The subject of Stanley Kubrick is a very deep well. After completing my two previous posts, I still had a lot of material left over and thought of putting together another installment. Since then, I’ve come across even more. There’s really no end to it. For the time being, I have to stop looking and start writing, otherwise I’ll never get it done. Following is a random selection of interviews, clips, photographs, quotes and reminiscences that I think will help illuminate Stanley Kubrick more fully as an artist and as a person. Or at least give some sense of his thinking, how he saw things, how he worked, and his effect on the people around him.
Kubrick interviewed by Tim Cahill in Rolling Stone, August 27, 1987.
Q. Well, you don’t make it easy on viewers or critics. You’ve said you want an audience to react emotionally. You create strong feelings but you won’t give us any easy answers.
A. That’s because I don’t have any easy answers.
Michael Herr, author of one of the greatest books on the Vietnam war, Dispatches (1977), was a friend and collaborator of Kubrick’s for twenty years. He was co-writer of Full Metal Jacket (1987). Shortly after Stanley died in 1999, Herr wrote a short book, Kubrick (2000), about their relationship. Here are some quotes from that book.
** Re Stanley in his late teens: ……trying to see every movie ever made. There was definitely such a thing as a bad movie, but there was no movie not worth seeing. (page 25)
** He once told me (Herr) that if he hadn’t become a director he might have liked being a conductor. ” They get to play the whole orchestra, and they get plenty of exercise,” he said, waving his arms a bit, “and most of them live to be really old.” (page 65)
** He’d never talk about his movies while he was making them, and he didn’t like talking about them afterwards very much, even to friends, except maybe to mention the grosses. Most of all he didn’t want to talk about their “meaning,” because he believed so completely in their meaning that to try and talk about it could only spoil it for him. He might tell you how he did it, but never why… Somebody asked him how he ever thought of the ending of 2001. “I don’t know,’ he said, ‘How does anybody ever think of anything?” (page 71)
** Stanley didn’t live in England because he disliked America, God knows; America was all he ever talked about. It was always on his mind and in his blood. …although he hadn’t been there since 1968. In the days before satellite TV, had relatives and friends send him tapes of American television – NFL games, The Johnny Carson Show, news broadcasts and commercials, which he thought were, in their way, the most interesting films being made. He was crazy about The Simpsons and Seinfeld, and he loved Roseanne because it was funny and, he believed, the most authentic view of the country you could get without actually living there. (page 46-47)
** Kubrick thought a particular role for a film he wanted to make would “be perfect for Steve Martin. He’d loved The Jerk.” (page 8)
** Some Americans move to London and in three weeks they’re talking like Denholm Elliott. Stanley picked up the odd English locution, but it didn’t take Henry Higgins to place him as pure, almost stainless Bronx. Stanley’s voice was very fluent, melodious even. In spite of the Bronx nasal-caustic, perhaps the shadow of some adenoidal trauma long ago, it was as close to the condition of music as speech can get and still be speech, like a very well-read jazz musician talking, with a pleasing and graceful Groucho-like rushing and ebbing of inflection for emphasis, suggested quotation marks and even inverted commas to convey amused disdain, over-enunciating phrases that struck him as fabulously banal, with lots of innuendo, and lots of latent sarcasm, and some not so latent, lively tempi, brilliant timing, eloquent silences; and always, masterful, seamless segues, “Lemme change the subject for just a minute,” or, “What were we into before we got into this?” I never heard him try to do other voices, or dialects, even when he was telling Jewish jokes. Stanley quoted other people all the time, people in “the industry” whom he’d spoken to that afternoon (Steven and Mike, Warren and Jack, Tom and Nicole), or people who died a thousand years ago, but it was always Stanley speaking. (page 5)
** Re Full Metal Jacket: There was a break in the shooting of almost five months after Lee Ermey smashed up his car late one night and broke all his ribs on one side. Some of the cast had other jobs lined up and had to juggle… Vincent D’Onofrio had gained forty to fifty pounds to play Leonard, and he had to keep it on through all those idle months. (page 59)
Vincent D’Onofrio, who played Leonard “Gomer Pyle” Lawrence in Full Metal Jacket, was interviewed in 2017 about being in the film. This is quite wonderful. D’Onofrio is really expressive. (Note that it starts over at approximately 21 minutes and repeats the first 8 minutes.)
Some behind-the-scenes footage from Full Metal Jacket. It’s interesting to watch Kubrick dealing with the crew.
Two videos from the Stanley Kubrick Archive Oral History.
Kubrick loved cats. Of course he did. He had dogs and many cats as pets in England. He would leave 15 pages of instructions for whomever was caring for the cats when he was away. You can read about that here, which includes a short video of his daughter Katharina talking about these instructions.
Stanley’s quest for “just perfect” cardboard boxes.
“What They Say About Stanley Kubrick” by Peter Bogdanovich appeared in the New York Times Magazine on July 4, 1999, several months after Kubrick’s death the previous March. It’s a collection of comments by those who’d known and worked with him, including his wife Christiane. I’ve selected some of the comments for this post. Then entire piece can be accessed here.
** Arliss Howard (actor, Full Metal Jacket): I remember his saying, “The hardest thing in making a movie is to to keep in front of your consciousness your original response to the material. Because that’s going to be the thing that will make the movie. And the loss of that will break the movie.”
** Gerald Fried (childhood friend and composer of Kubrick’s short film, The Day of the Fight, and his first four features): By the time we got to Paths of Glory, he was already “Stanley Kubrick” and then it was a struggle – I had to rationalize every note. It was fun and stimulating, but he was already sure he knew it all… As I remember, he also heard every single machine-gun sound effect before it went into the picture.
** Richard Anderson (actor, Paths of Glory): Stanley is very psychological to get what he wants. One time he had done about 40 takes and Jimmy Harris (producer) comes and says, “Stanley, it’s now 1 o’clock and we’re in terrible trouble and we gotta break this up.” That was the only time I saw Stanley go nuts. He shouted, “It isn’t right – and I’m going to keep doing it until it is right!” He shot 84 takes. I think he wanted everybody to hear that – he wanted it to get around.
** Adam Baldwin (actor, Full Metal Jacket): One of the things we did to kill time was play chess, play hearts, smoke cigarettes. We would lay out the board and he would kind of waddle over and wipe you out in 15 moves. One time I actually got him to blunder and I won the game – big deal, 1 out of 50. But I said, “Hah, I got ya. You have to resign now.” And he said to me, “The only reason you won, Adam, is because I have so little respect for your game that I made a blunder. Now get back to work.” He had that little wry grin of his and walked away.
** John Milius (director, screenwriter, phone relationship with Kubrick from early ’80s): Stanley had no regard for time. He’d call you in the middle of the night, whenever he felt like calling. I’d say, “Stanley, it’s the middle of the night.” He’d say, “You’re awake, aren’t you?” He’d never talk for less than an hour.
** Arliss Howard: He could come in a room and say, “We’re two stops off in this light.” They’d say, “No, we just checked the camera.” He’d say, “We’re two stops off,” and they’d be two stops off.
** Keir Dullea (actor, 2001): I was always aware that he knew exactly what he wanted. He would invite Gary Lockwood and myself to have dinner at his beautiful home. And he would invite a lot of other people from all walks of life and different disciplines – art historians, authors and intellectuals. And he was as informed as anybody about their disciplines. He was like an onion – every layer you peeled off there were two new ones to be exposed.
** Ken Adam (production designer, Dr. Strangelove & Barry Lyndon): I don’t think I ever had such a close relationship with a director. There was a certain naiveté and charm about him, but you very quickly found out that there was an enormous brain functioning. I think the most difficult part was his questioning, almost computer-like mind. He knew most of the technicians’ work better than the technicians themselves. The only think he didn’t know was design. So, obviously, he was fascinated by it, but I also found myself having to justify practically every line I drew, which wasn’t always easy… He very often changed his mind. After two days of shooting, for example, he wasn’t happy with Peter Sellers playing the B-52 bomber-captain (in addition to his other roles) and he cast Slim Pickens instead and then decided to have him ride the atomic bomb bronco-fashion into the Russian missile complex.
Ken Adam talks about working with Kubrick in the video below.
** Christiane Kubrick (wife): He thought it was boring away from home. He liked all his stuff around him, all his telephones and televisions and fax machines. Also, we have a zoo. We have a lot of animals and he liked those and he liked the children and later the grandchildren. He liked being at home. But not like a hermit – he had lots of friends – they just weren’t in the film business. He talked to everybody – he just didn’t talk to the press.
** Sydney Pollack (director, phone relationship with Kubrick since early ‘70s, actor in Eyes Wide Shut): I always think of Stanley literally on the edge of a smile. His eyes always had mischief in them. He always had this sense of the devil in him while he was very calmly asking questions. He read everything, and knew absolutely all aspects of the business, including literally what the box-office receipts of every theater in the world were of the past few years.
** Gerald Fried: I hope his last hour was cool. I played on a ball club called the Barracudas, in the Bronx, and I remember Stanley – he was about 18, 19 – he wanted to get into a game and he wasn’t a good athlete and the guys didn’t want him and I said, “Come on, give him a chance.” We let him play, and his face lit up.
** Christiane Kubrick: Even the most ordinary things, he would give them such extra insight that they became interesting. He talked all the time, and so now I never have this rain of words. I’m very sad now but I was personally very lucky that I always felt very loved and many people can’t say that.
Actor Sterling Hayden talking about Kubrick, The Killing (1956) and Dr. Strangelove (1964). Hayden is a little odd, but this is interesting.
Director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight trilogy, Intersteller, Dunkirk) talks about Kubrick and 2001.
David Simon (creator of The Wire) talks about Paths of Glory.
I’d forgotten about S Is for Stanley, a documentary about Emilio D’Alessandro, Kubrick’s driver since 1971. I saw it in January of last year and quite liked it. Here’s the trailer, which is narrated by the film’s director, Alex Infascelli.
I recently remembered that somewhere in my randomly stored archives I ought to have a souvenir program booklet for 2001: A Space Odyssey. So I went into the hall closet and was amazed to find it in the first box I opened. I must have gotten this when I saw 2001 for the first time at a Cinerama theater in Sacramento in 1968, when the film opened. It’s one of the artifacts I’ve kept through the years. And here it is!
Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke on the moon shuttle set for 2001: A Space Odyssey.
A pie fight in the war room was originally supposed to be the climax of Dr. Strangelove. It was filmed, but obviously didn’t make the final cut. Here’s Stanley with one of the pies, followed by a shot of him demonstrating how to throw them. It would be nice to see that footage.
As previously noted, Kubrick was loathe to talk about his films or “explain” them, but I found an exception to that. Space Odyssey, Michael Benson’s excellent book about the making of 2001, references a quote from Kubrick in a column by Abe Weiler for the New York Times in late April, 1968. 2001 had just been released to fairly hostile critical response. He probably felt some pressure to say something specific. Here’s the quote:
“What happens at the end must tap the subconscious for its power. To do this, one must bypass words and move into the world of dreams and mythology. This is why the literal clarity one has become used to is not there. Here is what we used for planning. In Jupiter orbit, Keir Dullea is swept into a Star Gate. Hurled through fragmented regions of time and space, he enters into another dimension where the laws of nature as we know them no longer apply. In the unseen presences of godlike entities – beings of pure energy who have evolved beyond matter – he finds himself in what might be described as a human zoo, created from his own dreams and memories…His entire life passes in what appears to him a matter of moments. He dies and is reborn – transfigured. An enhanced being, a Star Child. The ascent from ape to angel is complete.”
Actually, “from ape to angel” is a pretty succinct description of what the film is about. I love it.
One more thing before I wrap this up. Two weeks ago we were on line to see a film at the Walter Reade Theater. I was reading the Michael Benson’s Space Odyssey when a man in front of me asked how I was liking it. He said he used to work for MGM and that he’d known Kubrick at the time. He said they used to talk on the phone a lot. In what I’ve been reading about Kubrick recently, a lot of people mention all the calls they used to get from him at all hours, very long calls. So I got a kick when this guy, whose name was Jim, started talking about phone calls with Stanley. He said that whatever they started off talking about, the calls sooner or later became about gossip. Stanley Kubrick liked to gossip! After reading and writing about Kubrick these past few weeks and having him in my head, I thought it was pretty great that I’d have a chance encounter with someone who’d actually known him.
Kubrick Remembered, a feature documentary narrated in part by his wife, Christiane.
There’s more, but I think it’s time to take a break. Besides, Stanley Kubrick isn’t going anywhere. — Ted Hicks