Kubrick project developed postmortem, although Kubrick had given up on this project as early as 1995 and actually pursued Spielberg as substitute director. Spielberg turned him down at the time, only to take up the project in 1999 at the behest of Kubrick’s widow.

In any event, we all know how the film turned out. It has its fans, even a small library of revisionist criticism now hailing the thing as a masterpiece, but a more calamitous mismatch of sensibilities I can’t think of. If you haven’t seen it, imagine ET as directed by David Cronenberg, who was fired and replaced by Terry Gilliam, who was fired and replaced by Robert Wise.

I don’t have much hope for The Downslope, as Kubrick’s vision is never limited to the page but can only be realized by someone with his skill set for crafting meticulous visual set pieces, someone who can move a camera with a diamond cutter’s precision — in other words, only by Kubrick himself. Conjure up the impeccable composition; the deliberate, modulated footfalls and vocalizations of the actors; the use of classical music as counterpoint — how is Forster going to compete with what might have been?

I eagerly await Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon, directed by J.J. Abrams.