Sunday, March 06, 2016

cinema obscura: James L. Brooks' "I'll Do Anything" (1994) - The Unseen Musical Version


James L. Brooks' notorious musical-turned-romantic comedy is a DVD candidate in its original form, something that has evaded the work.

For more than 20 years now.

You remember. The film started life as a full-fledged original musical, featuring nine songs written by Prince, Sinead O'Connor and Carole King, with choreography by Broadway's Twyla Tharp, but when test audiences complained that some of the musical numbers interfered with the movie, Brooks methodically started to remove them. One by one by one...

By the time he got through, all of the songs were gone, except for a snippet of one King song sung by little Whittni Wright, who plays the daughter of Nick Nolte's struggling actor in the movie.

The weird thing is, "I'll Do Anything" is all about Hollywood and its test screenings, and about how principles are sacrificed for the bottom line - namely to please audiences. In short, the film ironically turned into exactly what it was critiquing.

Brooks apparently has closely guarded the deleted songs, making sure no one sees or even hears them, although the old laser disc version of the movie included a "making of" documentary which provides glimpses of co-stars Albert Brooks and Julie Kavner performing in musical numbers. Also, for a while, bootleg copies of the soundtrack songs were floating around.

Back on February, 20th, 1994, the reliable, resourceful Chris Willman wrote an article for The Los Angeles Times, titled "Princely Bootleg: Some People'll Do Anything to Hear These Songs," about those bootleg CDs.  Willman wrote:

"Albert Brooks croons two songs: 'I'll Do Anything' (lyric: 'What good is a captain if he ain't got a crew / What good is a me if I AIN'T . . . GOT . . . A YOU!') and 'There Is Lonely.' Brooks' singing voice has been described charitably as gravitating toward the Jimmy Durante or Tom Waits end of the gravelly scale, and less charitably as an Oscar the Grouch affectation.

"There are two more torturous tunes that draw the greatest winces from illicit listeners. One is Julie Kavner's 'My Little Pill,' a sort of update of 'Mother's Little Helper,' related to the truncated drug subplot, and recited in a maddeningly childlike sing-song voice. The other is Whittni Wright's rendition of Sinead O'Connor's mopey 'This Lonely Life' that won't have anyone comparing her to the other singing Whitney."

Apparently, Prince wrote something called "WoW!," for which Willman printed the lyric in its entirety. Not good. Still, I'd give anything to see and hear Nolte's singing debut on a song called "Be My Mirror."

Maybe one day...

Note in Passing:  One of the outstanding non-musical moments in the film involves a meeting during which a few studio honchos and underlings discuss actors who have auditioned for a role, including Nolte.  They are ruthless in their assessment of him.  One of the underlings, played by Jolie Richardson, who had been dating Nolte and likes him, is asked if she finds him sexy and if she would sleep with him.  (No one in the room is aware of her relationship with Nolte.)  Too weak to challenge the popular opinion, she says "No" without missing a beat.  An utterly memorable moment.  

9 comments:

John said...

Judging by the lyrics you quoted, and my memories of the finished film itself, I think we are all better off not having seen the original cut.

Alex said...

I'LL DO ANYTHING works as a nervy Hollywood black comedy/melodrama, worthy of a look. Still, I would love to see it in its original form.

Nicolas said...

"I'll Do Anything" is relentlessly trivial, pointless -one of the more hopelessly dull films of its era.

Glenn said...

I must say, Joe, you have an almost supernatural knack for unearthing obscurities!

a.n. said...

I worked as an extra, featured extra and stand-in in movies during those days and got hired to "cry on cue" personally by James L Brooks for a scene in I'll Do Anything. In the scene, I was supposed to be a producer who was brought to tears by the scathing televised review of my work. I was in a musical scene featuring the song, "WoW!" which was taught to me, to my shock, by Twyla Tharp. For about 6 hours I had to cry in the scene, through countless retakes, and eventually I couldn’t do it anymore so they blew through a drilled-out Vicks inhaler into my eyes before the takes, and painted my cheeks with glycerin. I got to have chats with Tracy Ullmann and Hinton Battle. It was an amazing experience for a nobody in Hollywood and I couldn’t wait to see the film. To this day, I’ve never seen the original cut, thus all those memories went on the cutting room floor. I wish Mr. Brooks would release it on DVD but I doubt that will ever happen. Still, an awesome time and memories. Thought I'd share some.

Tommy said...

I also worked on the film - as a dancer. I was hired for the song "I'll Do Anything" which Albert Brooks sang to a line of people waiting to get ino a screening his film. It was a tap number and took a week to film. I can't tell you how disappointed we dancers were to find out all the numbers had been cut and that we would NEVER see them. BIG bummer. Tommy (not my real name)

Dorothy said...

what a lost opportunity. Maybe TV will pick it up for a live musical. Let's see -- who would we cast?

Brian Lucas said...

I've been wanting to see this version of the film for decades now!

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...

The first trailer for the film was for the musical version and it can actually be found on some Columbia VHS releases of the time--I've seen it on the tape for Paul Mazursky's THE PICKLE.