I would love to see a good movie made about Albert Barnes. Something like a mash-up between A Beautiful Mind and Braveheart. That may seem like an odd mix—and there may well be better movies to describe a Barnes story—but I feel that Barnes was both brilliant and troubled, and he was fighting for democracy and freedom for all people against the establishment and massive odds.
There's been a movie script about Dr. Barnes floating around Hollywood for a long time, and every so often we get calls from people in the filmmaking industry who are interested in making the script into a film. Several years ago, Kevin Kline was supposedly interested in playing the role of Barnes. And one day about five years ago, I was checking my voicemail and was shocked to hear the unmistakable voice of Pierce Brosnan saying that he had read the script and wanted to visit the Barnes Foundation to find out more about the man and the collection. He did visit, but nothing more came of it.
The script takes a pretty off-beat angle: told from the perspective of author James Michener, it uses a fictionalized relationship between the two men to illustrate how combative Barnes could be. The two of them did correspond in real life, but it was a minor interaction, and to me it makes no sense to use it as the vehicle for telling Barnes’s story.
So far, nobody has come looking for advice on making a movie about Barnes, and the Foundation has no control over Hollywood’s production of a fictionalized movie. So when someone expresses interest, we invite them to visit and listen to what they have to say. When Jeff Bridges's office called to say that he had read the script and wanted to visit and find out more about Dr. Barnes, we set up a meeting. He came to the Foundation for the day with his producer, and after touring the collection, met with our archivists to try to delve a little into the facts about Barnes and his relationship with Michener. Jeff is an artist himself, and seemed highly interested, but nothing ever came of that meeting either. Maybe what we need is a different script?
There have been three recent documentaries about the Barnes Foundation, and they all look at Dr. Barnes's career and accomplishments, although they're more glance than investigation. I’m talking about a movie with a dramatized story of Barnes’s life, rather than a Ken Burns-style documentary with “experts” being interviewed and an unseen narrator speaking while the camera pans over black-and-white photos.