Spielberg idolised Lawrence of Arabia director David Lean when he was growing up, and when he made his professional debut with Duel, Lean reciprocated the affection by praising his work on the film.
Their friendship would grow over the years, most notably over Empire of the Sun, which Spielberg was originally going to produce for Lean, but which Lean eventually decided not to direct, paving the way for Spielberg to take over.
The partnership was due to come into fruition in another literary project, an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s novel Nostromo, which Spielberg would produce for Lean to direct.
Sadly, Lean found Spielberg’s creative input difficult to take, and the project fell apart, never to be resurrected before the director’s death in 1991.
This fascinating article in the UK’s Independent newspaper gives a full account of the failed production of Nostromo, and includes the following information, relayed by playwright and Lean collaborator Christopher Hampton:
“Lean had a meeting with Spielberg in the US, but came back very annoyed with a load of notes handed to him by Spielberg. He couldn’t believe it. David thought Spielberg’s offer to produce the film was a courtesy, and didn’t think he would actually offer opinions about the script,” says Hampton.
“In a memo (dated 12 February, 1987) full of similar observations, Spielberg tells Lean: “I would love to see Nostromo in scenes like this as a practical hero. It would be a big mistake to see Errol Flynn swashbuckling his way through a Conrad novel (this would be ridiculous), but some heroics, subtle yet justified, I think are a must for making him worthy of his title…”
Hampton points out: “Funnily enough, Spielberg had asked Lean for his opinion of the script for Empire of the Sun, which Lean thought was terrible, but he didn’t think it was his place to say anything.”
What a shame that this film never saw the light of day, and that a healthy working relationship seemed to fall apart, over something so silly.
“My father had many, many veterans over to the house and the older I got the more I appreciated their sacrifice. Especially what we now know as post-traumatic stress disorder. They were still suffering. I used to hear sobbing and I used to be too afraid to go into that room or to even open my mouth. But I used to peek around the corner and I’d see men crying into their hands.
“Later, I would ask my father what that was all about and he would always just say, ‘Difficult memories’. That’s all he would say.”
Spielberg talks about his interest in World War II with The Daily Telegraph.
“I walked to a nearby burial mound. I climbed onto the lowest tier of rotting coffins, turned and looked back at the camp, a view I had never seen before.
“Everything about it seemed strange and unreal, though it had been my home for two-and-a-half years. I ran back and climbed through the wire, relieved to be back in the camp and the only security I knew.”
The song Christian Bale sings in Empire of the Sun is a traditional Welsh lullaby called Suo Gân. It was first written around 1800 and the title means ‘lullaby’.
The English translation of the lyrics is below:
Sleep my baby, at my breast,
’Tis a mother’s arms round you.
Make yourself a snug, warm nest.
Feel my love forever new.
Harm will not meet you in sleep,
Hurt will always pass you by.
Child beloved, always you’ll keep,
In sleep gentle, mother’s breast nigh.
Sleep in peace tonight, sleep,
O sleep gently, what a sight.
A smile I see in slumber deep,
What visions make your face bright?
Are the angels above smiling,
At you in your peaceful rest?
Are you beaming back while in
Peaceful slumber on mother’s breast?
Do not fear the sound, it’s a breeze
Brushing leaves against the door.
Do not dread the murmuring seas,
Lonely waves washing the shore.
Sleep child mine, there’s nothing here,
While in slumber at my breast,
Angels smiling, have no fear,
Holy angels guard your rest.