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Lost for 60 years, Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Burning Secret’ Resurfaces

Called the inverse of ‘Lolita,’ Kubrick’s lost screenplay can now finally be produced.
Stanley Kubrick
By  · Published on July 16th, 2018

Called the inverse of ‘Lolita,’ Kubrick’s lost screenplay can now finally be produced.

Film geeks can’t help themselves when it comes to certain fantasies of lost cinema. Will a proper print of London After Midnight ever materialize? What Brazilian dungeon contains the nitrate reels of Victor Flemings’s The Way of All Flesh? Who still holds onto Orson Welles’ first edit of The Magnificent Ambersons? The what-ifs and the never-weres are our Shangri-Las. Their mystery keeps our minds spinning, dreaming of the missing magnum opus that will revolutionize our very concept of the art form.

There have been a few mini-miracles. After 80 years of presumed eradication, several key scenes of Metropolis were discovered in an Argentinian archive. The newly restored version of the film is a revelation and comes closest to resembling Fritz Lang’s original intention for his epic. Watching these new sequences is a surreal experience for the long-time fan, and rekindles hope for those other great riddles hidden away in the cracks of time.

As George Michael said, you gotta have faith.

Another cinematic treasure has been unearthed. What was lost is now found. According to The Guardian, the AWOL Stanley Kubrick screenplay Burning Secret was recently discovered by Bangor University professor Nathan Abrams. As with all Kubrick films, the script is an adaptation. Based on the 1913 novella by Stefan Zweig (the Viennese writer who inspired Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel), the story revolves around a sophisticated, yet fiendish male predator who charms a 10-year-old boy in an effort to bed his married mother.

The screenplay was thought to have never been completed, but the copy Abrams found is 1oo pages in length and marked with an official MGM stamp registering its completion on October 24, 1956. Kubrick wrote the film with Calder Willingham, whom he would collaborate with on Paths of Glory, released the following year.

Why did the film never go before cameras? The thought is that the sexual subject matter involving a child was too risque for the etiquette at the time. Kubrick’s Lolita would push similar boundaries just a few years later, though, and Abrams goes as far as to refer to Burning Secret as that film’s inverse. The other possibility is that MGM shut the project down after learning that Kubrick was shopping the competing screenplay of Paths of Glory over at United Artists.

Whatever the case, we now have the potential for a final work from the master that brought us 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, and Full Metal Jacket. Kubrick only shot 13 films, but every one of them is worth your time and consideration. He was a filmmaker that prized precision above all else, and even his weaker efforts contain craft worth studying.

We will never be gifted Kubrick’s take on Burning Secret, and the what-if will forever plague us. However, if you look to A.I. Artificial Intelligence, that other Kubrickian concept shepherded into reality post-mortem by another master of the form, there is a chance to catch a glimpse of what could have been. The brain races to possible escorts: Christopher Nolan, P.T. Anderson, David Fincher, Alex Garland… Whether fantasy or delusion, the prospect is enough to keep you up at night.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)