When Robert Altman died Monday night he left behind a good deal of pre-production work on what was to be his next film, a fictionalized remake of the 1997 documentary Hands on a Hard Body. Scheduled to begin shooting next year, the new film has a screenplay, co-written by Stephen Harrigan, and a distributor, Picturehouse, but now is without a director.
Those familiar with the story presented in Hands on a Hard Body -- twenty-four contestants try to win a new truck in a contest that has each attempting to be the last to remain holding onto said vehicle -- should be in agreement that it would have been perfectly dramatized by Altman. And possibly by nobody else. Picturehouse head Bob Berney is now debating whether to go ahead with the production with a new director at the helm or to let the project die with the late, great filmmaker, knowing that it just won't be as good without him.
The first idea that comes to mind for the substitution option is to have Paul Thomas Anderson take over. He is nearing completion on his latest, the oil-tycoon-family drama, There Will Be Blood, so he may be able to fit this into his schedule, and also he recently worked alongside Altman on A Prairie Home Companion, so he is likely the most qualified to continue the project relatively close to Altman's vision. A second choice, and less appealing one, would be to have Richard Linklater have a shot, since he seems to have no new film in the works, he has done a fair job of handling the multiple-character, multiple-storyline style, he just adapted a non-fiction book as a fictional narrative, and he should feel at home working with the Texas-set film. A final idea would be to have S.R. Bindler, who directed the original doc and has since moved into shooting fiction films, redo his own film.
The option to kill the film is also a tempting solution, however. Anyone who was disappointed with Steven Spielberg's handling of A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, which he took over from Stanley Kubrick, is sure to be skeptical of another master's vision being compromised by another filmmaker. Surely there have been other similar situations that worked out even less successfully.
Personally, I think Berney should abandon the film, mainly because I don't often see a need for dramatized remakes of documentaries. I would have loved to have seen Altman's version, despite my problems with adaptation, though, and don't think I could let go of my reservations for anyone else.