FILM / Three of the greatest stories almost never told

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YENTL

First mooted: Barbra Streisand first reads Isaac Bashevis Singer's story in 1968. 1974: she acquires the rights. Ivan Passer, approached to direct, says Streisand is too old (then 32) to play an adolescent girl.

What happened? Tinseltown reckons that the concept (a young Jewish woman poses as a man in order to study Talmud in a 19th-century Middle- European stetl) is not too bankable. Streisand sees her own bankability decline in a series of flops (The Main Event, All Night Long).

Film finally appears: 1983.

What everyone said: The mother of all dream projects - Streisand directs, produces, scripts, sings the songs for and (now aged 41) stars as the young girl. The vultures are circling. To general astonishment the film is well-reviewed and eventually makes its money back, but Streisand is passed over at the Oscars. 'The greatest film debut since Citizen Kane' (Steven Spielberg).

What happened next: Streisand puts film-making on hold, until The Prince of Tides in 1991.

TUCKER

First mooted: reportedly when Francis Coppola was a playwriting student in the late Fifties. 1975: Coppola tells Variety that the film will be 'a romantic comedy-tragedy in the Frank Capra mould'. 1976: the film is announced as in pre- production. The project is chewed over with Leonard Bernstein as a possible film musical.

What happened? Apocalypse Now, One from the Heart and personal debts of over dollars 20m.

Film finally appears: 1988.

What everyone said: Preston Tucker equals Francis Coppola, the idealist bucking the system in pursuit of his impossible dream. 'Is it a man? Is it a movie? Is it a metaphor?' (Time magazine).

What happened next? Coppola returns to 'safer' projects: the sequel, Godfather III, and Bram Stoker's Dracula.

LAST TEMPTATION

OF CHRIST

First mooted: 1972, when Barbara Hershey gives Martin Scorsese a copy of the novel (by Nikos Kazantzakis). 1983: Scorsese tries to set the film up with United Artists, then Paramount, which signs to make it.

What happened? Scorsese scouts locations, casts the film; then studio cancels. Attempts to set it up elsewhere are fruitless. Scorsese marks time by going mainstream (Armani commercial, Michael Jackson video, The Color of Money).

Film finally appears (just) in 1988. Huge outcry from fundamentalist Christian groups aroud the world. Scorsese responds: 'My film was made with deep religious feeling. I have been working on this film for 15 years; it is more than just another film project.'

What everyone said: Thank goodness for a meaty piece instead of another Tom Cruise vehicle. 'Following the acts of penance that were The Color of Money . . . and After Hours . . . Last Temptation hearkens back to the obsessive examination of conflicted selfhood in Scorsese's most powerful films' (Village Voice).

What happened next? Scorsese continues to mix idiosyncratic personal films with blander, commercial ones: GoodFellas, Cape Fear and the forthcoming Age of Innocence.

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