Sunday, January 14, 2018

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

James L. Brooks' 1994 "I'll Do Anything" is long overdue as a home entertainment candidate in its original form as a musical, something that has evaded this re-worked work. And for more than 20 years now.

You may not remember but this Columbia release started life as a full-fledged original musical, featuring nine songs written by Prince, Sinead O'Connor and Carole King, accompanied by choreography by Twyla Tharp.

However, when test audiences proved resistant to the musical numbers, Brooks methodically started to remove them, screening after screening.

One by one by one...

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

The weird thing is, "I'll Do Anything" is an inside tale all about Hollywood and its symbiotic relationship with the aforementioned test screenings -  and about how principles are sacrificed for the bottom line, namely to please paying audiences (who often don't know what they really want). In short, the film ironically turned into exactly what it was cynically critiquing.

While Brooks apparently has closely guarded the deleted songs, making sure no one sees or even hears them, a resourceful buff can locate glimpses of the musical numbers. Case in point: Certain old VHS tapes of Columbia titles include the trailer for the film when it was planned to be released as a musical. (Check out Paul Mazursky's "The Pickle" on video.) And the  laser disc version of the movie includes a "making of" documentary which shows co-stars Albert Brooks and Julie Kavner performing in numbers.

Also, for a while, bootleg copies of the soundtrack were floating around.

Back on February, 20th, 1994, reliable 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... But, then, maybe not.

Notes 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. (The studio person doesn't put it that quite gently, however.) No one in the room is aware of her relationship with Nolte, of course. Too weak to challenge the popular opinion in the room, Richardson says "No" without missing a beat.

An utterly unforgettable moment in an otherwise forgotten film.

Speaking of missing scenes in Columbia films, after something like 33 years, Kevin Costner's sequence (sequences?) in Lawrence Kasdan's "The Big Chill" has (have?) also failed to see the light of day on home entertainment, either reinstated into the film or as added features.

Finally, whatever happened to Whittni Wright? She was adorable - and a good little actress.

Regarding Comments: All comments are enthusiastically appreciated but are moderated before publication. Replies signed "unknown" or "anonymous" are not encouraged. Please sign any response with a name (real or fabricated) or initials.  Be advised that a "name" will be assigned to any accepted post signed "unknown" or "anonymous." Thank you.
 * * * * *
(from top)

~Poster art for "I'll Do Anything"

~Nick Nolte in a scene from the film 
~photography: Columbia Pictures 1994©


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.

Dorothy said...

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

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)

godard said...

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

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.

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.

Brian Lucas said...

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

Nicholas said...

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

Peter Warner said...

Yes, the first trailer for the film was for the musical version and it can indeed be found on some Columbia VHS releases of the time. I've also seen it on the tape for Mazursky's THE PICKLE.

Marvin said...

Joe, I enjoyed your article about I"LL DO ANYTHING. I don't think that I have ever seen this film. But here is my question. Do you think the film WITH SONGS was ever released? If so, then perhaps I could get it from one of my true "cinephile" friends. But if the film was never, ever released WITH THE SONGS, then I think my search would be hopeless. Still, I should attempt to get a VHS copy or a DVD of the songless I'll DO ANYTHING, as I have never seen it. Marvin

joe baltake said...

Marvin- The original musical version of "I'll Do Anything" - and the various cuts that followed it - was never theatrically released, only previewed. And I doubt that Brooks ever put it only tape, although I've a hunch he has that version of the film in his possession in some form. So you won't be able to track down the musical. The non-musical version has been available for years now - and is actually quite good. It's an interesting film.

Paul Margulies said...

With so many obscure titles lately, due for resurrection, perhaps it's time to book a screening room like on Saturdays of old.

The removal of the songs reminds me of Woody Allen's line about turning My Fair Lady back into Pygmalion.

Mike Schlesinger said...

Once during my days at Sony, I went into my boss's office and asked him if the original version of the film still existed. He obviously realized what I was leading up to--all the color drained out of his face and he gasped, "NO! Don't even think about it!" And that was the end of that.

joe baltake said...

Mike- I dug out my DVD of “The Pickle” specifically to watch the trailer for the musical version of “I’ll Do Anything.” The numbers interspersed throughout the trailer look like outtakes from “La La Land.” Really. Maybe Brooks was just ahead of his time. I wonder if any preview version of the musical still exists. -J