The Richard Lester / Donald Bartheleme Collaboration That Never Was

Every few years, I return to Steven Soderbergh’s Getting Away With It, a book that juxtaposes Soderbergh’s journals in the time just before he made Out of Sight with a series of conversations between Soderbergh and Richard Lester. (If Lester’s name doesn’t ring a bell, watch A Hard Day’s Night or The Knack…And How to Get It or, er, Superman 3, all of which he directed.)

The first time I read this book also served as my introduction to the work of Donald Barthelme. Lester, you see, had had plans to adapt Barthelme’s novel The King, a sort of postmodern riff on King Arthur set during World War II. Here’s Lester making one observation on the novel, and its appeal to him:

One of the things that beguiled us was that Barthelme, who as far as we knew didn’t know England at all, had produced something so quintessentially English.

For the full story of why the film didn’t happen, you’ll need to pick up the book. (And you absolutely should: it abounds with information that anyone concerned with art of all disciplines will find useful.) But it is nonetheless depressing that Lester’s take on The King joins that epic list of great films that never were.

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