James Hughes: Stanley Kubrick's Unmade Film About Jazz in the Third Reich

tags: Nazis, The Atlantic, Stanley Kubrick, jazz, James Hughes



James Hughes is a Chicago-based writer and editor who has contributed to Slate, The Believer, Wax Poetics, and The Village Voice. For a decade, he was an editor and publisher of Stop Smiling magazine and its book imprint.

In 1985, Stanley Kubrick was handed a book on the survival of jazz in Nazi-occupied Europe. A snapshot of a Luftwaffe officer casually posing among black, Gypsy, and Jewish musicians outside a Paris nightclub caught his eye. It looked like something out of Dr. Strangelove, he said. He'd long wanted to bring World War II to the screen, and perhaps this photograph offered a way in.

"Stanley's famous saying was that it was easier to fall in love than find a good story," says Tony Frewin, Kubrick's longtime assistant (and, for the purpose of disclosure, an editor-at-large at my former magazine, Stop Smiling). "He was limitlessly interested in anything to do with Nazis and desperately wanted to make a film on the subject."

Kubrick has long been associated with creating arresting visions of warfare. When it was announced this month that Steven Spielberg will produce Kubrick's screenplay Napoleon as a television miniseries, the initial speculation was largely about how the ambitious battle scenes, originally conceived to maximize tens of thousands of extras, will be achieved.

However, it's Kubrick's interest in jazz-loving Nazis that represents his most fascinating unrealized war film. The book that Kubrick was handed, and one he considered adapting soon after wrapping Full Metal Jacket, was Swing Under the Nazis, published in 1985 and written by Mike Zwerin, a trombonist from Queens who had performed with Miles Davis and Eric Dolphy before turning to journalism. The officer in that Strangelovian snapshot was Dietrich Schulz-Koehn, a fanatic for "hot swing" and other variations of jazz outlawed as "jungle music" by his superiors. Schulz-Koehn published an illegal underground newsletter, euphemistically referred to as "travel letters," which flaunted his unique ability to jaunt across Western Europe and report back on the jazz scenes in cities conquered by the Fatherland. Kubrick's title for the project was derived from the pen name Schulz-Koehn published under: Dr. Jazz....



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