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What a Concept: Joel Silver Meets Joan of Arc

You remember the dueling Robin Hoods, Christopher Columbuses and Wyatt Earps. Now it seems heavenly voices have been bending studio ears: There are no fewer than three versions of the life of Joan of Arc in the works.

Disney’s Touchstone is developing a “Joan of Arc” with director Brian Gibson (“What’s Love Got to Do With It”); producer Joel Silver is tackling another for Warner Bros. and Kathryn Bigelow (“Point Break”), currently involved in “Strange Days,” will develop Jay Cocks’ “The Company of Angels” for 20th Century Fox.

“Joan was one of history’s most conflicted characters, a young girl who didn’t want to be chosen and didn’t really understand why she was,” says Touchstone screenwriter Paul McCudden. “She was a female in the most male of worlds. She was 17 when she heard the saints’ voices, sending her on her mission to rid France of the British; she burned to death at 19. Part of the problem with all of the previous films is they never really portray her as a young girl, but someone who was unshakable in her quest, without any doubts.”

Gibson--who says he has wanted to do a project on the patron saint of France for more than a decade--is convinced his version, expected to be the first out of the gate in mid-'95, will be markedly different from Bigelow’s or Silver’s. McCudden says he’s written the piece as more of a personal journey.

Attempts to reach Silver were unsuccessful, but those familiar with Silver’s testosterone-charged script say that it reads like “Bruce Willis in a dress, brandishing a sword"--plenty of battle scenes and a no-nonsense, take-charge Joan.

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The version Cocks (who co-wrote “The Age of Innocence” screenplay) is doing for Bigelow will also be action-packed, but reportedly includes more of Joan’s internal struggle in dealing with her mission from God. Bigelow’s staff declined to be interviewed about the project.

Like studio executives at Fox and Warner Bros., Touchstone’s president, David Hoberman, as well as producers Charlie Evans Jr. and Carroll Kemp, say that they can’t let concerns over a first finish consume their focus. Production is tentatively set to start this fall.

It remains to be seen how any of the new versions will depart from the previous stories about Joan, who in the 15th Century helped defeat the English in their attempted invasion of France (and was later burned at the stake as a suspected witch).

Besides Carl Dreyer’s 1928 silent “The Passion of Joan of Arc” with Maria Flaconetti; Victor Fleming’s 1948 “Joan of Arc” with Ingrid Bergman, and Otto Preminger’s 1957 “Saint Joan” with Jean Seberg, there is an authentic French version. The two-part, five-hour “Jeanne La Pucel Les Batailles” and “Jeanne La Pucel Les Prisons” (“The Battles and Imprisonment of Joan of Arc”), directed by Jacques Rivette, was shown this spring at the Berlin Film Festival.

Of his competitors, Gibson says, “I don’t want their versions of Joan as ‘Terminatrix’ to poison the well. To Joel, I would say good luck with all of your ‘Lethal Weapon’ movies. You do them well, but don’t move outside your area. You’ll tip over.”

Interestingly, the subplot behind Gibson’s version is almost as interesting as the film itself. The film is being developed from Touchstone’s discretionary fund, a pot of money set aside for studio executives to develop projects. A lump sum originally had been reserved to produce a movie about a snuff film called “The Brave,” a screenplay written by McCudden, to be produced by Kemp, Evans and Aziz Ghazal. It was Ghazal who found Gregory Mcdonald’s book “The Brave,” about a broken man who agrees to let himself be snuffed in a movie if his family gets the profits. Ghazal tapped his friend McCudden to adapt it for the screen.

But as Ghazal was pitching the project to Touchstone, reports surfaced that he was simultaneously negotiating with Jodie Foster’s Egg Pictures. His personal life began to come apart as well, and on Dec. 1, 1993, Ghazal shot himself to death after bludgeoning his estranged wife and 13-year-old daughter to death.

Ghazal’s death still haunts McCudden. But he, like Kemp and Evans, still believes in the project. The producers are shopping “The Brave” to studios around town while trying to remain focused on “Joan.”


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