There’s never been a shortage of dream movie projects that simply do not come together in the history of Hollywood. For me, it goes all the way back to the butchering of Erich von Stroheim‘s Greed, one of the crowning works of the American silent cinema, which was cut down from its enormous original length of some nine hours to a still-mesmerizing but clearly hobbled four hours and change. Everything that was cut was destroyed, either at the moment or over time. Things have not gotten better, unf
Things have gotten better – Moonlight, 13th, I Am Not Your Negro, and O.J.: Made in America would not have been made in the aughts – but the ups and downs have become clearer. You can watch the disintegration of something like, say, David Fincher‘s projects at HBO or, even more timely, the hack job done on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story under Tony Gilroy‘s market-tested reshoots in real time. It’s why the fact that a masterwork like Silence, Martin Scorsese‘s long-gestating, deeply moving exploration of faith, even gets released is something to be happy about, but that does not make the failures of the system any less enraging.
Case in point: while doing press for Silence recently, Scorsese seemingly put the stake in the heart of his other long-gestating dream project, a biopic of Frank Sinatra. Talking to the Toronto Sun, the famed director seemed to suggest that the Sinatra estate and the family were not comfortable with him addressing certain issues in Sinatra’s life that were, er, ugly. (The entertainer’s ties to organized crime would almost certainly be brought up in some fashion, for instance.) We recently learned that Michael Chabon had done a pass on the script and considering his love for complex characters, one can imagine the script would have ventured into some unflattering parts of Sinatra’s life.
Here’s exactly what Scorsese said to the Toronto Sun via Pitchfork:
“We can’t do it!…I think it is finally over. They (remaining members of the Sinatra clan) won’t agree to it. Open it up again and I’m there!”
“Certain things are very difficult for a family, and I totally understand. But, if they expect me to be doing it, they can’t hold back certain things. The problem is that the man was so complex. Everybody is so complex—but Sinatra in particular.”
Moral whitewashing is a serious problem in modern storytelling on the whole, and to deny the complexity of Sinatra and the power of his darker desires or practices would be to deny the late singer and actor his humanity. On the other hand, it’s completely understandable that the family would not be interested in airing his dirty laundry years after his passing, but I can’t imagine the movie would make a dent in his largely sterling reputation. To insist on some kind of raggedy, barely patched together hagiography or sainthood for an icon who clearly wasn’t a role model in all areas of life is to only remember the popularized image of Sinatra, the man on the record cover, rather than the complicated man and brilliant artist that he was at once. To quote a song he made famous: “Half a love never appealed to me/If your heart, it never could yield to me/Then I’d rather, rather have nothin’ at all.”