What is the most out of control film production you’ve ever heard of? Is it something more recent, like John Carter, or do you think of something a little further back like Casino Royale, or Cleopatra? Frankly, even if your mind goes all the way back to D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance, arguably the earliest total disaster in cinema history, whatever you think of probably wasn’t the most out of control, ever. And the reason why is simple.
Film productions can go off the rails for any number of reasons, but rarely do they actually go “out of control”. Usually, when we start hearing reports of troubled productions, the problem is the director, one or more of the film’s stars, or even a producer is trying to exert too much control.
The history of cinema is littered with these tales. From Erich Von Stroheim insisting on working doorbells on the set of a silent feature, to Alfred Hitchcock declaring that actors are nothing but cattle and treating them accordingly, a shocking number of filmmakers blur the lines between artistic brilliance and being dictatorial jerks. And then there are directors like Bryan Singer and Brett Ratner, who just rock that last bit without bothering with any of the first. (But more on that, later.)
Usually, though, however sketchy a filmmaker’s behavior is, the movies themselves either turn out fine, or at least make money. Some have even become classics, despite the negative publicity surrounding the production. Every once in a while, however, something very different happens. Such is the tale of Dau.
Dau is a very big production for what little is known about it. Reading most everything that is available on the subject takes less than an afternoon, and though there are a few more articles and photo sets available online, the following provide a decent overview:
In October of 2011, GQ published an article about a new feature from Russian wunderkind auteur Ilya Khrzhanovsky (assuming there are no proper, Russian terms for such concepts). The director had exactly one film to his credit and, though it was a well-received production, what he was working on at the time was easily the most ambitious project that any director had ever been able to mount. Working with complete autonomy, Khrzhanovsky was able to recreate a 1950s-era Soviet town, accurate to the tiniest detail, and insist that his actors actually live there, performing whatever jobs their characters would have been doing, while eating perfect replicas of Soviet packaged foods and using toilets that reproduced exactly the actual sound that flushing Soviet toilets would make.
By 2013, The Moscow Times reported that the film was in post-production, but described it as being “stuck” there.
In August of 2014, PRI ran another story about the film, this time from a reporter whose father worked briefly on the film.
And, finally, in November of 2015, Russia’s Ministry of Culture demanded that the film’s producers return the Ministry’s investment in the film plus interest, as no film had yet been produced.
Since then, the production has apparently remained in the editing stage thanks to a large investment from an anonymous backer. However, a firm release date remains forthcoming, as does any sort of description of what the project actually is. Originally sold as a film, people speaking on the director’s behalf are now insisting that, in addition to the initial film, it is also going to be a television series and some kind of multi-media presentation, as well. But, really, after reading just four articles, your guess is as good as anybody’s.
Whether the film is ever released remains to be seen, but the project nevertheless makes for a fascinating glimpse into a completely unrestrained creative process, and makes one wonder if such a process is ever a good idea.
Which, of course, brings us to this blog. I’ll admit, it does seem to fit with the theme of this film to promise a blog post in one week and then fail to deliver for a year. However, the truth is that I have not been holed up in an anonymous bungalow in London backed by some mysterious benefactor whilst I slaved away at the above paragraphs in an attempt to make them perfect. Though, it might have been nice. It is probably far more accurate to say that I’m not the world’s most constant blogger, and whereas I can’t say whether or not Khrzhanovsky’s Dau is still on, I can say this blog is, if only from time to time. Perhaps soon I will share something a bit more original than a post consisting mostly of links.