Michael Mann is, without a doubt, one of the most well-known and respected filmmakers ever to have lived. And while most of his films are revered as classics, you may not be aware that he also helmed the rarely seen 1983 WWII horror The Keep, about an ancient demon being unleashed by the Nazis from his castle prison.
The film had a notoriously troubled production and to date has only been released as a heavily edited cut rather than in its full-length entirety. Starring Sir Ian McKellen, Gabriel Byrne, Scott Glenn, and Jürgen Prochnow, Mann’s notion of crafting something completely unique was way ahead of its time.
Now filmmaker Stewart Buck has decided to uncover the truth behind the making of The Keep with his new documentary, A World War II Fairytale: THE KEEP Documentary (Indiegogo). As he explains, the history behind the film is certainly something that more people need to be aware of.
DC: As I’m someone who isn’t too familiar with the history behind The Keep, can you talk about why the production of the film is so interesting?
SB: THE KEEP is perhaps one of the biggest mysteries of the last 30 odd years of film history. Paramount was making serious money at the height of the slasher movie era. THE KEEP was something completely different. Even with so many financial and logistical problems during production and one colossal blow to it (the death of Wally Veevers in February 1983), it never blighted Mann’s confidence to do the very best under extremely difficult circumstances, in creating something thoroughly unique. I’d compare it in a sense to that of a very real explosion, where the creativity appeared and was ignited at a very interesting and formative time in Michael Mann’s career, except the aftermath of the explosion left us without finding certain pieces, where others had simply disintegrated.
Although unknown even among Mann’s fans, it bears all of his usual trademarks, his recurring themes, the professionalism of men and what they do, the duality between characters, which is also expertly weaved into the brilliantly executed set design of John Box, and of course, all this wrapped up in Mann’s aesthetic and milieu we’ve become so accustomed to.
It remains an obscure creation, or as Stephane Piter (producer on A World War II Fairytale) likes to put it – a ‘UFO’ in the Mann filmography. We’re fascinated by the fragments of what’s left. Those fragments are what fans cling onto knowing that there was to be much more as well as what could have been, and it’s something we’ll never see the likes of in commercial film again, really.
DC: And why did you personally feel that you had to tell this story?
SB: We felt there had been an appetite for it for a long time due to the film and soundtrack being out of circulation for such an unusual period of time. I wanted to re-approach it as if Mann were making the movie again (or remaking it, if you will, with that mind-set). Why he turned down almost 300 screenplays to focus on Paul Wilson’s book to tell an adult fairytale, his choices, his approach, without all the eventual problems that plagued the films production.
We would hope to present fans and filmmakers with some kind of personal record of that time making the movie and how Mann works, something they can physically hold and cherish where there’s currently a gap. It’s also something that could not have been done in-house by the studio; it had to be from the ground up independently. Established filmmakers were saying, ‘Finally! A documentary all about THE KEEP!’
DC: What are your thoughts on the final, finished version of The Keep? Do you think it reflects what Mann was trying to do? If I’m not mistaken, it’s never been released on DVD due to disagreements that he had with the studio?
SB: You can see the potential. Clearly that potential has made a huge impression on people around the world when they first saw it in the cinema and on TV and so forth. I can’t personally enjoy it as a ‘proper’ film-going experience because there is so much missing. It was Mann’s intention to make it a thoroughly immersive and epic experience, and I still feel that when the credits roll.
DC: And I understand that you have an impressive lineup of interviewees?
SB: We do indeed, with more to come! There’s a lot of filmmakers who have a soft spot for THE KEEP out there – Ben Wheatley and Rob Green (who made The Bunker in 2001), both of whom we’ve interviewed recently, and some upcoming ones we haven’t announced yet, as well as almost the entire surviving crew, credited and un-credited!
DC: Is Michael Mann involved in any capacity?
SB: He knows about it, and that’s what’s important; once we’re finished, it will be presented to him as a serious endeavour. At the moment his focus is on the new movie, but he is again working with Paramount, so it’s important we present it to him in the near future.
DC: What about the author of the original novel, F. Paul Wilson?
SB: We have a great relationship with Paul. Despite his strong disappointment in Mann’s adaptation, he wants to know why it ended up the way it did. The compromised theatrical cut is also quite deceiving as Mann HAD been more faithful to the material than first thought, when the extended ending popped up years later, albeit unfinished.
DC: How did you find the process of uncovering the secrets of The Keep for the documentary?
SB: Like an archaeological dig, Absolutely fascinating and at times miraculous in our findings that we never thought possible. It’s been one of the best parts, that of discovery on The Keep, and we’re still uncovering more secrets, an amazing portal into the filmmaking process and that of a real visionary trying to make something. All of which will only be presented in the final product and BLU-RAY!
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