Camera Quiz Kid: Stan Kubrick
by Mildred Stagg (1948)
"I think aesthetically recording spontaneous action, rather than carefully posing a picture,
is the most valid and expressive use of photography," Stanley Kubrick said. Maybe the statement wasn't earth-shaking, but
it startled me. The boy who said that had turned nineteen a week ago, and has been a staff photographer for LOOK
magazines since age seventeen.
Mr. Kubrick didn't come by this photographic philosophy overnight. He has been making
and selling picture stories for three years. Just three years ago, Stan got his first camera as a present - a Kodak Monitor
620. That was his "how do you do" to the instrument that has served him like the genie served Aladdin.
Kubrick was sixteen years old, and the possessor of a new camera, when he passed a newsstand
on April 12, 1945. An old man was sitting at the stand, surrounded by papers with black headlines that read, "ROOSEVELT DEAD."
Stanley took the picture, and when it was developed he realized it was saleable. From reading camera magazines he knew how
to go about selling it, so he took it to LOOK. At that time Mrs. Helen O'Brian was picture editor.
She showed the picture to the late managing editor Guenther and they decided to use it.
Mrs. O'Brian shared Kubrick's belief that picture stories were his natural bent and she
encouraged him to do more - after school, "He sold LOOK four picture stories," Mrs. O'Brian said,
"Stanley had the highest percentage of acceptances of any free-lance photographer I've ever dealt with." About half of Kubrick's
off-guard stories were his own ideas. They were before he became LOOK's youngest photographer and
they still are. One Kubrick candid began with an ordinary visit to the dentist. Like most of us Stanley hates to go to the
dentist. While he was waiting he noticed that the other patients waiting looked as nervous as he felt. The result was a series
of off-guard shots, made with natural lighting that show the photographer's appreciation of the humour in our fear of the
dentist and something else - the humor is sympathetic. This combination is seldom found, and then usually among extremely
Stanley Kubrick showed his capacity for sympathetic humour when he was only sixteen. He
had an English teacher at Taft high school who read "Hamlet" aloud to the class. The teacher played every part, using facial
expressions and gestures appropriate for the character he was playing. Kubrick brought his camera to class, took off-guard
pictures, and LOOK bought them. Because the pictures were funny without being cruel the teacher enjoyed
the story as much as any other LOOK reader. There is this same quality in a story called "How people
look to the monkeys." Kubrick was assigned to do a picture on how people looked to the caged animals. To find out he made
the necessary arrangements with the authorities at the zoo at Prospect park in Brooklyn. In the monkey house there are both
indoor and outdoor cages. The monkeys were in the outdoor cage, so Kubrick stationed himself in the indoor cage with his lens
poked through the food slit. At first the monkeys were curious but after they were allowed to look in the camera they returned
to hamming for their usual audience. The picture ran in LOOK with a full-page picture of a monkey
scratching its head, titled, "This is how monkeys look to people." The other page showed Kubrick's picture of the monkey's
audience and was captioned "...and this is how people look to the monkeys."
Until he joined LOOK's staff, Stanley used a standard Rolleiflex.
Now he uses an automatic Rolleiflex, a 4 by 5 Speed Graphic and a Contax.
Indoors he prefers natural light, but switches to flash when the dim light would restrict
the natural movement of the subject. In a subway series he used natural light, with the exception of a picture showing a flight
of stairs. "I wanted to retain the mood of the subway, so I used natural light," he said. People who ride the subway late
at night are less inhibited than those who ride by day. Couples make love openly, drunks sleep on the floor and other unusual
activities take place late at night. To make pictures in the off-guard manner he wanted to, Kubrick rode the subway for two
weeks. Half of his riding was done between midnight and six a.m. Regardless of what he saw he couldn't shoot until the car
stopped in a station because of the motion and vibration of the moving train. Often, just as he was ready to shoot, someone
walked in front of the camera, or his subject left the train.
Kubrick finally did get his pictures, and no one but a subway guard seemed to mind. The
guard demanded to know what was going on. Kubrick told him."Have you got permission?" the guard asked."I'm from LOOK,"
Kubrick answered."Yeah, sonny," was the guard's reply, "and I'm the society editor of the Daily Worker."
For this series Kubrick used a Contax and took the pictures at 1/8 second. The lack of
light tripled the time necessary for development.
When Kubrick has a story idea five copies are typed out and one is to be submitted to
Dan Mich (executive editor), Henry Ehrlich (managing editor), Merle Armitage (art director), Arthur Rothstein (technical director)
and Woodrow Wirsig (assistant managing editor). At a board meeting they decide to give the idea a red, or green light. A green
light means a specific assignment. Rarely does Kubrick have a free rein.
Kubrick is maintaining the same high batting average as a staff photographer that he enjoyed
as a free lance. He explains it by saying, "The magazine's policy is so well determined that you seldom go out on a wild goose
chase. When LOOK sends you out on a story the story is usually published." I asked Stanley for some
advice to ambitious amateurs who want to become magazine photographers. "Think up ideas for stories, go out and shoot them,
and then send them in to the magazines. I was lucky; I figured that out when I was young," he said. I couldn't help smiling
at the word "young" and he continued, "Don't try to shoot big events or people; wou will probably have the most success by
shooting things the magazine would never know of."
Stan is also very serious about cinematography, and is about to start filming a sound
production written and financed by himself and several friends.
The Camera, October 1948
Young Man with Ideas and a Camera
by Thomas M. Pryor (1951)
Stanley Kubrick is a young man from the Bronx with a passionate interest in photography
and a determination to make a name for himself in the movie world. Those are not entirely unique attributes or ambitions,
but Stanley Kubrick is no ordinary tyro. At the age of 22 he can look back on four and a half years as a top-flight magazine
still photographer and, since last spring, he has directed, photographed and produced two one-reel films which R.K.O. Pathe
News will distribute. Now he is aiming at making a feature-length picture, which he has budgeted at the astonishingly low
cost of $50,000.
One of the youngest staff photographers on LOOK Magazine, Stanley
broke into the flashbulb profession by selling three picture stories to the magazine, and decided to quit school while in
his freshman year at City College. The measure of his ability as a photographer can be judged on the basis of his assignments
by LOOK, which ranged from taking pictures of theatrical and political celebrities, to a tour of
Portugal, to illustrate a travel story. The magazine also gave him such other choice assignments as covering the circus at
its winter headquarters in Sarasota, Fla., and Senator Taft's pre-election barnstorming in Ohio.
Writers who have worked with Stanley remember him warmly as "a funny kid and a wonderful
photographer." Stanley Kubrick can say with all honesty that he made a career out of his father's hobby. He was 15 and a student
at Taft High School in the Bronx when he started "fooling around" with his father's Graflex camera. One day he took the camera
to school and made some pictures of an English teacher, a rara avis, "who read Hamlet and acted out the play for the class."
LOOK bought and published Stanley's pictures.
One of his best-remembered camera stories for LOOK was The Day of the Fight, a study of a prizefighter in the last hours before entering the ring. The idea struck
him as just fine for a movie and, with the financial and artistic help of friends, Stanley quit his job and made a one-reel
actuality move called The Day of the Fight which R.K.O. bought for considerably more than the $5,000
the project cost. The company then gave him an assignment last summer to make a one-reel documentary about the flying priest
of the southwest, the Rev. Fred Stadtmueller, who uses a Piper Cub plane to minister spiritually to a flock spread out over
vast distances in New Mexico from his parish in the town of Mosquero.
The Day of the Fight not only impressed the people at R.K.O. Pathe, but it also encouraged
Martin Perveler, a Los Angeles druggist and a family friend of the Kubricks, to organize a syndicate to finance Stanley in
his first feature-film attempt. Mr. Perveler himself put up most of the $50,000, Stanley says.
If you think Stanley is nervous about the prospect of starting filming on his picture,
as yet untitled in March, then you are sadly mistaken. With the collaboration of a friend, a 21-year-old poet name Howard
Sackler, Stanley has developed a story about four soldiers in a battle who are trapped behind enemy lines. He describes his
drama as a "study of four men and their search for the meaning of life and the individual's responsibility to the group."
Stanley says he has figured out every camera angle and that after he finds the proper
location "in some wooded area of southern California" shooting should run smoothly and be concluded in fifteen to twenty-one
days. He will bring four professional "but not known name actors" out to the coast from Broadway, and, because Stanley himself
is not yet a member of the movie camera men's union, he will engage a professional cinematographer. The one requirement is
that the cameraman must agree in advance to follow the blueprint laid out by Stanley, who will direct and produce the film.
An adventuresome young man? Yes. But one who apparently knows his way around.
The New York Times, January 14, 1951
Another Boy Film Producer
by Irene Thirer (1953)
Stanley Kubrick who, at 24, is the producer-photographer-director-editor of three commercially
sold films, does not see his pictures through 3-D glasses, nor has he, as yet, shot in colour. Up to the present he has worked
in the stark realism and within the budget of black, white and shadows.
"I have never seen any 3-D except Bwana Devil," he admitted,
"and I applauded the newsreel which followed. But, as far as third-dimension technique is concerned, I understand it, though
I've never worked in it nor seen the results of Cinema-Scope and other mediums. I hope very much to make a colour film, and
no doubt, I will."
Kubrick's picture now under discussion is Fear and Desire, which
Joe Burstyn is sponsoring at a Guild Theater premier Tuesday and in all probability will sell to a circuit after its initial
"It was filmed," the unconventionally garbed, sensitive, brown-eyed youth with a mop of
unkempt dark hair, informed us at a 75 West St. confab, "on the outskirts of Los Angeles in Azuza, a good-looking forest."
(We ventured that it was more difficult, likely, to find a good-looking forest than a good-looking girl on the fringe of L.A.
The picture concerns the exploits of an imaginary army and has a fairy tale quality. There
is love interest, too. No "names" in the cast with the exception of Frank Silvera, who is currently on stage at the National
in Tennessee Williams' Camino Real.
How did this career happen, and when?
"I've been a photography bug since childhood," Star said. "When I was at Taft H. S. in
the Bronx I sold five picture stories to LOOK. I went to City College for a year, continuing as a
LOOK free-lance photographer. Then I quit school and asked for a full time job, which I got." He
also acquired a wife named Toba, who is his script girl and dialogue director. They have diggings in Greenwich Village, where
they live when they are not off somewhere on location. His hobbies: chess and baseball, and he likes to the way his sister,
Adelphi student, plays guitar and sings folk ballads.
He left the magazine three years ago to attempt movies, "with my good friend Dick de Rochemont
putting up some of the money to back my first short subject, The Day of the Fight, which RKO released.
"On that deal I made exactly $50. But RKO accepted my second subject, Sky
Pilot, about a priest who flew over New Mexico. It netted me $1,500 and satisfaction, since eight co-investors came
to my aid for my first feature which cost $100,000.
"The script is written by Howard O. Sackler, poet laureate of my high school, and the
musical score is by Gerald Fried, with whom I used to play basketball and baseball in the Bronx. We have ambitious future
plans, in a small way. We will make a Love Story of New York, shooting all around the town."
New York Post, March 27, 1953
new siren and movie wizard spark Fear and Desire (1953)
A brilliant 24-year-old writer-producer-director-cameraman named Stanley Kubrik and a
sensuous Hollywood unknown (opp. page) have distilled crucial elements of war and passion into a film of extraordinary emotional
impact. Released this week, Kubrik's Fear and Desire centers on four soldiers, of unidentified nationality,
lost behind enemy lines in an unidentified war. Their nerve-bruising misadventures point up the personality of each: the jittery
recruit; the smooth-talking, philosophically inclined lieutenant; the tough sergeant; and a placid average type. Only two
Kubrick was a successful magazine photographer at 17, set out to work on the film in '50
with $20,000 from friends and relatives. Shooting, mostly in California's San Gabriel Mountains, took a month. The rest of
the time went for editing and drumming up another $80,000. Kubrick gives full credit to associates, says "Ten thousand things
connected with film making are harassing, but it was all worth the trouble."
People Today, April 8, 1953
The changing face of Hollywood
by Stanley Kubrick (1958)
This Stanley Kubrick. I think that if the reigning powers had any great respect for good
pictures or the people who could make them, that this respect was probably very well tempered by the somewhat cynical observation
that poor and mediocre pictures might just as well prove successful as their pictures of higher value.
Television has changed this, completely, and I think that, despite the unhappy financial
upheaval that it's caused in the movie industry, it is also provided a very invigorating and stimulating challenge which has
made it necessary for films to be made with more sincerity and more daring.
If Hollywood lacks the color and excitement of its early days with Rolls-Royces and leopard-skin
seat covers, I think on the other hand it provides the most exciting and stimulating atmosphere of opportunity and possibilities
for young people today.
CBS Radio, December 1958
Film Fan to Film-Maker
by Joanne Stang (1958)
When Stanley Kubrick was a boy of 14, life was a dream prescribed by a series of images,
changed semi-weekly and viewed from the velvety, rococo depths of Loew's Paradise in the Bronx.
Today, in the airy reality of an executive office in Beverly Hills, the images wait quietly
under the flat covers of a stack of scripts, or are already translated into rolls of film stored in round metal cans stamped
"Kubrick" - and "Kubrick" has become a new word in the colourful, if circumscribed, dictionary of the movie industry. It means
a lank-haired, slightly elusive, seemingly diffident young man who talks little, wears dark suits in the bright sunshine on
Canon Drive, and makes astonishing movies.
The element that makes Kubrick's movies astonishing is not their number. He has brought
forth just four feature films - two post-adolescent flings at learning the trade, Fear and Desire
and Killer's Kiss, then The Killing and Paths of Glory.
Nor is the element overwhelmingly commercial triumph. Only Paths of Glory was successful to the point
Kubrick's magic ingredient is a kind of truth he achieves with the camera - a way of using
the camera - a way of using the camera that limns the plot on the mind's eye of the audience with scenes so real that they
seem able to be touched as well as watched.
Marlon Brando, who in a conservative estimate might be termed the most sought-after actor
in motion pictures, recently chose Kubrick to direct his first independent picture, One-Eyed Jacks.
Brando ascribes Kubrick's ability to protect a feeling of truth into a film to an instinctive sensitivity as well as a superior
"Stanley is unusually perceptive", Brando says, "and delicately attuned to people. He
has an adroit intellect, and is a creative thinker - not a repeater, not a fact-gatherer. He digests what he learns and brings
to a new project original point of view and a reserved passion."
At 30, Kubrick is like some changeling prince migrated from the dark forests of the Grand
Concourse to the sunny kingdom of Hollywood. After birth in the Bronx, he existed there as what he narrowly calls "a lonely
child", and this remoteness has followed him West. In a professional community where even the most self-effacing directors
are surrounded by a variety of "helpers", Kubrick is minus entourage. He makes no particular attempt to blend with the scenery,
One observer who watched Kubrick walking down a Hollywood street commented that he looked
as though he might logically have "Made in New York" stamped on his forehead. A friend of Kubrick's explains: "Stanley isn't
really anti-social. It's just that he isn't interested in the swiftest route to Palm Springs, or how to vacuum a swimming
pool. He's really only interested in one thing. Making movies."
Kubrick's preoccupation with pictures, still and motion, born during a childhood "spent
in local movie houses", flourished while he was a student at William Howard Taft High School and his camera work began cropping
up in photography exhibits. At 17, he was a photographer with a national picture magazine, but at 21 he decided that taking
still pictures was "too passive", went out and bought a 35-mm. newsreel camera, got the salesman to show him how to load it,
and made two documentaries for R.K.O. - Day of the Fight and Flying Padre.
This was followed by Fear and Desire in 1953, released by Joseph
Burstyn, and produced, written, directed and deplored by Kubrick, who merely says of it, "Pain is a good teacher."
A United Artists' release, Killer's Kiss, was next, and then
Kubrick met James Harris, who was his own age (23), fresh out of the Army, and the former executive of a television producing
and distributing company. With Harris as producer, Kubrick then went West and made The Killing with
Sterling Hayden, a fine, suspense-filled film.
With The Killing, Kubrick was taken to the bosom of the movie
business via elaborate critical acclaim and a loss of $120,000. The film also impressed three particular men: Kirk Douglas,
whom Kubrick later directed in Paths of Glory; Gregory Peck, who will star next year in a Kubrick-Harris
Civil War epic based on the adventures of Confederate cavalry leader John Singleton Mosby; and Marlon Brando.
After seeing The Killing, Brando says he was amazed that Kubrick
"could project such a completely distinctive style with so little previous film-making experience. Here was a typical, episodic
detective story - nothing unusual in the plot - but Stanley made a series of bizarre and interesting choices which buttressed
and embellished an ordinary story into an exciting film."
Kubrick himself boils down the "buttress" to two basic factors: natural lighting and attention
to details. "We are all used to seeing things in a certain way, with the light coming from some natural source", Kubrick explains.
"I try to duplicate this natural light in the filming. It makes for a feeling of greater reality."
Kubrick is fiercely concerned with the accuracy of the small details that make up the
backgrounds of his films because he feels this helps the audience to believe what they see on the screen.
In Paths of Glory there is a scene in which French company commander
Kirk Douglas comes to plead with the general, played by Adolphe Menjou, for the lives of three of his men condemned to death.
Just before this, Kubrick has clobbered the audience with some of the most horrifyingly realistic soldiers-in-trenches shots
since All Quiet on the Western Front.
Suddenly, the mud becomes snowy marble as far as the eye can see, and Douglas is confronting
the nattily dressed and precisely spoken Menjou at "headquarters" - a gilt and brocade salon Kubrick has filled with spindle-legged
chairs, crystal chandeliers and porcelain cherubs.
The contrast is clear. Although Douglas argues eloquently, he is a soldier submerged in
a sea of gold inlay, and it becomes obvious that Menjou and Louis Quatorze will prevail.
Probably the youngest of the emerging group of independent Hollywood film-makers, Kubrick
and partner Harris have plans for three more pictures after the Mosby project. They have just purchased Lolita,
the Vladimir Nabokov novel which explores a romantic relationship between a middle-aged man and a 12-year-old girl. The book
was banned for a time in France and has already begun to be a source of strife among Middle Western public library boards,
but Kubrick says he has a plan to translate the "unusual" theme into a form acceptable to the guardians of the silver screen.
Also in the works are films based on The Last Parallel, a novel
of the Korean war by Martin Russ, and I Stole $16,000,000, an adaptation of the autobiography of
an ex-safecracker, Herbert Emerson Wilson.
When these are filmed it will mean that most of Kubrick's pictures will have dealt with
the fortunes or misfortunes of either criminals or soldiers, whom Kubrick says he finds fascinating because they are "doomed
from the start".
"The criminal is always interesting on the screen because he is a paradox of personality,
a collection of violent contrasts", Kubrick says. "The soldier is absorbing because all the circumstances surrounding him
have a kind of charged intensity. For all its horror, war is pure drama, probably because it is one of the few remaining situations
were men stand up for and speak up for what they believe to be their principles. The criminal and the soldier at least have
the virtue of being for something or against something in a world where many people have learned to accept a kind of gray
nothingness, to strike an unreal series of poses in order to be considered 'normal' or 'average'."
"It's difficult to say who is engaged in the greater conspiracy - the criminal, the soldier,
The New York Times Magazine, December 12, 1958
The Hollywood War of Independence
by Colin Young
In the United States a studio must hope to recover most or all of its costs within the
domestic market. This represents the least specialized audience in the world (as we all know there is nothing special about
being an American) and there is a constant temptation, almost always succumbed to, to level everything down to the lowest
common denominator. In such conditions there is little chance that an individual filmmaker will produce a personal work. Almost
always an American film is edited, not by the director, but by the studio - often in committee. It is not difficult to understand
why. When several million dollars are at stake a responsible business will rarely rely on the opinion of one man. Other opinions,
often outside opinions, will be sought. And each time such an opinion is applied to a film, it becomes to that extent less
and less the director's personal statement. The Screen Directors' Guild in Hollywood in recent years has added a clause to
its standard contract requiring a producer to grant the director right of first cut. But this is often no more than a formality.
(There was a recent case in which the director's version of a film was seen only by him and his editor before it was taken
apart again to be run, uncut, for the producers.) And with the current trend to larger budgets, based on the hypothesis that
a larger investment is less risky than a smaller one, it is likely that less and less control will be left in the hands of
a director, unless he is by age or experience or perhaps by financial participation powerful enough to have a controlling
This is all very discouraging for the young filmmaker trying to bore his way into films
through the porthole eye of television, or to make the long hard jump from shorts or the repertory theatre into features.
And for many European directors this is reason enough for not working in Hollywood. Their financing problems are usually solved
film by film, whenever they persuade a backer to support their latest speculation - frequently for a budget which would have
been consumed by one elephant charge in a film by the late Cecil B. De Mille...
The freedom to make the films of their own choosing, in their own way, is not even the
goal of most Hollywood directors, who seem quite content to be parts of a large organic whole. It is only a small hard-core
minority which chases these freedoms, each in his own way, perhaps known to each other, but not united by anything more than
interest. Some of them play poker together but they solve their problems in different ways, some choosing to remain independent
of a major studio entirely (like Stanley Kubrick), others already in possession of a more or less safe Hollywood studio contract
but waiting for their chance to be free of studio control. Others again, not yet so far advanced, are serving a hopeful, waiting
apprenticeship in the theatre or in live television, or have started by making some shorts - usually documentary, but occasionally
dramatic. In each case the mechanical problems are different - there is no single happy road to independence. But in each
case the goal is the same - freedom to make a personal film, as free as possible from compromise. The fear that they will
fail is a real one, and is responsible yearly for no one knows how many defections. And the thought that when they earn their
freedom they will have lost the will to use it is a constant threat...
Stanley Kubrick is perhaps the most widely discussed of the postwar Hollywood newcomers,
with four independent features behind him - Fear and Desire, Killer's Kiss,
The Killing, and Paths of Glory. He recently withdrew from the unit about
to start shooting One-Eyed Jacks, Marlon Brando's independent production, ostensibly to begin work
on Lolita, with his producer (since The Killing) James Harris. They bought
the film rights about a month after the novel appeared and since then have had several bids from other producers - the highest
for $650,000. This offer, like the others, was refused.
All this gives an impression of typically inflated Hollywood economics. But it is curiously
untypical of the manner in which Kubrick and Harris work. Paths of Glory was made for $900,000 -
$350,000 of which went to Kirk Douglas, its star. Thus, apart from Douglas's slice, the film was comparatively inexpensive-certainly
a bargain for its distributors, United Artists. (It has to date grossed two and a half million dollars, worldwide.)
Kubrick is certain that genuine independence is possible only if the director stays clear
of the major studios as long as possible. By this he means that a director should have a completed script, and if possible
have a cast selected and signed, before going to a major studio for money. Anything less is inviting interference and a loss
of control. It must include at least one "name" star, and the list of possibles is quite small - Kubrick mentioned about fifteen
men and only seven women. "What this implies," he summarized, "is that you require the means to remain independent until the
script is finished, until you have a star, and until the deal is set up properly." (By "properly" he means that the director's
control will not prove to be illusory.)
A system so inexorably tied to a box-office list of actors and actresses obviously imposes
severe limitations on a director's freedom of choice with material. But this does not distress Kubrick. "There is still a
large enough number of good properties to permit you to do what you want - and remain independent."
The only time he has ever worked with a major studio was after Paths
of Glory, when, with a forty-week contract from Dore Schary, he was let loose in the MGM library of story properties.
It took him a long time to find anything to interest him, but before he left (in the wake of Schary's fall from grace) he
had turned Stefan Zweig's touching short story The Burning Secret into a screenplay.
Employed by LOOK as a still photographer, he turned to film,
making two shorts for RKO before stepping up to features with two hurly-burly films which he would rather not talk about now
- Fear and Desire and Killer's Kiss. But when they came out film critics did talk about them and saw the
kind of promise which, it is generally agreed, Kubrick honored in his next two films. The money for his first two came from
family and friends. Without this support, which must at times have seemed like blind devotion, he might never have reached
his present position; it would be hard to estimate the number of aspirants who have never solved the problem of how to raise
that first $50,000.
When he came to make Paths of Glory United Artists was the only
financing organization in Hollywood which would touch it, and then only after Kirk Douglas agreed to play in it. The majors
might have balked, Kubrick thinks, at the thought of offending their interests in France (through theater holdings, etc.).
But United Artists is not committed in this way and, Kubrick added, perhaps has a more realistic view of the contemporary
world market. In his experience they have been very good with scripts about which there is general apathy or, as in this case,
Kubrick's two later films have received widespread critical attention - almost all of
it favorable. The Killing is thoroughly manufactured, but the script goes out of its way to give
motivation to all of the central characters and this alone would distinguish it from run-of-the-mill gunslingers if it did
not anyway have considerable style and impact; it holds up well when reseen today. Paths of Glory
is in almost every way a more important work - not only because it was almost three times as expensive. It is obviously about
something - when we remember that this dramatization of an incident of military deceit in the French Army of World War I has
still to be shown publicly in France.
What will probably be Kubrick's next film is also a war story. Presently titled The German Lieutenant, it is by a new writer, Richard Adams, formerly a paratrooper in Korea and more recently
a Fulbright scholar to Europe, where he studied with Carl Dreyer. The story is based partially on his experiences, but has
been switched to Germany in World War II.
I asked Kubrick at this point in our conversation why he wanted to make another war film
- was there nothing about the contemporary scene which interested him? His reply is crucial and must be given in full.
"To begin with," he said, "one of the attractions of a war or crime story is that it provides
an almost unique opportunity to contrast an individual of our contemporary society with a solid framework of accepted value,
which the audience becomes fully aware of, and which can be used as a counterpoint to a human, individual, emotional situation.
Further, war acts as a kind of hothouse for forced, quick breeding of attitudes and feelings. Attitudes crystallize and come
out into the open. Conflict is natural, when it would in a less critical situation have to be introduced almost as a contrivance,
and would thus appear forced, or - even worse - false. Eisenstein, in his theoretical writings about dramatic structure, was
often guilty of oversimplification. The black and white contrasts of Alexander Nevsky do not fit all drama. But war does permit
this basic kind of contrast - and spectacle. And within these contrasts you can begin to apply some of the possibilities of
film - of the sort explored by Eisenstein."
He said somewhat wistfully, however, that he hoped to be able to deal some day with a
more straightforward contemporary scene. To some extent he might do so of course with Lolita, but
here his primary interest is to explore the development of Humbert's character, and the varieties of his love for his moppet-ending,
ironically enough, with what Kubrick takes to be an almost selfless love for Lolita when, now seventeen, she is stuck with
a humdrum pregnancy, and husband, and life. He does not plan to change the ages of the principals, nor the nature of their
relationship, but he says they have a way of handling the subject which allows them to consider making the film at all.
Kubrick stands much closer to his material than almost any other director currently working
in Hollywood. In each of his films to date he has been the principal or sole author of the screenplay (he did the original
draft of Paths of Glory and Calder Willingham came in for the second), and he is at least the supervising
if not the actual editor of his filmed material. On Killer's Kiss he carried credit for photography
as well as direction, and he operated one of the cameras during the attack sequence in Paths of Glory
(one fitted with a Zoomar lens). Thus it is not surprising that there should be a strong feeling of unity and single-mindedness
in his films. Such a result is not guaranteed by one man's control of the material - he could be undecided about it. But it
is rarely achieved in committee films. "A camel," as the recent proverb has it, "is a mule made by a committee."
There is an unconventionally intellectual air about Kubrick's films, but this may be more
a by-product of style than an intentional ingredient. Certainly he does not mean his films to be intellectual in the sense
of making a clear-cut statement about something. "I cannot give a precise verbal summary of the philosophical meaning of,
for example, Paths of Glory. It is intended to involve the audience in an experience. Films deal
with the emotions and reflect the fragmentation of experience. It is thus misleading to try to sum up the meaning of a film
verbally." However, it is precisely his very evident style, praised by an eagerly perceptive band of professional film critics,
which for some commentators (although not myself) prevents their involvement in Kubrick's characters and situations.
Kubrick has already given ample evidence of his strong grasp of mise en scéne and the
extension of character which an actor can be encouraged to bring to the pauses between lines of dialogue. On a second viewing
of Paths of Glory, Douglas causes some uneasiness, but the film is otherwise beautifully performed,
staged, photographed, cut, and scored - using, for example, a rasping, alarming staccato of drums during the battle scenes.
It is a disappointment that Kubrick was not able to continue with Brando. Their relationship could not have been an easy one,
but the result could have been fascinating...
This, then, is the "growing edge" of Hollywood. It is a different story than the one which
might be told of Bergman, Ray, or Bresson, and it is perhaps not as heartening. But Kubrick is American, trying to work in
or through Hollywood. If there is to be any "native" cinema in this country at all, it is as well that Kubrick and other gentlemen
who pursue artistic freedom are there, making the attempt.
Film Quarterly, vol 12 N3, Spring 1959
Robert Emmett Ginna (1960)
This is an extract
of an interview I'd done with Kubrick in 1960 for Horizon magazine. Kubrick, who was 31 at the time,
had just finished postproduction on Spartacus and was preparing Lolita.
He agreed to be interviewed for Horizon's series "The Artist Speaks for Himself" and invited me to his modest, Spanish-style
home in the unfashionable flats of Beverly Hills.
but relaxed, wearing a gray blazer and corduroys, Kubrick spoke for hours about filmmaking, his life thus far, as well as
his affinity for the Austrian dramatist and novelist Arthur Schnitzler (1862- 1931), whose novella Traumnovelle
(or Dream Story) would become the basis for Eyes Wide Shut.
interviews averaged 4,000 to 5,000 words, the Kubrick transcript ran to 26,000 words. I made several attempts to hew it down
to publishable length with the help of the director, but Kubrick became absorbed in his filmmaking. I went off to make films
too, and Horizon ultimately folded. The interview was never published.
Some years later,
I was a producer working at the MGM British studios where Kubrick was immersed in making 2001. One
morning I arrived at my production office to find that Stanley had begun to wall off his area of the studio. The symbolism
was fitting. He'd become increasingly reclusive by then, and in later life he seldom spoke to the press, preferring to let
his films speak for themselves.
are excerpts from what he called "our heroic conversation."
Before your last picture, Spartacus,
you'd begun work on One-Eyed Jacks,
with Marlon Brando, which he ultimately directed himself. Why did you withdraw from that project?
When I left Brando's
picture, it still didn't have a finished script. It had just become obvious to me that Brando wanted to direct the movie.
I was just sort of playing wingman for Brando, to see that nobody shot him down.
Prior to Spartacus, your movies were modest in scale.
Are you joining the "big picture" trend in Hollywood?
I think Spartacus is probably part of the trend of trying to combat television by giving the public something they
can't see on television - namely, a multitude of big stars and spectacle. But what may be a trend in Hollywood isn't a trend
for me, because I've always approached every picture I've done just from the standpoint of telling a story. And if it happens
that the story takes three and a half hours to tell, and you need Roman costumes instead of modern clothes, and if some scenes
are supposed to represent the Roman legion and need 5,000 people, I think that is all part of making films.
What attracted you to Lolita as
I was instantly
attracted to the book because of the sense of life that it conveyed, the truthfulness of it, and the inherent drama of the
situation seemed completely winning. I've always been amused at the cries of pornography on the part of various film columnists
and people of that ilk, because, to me, Lolita seemed a very sad and tender love story. I believe
that Lionel Trilling, in an article he wrote about the book, said that it was the first great [contemporary] love story. He
remarked that in great love stories of the past, the lovers - by their love and through their love - totally estranged themselves
from society and created a sense of shock in the people around them. And because of the slackening moral and spiritual values
in the 20th century, in no love story until Lolita has that occurred.
said you're very fond of the work of Arthur Schnitzler. What draws you to him?
His plays are,
to me, masterpieces of dramatic writing. It's difficult to find any writer who understood the human soul more truly and who
had a more profound insight into the way people think, act, and really are, and who also had a somewhat all-seeing point of
view - sympathetic if somewhat cynical.
employed indirection - a roundabout way of getting to the point.
I think all great
dramatists have achieved their ends in very much the same way. The most potent way to move an audience is to reach their feelings
and not their brains. Of course, it's a much more dangerous way to write, because if the audience fails to discover what you
mean, they're left quite disturbed.
you find yourself drawn to works that are marked by ambiguity?
an interesting point. It has always seemed to me that really artistic, truthful ambiguity - if we can use such a paradoxical
phrase - is the most perfect form of expression. Nobody likes to be told anything. Take Dostoyevsky. It's awfully difficult
to say what he felt about any of his characters. I would say ambiguity is the end product of avoiding superficial, pat truths.
don't you feel that films with too much ambiguity will lose a mass audience?
is capable of understanding what is intended and gets a certain amount of pleasure from that, whereas the mass audience may
not. But I think that the enemy of the filmmaker is not the intellectual or the member of the mass public, but the kind of
middlebrow who has neither the intellectual apparatus to analyse and clearly define what is meant, nor the honest emotional
reaction of the mass film audience member. And unfortunately, I think that a great many of these people in the middle are
occupied in writing about films. I think that it is a monumental presumption on the part of film reviewers to summarize in
one terse, witty, clever, TIME magazine-style paragraph what the intention of the film is. That kind
of review is usually very superficial, unless it is a truly bad film, and extremely unfair.
led you into filmmaking?
I was born in
New York City, where my father was a doctor. My parents wanted me to become a doctor, and I was supposed to go to medical
school, but I was such a misfit in high school that when I graduated I didn't have the marks to get into college. But like
almost everything else good that's ever happened to me, by the sheerest stroke of luck, I had a very good friend at LOOK [magazine], which gave me a job as a still photographer. After about six months, I was made a full-fledged
staff photographer. My highest salary was $105 a week, but I did travel around the country, and I went to Europe and it was
a great thing. I learned a lot about people and things. And then I made a documentary film - the first one I made - called
Day of the Fight . It was about a boxer called Walter Cartier and everything that happened
on the day of a fight. I thought there was a great future in making documentaries, but I didn't make any money on any of the
documentaries I made. Then I made a feature, Fear and Desire , and then Killer's
Kiss . That led to The Killing  and my association with [producer] Jim Harris.
We did Paths of Glory and Lolita together.
the best preparation for being a film director?
One of the things that gave me the most confidence in trying to make a film was seeing all the lousy films that I saw. Because
I sat there and thought, Well, I don't know a goddamn thing about movies, but I know I can make a film better than that.
your earliest films received well by critics?
Not really. Fear and Desire was a lousy feature, very self-conscious, easily discernible as an intellectual effort,
but very roughly, and poorly, and ineffectively made. Killer's Kiss had some exciting action sequences in it, but the story
was written in a week in order to take advantage of a possibility of getting some money.
are the elements of a film you feel a director must control?
He must control
everything. I think you have to view the entire problem of putting the story you want to tell up there on that light square.
It begins in the selection of the property; it continues through the creation of the right kind of financial and legal and
contractual circumstances under which you make the film. It continues through the casting, the creation of the story, the
sets, the costumes, the photography, and the acting. And when the picture is shot, it's only partially finished. I think the
cutting is just a continuation of directing a movie. I think the use of music effects, opticals, and finally main titles are
all part of telling the story. And I think the fragmentation of these jobs, by different people, is a very bad thing.
you were a photographer before you were a filmmaker, does cinematography hold particular interest for you?
Well, no, I confess
that story and acting interest me much more. Because of my background in photography, I have been able to quickly figure out
the best visual way to photograph or represent a scene on the screen. But I never start thinking in terms of shots. I first
begin thinking of the main intent of the film. After the actors rehearse the scene and achieve a level of reality and excitement,
only then do I really look through the viewfinder and try to figure out the best way to put this on the screen. Generally
speaking, you can make almost any action or situation into an interesting shot, if it's composed well and lit well. I've seen
many films in which interesting camera angles and lighting effects are totally incongruous to the purpose of the scene. When
the whole thing is over, you've seen a rather interestingly photographed movie that has no effect at all.
do you feel about using movie stars in your films? Do you prefer accomplished unknowns?
No. I like stars
if they're good actors. I suppose there are situations in which the awareness of the star's personality is too strong for
the audience to overcome, and the star might destroy the character he's playing, even though he's good. But I think those
instances are rare. I would say that 95 percent of the pictures released were made because a star was willing to do them.
The movie business has become so difficult, audiences have become so indifferent to films, that the only assurance a distributor
or financier may have of getting his money back is by using a star in the part. If the stars are right, they make life easier
music highly important to your films?
I think music
is one of the most effective ways of preparing an audience and reinforcing points that you wish to impose on it. The correct
use of music, and this includes the non-use of music, is one of the great weapons that the filmmaker has at his disposal.
the works of certain directors, or pictures, been milestones for you?
I believe [Ingmar]
Bergman, [Vittorio] De Sica, and [Federico] Fellini are the only three filmmakers in the world who are not just artistic opportunists.
By this I mean they don't just sit and wait for a good story to come along and then make it. They have a point of view which
is expressed over and over and over again in their films, and they themselves write or have original material written for
your view of the world, of life, optimistic or pessimistic?
I wouldn't care
to try to convey what it is. It is unfair enough to try to convey somebody else's. I wouldn't be that unfair to myself. One
of the things that I always find extremely difficult, when a picture's finished, is when a writer or a film reviewer asks,
"Now, what is it that you were trying to say in that picture?" And without being thought too presumptuous for using this analogy,
I like to remember what T.S. Eliot said to someone who had asked him - I believe it was about The Waste
Land - what he meant by the poem. He replied, "I meant what it said." If I could have said it any differently, I would
Entertainment Weekly, April 9, 1999
An alternate translation of the above interview:
led you into film-making?
I was born in
New York. My father was a doctor. My parents had wanted me to be a doctor but I was such a misfit in high school that when
I graduated I didn't have the marks to get into college. So, like almost everything else good that's ever happened to me,
by the sheerest stroke of good luck, I had a very good friend on LOOK magazine, a woman named Helen
O'Brien, who was the picture editor. I knew her through selling two picture stories to Look that I had shot when I was still
in high school. She asked me if I would like a job - you know, a junior photographer or something. They gave me a job, for
$50 a week, as a still photographer. After about six months I was finally made a staff photographer. My highest salary was
$105 a week. But I travelled around the country and I went to Europe. I learned a lot about people and things. And then, I
made a documentary film called Day of the Fight about a boxer called Walter Cartier. It cost me around
$3,900 and I sold it to RKO for $4,000. So I thought there was a great future in making documentaries, but I didn't make any
money on any of the films I made. Then I made a feature Fear and Desire (1953) and then Killer's
Kiss (1955). That led to The Killing (1956), and my association with [producer] Jim Harris.
We did Paths of Glory and Lolita together.
the best preparation for being a film director?
It's true of any art form. The greatest preparation for a painter is to look at paintings. I mean, even seeing the current
movies, you learn something. I know that one of the things that gave me the most confidence in trying to make a film was all
the lousy films that I saw. Because I sat there and I thought, well, I don't know a goddamn thing about movies, but I know
I can make a film better than that. And I think that's probably what started people like Truffaut.
Do you think that a movie of Lolita would
have been possible for an American film-maker 10 years ago?
Well, a lot of
people think it isn't possible now.
the audience have been prepared for it 10 years ago? And would a producer have made it?
Ten years ago
there weren't many opportunities for financing a film outside of the major studios. Today there's almost an infinite number
of possibilities for film financing, which allows almost complete control to the film-maker, and this includes getting financing
from foreign countries. It also includes almost every major studio now, which makes deals of the same kind as United Artists
has for years. They simply put up the money and distribute the film and allow you to make it by yourself, off the lot and
without any interference or supervision.
Do you think communities might censor Lolita or ban it out of fear that a film from so controversial a book would provoke a large section of the public?
I think the sale
of the novel has indicated that a much larger audience than just the hardbook readers have found interest in the story and
have accepted it. It's already sold more than 3m paperbacks. I think all these cries of pornography and obscenity about any
project are quite silly if the picture is playing. Because the police wouldn't let it play if it was truly obscene or pornographic,
although that would be up to the courts to decide finally - whether it was or not.
What were the chief attractions for you in Lolita as a film subject?
I think the book
is a rare and unique masterpiece; that is to say that it is a rare masterpiece of understanding of characters and situation,
and of life itself. To me, Lolita seemed a very sad and tender love story. I believe that Lionel
Trilling, in an article he wrote about the book, said that it was the first great love story of the 20th century. He remarked
that in all the great love stories of the past, take what you like - Anna Karenina, The
Red and the Black, Romeo and Juliet - the lovers, by their love and through their love, totally
estranged themselves from society. It seems to me one of the wonderful things about Lolita is that
it shocks, because of the relationship. You are prevented from making a premature and overly sympathetic judgment of Humbert's
position by the shock that's created in your mind. And, finally, when you read your way through the book and get to the last
scene - the confrontation between Humbert and Lolita when she's 16, pregnant and unattractive, by his own description, and
certainly no longer an infant - you realise, without any doubt, and with a completely sweeping emotional effect that he selflessly
and truly loves the girl and that he is broken-hearted.
we surmise that the average film audience will find the relationship of a 39-year-old man and a child shocking, without the
few startling erotic scenes in the book?
One of the wonderful
things about the way the book is written - and the way we intend to tell the story - is that it has a surface of comedy, humour
and vitality: only gradually, as the story progresses, do you penetrate beneath this surface and begin to see the true nature
of each character and what the story is turning out to be. In this respect, by the way, I think it is very much related to
many things by Arthur Schnitzler - this surface of gaiety and vitality, superficiality and gloss, through which you penetrate
for yourself to start getting your bearings as to the true nature of people and situations.
purchased the screen rights so early that I think we can exonerate you from purely box-office motives.
We bought it
when it had not yet appeared on the New York Times bestseller list. We never dreamed of the popularity
that the book would achieve. We thought it would be popular, but how could one guess that it would become the number one bestseller
in the world? I think that Lolita is probably the greatest box-office attraction in the history of movies.
Prior to Spartacus, the pictures which you had made were
rather modest in scale. When you undertook Spartacus I wondered if you were subscribing to a trend in Hollywood - The Big Picture.
I think Spartacus is probably part of the trend of trying to combat television by giving the public something they
can't see on television - namely, a multitude of big stars and spectacle. But what may be a trend for Hollywood isn't a trend
for me, because I think that, from my own point of view, I've always approached every picture I've done just from the standpoint
of telling a story.
have said that you're very fond of the work of Arthur Schnitzler and that he is a writer who has engaged your attention.
His plays are,
to me, masterpieces of dramatic writing. I think he's one of the most underrated writers of the 20th century; probably because
he didn't deal with things that are obviously full of social significance, he has been ignored. I know that, for my part,
it's difficult to find any writer who understood the human soul more truthfully, and who had a more profound insight into
the way people think, act, and really are, and who also had a somewhat all-seeing point of view - sympathetic, if somewhat
employed indirection, a roundabout way of getting at the point.
I think all great
dramatists have achieved their ends in very much the same way. The most potent way to move an audience to your point of view
is to reach their feelings, and not their brains. If you can emotionally make a point that may, in your own mind, be quite
clear and philosophical, you will sway people, at least for the duration of your play or movie. And one of the most effective
ways to move people is to allow them to discover what you mean for themselves. It seems to me that works in which the meaning
is all too clear are never as powerful and as evocative as works in which the meaning becomes clear and where you enjoy a
thrill of discovery. Of course, it's a more dangerous way to write because if the audience fails to discover what you mean,
they're left quite disturbed. It's always safer to spell it out, in the last scene, and tell them exactly what you were after
- which all too many people seem to do.
you find yourself drawn to works that are marked by a certain amount of ambiguity?
an interesting point. It has always seemed to me that really artistic, truthful ambiguity - if we can use such a paradoxical
phrase - is the most perfect form of expression, for a number of reasons. One: nobody likes to be told anything; nobody likes
to be told the truth of what's happening. And, perhaps even more important than that, nobody knows what is true or what is
happening. I think that a really perfect ambiguity is something which means several things, all of which might be true, and
which, at the same time, move the audience, emotionally, in the general direction you want them to be moving. So, I think
that, conversely, the literal, plain, clear statement is, in its own way, a false statement and never has the power that a
perfect ambiguity might.
you have any familiar ways of working with the camera - that is, in terms of the number of camera set-ups you take to achieve
a given scene?
one shot. I have a scene in Spartacus where Laurence Olivier, who plays Crassus, a Roman general,
tries to seduce Tony Curtis, who is a slave, and it's a very bleak kind of a dialogue scene. The whole thing is shot in a
long shot through a kind of filmy curtain which covers his bathtub, and the figures are only about half the height of the
screen. And, by doing this, I think we achieve the effect of somebody eavesdropping from the next room. The scene lasts two
or three minutes and, normally, you'd cover it from a lot of angles, but when I shot it, I just shot this one angle.
read a very interesting review of Mary McCarthy's collected criticisms, published recently in England, and, in the course
of it, Angus Wilson, the reviewer, remarked that for her - and certainly for him - the cinema is the medium for the intellectual
today, not the theatre. I wonder if you think it's true?
I do. I'd like
to talk about that. There's something I recall reading in one of Stanislavsky's books. He made the point that, in addition
to a performance being truthful and accurate and believable, that it also had to be interesting. There were many possibilities,
in some scenes, of adjustment and ways to play it, but, finally, one had to choose the one that was the most interesting because
the audience will not respond with a full emotional response if they're sitting there bored and restless. And there's always
this fine line between over-stimulating an audience and keeping them artificially excited and losing them. And I think this
is why great films and great theatre are so rare. Because, in addition to everything else the author has to accomplish, you're
always treading that very narrow path of not artificially and falsely stimulating your audience, and, on the other hand, not
losing them through boredom or indifference. I can tell you why I am disappointed in the theatre. I think realistic theatre
is a bore. I think that to spend two and a half hours in the theatre, where the method of communication with the audience
is through realism and through presenting words and deeds in a completely realistic way is somewhat tiresome. Movies can create
realism and cover so much more ground in so much less time.
your view of the world, of life, optimistic?
I wouldn't care
to try to convey what it is. It is unfair enough to try to convey somebody else's. I wouldn't be that unfair to myself. I
think that I'll just let it go at that.
your pictures speak for you?
I think they
should. One of the things that I always find extremely difficult, when a picture's finished, is when a writer or a film viewer
asks: "Now, what is it that you were trying to say in that picture?" And without being thought too presumptuous, for using
this analogy, I like to remember what TS Eliot said to someone who had asked him - I believe it was about The
Wasteland - what he meant by the poem. He said: "I meant what it said." If I could have said it any differently, I
The Guardian, July 16, 1999
Spartacus: Hailed in Farewell
by Eugene Archer (1960)
Critics have always debated the correct way to apportion the credit for a multi-million-dollar
production among producers, writers, actors and corps of technicians, but Stanley Kubrick, the youthful director of Spartacus, has no such doubts. If any critical bouquets are available after the elaborate costume spectacle
opens Thursday at the De Mille, the dynamic Mr. Kubrick is prepared to claim a director's share.
"I think the film will be a contender for awards", he remarked with typical candor over
a Scotch and soda the other day. "It's just as good as Paths of Glory, and certainly there's as much
of myself in it. I don't mean to minimize the contributions of the others involved, but the director is only one who can authentically
impose his personality onto a picture, and the result is his responsibility - partly because he's the only one who's always
In assuming the responsibility for Spartacus, the self-confident
Mr. Kubrick was undeterred by either his occasional disagreements with the producer-star, Kirk Douglas, or by the fact that,
at 31, he is the youngest director ever placed in charge of a $12,000,000 film. Self-assurance, in fact, is the personality
trait most apparent in this intense and dark-browed young man. "He'll be a fine director some day," Mr. Douglas recently observed,
"if he falls flat on his face just once. It might teach him how to compromise."
Mr. Kubrick's cool demeanor in maintaining the courage of his convictions has been known
to antagonize his collaborators, but it proved a useful asset when he was called to take the reins of Spartacus
early last year after the initial director, Anthony Mann, had an "artistic difference" with Mr. Douglas in the first days
of production. With Dalton Trumbo's screen play in need of repairs and such expensive temperaments as Laurence Olivier, Charles
Laughton, Peter Ustinov and Tony Curtis already on call, the situation would have challenged a veteran, much less a fledgling
director whose first four films had grossed considerably less than the pre-Biblical spectacle cost.
Mr. Kubrick, according to all reports, took control with icy aplomb. He promptly replaced
the leading lady, Sabina Bethmann, with Jean Simmons and went to work with Mr. Trumbo on the script, changing it, as he put
it, "to a more visual conception, and removing all but two lines of Kirk's dialogue during the first half-hour of the film's
three-hour-plus running time. We fought about that one," he added wryly, "but I won."
The theme Mr. Kubrick indicated, has distinct parallels with his other film work. "It
concerns the outsider who is passionately committed to action against the social order. I mean the outsider in the Colin Wilson
sense - the criminal, maniac, poet, lover, revolutionary. The protagonists of Paths of Glory, The Killing, Spartacus and my next film, Lolita, are
all outsiders fighting to do some impossible thing, whether it's pulling a perfect robbery or saving innocent men from execution
by a militaristic state or carrying on a love affair with a 12-year-old girl."
In Spartacus, which deals with the justice of slavery, the Roman slave begins by revolting
out of blind instinct, but gradually acquires a will to improve the society he is part of and to exert his full value in it.
Observing that this aspect had modern implications, Mr. Kubrick emphasized that he was equally concerned with the opposite
point of view. "My villain, Laurence Olivier," he said, "is convinced that slavery represents a social advance, since it saves
the lives of captured prisoners and turns them into vassals of the Roman state. Previously, the captives from conquered nations
By articulating both attitudes, Mr. Kubrick hopes to cause his audience to think - a rarity,
he concedes, in an historical film. "If I have my way, they'll think in Lolita too", he said. "The
audience will start by being repelled by this 'creep' who seduces a not-so-innocent child, but gradually, as they realize
he really loves the girl, they'll find that things aren't quite as simple as they seemed, and they won't be so ready to pass
moral judgments. I consider that a moral theme."
After almost two years' association with Spartacus, including close supervision of the
editing, Mr. Kubrick feels that he has a film to be taken seriously by even his avant-garde admirers - unlike the usual "costume
epics", none of which he has particularly admired. "Let's say," he added mildly, "that I was more influenced by Eisenstein's
Alexander Nevsky than by Ben-Hur or anything by Cecil B. De Mille."
The New York Times, October 2, 1960
The problem of casting Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita provoked more of a stir in Hollywood
than there would have been over an open call for dogs after the death of Rin Tin Tin.
The late Errol Flynn once offered the services of his teen-age mistress, Beverly Aadland,
along with his own for the part of Humbert Humbert, Lolita's tragicomic, middle-aged lover.
Director Stanley Kubrick was swamped with letters from U.S. mothers who thought their
daughters just right for the part, surveyed 800 budding teen-agers before finally announcing the winner last week. Kubrick's
choice: Sue Lyon, a blonde, blue-eyed, 14-year-old junior high school girl from Davenport, Iowa, now living in Los Angeles
with her widowed mother.
Director Kubrick spotted Sue in a bit part on the Loretta Young Show, had her read for
the part with James Mason, who will play Humbert Humbert, decided: "She is a natural actor. Also she has a beautiful figure
along ballet lines." Lolita and Sue closely resemble each other. Lolita, at 15, toward the end of the book, stands 5 ft. tall,
weighs 90 Ibs.; Sue, at 14, stands 5 ft. 2 in. and weighs 102 Ibs. Sue's picture used to appear in the J. C. Penney mail-order
catalogue, for which she modeled junior dresses and bathing suits.
Among her other distinctions: last year she won the "Smile of the Year" contest staged
by the Los Angeles dental societies, and at East Hollywood's King Junior High School she played the cello. Her principal finds
her "not bizarre," but if she is to play the role as Nabokov put it in the novel, she will have to be a "mixture ... of tender
dreamy childishness and a kind of eerie vulgarity."
Although he knows less about moviemaking than the average scriptwriter knows about lepidoptery
(one of Nabokov's scholarly specialties), the novelist himself wrote the movie adaptation. He had at first refused, but reconsidered
after dreaming one night, while traveling in Italy, that he was reading the screenplay. Says he: "Almost immediately after
this illumination, Mr. Kubrick called me again, and I agreed." He is pleased with his own job: "The screenplay became poetry,
which was my original purpose."
Inevitably, while working there, the ever-observant Nabokov kept a roving eye on Hollywood,
a dreamland for which Lolita herself used to yearn. The movie colony may be hard put to know what to make of his conclusion:
"It is quietest, sweetest, softest place in the world."
Time, October 10, 1960
Director's Notes: Stanley Kubrick Movie-Maker
by Stanley Kubrick (1960)
With his anti-militarist Paths of Glory, Stanley Kubrick established
himself as one of the most alert and trenchant young directors in Hollywood. Since then he has made Spartacus,
the star-filled epic which opens in London this week, and he is now in England to direct the film version of Lolita.
Still only thirty-two, Kubrick is one of the great white hopes of the commercial film
industry as well as of cineastes. Box-office and the star-system are conditions that Kubrick feels a good director should
be able to dominate: for him the fact that the cinema is an industry is part of its essence as an art. His previous films
were Fear and Desire, a dark, moody study of four soldiers trapped behind enemy lines, Killers
Kiss, and The Killing, a microscopic record of a gang-robbery that had the intensity of Rififi and a style that moved critics to speak of Welles and Max Ophuls. In 1957 Paths
of Glory made Kubricks name.
These thoughts, jotted down for The Observer in odd moments,
are Kubrick’s Notes on his Trade:
“I don't think that writers or painters
or film makers function because they have something they particularly want to say. They have something that they feel. And
they like the art form: they like words, or the smell of paint, or celluloid and photographic images and working with actors.
I dont think that any genuine artist has ever been orientated by some didactic point of view, even if he thought he was.”
“The making of any film, whatever the
historical setting or the size of the sets, has to be approached in much the same way. You have to figure out what is going
on in each scene and whats the most interesting way to play it. With Spartacus, whether a scene had
hundreds of people in the background or whether it was against a wall, I thought of everything first as if there was nothing
back there. Once it was rehearsed, we worked out the background.”
“I must confess that I never thought very much about the proportions of the wide
screen after the first day or two. I think that much too much emphasis is put on it. It is really just another shape to compose
to: for some scenes it's a better shape than others; for some scenes it just doesn't make too much difference. Instead of
having the people stand two feet apart, sometimes you have them standing four feet apart; or you throw up a prop in the corner
or something. As to the big screen, a big screen is a small screen from the back of the house and a normal screen is a big
screen from the front rows.”
“I haven't come across any recent new
ideas in films that strike me as being particularly important and that have to do with form. I think that a preoccupation
with originality of form is more or less a fruitless thing. A truly original person with a truly original mind will not be
able to function in the old form and will simply do something different. Others had much better think of the form as being
some sort of classical tradition and try to work within it.”
“I think that the best plot is no apparent
plot. I like a slow start, the start that gets under the audiences skin and involves them so that they can appreciate grace
notes and soft tones and don't have to be pounded over the head with plot points and suspense hooks.”
“When you make a movie, it takes a few days just to get used to the crew, because
it is like getting undressed in front of fifty people. Once you're accustomed to them, the presence of even one other person
on the set is discordant and tends to produce self-consciousness in the actors, and certainly in myself.”
“Maybe the reason why people seem to find it harder to take unhappy endings in movies
than in plays or novels is that a good movie engages you so heavily that you find an unhappy ending almost unbearable. But
it depends on the story, because there are ways for the director to trick the audience into expecting a happy ending and there
are ways of very subtly letting the audience be aware of the fact that the character is hopelessly doomed and there is not
going to be a happy ending.”
“In a criminal film, it is almost like a bullfight: it has a ritual and a pattern
which lays down that the criminal is not going to make it, so that while you can suspend your knowledge of this for a while,
sitting way back of your mind this little awareness knows and prepares you for the fact that he is not going to succeed. That
type of ending is easier to accept.”
“One thing that has always disturbed me a little is that the ending often introduces
a false note. This applies particularly if it is a story that doesn't pound away on a single point, such as whether the time-bomb
will explode in the suitcase. When you deal with characters and a sense of life, most endings that appear to be endings are
false, and possibly that is what disturbs the audience: they may sense the gratuitousness of the unhappy ending.”
“On the other hand, if you end a story with somebody achieving his aim it always
seems to me to have a kind of incompleteness about it, because that almost seems to be the beginning of another story. One
of the things I like most about John Ford is the anticlimax endings - anticlimax upon anticlimax and you just get a feeling
that you are seeing life and you accept the thing.”
“It is sometimes supposed that the way
to make pictures entirely as one wants to, without having to think about the box-office, is to dispense with stars in order
to make them on a low budget. In fact, the cost of a picture usually has little to do with how much the actors get paid. It
has to do with the number of days you take to shoot it, and you cant make a film as well as it can be made without having
a sufficient length of time to make it.”
“There are certain stories in which you can somehow hit everything on the nose quickly
and get the film shot in three weeks. But it is not the way to approach something of which you want to realise the full potential.
So there often is nothing gained by doing without stars and aiming the film at the art houses. Only by using stars and getting
the film on the circuits can you buy the time needed to do it justice.”
“I've often heard it asked whether it
doesn't affect the reality and the artistic quality of a picture not to make it in actual locations. Personally I have found
that working out of doors or working in real locations is a very distracting experience and doesn't have the almost classical
simplicity of a film studio where everything is inky darkness and the lights are coming from an expected place and it is quiet
and you can achieve concentration without worrying that there are 500 people standing behind a police line halfway down the
block, or about a million other distractions.”
“I think that much too much has been made of making films on location. It does help
when the atmosphere circumstances and locale are the chief thing supposed to come across in a scene. For a psychological story,
where the characters and their inner emotions and feelings are the key thing, I think that a studio is the best place. Working
on a set provides the actor with much better concentration and ability to use his full resources.”
“When Spartacus was being made, I discussed this point
with Olivier and Ustinov and they both said that they felt that their powers were just drifting off into space when they were
working out of doors. Their minds weren't sharp and their concentration seemed to evaporate. They preferred that kind of focusing-in
that happens in a studio with the lights pointing at them and the sets around them. Whereas outside everything fades away,
inside there is a kind of inner focusing of physical energy.”
“The important thing in films is not so much to make successes as not to make failures,
because each failure limits your future opportunities to make the films you want to make.”
“People nowadays seem to have a great deal of difficulty deciding whether a character
in a film is good or bad - especially the people who are making the film. It seems as if first they deal out twenty-five cents
worth of good and then twenty-five cents worth of bad and at the very end of the story you have a perfect balance.”
“I think it essential if a man is good to know where he is bad and to show it, or
if he is strong, to decide what the moments are in the story where he is weak and to show it. And I think that you must never
try to explain how he got the way he is or why he did what he did.”
“I have no fixed ideas about wanting
to make films in particular categories - Westerns, war films and so on. I know I would like to make a film that gave a feeling
of the times - a contemporary story that finally gave a feeling of the times, psychologically, sexually, politically, personally.
I would like to make that more than anything else. And it's probably going to be the hardest film to make.”
The Observer Weekend Review, December 4, 1960
Mr. Disney and Mr. Kubrick
Two men with very different
ideas on making films - and money (1960)
LONDON - Except for the fact that they both happen to be making films about children,
Mr. Walt Disney and Mr. Stanley Kubrick have little in common. The children about whom they are making their respective films
have even less in common.
Mr. Disney's child star, Hayley Mills, plays identical twins who bring their divorced
parents together. Mr. Kubrick's child star, Sue Lyon, plays Lolita, an American schoolgirl of twelve who seduces a middle-aged
Mr. Disney and Mr. Kubrick clearly have somewhat different ideas of what constitutes entertainment.
Mr. Kubrick said that he would not allow a daughter of his to see certain Walt Disney films because they contained an excessive
amount of violence and brutality. On the other hand, he felt that any child who was too young to see Lolita
wouldn't understand it, and any child who did understand it was, for this reason old enough to see the film.
Mr. Disney had some pretty sharp things to say about the current preoccupation with themes
of a sexual nature. "It's kinda disgusting," he said. "If you can't find anything to say about people except sordid things
you shouldn't make films. I always felt you ought to deal with the nice side of life. I mean all the stuff about incest in
the home, well there's a lot of homes where that just doesn't exist. The reason these sort of films are made is that the people
who make them figure they're gonna make some easy dough that way. That's the only reason they make them."
Mr. Kubrick said he wasn't interested in making money. He had been offered a million dollars
plus 50 per cent of the profits to make Lolita for Warner Brothers, but he had turned down the offer
because it would have meant handing over artistic control to a big Hollywood studio.
He wanted to make Lolita his way. He could prove that he was
not primarily interested in making money: he had spent the first ten years of his career as a director not making any. He
had received no salary for directing his two most highly praised films, The Killing and Paths
of Glory. Instead, he had agreed to work for a percentage of the profits. As neither film has yet made a profit, Mr.
Kubrick hasn't made any money.
"For the first ten years of my career" said Mr. Kubrick, "I only earned money for not
directing films. I was paid to make a film for MGM that never got made. And I was paid in full by Marlon Brando to direct
One Eyed Jacks, but we disagreed and I left. I started off by making short documentaries with my
own money and I sold them at a loss."
Mr. Kubrick has, of course, been paid for directing his most recent film, Spartacus.
Mr. Disney who created Mickey Mouse, at just about the time when Mr. Kubrick was born,
said he didn't have any money either. "All I have," he said "is in my studio. At present we own about 25 million dollars to
different lending agencies. I've got about 7.000.000 dollars tied up in British productions alone and Disneyland represents
an investment of around 33 million dollars. But I personally haven't got anything. We finally managed to pay off the mortgage
on our home about a year ago. To me, making films is sort of an obligation. I have a studio to keep going. I have a staff
of around 1500 people that I have to keep employed."
To Mr. Kubrick the cinema is not just an industry but also an art. "The reason I am making
Lolita," he said, "is because I consider it to be a masterpiece. "It would be hypocrisy for me to
pretend that I am unaware of the notoriety of the book, but I am not allowing that in any way to corrupt the intention behind
the making of the film. I have absolutely no misgivings about it. I think it is a perfectly suitable subject of entertainment.
It is a great love story."
Mr. Kubrick said he had not yet decided whether Lolita and her middle-aged lover would
actually be seen kissing in the film. "We're thinking about that," he said.
Mr. Disney said he was sad to see that even his old friend, Alfred Hitchcock, had now
begun to overplay sex in his films. "A film like Psycho I just wouldn't want to see. I don't see
why Hitch makes stuff like that. Hitch don't need to. A while ago he wanted to shoot a sequence in my Amusement Park, Disneyland.
I can imagine what he wanted to do. Have somebody pushed off one of my rides. I said no. I don't hold with that sort of thing.
Same as when I was approached to let Hayley Mills, who's under contract to me, play Lolita. I wouldn't want her to see it,
let alone play it."
If any conclusion can be drawn from all this it is that there are some films which are
not fit for children to see and some that are only fit for children to see. On the whole, I prefer the former.
The Insider's Newsletter, December 1960
Words and Movies
by Stanley Kubrick (1961)
The perfect novel from which to make a movie is, I think, not the novel of action but,
on the contrary, the novel which is mainly concerned with the inner life of its characters. It will give the adaptor an absolute
compass bearing, as it were, on what a character is thinking or feeling at any given moment of the story. And from this he
can invent action which will be an objective correlative of the book's psychological content, will accurately dramatise this
in an implicit, off-the-nose way without resorting to having the actors deliver literal statements of meaning.
I think that for a movie or a play to say anything really truthful about life, it has
to do so very obliquely, so as to avoid all pat conclusions and neatly tied-up ideas. The point of view it is conveying has
to be completely entwined with a sense of life as it is, and has to be got across through a subtle injection into the audience's
consciousness. Ideas which are valid and truthful are so multi-faceted that they don't yield themselves to frontal assault.
The ideas have to be discovered by the audience, and their thrill in making the discovery makes those ideas all the more powerful.
You use the audience's thrill of surprise and discovery to reinforce your ideas, rather than reinforce them artificially through
plot points or phoney drama or phoney stage dynamics put in to power them across.
It's sometimes said that a great novel makes a less promising basis for a film than a
novel which is merely good. I don't think that adapting great novels presents any special problems which are not involved
in adapting good novels or mediocre novels; except that you will be more heavily criticised if the film is bad, and you may
be even if it's good. I think almost any novel can be successfully adapted, provided it is not one whose aesthetic integrity
is lost along with its length. For example, the kind of novel in which a great deal and variety of action is absolutely essential
to the story, so that it loses much of its point when you subtract heavily from the number of events or their development.
People have asked me how it is possible to make a film out of Lolita when so much of the quality of the book depends on Nabokov's
prose style. But to take the prose style as any more than just a part of a great book is simply misunderstanding just what
a great book is. Of course, the quality of the writing is one of the elements that make a novel great. But this quality is
a result of the quality of the writer's obsession with his subject, with a theme and a concept and a view of life and an understanding
of character. Style is what an artist uses to fascinate the beholder in order to convey to him his feelings and emotions and
thoughts. These are what have to be dramatised, not the style. The dramatising has to find a style of its own, as it will
do if it really grasps the content. And in doing this it will bring out another side of that structure which has gone into
the novel. It may or may not be as good as the novel; sometimes it may in certain ways be even better.
Oddly enough, acting comes into the picture somewhere here. At its best, realistic drama
consists of a progression of moods and feelings that play upon the audience's feelings and transform the author's meaning
into an emotional experience. This means that the author must not think of paper and ink and words as being his writing tools,
but rather that he works in flesh and feeling. And in this sense I feel that too few writers seem to understand what an actor
can communicate emotionally and what he cannot. Often, at one point, the writer expects a silent look to get across what it
would take a rebus puzzle to explain, and in the next moment the actor is given a long speech to convey something that is
quite apparent in the situation and for which a brief look would be sufficient. Writers tend to approach the creation of drama
too much in terms of words, failing to realise that the greatest force they have is the mood and feeling they can produce
in the audience through the actor. They tend to see the actor grudgingly, as someone likely to ruin what they have written,
rather than seeing that the actor is in every sense their medium.
You might wonder, as a result of this, whether directing was anything more or less than
a continuation of the writing. I think that is precisely what directing should be. It would follow, then, that a writer-director
is really the perfect dramatic instrument; and the few examples we have where these two peculiar techniques have been properly
mastered by one man have, I believe, produced the most consistently fine work.
When the director is not his own author, I think it is his duty to be one hundred per
cent faithful to the author's meaning and to sacrifice none of it for the sake of climax or effect. This seems a fairly obvious
notion, yet how many plays and films have you seen where the experience was exciting and arresting but when it was over you
felt there was less there than met the eye? And this is usually due to artificial stimulation of the senses by technique which
disregards the inner design of the play. It is here that we see the cult of the director at its worst.
On the other hand, I don't want to imply rigidity. Nothing in making movies gives a greater
sense of elation than participation in a process of allowing the work to grow, through vital collaboration between script,
director and actors, as it goes along. Any art form properly practised involves a to and fro between conception and execution,
the original intention being constantly modified as one tries to give it objective realisation. In painting a picture this
goes on between the artist and his canvas; in making a movie it goes on between people.
Sight & Sound, December 1, 1961
Why Sue "Lolita" Lyon was guarded as if actress were an atomic bomb
by Stanley Kubrick
"She is been guarded, watched and hidden always as if she were a pack of atomic secrets"
was what the press said about Sue Lyon while we were shooting Lolita in which she plays the title
James Harris and I were naturally delighted at the public's interest in Sue. (Lolita,
a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer presentation in association with Seven Arts Productions, was produced by James B. Harris and Stanley
Nevertheless, we didn't want her to be interviewed or make appearances on television despite
the terrific demand there was to see her. We felt that the image we wanted to convey in her first film should come fresh to
the audience rather than mixed up with knowledge of her personal tastes and habits. She is totally unlike the character she
plays in Lolita and we felt it would impair the reality of that character if people new all about
her personal life beforehand.
I appreciate that stars are public property in a way, that the part they play in the lives
of their fans doesn't end when they leave the set. But we wanted Sue, whom we are convinced is going to be an important star,
to make her first impact on the public when they see her on the screen. Personally, I believe movies have lost a lot of their
romance and glamour through the present-day custom of having stars open up their private lives and tell the world why they
married for the fourth time, and what they eat for breakfast, and how many showers they take a day, and whether they have
been psychoanalysed an what it did for them.
I have a nostalgia for the days before my time when Hollywood was a mysterious, exciting
place where people were driven around in limousines with leopard-skin seats and gold fittings and every star was a fabulous
person. They didn't have tax advisors and they didn't tell all about themselves. They encouraged rumors but they never divulged
facts, and their personal appearances were great occasions. I like stars to have a mystery.
In Sue Lyon, Jim Harris and I have found someone we think has a terrific potential for
being a star. She's a wonderful actress and she has a truly mysterious quality as a person. Lolita
is her first starring part and we have tried to start her career in the most exciting possibile way, which is to say "clouded
in absolute mystery."
Lolita Exhibitiors' Campaign Book, 1962
Really the real Lolita?
by Joe Morgenstern (1962)
Lollipop lovers of the world may feel that defacing a treasure like Lolita
would be no less heinous an offense than painting a mustache on Rembrandt's Aristotle. Stanley Kubrick knew that when he took
on the job of directing the screen version of Vladimir Nabokov's novel, which opens here Wednesday. But he never doubted that
the job could be done properly. All it involved was finding the right girl and surrounding her with the right movie.
The reputation that precedes Mr. Kubrick is that of a remarkably self-confident fellow,
a former magazine photographer whose technical talents were turned to movie making before he was old enough to vote and a
man with a shock of black hair, a black suit and an obsessive interest in films. Quite true, some of it. Mr. Kubrick does
have a lot of black hair, and he was wearing a black suit when he turned up for lunch the other day. But there the resemblances
to his public image, if you'll pardon the expression, ended.
At 33 the director is no longer a slip of a lad, as a burbling lady writer put it in 1955
when his Killer's Kiss was released. And he can no longer qualify as a boy wonder, although Mr. Kubrick's
followers, who have followed him through films like The Killing, Paths of Glory
and Spartacus seem to think he's a man wonder.
He is self-confident only in the sense of being an accomplished professional who knows
he is accomplished. At lunch, Mr. Kubrick was downright diffident for a good while until he warmed up to a political discussion.
And that brings up another matter. He knows his movies, and the knowledge may amount to an obsession, but he also knows literature
and music and public affairs and who knows what else he didn't have time to discuss in an hour, all of which leads one to
assume that his real obsession is learning.
His next movie concerns an intriguing aspect of the arms race, and he spoke of disarmament
with such a detailed knowledge of the subject that he could sign on as an understudy for Arthur Dean at Geneva. In short,
he does his homework, and a complex undertaking like Lolita, a novel which was many things to many
reviewers and readers, required a lot of homework.
"The novel is so rich in themes, point of view and character," Mr. Kubrick said. "It's
absolutely brilliant, this discovery of what things are. Nobody changes. It's reality that changes as the reader makes his
own discovery of it along with Humbert. The book is told through Humbert's point of view, but he's a very imperfect observer.
The dramatic swing of the book is that you forget the cynical veneer that Nabokov uses to keep you, and Humbert, from realizing
at first that Humbert loves the girl."
Sue Lyon, whom Mr. Kubrick chose to play Lolita, is and looks two or three years older
than the pubescent paramour of the novel. Does that change the substance of the tale? Mr. Kubrick didn't think so. "The Humbert-Lolita
story would be a great one even if Lolita were 21, all give and all take. Keeping the girl's age low, as Nabokov did, you
would, of course, accomplish what Lionel Trilling attributed to the novel, putting the story 'beyond the pale.'
"What's essential, in any case, is a growth of sympathy for Humbert, a sharing of his
heartbreak. If not for that, the story would be nothing but a series of grueling experiences for an aging man."
Mr. Kubrick puts a premium on intelligence: his own, which he sometimes wields formally,
as an ardent film theorist, and sometimes informally, as he improvises scenes from a basic script; that of the audience, and
that of the actors.
"Ah, the power that can be generated by giving the audience a sense of discovery! The
fault I find with most realistic drama is that a long time is spent setting everything up for the audience to discover for
itself, but then, when the chips are down, the actors explain the whole thing anyway."
Mr. Kubrick spoke feeling-fully about how vulnerable actors are in front of a camera.
One of his most important functions, he felt, was to give his actors a sense of the whole, depending upon emotion as well
as intellect to do it.
"Making a movie is such a fragmented process - the 8:30 to 6 routine day after day - that
an intellectual under-standing alone is insufficient to sustain a sense of the whole. That's why I have to trust my own emotional
involvement, and think of it in terms of musical progression from one related element to another."
His understanding of actors' problems, his attention to detail in even the smallest characterizations,
have made Mr. Kubrick extraordinarily popular among the performers who work for him. Peter Sellers who plays Clare Quilty,
Lolita's abductor, said recently he would have worked in a Kubrick film even if it had meant taking a two-line part. To prove
his fidelity, Mr. Sellers now plans to be in the next Kubrick film, Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to
Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. This will be the story of a "nuclear Wise Man" in American society, a person of learning
and personal power, with Mr. Sellers in the title role.
Another star of Lolita, Shelley Winters, had this to say about
Mr. Kubrick: "He respects and likes actors, and explains the totality of what he's after and picks your brains about how you
would fulfill it. Then, by a process of elimination and discovery, he arrives at what he wants. But it's not a performance
superimposed on you. It's something of your own that he's managed to bring forth."
It would seem then, that Lolita was in safe hands with Mr. Kubrick
- if she could be in safe hands with anyone.
Sunday Herald Tribune, June 10, 1962
Interview with Stanley Kubrick
Terry Southern (July 1962. NYC)
most talented, surely the most ambitious, and absolutely the youngest full-fledged film-maker on the American scene today,
is Stanley Kubrick - who, at only 33, has created a body of work (six features and two documentaries) as richly diverse as
it is substantial.
Of Glory, acclaimed by critics
throughout the world as one of the best war pictures ever filmed was made when he was 28 years old - certainly as remarkable
a cinematic achievement as that of any contemporary American.
At 30, he was
given the singular distinction (if not exactly honor) of directing the super production, Spartacus,
with a budget of ten million dollars. Aware, intuitive, and deeply attuned to his times, Kubrick is a chess-playing poet and
extremely articulate, speaking in visual metaphor, with the kind of relentless honesty of principle and direction that is
a rare felicity indeed.
interview took place in the New York office of Harris-Kubrick Productions, and is a transcript of the taped recording.
What was it mainly that appealed to you in the novel, Lolita?
Well it's certainly
one of the great love stories, isn't it? I think Lionel Trilling's piece in Encounter is very much
to the point when he speaks of it as "the first great love story of the 20th century." And he uses as his criteria the total
shock and estrangement which the lovers, in all the great love stories of the past have produced on the people around them.
If you consider Romeo and Juliet, Anna Karenina, Madame
Bovary, The Red and the Black, they all had this one thing in common, this element of the
illicit, or at least what was considered illicit at the time, and in each case it caused their complete alienation from society.
But then in the 20th century, with the disintegration of moral and spiritual values, it became increasingly difficult, and
finally impossible, for an author to credibly create that kind of situation, to conceive of a relationship which would produce
this shock and estrangement - so that what was resorted to achieve the shock value, was erotic description. Whereas Trilling
felt that Lolita somehow did succeed, in the classic tradition, having all the stormy passion and
tenderness of the great love story as well as this element of the lovers being estranged from everyone around them. And, of
course, Nabokov was brilliant in withholding any indication of the author's approval of the relationship. In fact, it isn't
until the very end, when Humbert sees her again four years later, and she's no longer by any-stretch of the definition a nymphet,
that the really genuine and selfless love he has for her is revealed. In other words, this element of their estrangement,
even from the author - and certainly, from the reader - is accomplished, and sustained, almost through the very end.
I want to ask you some questions more about the actual filming of Lolita, but first I'd like to go back for a moment - to the time when you were
21, working as a LOOK photographer, and ask you how
you got started as a filmmaker.
I just rented
a camera and made a movie - a 28 minute documentary - Day of the Fight was the name of it, a day
in the life of a boxer, from the time he wakes in the morning until he steps in the ring that night.
I understand you made the film entirely by yourself - did you also finance it?
Well, it didn't
cost much - I think the camera was ten bucks a day - and film, developed and printed, is ten cents a foot. The most expensive
thing was the music... the whole film cost 3900 dollars, and I think about 2900 of it was for the music, having it sync'd
Your first feature was Fear and Desire?
Yes, a pretentious,
inept and boring film - a youthful mistake costing about 50,000 dollars - but it was distributed by Joseph Burstyn, in the
art houses and caused a little ripple of publicity and attention... I mean there were people around who found some good things
in it, and on the strength of that I was able to raise private financing to make a second feature-length film, Killer's
Kiss. And that was a silly story too, but my concern was still in getting experience and simply functioning in the
medium, so the content of a story seemed secondary to me. I just took the line of least resistance, whatever story came to
hand. And for another thing I had no money to live on at the time, much less to buy good story material with - nor did I have
the time to work it into shape - and I didn't want to take a job, and get off the track, so I had to keep moving. Fortunately
too, I wasn't offered any jobs during this period - I mean perhaps if I had been offered some half-assed TV job of something
I wouldn't have had the sense to turn it down and would have been thrown off the track of what I really wanted to do, but
it didn't happen that way. In any case, I made that picture Killer's Kiss, and United Artists saw
it and bought it.
It was about that time, wasn't it, that you met James Harris and formed your own company?
He was running a television distribution company at the time... together we made The Killing. That's
the first film I made with decent actors, a professional crew, and under the proper circumstances. It was the first really
good film I made, and it got a certain amount of attention... then we bought the rights to Paths of Glory.
That was a book I had read when I was about fourteen, and one day I suddenly remembered it.
I understand there was some controversy over the ending of the film - where the French soldiers are executed
for desertion - that you asked to change it so that the men would not be shot at the end of the film.
It wasn't a controversy
- I mean there were some people who said you've got to save the men, but, of course, it was out of the question. That would
have been like making a film about capital punishment in which the executed man was innocent - it would just be pointless.
And also, of course, it actually happened - the French Army mutinies of 1917 were fairly extensive, whole regiments marched
out of the trenches, and men were executed, by lot.
still banned in France?
Yes - it's also
banned in Switzerland, Spain, and Israel, because of reciprocal agreements these countries have with France.
Did the film in fact, make any money?
made some money by now. But what you have to realize is that the period of movies, starting from about the middle fifties,
began to decline in terms of box-office, right down to where it is now, which is about 40% of what it was before television.
Television, you know, was a big threat in the beginning because it was free, but then they ran out of things to show and it
started to get boring - and at that point the major studios, in order to show better balance sheet, very unwisely began unloading
their pictures, selling them to TV, which then gave the networks something at least as good and sometimes better than what
could be seen in the theatres. Now Paths of Glory was made about the middle of this period of decline
in movie business, and by comparison to the average "A" picture during that time it did average business. So it wasn't exactly
a smash success, and I suppose there are a lot of films which can't be expected to be, but which are still worth making -
if you feel like making them.
There are always a few films which, after their initial round of distribution, start being recalled - and this seems
to be happening to Paths of Glory, as though it were becoming a sort of cinema-club classic.
Well, the owner
of the New Yorker Theatre called me the other day, for example, and said they didn't want to give him a print of the film.
You see, the distributor gets about fifty bucks for renting a print, and so he doesn't even want to bother dragging it out
of the vault. I mean they've got so many other things working for them they just don't want to be bothered. Now, after Paths
of Glory, you got involved with Brando's production of One-Eyed Jacks, which you were supposed to
direct, I believe - what happened there?
Well, we became friendly, you know, and he told me about this "western" he was
doing... and it's really a very long and involved story, but anyway we worked on it, the script, for about six months - Marlon,
Calder Willingham, and myself... and Guy Trosper, Carlo Fiore, George Glass, Walter Seltzer, Frank Rosenberg...
I suppose it must have become apparent at one point that Brando wanted to direct the picture himself.
That became apparent,
yes... that I was there just as a sort of wing-man, you know, to keep him from getting shot down by the studio. It also became
apparent that we were going to have extreme difficulty agreeing on the story, and... well, finally it just didn't seem that
it could work out as far as my directing it was concerned.
Brando has been quoted as saying of you, "Stanley is unusually perceptive and delicately attuned to people.
He has an adroit intellect and is a creative thinker, not a repeater, not a fact-gatherer,. he digests what he learns and
brings to a new project an original point of view and a reserved passion." This being his attitude towards you, it seems strange
that you should not have been able to work together on the film.
of course, for two adroit, perceptive, delicately attuned people not to agree in any way, shape or form.
Well, from there you went to direct Spartacus - this is the only picture you've done, isn't it, where you weren't pretty much your own boss?
Yes, its the
only picture I've worked on where I was employed - and in a situation like that the director has no real rights, except the
rights of persuasion... and I've found that's the wrong end of the lever to be on. First of all, you very often fail to persuade,
and secondly, even when you do persuade, you waste so much time doing it that it gets to be ridiculous.
Now that brings us to your chef d'oeuvre, Lolita. After the script was finished you began casting - and I imagine you must have looked at quite
a few young girls. Did you actually look for a girl who was between 12 and 13?
Well, she had
to be between 12 and 13 at the beginning, but between 16 and 17 at the end - I mean one girl who could play both parts - and
we did look at quite a few young girls, some of them very young indeed. It was amazing how many parents would write in, you
know, from Montana and so on, saying: "My daughter really is Lolita!" - that sort of thing. But we looked at them all, and
of course, Sue Lyon was just one of them - but the moment we saw her, we through "My God, if this girl can act" - because
she had this wonderful, enigmatic, but alive quality of mystery, but was still very expressive. Everything she did, commonplace
things, like handling objects or crossing a room, or just talking, were all done in a very engaging way... and, incidentally
this is a quality which most great actors have, it's a strange sort of personal unique style that goes into everything they
do - like when Albert Finney sits down in a chair and drinks a bottle of beer, and, well, it's just great and you think "God,
I wish I could drink a bottle of beer like that", or the way Marlon, you know, pushes his sun-glasses on his forehead and
just leaves them there instead of putting them in his pocket... and, well, they all have ways of doing everyday things that
are interesting to watch. And she had this, Sue Lyon - but of course, we still didn't know whether she could act. Then we
did some scenes, and finally shot a test with Mason, and that was it - she was great.
And Mason - did he occur to you right away as the choice for Humbert?
Yes, I always
thought he had just the right qualities for Humbert - you know, handsome but vulnerable... sort of easy-to-hurt and also a
romantic - because that was true of Humbert, of course, that beneath that veneer of sophistication and cynicism, and that
sort of affected sneer, he was terribly romantic and sentimental.
One of his big scenes, of course, is at the end, when Humbert finds Lolita again, and breaks down when he fails
to persuade her to go away with him. This is a long and very complex scene - how long did it take to shoot it?
We shot that
for twelve days. One of the things I wanted to get there, as completely as possible, was this element of disparity, which
you see in life but practically never in film, where two people meet after a long time and one of them is still emotionally
involved and the other one is simply embarrassed - and yet she wants to be nice, but the words just sort of plunk down, dead,
and nothing happens... just sort of total embarrassment and incongruity.
For the film, you greatly expanded, or at least developed the role of Quilty, didn't you?
Yes, well, it
was apparent that just beneath the surface of the story was this strong secondary narrative thread possible - because after
Humbert seduces her in the motel, or rather after she seduces him, the the big question has been answered - so it was good
to have this narrative of mystery continuing after the seduction.
This role, the role of Peter Sellers as Quilty, and his disgusted recurrance throughout the film, seems unique.
I don't recall any other instance in movies of such an elaborate combination of the comic-grotesque - was this treatment derivative
of something you had seen or read?
Well, that aspect
of the picture interests me very much - I've always thought for example, that Kafka could be very funny, or actually is very
funny - I mean like a comic nightmare, and I think that Sellers in the murder scene, and in fact in the whole characterization,
is like something out of a bad dream, but a funny one. I'm very pleased with the way that came off and I think it opens up
an avenue, as far as I'm concerned, of telling certain types of stories in ways which haven't yet been explored in movies.
Now, this is an erotic film - I mean, in the sense that sexual love is necessarily treated, and is sometimes
in the foreground of a dramatic scene. Do you have any particular theories about the erotic?
Only that I think
the erotic viewpoint of a story is best used as a sort of energizing force of a scene, a motivational factor, rather than
being, you know, explicitly portrayed. I thought, for instance, in Les Amants, when the guy's head
slides down out of the frame, it was, well, just sort of funny - though it shouldn't have been... when you're watching it
with an audience it just becomes laughable. I think it's interesting to know how one person makes it known to another person
that they want to make love, and it's interesting to know what they do after they make love, but while they're doing it, well,
that's something else... it's such a subjective thing, and so incongruous to the audience that the effect is either one of
vague embarrassment, or just the feeling of mischief on the part of the filmmaker.
In any case, since this was your own picture, there was no pressure on you to be overly prudent or anything
We had complete freedom about every aspect of the production.
You have some interesting double-entendre things in there - like this "Camp Climax" for girls, and lines like:
"Your uncle is going to fill my daughter's cavity on Thursday afternoon." Were there any objections to those?
No. And, of course,
the general public is a good deal more sophisticated than most censors imagine - and certainly more so than these groups who
get up petitions an so on can believe. After all, if a film is really obscene, it simply doesn't play in a theatre, because
the police of that city close it down - so that if a movie is playing, it's obviously not obscene... prevailing law-enforcement
takes care of that, so there's really no point in those petitions. It's a matter for the courts.
How do you account for this increased sophistication on the part of film audiences?
Well, for the
past few years, they've been getting used to better and better movies... Television was the best thing that ever happened
to American movies, because it knocked out this middle-of-the-road mediocrity type picture which had so long dominated the
What do you think to the techniques and stated philosophy of the French New Wave directors - Vadim, Resnais,
Truffaut - and of the reigning Italian directors: Fellini, Antonioni, De Sica, etc.?
philosophy aside, they've made some superb films.
What do you feel would be the best training ground for a movie director: television, the stage, or still photography,
as in your case?
I don't know
- the main thing is to want to make a film bad enough to get some sweet, trusting and insane friends or family to lend you
the money to do so.
I understand that you often play music on the set, to help everyone get in a particular mood.
Yes, well, that
was a device used, you know, by silent-film actors - they all had their own violinists, who would play for them during the
takes, and even sort of direct them. And I think it's probably the easiest way to produce an emotion... which is really the
actor's main problem - producing authentic emotion. We play it before the take, and if the dialogue isn't too important, during
the take and then post-synchronize the dialogue - its amazing how quick this will work, and I mean making a movie is such
a long, fragmented, dragging process, and you get into, say, about the ninth week, you're getting up every morning at 6:30,
not enough sleep, probably no breakfast, and then at 9:15 you have to do something you feel about as far from doing as you
possibly can... So it's a matter of getting in the right mood - and music I've found is the best for this, and practically
everyone can respond to some piece or other.
What were the pieces you used in making Lolita?
Well, there were
a couple of bands of West Side Story that must have somehow been very important to Shelly Winters - we used those in her crying
scene - and she would cry, very quickly, great authentic tears. And let's see, yeah, Irma la Douce,
that would always floor Mason. And I've forgotten what Sue's was... a ballad by someone - not Elvis, but someone like that.
In making this film, do you feel you encountered any problems or considerations which were categorically different
from those you've dealt with in other films?
Yes, I think the thing of gradually penetrating the surface of comedy which overlies the story
into the, well, the ultimate tragic romance of it puts it in a category apart. And then, too, treatments of mood, subtleties
and range of mood... I mean Lolita is really like a piece of music, a series of attitudes and emotions that sort of sweep you through the story.
like to ask you now about your general attitude towards filmmaking, other than what you've already indicated - first, what
particular advantages do you feel that films have over other media of expression and communication?
Well, for one
thing I think it is fairly obvious that the events and situations that are most meaningful to people are those in which they
are actually involved - and I'm convinced that this sense of personal involvement derives in large part from visual perception.
I once saw a woman hit by a car, for example, or right after she had been hit, and she way lying in the middle of the road.
I knew that at that moment I would have risked my life if necessary to help her... whereas if I had merely read about the
accident or heard about it, it could not have meant too much. Of all the creative media I think that film is most nearly able
to convey this sense of meaningfulness; to create an emotional involvement and a feeling of participation in the person seeing
Do you feel you have some specific goal or direction as an artist?
In making a film,
I start with an emotion, a feeling, a sense of a subject or a person or a situation. The theme and technique come as a result
of the material passing, as it were, through myself and coming out of the projector lens. It seems to me that simply striving
for a genuinely personal approach, whatever it may be, is the goal - Bergman and Fellini, for example, although perhaps as
different in their out-look as possible, have achieved this, and I'm sure it is what gives their films an emotional involvement
lacking in most work.
I understand that you cut and edit your own pictures - don't you feel there are experienced editors who could
I feel that the
director, or the film-maker as I prefer to think of him, is wholly responsible for the film in its completed form. Making
a film starts with the germ of an ideal continues through script, rehearsing, shooting, cutting music projection, and tax-accountants.
The old fashioned major-studio concept of a director made him just another color on the producer's palette - which also contained
all the above "colors". Formerly, it was the producer who dipped into all the colors and blended the "masterpiece". I don't
think it so surprising that it should now fall to the director.
Do you think that a young director, with new ideas, can get ahead in Hollywood - making films the way he wants
to - without creating enemies?
I don't think you make enemies by doing
films the way you want to do them; I think you make enemies by being rude, tactless and nasty to people.
You have won unreserved critical praise for a least three of your pictures. At 33 you have already directed
one of the biggest pictures ever made. Will success spoil Stanley Kubrick?
The Terry Southern Estate, all rights reserved
centre for nuclear nightmare
by Leon Minoff (1963)
London - Chances are that Whitehall's recent decision to reshape itself along Pentagon
lines - perhaps including a War Room - was not inspired by the odd construction on Stage A at Shepperton Studios, where Stanley
Kubrick is guiding Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. One enters
Mr. Kubrick's War Room as one enters a mosque. Felt overshoes must be donned to prevent scuffing 13,000 square feet of jet
black laconite floor glittering like an eight ball caught in the rain. Once inside, however, a visitor is apt to regard his
new footwear as the least strange thing about Dr. Strangelove.
The War Room of the Pentagon is one of the principal seats of the nightmare comedy that
deals with the possibility of nuclear annihilation by accident, which Kubrick is producing, directing and co-writing.
The fact that no one has ever publicly acknowledged a subterranean precinct in the real
Pentagon, much less issued a photograph, did not faze the 34-year-old filmmaker or his art director, Ken Adam. "We've never
seen an H-bomb, either," Kubrick said between rehearsals, "but two whoppers are being built right now on an adjacent stage."
In the center of the War Room - conceived as a sort of vast lean-to bomb shelter - was a circular table 22 feet in
diameter and covered in green baize like the playing fields of Las Vegas and Monte Carlo. Seated in 29 chairs and bathed in
an eerie light were the Joint Chiefs of Staff, brain-trusters and State Department officials. The 30th place was conspicuously
empty. But not for long.
On a hand signal from the director, a floor panel slid open and a chairborne Peter Sellers,
unrecognizable in one of his four roles in the film, emerged on a hydraulic lift and bounced jerkily into his place at the
table as Merkin Muffley, President of the United States. He then addressed himself to co-star George C. Scott, chairman of
the Joint Chiefs, who was fingering a book entitled "World Targets in Megadeaths." "General Turgidson," said the President,
"what is going on here?"
During a tea break, Kubrick explained what was going on. "A psychotic general, who believes
that fluoridation of water is a Communist conspiracy to sap and pollute our precious bodily fluids, has unleashed his wing
of H-bombers against Russia. That's why the President has been summoned to the War Room. It develops that for various and
entirely credible reasons, the planes cannot be recalled, and the President is forced to cooperate with the Soviet Premier
in a bizarre attempt to save the world."
The Bronx-born director, whose credits include Paths of Glory,
Spartacus and Lolita, said he had wanted to make a film about the bomb for
three years. He estimates he has read upward of 70 books on the subject and keeps a copious magazine and newspaper file. He's
also spoken with such strategists as Herman Kahn and Thomas Schelling. But it was Alastair Buchan, director of London's Institute
for Strategic Studies, who brought to his attention a suspense novel called Two Hours to Doom.
Mr. Buchan thought it a rare fictional treatment of how nuclear war might start inadvertently.
So did Kubrick. He bought the screen rights for $3,000 and set about adapting it in his Central Park West apartment with the
novel's author, Peter George, a former Royal Air Force flight lieutenant. It was only then, Kubrick divulged, that he began
to see the film as a grim comedy.
Scheduled for release by Columbia Pictures in early fall, Dr. Strangelove is being shot in
England, it was explained, to accommodate Peter Sellers, who was unable to leave the country for domestic reasons. In addition
to the President, the protean Sellers also plays the title role of a German scientist, a Texas pilot of an H-bomber headed
inexorably for Russia, and an R.A.F. exchange officer. What roles are left are handled by Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Peter
Bull, James Earl Jones, and Tracy Reed, Sir Carol Reed's daughter, who, as the sole girl in the cast, is making her screen
debut as a Pentagon secretary.
Background air sequences were shot over the Arctic. The sole other nonstudio location,
Kubrick stated, was at International Business Machines in London, where Computer 7090 - the same data processor that calculated
where Astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. would descend into the ocean after his earth orbit - figured in sequences with Sellers.
The tea break over, the unit lined up for their felt slippers and padded back into the
War Room. As cameras began to turn, 30 phones around the table were picked up simultaneously. The President was on the "hot
line" to the Soviet Premier in the Kremlin (a full week, incidentally, before that headline-making announcement from Geneva).
He spoke in the tones of a progressive nursery school teacher.
"Hello!... Hello, Dimitri.... Yes, this is Merkin. How are you?... Oh fine. Just fine.
Look, Dimitri, you know how we're always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the Bomb?... The Bomb?
The HYDROGEN BOMB!… That's right. Well, I'll tell you what happened. One of our base commanders..."
The New York Times, April 21, 1963
Direct hit (Newsweek 1964)
It is outrageous, of course. The President of the United States of America is named Merkin
Muffley. The Premier of Russia is Dimitri Kissof and the ambassador is de Sadesky. The commander of Burpelson Air Force Base
is Gen. Jack D. Ripper. There is a Col. "Bat" Guano. But outrageous, excessive, and nearly insane is exactly what Stanley
Kubrick wanted to be in Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
The story is that of the end of the world. Ripper is a maniac, a rightist fanatic who
is worried about the Commie plot to put fluoride in our drinking water and debilitate us by interfering with the "purity of
our body fluids." This ought to sound impossibly stupid, and it does, but it also has an uncomfortably familiar ring. Ripper
takes it upon himself to bomb the Soviet Union, which is something that hardly bears thinking about, but which Kubrick makes
Strangelove throughout is all too plausible. As Kubrick says: "The greatest message
of the film is in the laughs. You know, it's true! The most realistic things are the funniest."
In a weird way, he is perfectly right. It is hilarious to watch Peter Sellers as President
Muffley talking to Kissof on the phone and getting into an argument with Kissof about which one of them is sorrier for what
has happened. It is uproarious when the SAC fliers in the B-52 go over their survival kits: money in rubles, dollars, and
gold, Benzedrine, cigarettes, nylons, chocolate, chewing gum, prophylactics, tranquilizers, and so on. ("I could have a pretty
fine weekend with this in Vegas," one of the fliers remarks a bit ruefully.)
Or there is Sellers again, this time as Ripper's adjutant, Group Captain Mandrake, the
only man in the world who knows the code that must be used to recall the bomber. He must call the President. There is a phone
booth. But the White House doesn't accept collect calls from unknown group captains. he tells "Bat" Guano to shoot off the
lock from a Coke machine for the 55 cents, but Guano, in shock and horror says: "That's private property!"
This is low clowning, of course, but it suggests all too clearly that human society is
not yet so well organized as to be able to afford such dangerous toys as hydrogen bombs. Even the discussion about the probable
war and the possible end of the world is ridiculous because it is so familiar. George C. Scott, as Gen. "Buck" Turgidson,
is in favour of sending the rest of the planes to knock the Reds off the map. Their retaliatory force, he says, will be reduced
so that the U.S. will suffer "only acceptable casualties - ten to twenty megadeaths," and he adds with a sporting shrug, "depending
on the breaks." It is crazy. It is fantastic and obscene. The idea of 20 million deaths and the word that makes an abstraction
out of it are both simply ridiculous.
That Stanley Kubrick has had the nerve to say so, and that he has said it in a comedy,
which makes it all the sharper, all the clearer, and that much better a film, is truly fine. Kubrick, and his biting bitter
satire, stands as eloquent testimony not only to the possibilities of intelligent comment in film, but to the great freedom
which moviemakers have, even if most of them have not dared use it. That thundering "No" is thrilling to see on the screen.
It is also side-splittingly funny. At its very worst, even at the grim moment of truth,
Kubrick keeps his nerve and drops the bomb, with Slim Pickens riding it down to doom like a cowboy riding a bronco - with
a wild wave of his stupid Stetson and a yell of sheer exaltation that turns imperceptibly, but surely into a cry of pure terror,
without the slightest change in timbre, volume, or pitch. The edge of that yell is a razor's edge, and it cuts deep.
How Kubrick did it
Stanley Kubrick does everything in his films except act. He finds a story, shapes the
script, chooses all the actors, supervises the lighting and costumes, operates the cameras, directs the cast, edits the film,
and then supervises the publicity. On Strangelove, which was filmed without the cooperation of any
government agency, he was also the sole military adviser, bringing to bear all his military experience - watching war movies
at Loew's in New York.
Naturally, the picture was made without Pentagon help. The instrument-jammed B-52 cockpit
was built from a picture in a British magazine. It cost $100,000. And each shot of the B-52 in flight, made with a 10-foot
model and a moving matte, cost more than $6,000.
Such painstaking attention to every film-making detail is the natural result of Kubrick's
whole approach to his subject. He did not just sit down and decide to make a comedy about the end of the world. Over a six-year
period, just for his own edification, and at first with no idea of making a film, he devoured some 70 books on nuclear war,
subscribed to Missiles and Rockets, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,
and a megaton of other magazines and pamphlets. One day he came across Two Hours to Doom (called
Red Alert in the U.S.), a suspense novel about an Air Force general triggering off a nuclear holocaust,
and decided that had to be his next movie.
Once committed, he never let up. "Kubrick has a fantastic drive," says novelist Terry
Southern, who collaborated on the brilliant screenplay of Strangelove. "He's got a weird metabolism;
while I'm taking Dexamil, he's taking Seconal."
The book was dead serious, but the 34-year-old Kubrick found that each time he tried to
create a scene, it came up funny. "How the hell could the President ever tell the Russian Premier to shoot down American planes?"
he asked, with a broad wave of his hand. "Good Lord, it sounds ridiculous."
Actually Kubrick's chief concern now is fantasy, the sort of "nightmare comedy" that Red Alert came to be. "The real image doesn't cut the mustard, doesn't transcend," he says. "I'm now interested
in taking a story, fantastic and improbable, and trying to get to the bottom of it, to make it seem not only real, but inevitable."
Dr. Strangelove, filmed with the backing and the blessing of Columbia Pictures, cost $1,5
million, and, as Southern says, "If anyone submitted the script cold to a major studio, the reaction would be, 'Are you kidding?'"
Kubrick can now call his own shots, but how can you top a movie about total annihilation?
He is fascinated by outer space, which he thinks is inhabited, and he is reading and reading and reading about it. Or, "I
can always do a story about overpopulation," says Kubrick. "Do you realize that in 2020 there will be no room on earth for
all the people to stand? The really sophisticated worriers are worried about that."
Newsweek, February 3, 1964
In 2001, Will Love Be a Seven-letter Word?
by William Kloman (1968)
Stanley Kubrick has directed such films as Paths of Glory, Lolita, and Doctor Strangelove. Kubrick's latest film, 2001:
A Space Odyssey, is reported to have cost more than $10-million, and was more than two years in production. Most of
the production time was consumed by the creation of special effects, from lunar landings to a brilliant psychedelic apocalypse.
Kubrick's films customarily stimulate controversy, disagreement; and occasionally outrage. 2001,
a deeply enigmatic science-fiction fantasy, has opened to lukewarm reviews and left many viewers puzzled over What It All
Means. In the following interview Kubrick provides clues, some of them between the lines.
The plot of 2001 hinges on man's eventual discovery of intelligent beings
elsewhere in the Universe. Is this fantasy, or probability?
Actually, they discover us. But the premise isn't just fantasy. Regular "pulsar" radio
emissions have been picked up by scientists in England and Puerto Rico. Four separate sources of transmission have been isolated
so far, and the evidence points to highly advanced civilizations, perhaps hundreds of light-years away from the Earth.
Do you consider the evidence conclusive?
Even if it weren't, the odds are heavily in favor of the existence of extraterrestrial
intelligence. There are about a hundred billion stars in our galaxy, and roughly a hundred billion galaxies in the visible
Universe. Given the common chemical nature of the Universe, the origination of life is now felt to be an almost inevitable
occurrence on planets the proper distance from their suns. Most astronomers are now very predisposed to believe the Universe
is full of life. And if it is, some of it would be millions of years advanced, simply because it was formed earlier. Our sun
is not a particularly old star.
Have you speculated on what form such advanced life
would take? What sort of technology it would produce?
Our interest, in the film, is more in man's response to his first contact with an advanced
world. It is really inconceivable what form its technology would take, but Arthur Clarke (co-author of the screenplay for
2001) believes that any technology, say, fifty thousand years ahead of our own would seem like magic
to us anyway. Of course, nobody particularly thinks that biological life-forms would endure very long. Immortality - reversing
the chemical process that causes the cells to forget what they are doing - seems likely even for man within a couple of hundred
years. It's generally thought that after a highly-developed science gets you past the mortality stage, you become part-animal,
part-machine, then all machine. Eventually, perhaps, pure energy. We cannot imagine what a million-year jump in science will
produce in life-forms. Pure spirit may be the ultimate form that intelligence would seek.
That seems very Platonic.
It is. And all human mythology - which certainly expresses the yearnings of mass psychology
- reaches toward this ultimate state. There's an instinctive awareness of the advantages and perfection of the non-biological
The opening sequence of 2001 shows an ape-man at the dawn of man's
existence learning to use objects as weapons. He throws a bone-weapon in the air and it comes down as an orbiting spacecraft
in the year 2001 A.D. What's the connection?
The link is very close, and the time period is really very short. The difference between
the bone-as-weapon and the spacecraft is not enormous, on an emotional level. Man's whole brain has developed from the use
of the weapon-tool. It's the evolutionary watershed of natural selection. Shaw said that man's heart is in his weapons, and
it's perfectly true. There has always been this fantastic love of the weapon. It's simply an observable fact that all of man's
technology grew out of his discovery of the weapon-tool.
Which he learned to love, like the Bomb in Doctor Strangelove?
There's no doubt that there's a deep emotional relationship between man and his machines,
which are his children. The machine is beginning to assert itself in a very profound way, even attracting affection and obsession.
There is a sexiness to beautiful machines. The smell of a Nikon camera. The feel of an Italian sports car, or a beautiful
tape recorder. We are almost in a sort of biological machine society already. We're making the transition toward whatever
the ultimate change will be. Man has always worshiped beauty, and I think there's a new kind of beauty afoot in the world.
There was a curious story in one of the news magazines
recently about the exceptional instability of marriages around the space installations.
Because the machines are so sexy.
HAL, the computer-protagonist of 2001, seems almost human, while the human
actors in the film appear to be models of dispassionate efficiency. Is one of the themes that as computers become more like
men, men become more like computers?
I don't think they do, unfortunately. HAL is programed with emotions because most advanced
computer technologists feel that when we start building computers more intelligent than men, emotions may be a part of their
equipment. Emotions may be a useful short-cut to forming attitudes. But my view is that man will probably remain more or less
in the state he is in now. Men are not really becoming more objective or rational. We are still essentially programed with
the same primitive instincts we started out with four million years ago. Somebody said man is the missing link between primitive
apes and civilized human beings. You might say that is inherent in the story too. We are semicivilized, capable of cooperation
and affection, but needing some sort of transfiguration into a higher form of life. Man is really in a very unstable condition.
People have been very good, really. Countries have acted very responsibly since the nuclear bomb. But there's no question
that since the means to obliterate life on Earth exist, it will take more than just careful planning and reasonable cooperation
to avoid some eventual catastrophic event. The problem exists as long as the potential exists, and the problem is essentially
a moral one and a spiritual one. Perhaps even an evolutionary one rather than a technical one. The technical approach, you
might say, is first aid, but it can't be a very profound answer.
Since 2001 ends with an apparent evolutionary transformation, is
it offered as an alternative to the end of the world in Doctor Strangelove?
Not really. I'd hate to categorize it as really deeply revolving around that issue. I
don't really want to say what it is, but it's more of a mythological statement. All myths have a kind of psychological similarity
to each other. Of the hero going somehow into the underworld, or the over-world, and encountering dangers and terrifying experiences.
Then he re-emerges in some god-like form, or some greatly improved human form. Essentially the film is a mythological statement.
Its meaning has to be found on a sort of visceral, psychological level rather than in a specific literal explanation.
One of the newspaper critics thought that in order
to get across a philosophical viewpoint you needed more words than you used.
This, of course, is part of the word-oriented reviewer psychology. I don't have the slightest
doubt that to tell a story like this, you couldn't do it with words. There are only 46 minutes of dialogue scenes in the film,
and 113 of non-dialogue. There are certain areas of feeling and reality - or unreality or innermost yearning, whatever you
want to call it - which are notably inaccessible to words. Music can get into these areas. Painting can get into them. Non-verbal
forms of expression can. But words are a terrible straitjacket. It's interesting how many prisoners of that straitjacket resent
its being loosened or taken off. There's a side to the human personality that somehow senses that wherever the cosmic truth
may lie, it doesn't lie in A, B, C, D. It lies somewhere in the mysterious, unknowable aspects of thought and life and experience.
Man has always responded to it. Religion, mythology, allegories - it's always been one of the most responsive chords in man.
With rationalism, modern man has tried to eliminate it, and successfully dealt some pretty jarring blows to religion. In a
sense, what's happening now in films and in popular music is a reaction to the stifling limitations of rationalism. One wants
to break out of the clearly arguable, demonstrable things which really are not very meaningful, or very useful or inspiring,
nor does one even sense any enormous truth in them.
You were quoted once as saying that the comic sense was
the most human reaction to the mysteries and paradoxes of life. Do you feel there's a comic sense to 2001?
It isn't reverent, but it certainly isn't comic. There are a few lightly humorous touches,
but the moods it tries to create wouldn't be enhanced by any strong comic element. There are very few comic myths.
The New York Times, April 14, 1968
Film Director as Superstar: Stanley Kubrick
by Joseph Gelmis (1970)
The most controversial film of 1968 was Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space
Odyssey. It started out as a $6,000,000 science fiction movie and escalated into a $10,500,000 underground film. It
polarized critical and public opinion. Most of its young admirers considered it a prophetic masterpiece. Its detractors praised
the special effects but found it confusing and pretentious as drama.
Despite Kubrick's own ready interpretation of the action, the ending of 2001
was confusing to some people. The final scenes in the alien "zoo" or heaven and the metamorphosis of the astronaut into a
star baby remained for many an enigmatic, purely emotional, nonverbal experience. Understanding became a function of the emotions,
rather than one's reasoning powers.
Less than half the film had dialogue. It was a reorganization of the traditional dramatic
structure. Process became more important than plot. The tedium was the message. It was a film not about space travel; it was
space travel. "The truth of a thing is in the feel of it, not the think of it", Kubrick asserted. Kubrick traces some of his
fascination with the fluid camera back to Max Ophuls. His oeuvre, with the single exception of the optimistic transfiguration
in 2001, is a bleak skepticism and fatalism.
2001 was Kubrick's first experiment with restructuring the conventions of the three-act drama.
It's quite possible it started out to be something entirely different. The book based on the original screenplay by Arthur
C. Clarke and Kubrick is literal, verbal, explicit. The film, in its early stages, had a narrator's voice. It was cut bit
by bit and then eliminated completely, by virtue of which 2001 evolved as a nonverbal experience.
In his next film, Napoleon, Kubrick says he plans to return to
the use of a narrator and perhaps even animation or charts to illustrate and explain the battle tactics and campaigns. Kubrick's
personal interest in the aesthetics of a well-staged campaign goes back to his days as a young chess hustler in Greenwich
Born July 1928 in the Bronx, Kubrick was introduced to still photography as a hobby by
his father, who was a physician. He achieved a certain youthful prominence as his class photographer at Taft High School.
Later, with a sixty-eight average, he was unable to compete with returning GIs for a place in college. So, "out of pity",
he recalls, LOOK magazine hired him as a photographer.
Kubrick's early training in movies was with two documentaries. At twenty-five, he made
his first feature film, the 35-mm Fear and Desire, for $9000 - plus another $30,000 because he didn't know
what he was doing with the soundtrack. He didn't make any money on his first four feature films. He has never earned a penny
on The Killing and Paths of Glory, which some of his early fans still consider his best films.
The only film he disclaims is Spartacus. He says he worked on
it as just a hired hand. Every other film he's directed he has made to suit himself, within prescribed bounds of existing
community standards. He wishes Lolita had been more erotic. The lag time between conception and completion
of his films is now up to an average of three years. In part, this is the result of his wish to handle every artistic and
business function himself.
To concentrate all control in his own hands, Kubrick produces as well as directs his films.
He originates, writes, researches, directs, edits, and even guides the publicity campaigns for his films. Though he gets his
financing from the major studios, he is as independent as he was when he was raising his money from his father and uncle.
The following interview is the outcome of meetings that took place in 1968 in New York
and London and of correspondence that continued through 1969. Kubrick lives near London. His third wife is Suzanne Christiane
Harlan, a German actress who appeared briefly at the end of Paths of Glory.
2001 took about three years to make - six months of preparation,
four and a half months of working with the actors, and a year and a half of shooting special effects. How much time will Napoleon take out of your
Considerably less. We hope to begin the actual production work by the winter of 1969,
and the exterior shooting - battles, location shots, etc. - should be completed within two or three months. After that, the
studio work shouldn't take more than another three or four months.
Where would the exteriors be shot? Actual sites?
I still haven't made a final decision, although there are several promising possibilities.
Unfortunately, there are very, very few actual Napoleonic battlefields where we could still shoot; the land itself has either
been taken over by industrial and urban development, preempted by historical trusts, or is so ringed by modern buildings that
all kinds of anachronisms would present themselves - like a Hussars' charge with a Fiat plant in the background. We're now
in the process of deciding the best places to shoot, and where it would be most feasible to obtain the troops we need for
battle scenes. We intend to use a maximum of forty thousand infantry and ten thousand cavalry for the big battles, which means
that we have to find a country which will hire out its own armed forces to us - you can just imagine the cost of fifty thousand
extras over an extended period of time. Once we find a receptive environment, there are still great logistic problems - for
example, a battle site would have to be contiguous to a city or town or barracks area where the troops we'd use are already
bivouacked. Let's say we're working with forty thousand infantry - if we could get forty men into a truck, it would still
require a thousand trucks to move them around. So in addition to finding the proper terrain, it has to be within marching
distance of military barracks.
Aside from the Russian War and Peace, where they reportedly used sixty thousand
of their own troops, has there ever been a film that used forty thousand men from somebody else's army?
I would doubt it.
Then how do you expect to persuade another government
to give you as many as forty thousand soldiers?
One has to be an optimist about these things. If it turned out to be impossible I'd obviously
have no other choice than to make do with a lesser number of men, but this would only be as a last resort. I wouldn't want
to fake it with fewer troops because Napoleonic battles were out in the open, a vast tableau where the formations moved in
an almost choreographic fashion. I want to capture this reality on film, and to do so it's necessary to re-create all the
conditions of the battle with painstaking accuracy.
How many men did you use in the trench battle of Paths of Glory?
That was another story entirely. We employed approximately eight hundred men, all German
police - at that time the German police received three years of military training, and were as good as regular soldiers for
our purposes. We shot the film at Geiselgesteig Studios in Munich, and both the battle site and the chateau were within thirty-five
to forty minutes of the studio.
If you can't use the actual battle sites, how will
you approximate the terrain on the sites you do choose?
There are a number of ways this can be done an it's quite important to the accuracy of
the film, since terrain is the decisive factor in the flow and outcome of a Napoleonic battle. We've researched all the battle
sites exhaustively from paintings and sketches, and we're now in a position to approximate the terrain. And from a purely
schematic point of view, Napoleonic battles are so beautiful, like vast lethal ballets, that it's worth making every effort
to explain the configuration of forces to the audience. And it's not really as difficult as it first appears.
How do you mean "explain"? With a narrator, or charts?
With a narrative voice-over at times, with animated maps and, most importantly, through
the actual photography of the battles themselves. Let's say you want to explain that at the battle of Austerlitz, the Austro-Russian
forces attempted to cut Napoleon off from Vienna, and then extended the idea to a double envelopment and Napoleon countered
by striking at their center and cutting their forces in half - well, this is not difficult to show by photography, maps and
narration. I think it's extremely important to communicate the essence of these battles to the viewer, because they all have
an aesthetic brilliance that doesn't require a military mind to appreciate. There's an aesthetic involved; it's almost like
a great piece of music, or the purity of a mathematical formula. It's this quality I want to bring across, as well as the
sordid reality of battle. You know, there's a weird disparity between the sheer visual and organizational beauty of the historical
battles sufficiently far in the past, and their human consequences. It's rather like watching two golden eagles soaring through
the sky from a distance; they may be tearing a dove to pieces, but if you are far enough away the scene is still beautiful.
Why are you making a movie about Napoleon?
That's a question it would really take this entire interview to answer. To begin with,
he fascinates me. His life has been described as an epic poem of action. His sex life was worthy of Arthur Schnitzler. He
was one of those rare men who move history and mold the destiny of their own times and of generations to come - in a very
concrete sense, our own world is the result of Napoleon, just as the political and geographic map of postwar Europe is the
result of World War Two. And, of course, there has never been a good or accurate movie about him. Also, I find that all the
issues with which it concerns itself are oddly contemporary - the responsibilities and abuses of power, the dynamics of social
revolution, the relationship of the individual to the state, war, militarism, etc., so this will not be just a dusty historic
pageant but a film about the basic questions of our own times, as well as Napoleon's. But even apart from those aspects of
the story, the sheer drama and force of Napoleon's life is a fantastic subject for a film biography. Forgetting everything
else and just taking Napoleon's romantic involvement with Josephine, for example, here you have one of the great obsessional
passions of all time.
How long a film biography are you contemplating?
It's obviously a huge story to film, since we're not just taking one segment of Napoleon's
life, military or personal, but are attempting to encompass all the major events of his career. I haven't set down any rigid
guidelines on length; I believe that if you have a truly interesting film it doesn't matter how long it is - providing, of
course, you don't run on to such extremes that you numb the attention span of your audience. The longest film that has given
consistent enjoyment to generations of viewers is Gone With the Wind, which would indicate that if
a film is sufficiently interesting people will watch it for three hours and forty minutes. But in actual fact, the Napoleon
film will probably be shorter.
What kind of research do you have going on right now?
The first step has been to read everything I could get my hands on about Napoleon, and
totally immerse myself in his life. I guess I must have gone through several hundred books on the subject, from contemporary
nineteenth-century English and French accounts to modern biographies. I've ransacked all these books for research material
and broken it down into categories on everything from his food tastes to the weather on the day of a specific battle, and
cross-indexed all the data in a comprehensive research file. In addition to my own reading, I've worked out a consultant arrangement
with Professor Felix Markham of Oxford, a history don who has spent the last thirty-five years of his life studying Napoleon
and is considered one of the world's leading Napoleonic experts. He's available to answer any questions that derive from my
own reading or outside of it. We're also in the process of creating prototypes of vehicles, weapons, and costumes of the period
which will subsequently be mass-produced, all copied from paintings and written descriptions of the time and accurate in every
detail. We already have twenty people working full time on the preparatory stage of the film.
What movies on Napoleon have you gone back to see?
I've tried to see every film that was ever made on the subject, and I've got to say that
I don't find any of them particularly impressive. I recently saw Abel Gance's movie, which has built up a reputation among
film buffs over the years, and I found it really terrible. Technically he was ahead of his time and he introduced new film
techniques - in fact Eisenstein credited him with stimulating his initial interest in montage - but as far as story and performance
goes it's a very crude picture.
What did you think about the Russian War and Peace?
It was a cut above the others, and did have some very good scenes, but I can't say I was
overly impressed. There's one in particular I admired, where the Tsar entered a ballroom and everyone scurried in his wake
to see what he was doing and then rushed out of his way when he returned. That seemed to me to capture the reality of such
a situation. Of course, Tolstoy's view of Napoleon is so far removed from that of any objective historian's that I really
can't fault the director for the way he was portrayed. It was a disappointing film, and doubly so because it had the potential
to be otherwise.
Can you imagine yourself going down with just a cameraman
and sound man and half a dozen people and shooting a film?
Sure I can. In fact, any contemporary story is best done just that way. The only time
you need vast amounts of money and a huge crew is when you require complex special effects, as in 2001,
or big battle or crowd scenes, as in the Napoleon film. But if you're just dealing with a story set
in modern times, then you could do it very easily with both limited funds and a limited crew.
In your own case, Lolita was set in America, and yet you shot
it on an English sound stage. Couldn't that film have been shot in this way, with just a handful of people on location?
Yes, it could certainly have been shot on location, although you'd still have needed more
than a handful of people to do it.
Would you have done it that way if you were making
the film now?
I would have done it at the time if the money to film had been available in America. But
as it turned out the only funds I could raise for the film had to be spent in England. There's been such a revolution in Hollywood's
treatment of sex over just the past few years that it's easy to forget that when I became interested in Lolita
a lot of people felt that such a film couldn't be made – or at least couldn't be shown. As it turned out, we didn't
have any problems, but there was a lot of fear and trembling. And filming in England we obviously had no choice but to rely
mainly on studio shooting.
Obviously Napoleon wouldn't permit you to shoot with a small crew and flexible
conditions on location. But in the foreseeable future do you see yourself shedding the shell of the studio superstructure
and working simply again?
Yes, if I could find a contemporary story susceptible to such an approach which I liked
enough to do. But I would certainly enjoy filming primarily on location. If you have the right story, it's a waste of time
and energy to re-create conditions in a studio which exist outside. And if you make sensible arrangements, there are no technical
difficulties about location shooting. Sound, which once presented problems, really doesn't anymore, since with skirt mikes
you get a favorable voice-to-noise ratio. And in any case, background noise just adds to the verisimilitude of the scene.
It's only when you're doing a period film that causes difficulties; in Napoleon, for example, I'd
hardly want a jet to fly overhead in the middle of the battle of Jena.
Your last film was about the twenty-first century.
Your next film is about the nineteenth century. Do you think it's significant that you aren't very interested or satisfied
with contemporary stories or themes of twentieth-century life?
It's not a question of my own satisfaction or lack of it, but of the basic purpose of
a film, which I believe is one of illumination, of showing the viewer something he can't see any other way. And I think at
times this can be best accomplished by staying away from his own immediate environment. This is particularly true when you're
dealing in a primarily visual experience, and telling a story through the eyes. You don't find reality only in your own backyard,
you know – in fact, sometimes that's the last place you find it. Another asset about dealing with themes that are either
futuristic or historic is that it enables you to make a statement with which you're not personally blinded; it removes the
environmental blinkers, in a sense, and gives you a deeper and more objective perspective.
In your last genuinely contemporary film, Lolita, you were frustrated
in your efforts to make the movie as erotic as the novel, and there was some criticism that the girl was too old to play the
nymphet of the novel.
She was actually just the right age. Lolita was twelve and a half in the book; Sue Lyon
was thirteen. I think some people had a mental picture of a nine-year-old. I would fault myself in one area of the film, however;
because of all the pressure over the Production Code and the Catholic Legion of Decency at the time, I believe I didn't sufficiently
dramatize the erotic aspect of Humbert's relationship with Lolita, and because his sexual obsession was only barely hinted
at, many people guessed too quickly that Humbert was in love with Lolita. Whereas in the novel this comes as a discovery at
the end, when she is no longer a nymphet but a dowdy, pregnant suburban housewife; and it's this encounter, and his sudden
realization of his love, that is one of the most poignant elements of the story. If I could do the film over again, I would
have stressed the erotic component of their relationship with the same weight Nabokov did. But that is the only major area
where I believe the film is susceptible to valid criticism.
At what point did you decide to structure the film
so that Humbert is telling the story to the man he's going to shoot?
I discussed this approach with Nabokov at the very outset, and he liked it. One of the
basic problems with the book, and with the film even in its modified form, is that the main narrative interest boils down
to the question "Will Humbert get Lolita into bed?" And you find in the book that, despite the brilliant writing, the second
half has a drop in narrative interest after he does. We wanted to avoid this problem in the film, and Nabokov and I agreed
that if we had Humbert shoot Quilty without explanation at the beginning, then throughout the film the audience would wonder
what Quilty was up to. Of course, you obviously sacrifice a great ending by opening with Quilty's murder, but I felt it served
a worthwhile purpose.
Starting with Lolita, you've been making all your films abroad. Why?
Circumstances have just dictated it that way. As I explained earlier, it was necessary
to make Lolita in England for financial reasons and to mitigate censorship problems, and in the case
of Dr. Strangelove, Peter Sellers was in the process of getting a divorce and could not leave England
for an extended period, so it was necessary to film there. By the time I decided to do 2001 I had
gotten so acclimated to working in England that it would have been pointless to tear up roots and move everything to America.
And with Napoleon we'll be doing a great deal of the shooting on the continent, so London is a convenient
base of operations.
Are there any specific advantages to working in London?
Next to Hollywood, London is probably the second best place to make a film, because of
the degree of technical expertise and facilities you find in England, and that isn't really a backhanded compliment.
Do you have any reluctance to work in Hollywood while
the studio chiefs stand over the director's shoulder?
No, because I'm in the fortunate position where I can make a film without that kind of
control. Ten years ago, of course, it would have been an entirely different story.
You don't consider yourself an expatriate then?
Not at all.
Why not? You've lived in England seven years and made
your last three films there - even those which were set in America.
Yes, but there's nothing permanent about my working and living in England. Circumstances
have kept me there until now, but it's quite possible I'll be making a film in America in the future. And in any case, I commute
back and forth several times a year.
But always by ocean liner. You have a pilot's license
but you don't like flying anymore. Why?
Call it enlightened cowardice, if you like. Actually, over the years I discovered that
I just didn't enjoy flying, and I became aware of compromised safety margins in commercial aviation that are never mentioned
in airline advertising. So I decided I'd rather travel by sea, and take my chances with the icebergs.
In your profession isn't it a problem not to fly?
It would be if I had to hop about all the time from spot to spot like many people do.
But when I'm working on a film I'm tied down to one geographic area for long periods of time and I travel very little. And
when I do, I find boats or railroads adequate and more relaxing.
Dr. Strangelove was a particularly word-oriented film,
whereas 2001 seemed to be a total breakaway from what you'd done before.
Yes, I feel it was. Strangelove was a film where much of its
impact hinged on the dialogue, the mode of expression, the euphemisms employed. As a result, it's a picture that is largely
destroyed in translation or dubbing. 2001, on the other hand, is basically a visual, nonverbal experience.
It avoids intellectual verbalization and reaches the viewer's subconscious in a way that is essentially poetic and philosophic.
The film thus becomes a subjective experience which hits the viewer at an inner level of consciousness, just as music does,
or painting. Actually, film operates on a level much closer to music and to painting than to the printed word, and, of course,
movies present the opportunity to convey complex concepts and abstractions without the traditional reliance on words. I think
that 2001, like music, succeeds in short-circuiting the rigid surface cultural blocks that shackle
our consciousness to narrowly limited areas of experience and is able to cut directly through to areas of emotional comprehension.
In two hours and forty minutes of film there are only forty minutes of dialogue. I think one of the areas where 2001
succeeds is in stimulating thoughts about man's destiny and role in the universe in the minds of people who in the normal
course of their lives would never have considered such matters. Here again, you've got the resemblance to music; an Alabama
truck driver, whose views in every other respect would be extremely narrow, is able to listen to a Beatles record on the same
level of appreciation and perception as a young Cambridge intellectual, because their emotions and subconscious are far more
similar than their intellects. The common bond is their subconscious emotional reaction; and I think that a film which can
communicate on this level can have a more profound spectrum of impact than any form of traditional verbal communication. The
problem with movies is that since the talkies the film industry has historically been conservative and word-oriented. The
three-act play has been the model. It's time to abandon the conventional view of the movie as an extension of the three-act
play. Too many people over thirty are still word-oriented rather than picture-oriented. For example, at one point in 2001 Dr. Floyd is asked where he's going and he replies, "I'm going to Clavius", which is a lunar crater.
Following that statement you have more than fifteen shots of Floyd's spacecraft approaching and landing on the moon, but one
critic expressed confusion because she thought Floyd's destination was a planet named Clavius. Young people, on the other
hand, who are more visually oriented due to their new television environment, had no such problems. Kids all know we went
to the moon. When you ask how they know they say, "Because we saw it." So you have the problem that some people are only listening
and not really paying attention with their eyes. Film is not theater - and until that basic lesson is learned I'm afraid we're
going to be shackled to the past and miss some of the greatest potentialities of the medium.
Did you deliberately try for ambiguity as opposed to
a specific meaning for any scene or image?
No, I didn't have to try for ambiguity; it was inevitable. And I think in a film like
2001, where each viewer brings his own emotions and perceptions to bear on the subject matter, a
certain degree of ambiguity is valuable, because it allows the audience to "fill in" the visual experience themselves. In
any case, once you're dealing on a nonverbal level, ambiguity is unavoidable. But it's the ambiguity of all art, of a fine
piece of music or a painting - you don't need written instructions by the composer or painter accompanying such works to "explain"
them. "Explaining" them contributes nothing but a superficial ""cultural" value which has no value except for critics and
teachers who have to earn a living. Reactions to art are always different because they are always deeply personal.
The final scenes of the film seemed more metaphorical
than realistic. Will you discuss them - or would that be part of the "road map" you're trying to avoid?
No, I don't mind discussing it, on the lowest level, that is, straightforward explanation
of the plot. You begin with an artifact left on earth four million years ago by extraterrestrial explorers who observed the
behavior of the man-apes of the time and decided to influence their evolutionary progression. Then you have a second artifact
buried deep on the lunar surface and programmed to signal word of man's first baby steps into the universe - a kind of cosmic
burglar alarm. And finally there's a third artifact placed in orbit around Jupiter and waiting for the time when man has reached
the outer rim of his own solar system. When the surviving astronaut, Bowman, ultimately reaches Jupiter, this artifact sweeps
him into a force field or star gate that hurls him on a journey through inner and outer space and finally transports him to
another part of the galaxy, where he's placed in a human zoo approximating a hospital terrestrial environment drawn out of
his own dreams and imagination. In a timeless state, his life passes from middle age to senescence to death. He is reborn,
an enhanced being, a star child, an angel, a superman, if you like, and returns to earth prepared for the next leap forward
of man's evolutionary destiny. That is what happens on the film's simplest level. Since an encounter with an advanced interstellar
intelligence would be incomprehensible within our present earthbound frames of reference, reactions to it will have elements
of philosophy and metaphysics that have nothing to do with the bare plot outline itself.
What are those areas of meaning?
They are the areas I prefer not to discuss because they are highly subjective and will
differ from viewer to viewer. In this sense, the film becomes anything the viewer sees in it. If the film stirs the emotions
and penetrates the subconscious of the viewer, if it stimulates, however inchoately, his mythological and religious yearnings
and impulses, then it has succeeded.
Why does 2001 seem so affirmative and religious a film? What has happened
to the tough, disillusioned, cynical director of The Killing, Spartacus, Paths of Glory, and Lolita, and the sardonic black humorist of
The God concept is at the heart of this film. It's unavoidable that it would be, once
you believe that the universe is seething with advanced forms of intelligent life. Just think about it for a moment. There
are a hundred billion stars in the galaxy and a hundred billion galaxies in the visible universe. Each star is a sun, like
our own, probably with planets around them. The evolution of life, it is widely believed, comes as an inevitable consequence
of a certain amount of time on a planet in a stable orbit which is not too hot or too cold. First comes chemical evolution
- chance rearrangements of basic matter, then biological evolution. Think of the kind of life that may have evolved on those
planets over the millennia, and think, too, what relatively giant technological strides man has made on earth in the six thousand
years of his recorded civilization - a period that is less than a single grain of sand in the cosmic hourglass. At a time
when man's distant evolutionary ancestors were just crawling out of the primordial ooze, there must have been civilizations
in the universe sending out their starships to explore the farthest reaches of the cosmos and conquering all the secrets of
nature. Such cosmic intelligences, growing in knowledge over the aeons, would be as far removed from man as we are from the
ants. They could be in instantaneous telepathic communication throughout the universe; they might have achieved total mastery
over matter so that they can telekinetically transport themselves instantly across billions of light years of space; in their
ultimate form they might shed the corporeal shell entirely and exist as a disembodied immortal consciousness throughout the
universe. Once you begin discussing such possibilities, you realize that the religious implications are inevitable, because
all the essential attributes of such extraterrestrial intelligences are the attributes we give to God. What we're really dealing
with here is, in fact, a scientific definition of God. And if these beings of pure intelligence ever did intervene in the
affairs of man, so far removed would their powers be from our own understanding. How would a sentient ant view the foot that
crushes his anthill - as the action of another being on a higher evolutionary scale than itself? Or as the divinely terrible
intercession of God?
Although 2001 dealt with the first human contact with an alien civilization,
we never did actually see an alien, though you communicated through the monoliths an experience of alien beings.
From the very outset of work on the film we all discussed means of photographically depicting
an extraterrestrial creature in a manner that would be as mind-boggling as the being itself. And it soon became apparent that
you cannot imagine the unimaginable. All you can do is try to represent it in an artistic manner that will convey something
of its quality. That's why we settled on the black monolith - which is, of course, in itself something of a Jungian archetype,
and also a pretty fair example of "minimal art".
Isn't a basic problem with science fiction films that
alien life always looks like some Creature from the Black Lagoon, a plastic rubber monster?
Yes, and that's one of the reasons we stayed away from the depiction of biological entities,
aside from the fact that truly advanced beings would probably have shed the chrysalis of a biological form at one stage of
their evolution. You cannot design a biological entity that doesn't look either overly humanoid or like the traditional Bug-Eyed
Monster of pulp science fiction.
The man-ape costumes in 2001 were impressive.
We spent an entire year trying to figure out how to make the ape-heads look convincing,
and not just like a conventional makeup job. We finally constructed an entire sub-skull of extremely light and flexible plastic,
to which we attached the equivalent of face muscles which pulled the lips back in a normal manner whenever the mouth was opened.
The mouth itself took a great deal of work - it had artificial teeth and an artificial tongue which the actors could manipulate
with tiny toggles to make the lips snarl in a lifelike fashion. Some of the masks even had built-in devices whereby the artificial
muscles in the cheeks and beneath the eyes could be moved. All the apes except for two baby chimps were men, and most of them
were dancers or mimes, which enabled them to move a little better than most movie apes.
Was the little girl Dr. Floyd telephoned from the orbital
satellite one of your daughters?
Yes, my youngest girl, Vivian. She was six then. We didn't give her any billing, a fact
I hope she won't decide to take up with me when she's older.
Why was Martin Balsam's voice as HAL, the computer,
redubbed by Douglas Rain, the Canadian actor?
Well, we had some difficulty deciding exactly what HAL should sound like, and Marty just
sounded a little bit too colloquially American, whereas Rain had the kind of bland mid-Atlantic accent we felt was right for
Some critics have detected in HAL's wheedling voice
an undertone of homosexuality. Was that intended?
No. I think it's become something of a parlor game for some people to read that kind of
thing into everything they encounter. HAL was a "straight" computer.
Why was the computer more emotional than the human
This was a point that seemed to fascinate some negative critics, who felt that it was
a failing of this section of the film that there was more interest in HAL than in the astronauts. In fact, of course, the
computer is the central character of this segment of the story. If HAL had been a human being, it would have been obvious
to everyone that he had the best part, and was the most interesting character; he took all the initiatives, and all the problems
related to and were caused by him. Some critics seemed to feel that because we were successful in making a voice, a camera
lens, and a light come alive as a character this necessarily meant that the human characters failed dramatically. In fact,
I believe that Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, the astronauts, reacted appropriately and realistically to their circumstances.
One of the things we were trying to convey in this part of the film is the reality of a world populated - as ours soon will
be - by machine entities who have as much, or more, intelligence as human beings, and who have the same emotional potentialities
in their personalities as human beings. We wanted to stimulate people to think what it would be like to share a planet with
such creatures. In the specific case of HAL, he had an acute emotional crisis because he could not accept evidence of his
own fallibility. The idea of neurotic computers is not uncommon - most advanced computer theorists believe that once you have
a computer which is more intelligent than man and capable of learning by experience, it's inevitable that it will develop
an equivalent range of emotional reactions - fear, love, hate, envy, etc. Such a machine could eventually become as incomprehensible
as a human being, and could, of course, have a nervous breakdown - as HAL did in the film.
Since 2001 is a visual experience, what happened when your collaborator,
Arthur C. Clarke, finally put the screenplay down in black and white in the novelization of the film?
It's a totally different kind of experience, of course, and there are a number of differences
between the book and the movie. The novel, for example, attempts to explain things much more explicitly than the film does,
which is inevitable in a verbal medium. The novel came about after we did a 130-page prose treatment of the film at the very
outset. This initial treatment was subsequently changed in the screenplay, and the screenplay in turn was altered during the
making of the film. But Arthur took all the existing material, plus an impression of some of the rushes, and wrote the novel.
As a result, there's a difference between the novel and the film.
To take one specific, in the novel the black monolith
found by curious man-apes three million years ago does explicit things which it doesn't do in the film. In the movie, it has
an apparent catalytic effect which enables the ape to discover how to use a bone as a weapon-tool. In the novel, the slab
becomes milky and luminous and we're told it's a testing and teaching device used by higher intelligences to determine if
the apes are worth helping. Was that in the original screenplay? When was it cut out of the film?
Yes, it was in the original treatment but I eventually decided that to depict the monolith
in such an explicit manner would be to run the risk of making it appear no more than an advanced television teaching machine.
You can get away with something so literal in print, but I felt that we could create a far more powerful and magical effect
by representing it as we did in the film.
Do you feel that the novel, written so explicitly,
in some way diminishes the mysterious aspect of the film?
I think it gives you the opportunity of seeing two attempts in two different mediums,
print and film, to express the same basic concept and story. In both cases, of course, the treatment must accommodate to the
necessities of the medium. I think that the divergencies between the two works are interesting. Actually, it was an unprecedented
situation for someone to do an essentially original literary work based on glimpses and segments of a film he had not yet
seen in its entirety. In fact, nobody saw the film in its final form until eight days before we held the first press screening
in April 1968, and the first time I saw the film completed with a proper soundtrack was one week before it opened. I completed
the portion of the film in which we used actors in June 1966 and from then until the first week of March 1968 I spent most
of my time working on the 205 special effects shots. The final shot was actually cut into the negative at MGM's Hollywood
studios only days before the film was ready to open. There was nothing intentional about the fact that the film wasn't shown
until the last minute. It just wasn't finished.
Why did you cut scenes from the film after it opened?
I always try to look at a completed film as if I had never seen it before. I usually have
several weeks to run the film, alone and with audiences. Only in this way can you judge length. I've always done precisely
that with my previous films; for example, after a screening of Dr. Strangelove I cut out a final scene in which the Russians
and Americans in the War Room engage in a free-for-all fight with custard pies. I decided it was farce and not consistent
with the satiric tone of the rest of the film. So there was nothing unusual about the cutting I did on 2001,
except for the eleventh-hour way in which I had to do it.
Strangelove was based on a serious book, Red Alert. At what point did you decide to make
it a comedy?
I started work on the screenplay with every intention of making the film a serious treatment
of the problem of accidental nuclear war. As I kept trying to imagine the way in which things would really happen, ideas kept
coming to me which I would discard because they were so ludicrous. I kept saying to myself: "I can't do this. People will
laugh." But after a month or so I began to realize that all the things I was throwing out were the things which were most
truthful. After all, what could be more absurd than the very idea of two mega-powers willing to wipe out all human life because
of an accident, spiced up by political differences that will seem as meaningless to people a hundred years from now as the
theological conflicts of the Middle Ages appear to us today? So it occurred to me that I was approaching the project in the
wrong way. The only way to tell the story was as a black comedy or, better, a nightmare comedy, where the things you laugh
at most are really the heart of the paradoxical postures that make a nuclear war possible. Most of the humor in Strangelove
arises from the depiction of everyday human behavior in a nightmarish situation, like the Russian premier on the hot line
who forgets the telephone number of his general staff headquarters and suggests the American President try Omsk information,
or the reluctance of a U.S. officer to let a British officer smash open a Coca-Cola machine for change to phone the President
about a crisis on the SAC base because of his conditioning about the sanctity of private property.
When you read a book like Red Alert which you're interested in turning
into a film, do you right away say to yourself, this character should be played by such and such an actor?
Not usually. I first try to define the character fully as he will appear in the film and
then try to think of the proper actor to play the role. When I'm in the process of casting a part I sit down with a list of
actors I know. Of course, once you've narrowed the list down to several possibilities for each part then it becomes a question
of who's currently available, and how the actor you choose to play one part will affect the people you're considering for
How do you get a good performance from your actors?
The director's job is to know what emotional statement he wants a character to convey
in his scene or his line, and to exercise taste and judgment in helping the actor give his best possible performance. By knowing
the actor's personality and gauging his strengths and weaknesses a director can help him to overcome specific problems and
realize his potential. But I think this aspect of directing is generally overemphasized. The director's taste and imagination
play a much more crucial role in the making of a film. Is it meaningful? Is it believable? Is it interesting? Those are the
questions that have to be answered several hundred times a day. It's rare for a bad performance to result from an actor ignoring
everything a director tells him. In fact it's very often just the opposite. After all, the director is the actor's sole audience
for the months it takes to shoot a film, and an actor would have to possess supreme self-confidence and supreme contempt for
the director to consistently defy his wishes. I think you'll find that most disappointing performances are the mutual fault
of both the actor and the director.
Some directors don't let their actors see the daily
rushes. Do you?
Yes. I've encountered very few actors who are so insecure or self-destructive that they're
upset by the rushes or find their self-confidence undermined. Actually, most actors profit by seeing their rushes and examining
them self- critically. In any case, a professional actor who's bothered by his own rushes just won't turn up to see them -
particularly in my films, since we run the rushes at lunch time and unless an actor is really interested, he won't cut his
lunch to half an hour.
On the first day of shooting on the set, how do you
establish that rapport or fear or whatever relationship you want with your actors to keep them in the right frame of mind
for the three months you'll be working with them?
Certainly not through fear. To establish a good working relationship I think all the actor
has to know is that you respect his talent enough to want him in your film. He's obviously aware of that as long as you've
hired him and he hasn't been foisted on you by the studio or the producer.
Do you rehearse at all?
There's really a limit to what you can do with rehearsals. They're very useful, of course,
but I find that you can't rehearse effectively unless you have the physical reality of the set to work with. Unfortunately,
sets are practically never ready until the last moment before you start shooting, and this significantly cuts down on your
rehearsal time. Some actors, of course, need rehearsals more than others. Actors are essentially emotion-producing instruments,
and some are always tuned and ready while others will reach a fantastic pitch on one take and never equal it again, no matter
how hard they try. In Strangelove, for example, George Scott could do his scenes equally well take
after take, whereas Peter Sellers was always incredibly good on one take, which was never equaled.
At what point do you know what take you're going to
On some occasions the take is so obviously superior you can tell immediately. But particularly
when you're dealing with dialogue scenes, you have to look them over again and select portions of different takes and make
the best use of them. The greatest amount of time in editing is this process of studying the takes and making notes and struggling
to decide which segments you want to use; this takes ten times more time and effort than the actual cutting, which is a very
quick process. Purely visual action scenes, of course, present far less of a problem; it's generally the dialogue scenes,
where you've got several long takes printed on each angle on different actors, that are the most time-consuming to cut.
How much cutting are you responsible for, and how much
is done by somebody you trust as an editor?
Nothing is cut without me. I'm in there every second, and for all practical purposes I
cut my own film; I mark every frame, select each segment, and have everything done exactly the way I want it. Writing, shooting,
and editing are what you have to do to make a film.
Where did you learn film editing? You started out as
a still photographer.
Yes, but after I quit LOOK in 1950 - where I had been a staff
photographer for five years, ever since I left high school - I took a crack at films and made two documentaries, Day
of the Fight, about prize fighter Walter Cartier, and The Flying Padre, a silly thing about
a priest in the Southwest who flew to his isolated parishes in a small airplane. I did all the work on those two films, and
all the work on my first two feature films, Fear and Desire and Killer's Kiss.
I was cameraman, director, editor, assistant editor, sound effects man - you name it, I did it. And it was invaluable experience,
because being forced to do everything myself I gained a sound and comprehensive grasp of all the technical aspects of filmmaking.
How old were you when you decided to make movies?
I was around twenty-one. I'd had my job with LOOK since I was
seventeen, and I'd always been interested in films, but it never actually occurred to me to make a film on my own until I
had a talk with a friend from high school, Alex Singer, who wanted to be a director himself (and has subsequently become one)
and had plans for a film version of the Iliad. Alex was working as an office boy for "The March of Time" in those days, and
he told me they spent forty thousand dollars making a one-reel documentary. A bit of simple calculation indicated that I could
make a one-reel documentary for about fifteen hundred. That's what gave me the financial confidence to make Day
of the Fight. I was rather optimistic about expenses; the film cost me thirty-nine hundred. I sold it to RKO-Pathe
for four thousand dollars, a hundred-dollar profit. They told me that was the most they'd ever paid for a short. I then discovered
that "The March of Time" itself was going out of business. I made one more short for RKO, The Flying Padre,
on which I just barely broke even. It was at this point that I formally quit my job at Look to work full time on filmmaking.
I then managed to raise ten thousand dollars, and shot my first feature film, Fear and Desire.
What was your own experience making your first feature film?
Fear and Desire
was made in the San Gabriel Mountains outside Los Angeles. I was the camera operator and director and just about everything
else. Our "crew" consisted of three Mexican laborers who carried all the equipment. The film was shot in 35mm without a soundtrack
and then dubbed by a post-synchronized technique. The dubbing was a big mistake on my part; the actual shooting cost of the
film was nine thousand dollars but because I didn't know what I was doing with the soundtrack it cost me another thirty thousand.
There were other things I did expensively and foolishly, because I just didn't have enough experience to know the proper and
economical approach. Fear and Desire played the art house circuits and some of the reviews were amazingly
good, but it's not a film I remember with any pride, except for the fact it was finished.
After Fear and Desire failed to pay back the investors, how
did you get the money to make your next film, Killer's Kiss?
Fear and Desire
was financed mainly by my friends and relatives, whom I've since paid back, needless to say. Different people gave me backing
for Killer's Kiss, which also lost half of its forty-thousand-dollar budget. I've subsequently repaid
those backers also. After Killer's Kiss I met Jim Harris, who was interested in getting into films,
and we formed a production company together. Our first property was The Killing, based on Lionel
White's story The Clean Break. This time we could afford good actors, such as Sterling Hayden, and
a professional crew. The budget was larger than the earlier films - $320,000 - but still very low for a Hollywood production.
Our next film was Paths of Glory, which nobody in Hollywood wanted to do at all, even though we had
a very low budget. Finally Kirk Douglas saw the script and liked it. Once he agreed to appear in the film United Artists was
willing to make it.
How'd you get that great performance out of Douglas?
A director can't get anything out of an actor that he doesn't already have. You can't
start an acting school in the middle of making a film. Kirk is a good actor.
What did you do after Paths of Glory?
I did two scripts that no one wanted. A year went by and my finances were rather rocky.
I received no salary for The Killing or Paths of Glory but had worked on
100 per cent deferred salary - and since the films didn't make any money, I had received nothing from either of them. I subsisted
on loans from my partner, Jim Harris. Next I spent six months working on a screenplay for a Western, One-Eyed
Jacks, with Marlon Brando and Calder Willingham. Our relationship ended amicably a few weeks before Marlon began directing
the film himself. By the time I had left Brando I had spent two years doing nothing. At this point, I was hired to direct
Spartacus with Kirk Douglas. It was the only one of my films over which I did not have complete control;
although I was the director, mine was only one of many voices to which Kirk listened. I am disappointed in the film. It had
everything but a good story.
What do you consider the director's role?
A director is a kind of idea and taste machine; a movie is a series of creative and technical
decisions, and it's the director's job to make the right decisions as frequently as possible. Shooting a movie is the worst
milieu for creative work ever devised by man. It is a noisy, physical apparatus; it is difficult to concentrate - and you
have to do it from eight-thirty to six-thirty, five days a week. It's not an environment an artist would ever choose to work
in. The only advantage is has is that you must do it, and you can't procrastinate.
How did you learn to actually make the films, since
you'd had no experience?
Well, my experience in photography was very helpful. For my two documentaries I'd used
a small 35-mm hand camera called an Eyemo, a daylight loading camera which was very simple to operate. The first time I used
a Mitchell camera was on Fear and Desire. I went to the Camera Equipment Company, at 1600 Broadway,
and the owner, Bert Zucker, spent a Saturday morning showing me how to load and operate it. So that was the extent of my formal
training in movie camera technique.
As a beginner, you mean you just walked cold into a
rental outfit and had them give you a cram course in using movie equipment?
Bert Zucker, who has subsequently been killed in an airline crash, was a young man, in
his early thirties, and he was very sympathetic. Anyway, it was a sensible thing for them to do. I was paying for the equipment.
At that time I also learned how to do cutting. Once somebody showed me how to use a Movieola and synchronizer and how to make
a splice I had no trouble at all. The technical fundamentals of moviemaking are not difficult.
What kind of movies did you go to in those days?
I used to want to see almost anything. In fact, the bad films were what really encouraged
me to start out on my own. I'd keep seeing lousy films and saying to myself, "I don't know anything about moviemaking but
I couldn't do anything worse than this."
You had technical skills and audacity, but what made
you think you could get a good performance out of an actor?
Well, in the beginning I really didn't get especially good performances, either in Fear and Desire or Killer's Kiss. They were both amateurish films. But I did learn
a great deal from making them, experience which helped me greatly in my subsequent films. The best way to learn is to do -
and this is something few people manage to get the opportunity to try. I was also helped a great deal by studying Stanislavski's
books, as well as an excellent book about him, Stanislavski Directs, which contains a great deal
of highly illustrative material on how he worked with actors. Between those books and the painful lessons I learned from my
own mistakes I accumulated the basic experience needed to start to do good work.
Did you also read film theory books?
I read Eisenstein's books at the time, and to this day I still don't really understand
them. The most instructive book on film aesthetics I came across was Pudovkin's Film Technique, which
simply explained that editing was the aspect of film art form which was completely unique, and which separated it from all
other art forms. The ability to show a simple action like a man cutting wheat from a number of angles in a brief moment, to
be able to see it in a special way not possible except through film - that this is what it was all about. This is obvious,
of course, but it's so important it cannot be too strongly stressed. Pudovkin gives many clear examples of how good film editing
enhances a scene, and I would recommend his book to anyone seriously interested in film technique.
But you weren't impressed by Eisenstein's books. What
do you think of his films?
Well, I have a mixed opinion. Eisenstein's greatest achievement is the beautiful visual
composition of his shots, and his editing. But as far as content is concerned, his films are silly, his actors are wooden
and operatic. I sometimes suspect that Eisenstein's acting style derives from his desire to keep the actors framed within
his compositions for as long as possible; they move very slowly, as if under water. Interesting to note, a lot of his work
was being done concurrently with Stanislavski's work. Actually, anyone seriously interested in comparative film techniques
should study the differences in approach of two directors, Eisenstein and Chaplin. Eisenstein is all form and no content,
whereas Chaplin is content and no form. Of course, a director's style is partly the result of the manner in which he imposes
his mind on the semicontrollable conditions that exist on any given day - the responsiveness and talent of actors, the realism
of the set, time factors, even weather.
You've been quoted as saying that Max Ophuls' films
fascinated you when you were starting out as a director.
Yes, he did some brilliant work. I particularly admired his fluid camera techniques. I
saw a great many films at that time at the Museum of Modern Art and in movie theaters, and I learned far more by seeing films
than from ready heavy tomes on film aesthetics.
If you were nineteen and starting out again, would
you go to film school?
The best education in film is to make one. I would advise any neophyte director to try
to make a film by himself. A three-minute short will teach him a lot. I know that all the things I did at the beginning were,
in microcosm, the things I'm doing now as a director and producer. There are a lot of noncreative aspects to filmmaking which
have to be overcome, and you will experience them all when you make even the simplest film: business, organization, taxes,
etc., etc. It is rare to be able to have an uncluttered, artistic environment when you make a film, and being able to accept
this is essential. The point to stress is that anyone seriously interested in making a film should find as much money as he
can as quickly as he can and go out and do it. And this is no longer as difficult as it once was. When I began making movies
as an independent in the early 1950s I received a fair amount of publicity because I was something of a freak in an industry
dominated by a handful of huge studios. Everyone was amazed that it could be done at all. But anyone can make a movie who
has a little knowledge of cameras and tape recorders, a lot of ambition and - hopefully - talent. It's gotten down to the
pencil and paper level. We're really on the threshold of a revolutionary new era in film.
The Film Director as Superstar
Doubleday and Company: Garden City,
New York, 1970
1968 PLAYBOY INTERVIEW
Playboy: Speaking of what its all about - if you'll allow us to return to the philosophical interpretation of 2001, would
you agree with those critics who call it a profoundly religious film?
Kubrick: I will say that the God concept is at the heart of 2001 but not any traditional. anthropomorphic image of God. I
don't believe in any of Earth's monotheistic religions. But I do believe that one can construct an intriguing scientific definition
of God. Once you accept the fact that there are approximately 100 billion stars in our galaxy alone, that each star is a life-giving
sun and that there are approximately 100 billion galaxies in just the visible universe. Given a planet in a stable orbit,
not too hot and not too cold, and given a few billion years of chance chemical reactions created by the interaction of a sun's
energy on the planet's chemicals, it's fairly certain that life in one form or another will eventually emerge. It's reasonable
to assume that there must be, in fact, countless billions of such planets where biological life has arisen. And the odds of
some proportion of such life developing intelligence are high. Now, the sun is by no means an old star. And its planets are
mere children in cosmic age. So it seems likely that there are billions of planets in the universe not only where intelligent
life is on a lower scale than man but other billions where it is approximately equal and others still where it is hundreds
of thousands of millions of years in advance of us. When you think of the giant technological strides that man has made in
a few millennia - less than a microsecond in the chronology of the universe - can you imagine the evolutionary development
that much older life forms have taken? They may have progressed from biological species, which are fragile shells for the
mind at best, into immortal machine entities - and then, over innumerable eons, they could emerge from the chrysalis of matter
transformed into beings of pure energy and spirit. Their potentialities would be limitless and their intelligence ungraspable
Playboy: Even assuming the cosmic evolutionary path you suggest, what has this to do with the nature of God?
Kubrick: Everything - because these beings would be gods to the billions of less advanced races in the universe, just as man
would appear a god to an ant that somehow comprehended man's existence. They would possess the twin attributes of all deities-omniscience
and omnipotence. These entities might be in telepathic communication throughout the cosmos and thus be aware of everything
that occurs, tapping every intelligent mind as effortlessly as we switch on the radio: they might not be limited by the speed
of light and their presence could penetrate to the farthest corners of the universe: they might possess complete mastery over
matter and energy: and in their final evolutionary stage, they might develop into an integrated collective immortal consciousness.
They would be incomprehensible to us except as gods: and if the tendrils of their consciousness ever brushed men's minds,
it is only the hand of God we could grasp as an explanation.
Playboy: If such creatures do exist, why should they be interested in man?
Kubrick: They may not be. But why should man be interested in microbes? The motives of such beings would be as alien to us
as their intelligence.
Playboy: In 2001, such incorporeal creatures seem to manipulate our destinies and control our evolution, though whether for
good or evil- or both - or neither - remains unclear. Do you really believe it's possible that man is a cosmic plaything of
Kubrick: I don't really believe anything about them: how can I? Mere speculation on the possibility of their existence is
sufficiently overwhelming, without attempting to decipher their motives. The important point is that all the standard attributes
assigned to God in our history could equally well be the characteristics of biological entities who billions of years ago
were at a stage of development similar to man's own and evolved into something as remote from man as man is remote from the
primordial ooze from which he first emerged.
Playboy: In this cosmic phylogeny you've described, isn't it possible that there might be forms of intelligent life on an
even higher scale than these entities of pure energy - perhaps as far removed from them as they are from us?
Kubrick: Of course there could be: in an infinite, eternal universe, the point is that anything is possible, and its unlikely
that we can even begin to scratch the surface of the full range of possibilities. But at a time 1968] when man is preparing
to set foot on the Moon, I think it's necessary to open up our Earthbound minds to such speculation. No one knows what's waiting
for us in the universe. I think it was a prominent astronomer who wrote recently. Sometimes I think we are alone, and sometimes
I think we're not. In either case, the idea is quite staggering.
Playboy: You said there must be billions of planets sustaining life that is considerably more advanced than man but has not
yet evolved into non- or suprabiological forms. What do you believe would be the effect on humanity if the Earth were contacted
by a race of such ungodlike but technologically superior beings?
Kubrick: There's a considerable difference of opinion on this subject among scientists and philosophers. Some contend that
encountering a highly advanced civilization-even one whose technology is essentially comprehensible to us-would produce a
traumatic cultural shock effect on man by divesting him of his smug ethnocentrism and shattering the delusion that he is the
center of the universe. Carl Jung summed up this position when he wrote of contact with advanced extraterrestrial life that
the “reins would be torn from our hands and we would, as a tearful old medicine man once said to me, find ourselves
'without dreams’, we would find our intellectual and spiritual aspirations so outmoded as to leave us completely paralyzed."
I personally don't accept this position, but it's one that's widely held and can't be summarily dismissed.
In 1960, for example, the Committee for Long Range Studies of the Brookings Institution prepared a report for the
National Aeronautics and Space Administration warning that even indirect contact - i.e. alien artifacts that might possibly
be discovered through our space activities on the Moon, Mars, or Venus, or via radio contact with an interstellar civilization
- could cause severe psychological dislocations. The study cautioned that "Anthropological files contain many examples of
societies, sure of their place in the universe, which have disintegrated when they have had to associate with previously unfamiliar
societies espousing different ideas and different life ways: others that survived such an experience usually did so by paying
the price of changes in values and attitudes and behavior." It concluded that since intelligent life might be discovered at
any time, and that since the consequences of such a discovery are "presently unpredictable.” it was advisable that the
Government initiate continuing studies on the psychological and intellectual impact of confrontation with extraterrestrial
life. What action was taken on this report , I don't know, but I assume that such studies are now under way. However, while
not discounting the possible adverse emotional impact on some people, I would personally tend to view such contact with a
tremendous amount of excitement and enthusiasm. Rather than shattering our society. I think it could immeasurably enrich it.
Another positive point is that it's a virtual certainty that all intelligent life at one stage in its technological
development must have discovered nuclear energy. This is obviously the watershed of any civilization: does it find a way to
use nuclear power without destruction and harness it for peaceful purposes, or does it annihilate itself? I would guess that
any civilization that has existed for 1000 years after its discovery of atomic energy has devised a means of accommodating
itself to the bomb, and this could prove tremendously reassuring to us-as well as give us specific guidelines for our own
survival. In any case, as far as cultural shock is concerned, my impression is that the attention span of most people is quite
brief: after a week or two of great excitement and oversaturation in newspapers and on television. the public's interest would
drop off and the United Nations, or whatever world body we then had, would settle down to discussions with the aliens.
Playboy: You're assuming that extraterrestrials would be benevolent. Why?
Kubrick: Why should a vastly superior race bother to harm or destroy us? If an intelligent ant suddenly traced a message in
the sand at my feet reading "I am sentient: let’s talk things over,” I doubt very much that I would rush to grind
him under my heel. Even if they weren't superintelligent, though, but merely more advanced than mankind, I would tend to lean
more toward the benevolence, or at least indifference, theory. Since it's most unlikely that we would be visited from within
our own solar system, any society capable of traversing light-years of space would have to have an extremely high degree of
control over matter and energy. Therefore, what possible motivation for hostility would they have? To steal our gold or oil
or coal? It's hard to think of any nasty intention that would justify the long and arduous journey from another star.
Playboy: You'll admit, though, that extraterrestrials are commonly portrayed in comic strips and cheap science-fiction films
as bug-eyed monsters scuttling hungrily- after curvaceous Earth maidens.
Kubrick: This probably dates back to the pulp science-fiction magazines of the Twenties and Thirties and perhaps even to the
Orson Welles Martian-invasion broadcast in 1938 and the resultant mass hysteria, which is always advanced in support of the
hypothesis that contact would cause severe cultural shock. In a sense, the lines with which Welles opened that broadcast set
the tone for public consideration of extraterrestrial life for years to come. I've memorized them: "Across an immense ethereal
gulf, minds that are to our minds as ours are to the beasts in the jungle-intellects vast, cool and unsympathetic regarded
this Earth with envious eyes and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.” Anything we can imagine about such
other life forms is possible, of course. You could have psychotic civilizations, or decadent civilizations that have elevated
pain to an aesthetic and might covet humans as gladiators or torture objects, or civilizations that might want us for zoos,
or scientific experimentation, or slaves, or even for food. While I am appreciably more optimistic, we just can't be sure
what their motivations will be.
I'm interested in the argument of Professor Freeman Dyson of Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, who contends
that it would be a mistake to expect that all potential space visitors will be altruistic, or to believe that then would have
any ethical or moral concepts comparable to mankind's. Dyson writes, if I remember him correctly, that "Intelligence may indeed
be a benign influence creating isolated groups of philosopher kings far apart in the heavens," but it's just as likely that
"Intelligence may be a cancer of purposeless technological exploitation, sweeping across a galaxy as irresistibly as it has
swept across our own planet." Dyson concludes that it's "just as unscientific to impute to remote intelligence wisdom and
serenity as it is to impute to them irrational and murderous impulses. We must be prepared for either possibility and conduct
our searches accordingly."
This is why some scientists caution, now that we're attempting to intercept radio signals from other solar systems,
that if we do receive a message we should wait awhile before answering it. But we've been transmitting radio and television
signals for so many years that any advanced civilization could have received the emissions long ago. So in the final analysis,
we really don't have much choice in this matter: they're either going to contact us or they're not, and if they do we'll have
nothing to say about their benevolence or malevolence.
Even if they prove to be malevolent, their arrival would have at least one useful by-product in that the nations of
the Earth would stop squabbling among themselves and forge a common front to defend the planet. I think it was Andre Maurois
who suggested many years ago that the best way to realize world peace would be to stage a fare threat from outer space: it's
not a bad idea. But I certainly don't believe we should view contact with extraterrestrial life forms with foreboding, or
hesitate to visit other planets for fear of what we may find there. If others don't contact us, we must contact them: its
Playboy: You indicated earlier that intelligent life is extremely unlikely elsewhere within our solar system. Why?
Kubrick: From what we know of the other planets in this system, it appears improbable that intelligence exists, because of
surface temperatures and atmospheres that are inhospitable to higher life forms. Improbable, but not impossible. I will admit
that there are certain tantalizing clues pointing in the other direction. For example, while the consensus of scientific opinion
dismisses the possibility of intelligent life on Mars - as opposed to plant or low orders of organic life-there are some eminently
respectable dissenters. Dr. Frank B. Salisbury, professor of plant physiology at Utah State University, has contended in a
study in Science magazine that if vegetation exists on a planet, then it is logical that there will be higher orders of life
to feed on it. "From there," he writes, "it is but one more step-granted. a big one-to intelligent beings."
Salisbury also points out that a number of astronomers have observed strange flashes of light, possibly explosions
of great magnitude, on Mars' surface, some of which emit clouds: and he suggests that these could actually be nuclear explosions.
Another intriguing facet of Mars is the peculiar orbits of its twin satellites. Phobos and Deimos, first discovered in 1877
- the same year, incidentally, that Schiaparelli discovered his famous but still elusive Martian "canals." One eminent astronomer,
Dr. Josif Shklovsky, chairman of the department of radio astronomy at the Shternberg Astronomical Institute in Moscow, has
propounded the theory that both moons are artificial space satellites launched by the Martians thousands of years ago in an
effort to escape the dying surface of their planet. He bases this theory on the unique orbits of the two moons, which, unlike
the 31 other satellites in our solar system, orbit faster than the revolution of their host planet. The orbit of Phobos is
also deteriorating in an inexplicable manner and dragging the satellite progressively closer to Mars' surface. Both of these
circumstances, Shklovsky contends, make sense only if the two moons are hollow.
Shklovsky believes that the satellites are the last remnants of an extinct ancient Martian civilization: but Professor
Salisbury goes a step further and suggests that they were launched within the past hundred years. Noting that the moons were
discovered by a relatively small-power telescope in 1877 and not detected by a much more powerful telescope observing Mars
in 1862 when the planet was appreciably nearer Earth-he asks: "Should we attribute the failure of 1862 to imperfections in
the existing telescope, or may we imagine that the satellites were launched into orbit between 1862 and 1877?" There are no
answers here, of course, only questions, but it is fascinating speculation. On balance, however, I would have to say that
the weight of available evidence dictates against intelligent life on Mars.
Playboy: How about possibilities, if not the probabilities, of intelligent life on the other planets?
Kubrick: Most scientists and astronomers rule out life on the outer planets since their surface temperatures are thousands
of degrees either above or below zero and their atmospheres would be poisonous. I suppose it's possible that life could evolve
on such planets with, say. a liquid ammonia or methane base, but it doesn't appear too likely. As far as Venus goes, the Mariner
probes indicate that the surface temperature of the planet is approximately 800 degrees Fahrenheit, which would deny the chemical
basis for molecular development of life. And there could be no indigenous intelligent life on the Moon, because of the total
lack of atmosphere-no life as we know it, in any case: though I suppose that intelligent rocks or crystals, or statues, with
a silicone life base are not really impossible, or even conscious gaseous matter or swarms of sentient electric particles.
You'd get no technology from such creatures, but if their intelligence could control matter, why would they need it? There
could be nothing about them, however, even remotely humanoid - a form that would appear to be an eminently practicable universal
Kubrick Tells What Makes A Clockwork Orange Tick
by Bernard Weintraub (1972)
LONDON, Jan. 3
Stanley Kubrick grew up on the Grand Concourse and 196th Street in the Bronx, attending
Taft High School with some infrequency but eagerly showing up at the Loew's Paradise and R.K.O. Fordham twice a week to view
the double features.
"One of the important things about seeing run-of-the-mill Hollywood films eight times
a week was that many of them were so bad", the 43-year-old filmmaker said. "Without even beginning to understand what the
problems of making films were, I was taken with the impression that I could not do a film any worse than the ones I was seeing.
I also felt I could, in fact, do them a lot better."
Few critics and moviegoers would dispute this. As the creator of Paths
of Glory, Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001:
A Space Odyssey and now A Clockwork Orange, Mr. Kubrick has firmly placed himself
in the highest rank of international filmmakers. Last week the New York Film Critics named A Clockwork
Orange the best movie of the year, and Mr. Kubrick was voted best director.
Mr. Kubrick now lives in a sprawling home in Borehamwood, 30 minutes out of London, with
his third wife, Christiane, an artist, and their three daughters, together with seven cats and three golden retrievers. The
house, enclosed by a brick wall, also contains the director's offices and editing facilities.
"It's very pleasant, very peaceful, very civilized, here", Mr. Kubrick said in an interview.
"London is, in the best sense, the way New York must have been in about 1910. I have to live where I make my films and, as
it has worked out, I have spent most of my time during the last 10 years in London."
Mr. Kubrick discusses his work - and his career - with some difficulty. He speaks gently
and unaffectedly, with a New York accent, but remains tense and somewhat distracted.
At a restaurant near his home, he sat down wearing a heavy windbreaker, polished off his
lunch in 15 minutes, then absently removed the coat. He relaxed slowly and discussed A Clockwork Orange,
which was taken from the chilling novel by Anthony Burgess.
"The book was given to me by Terry Southern during one of the very busy periods of the
making of 2001", he recalled. "I just put it to one side and forgot about it for a year
and a half. Then one day I picked it up and read it. The book had an immediate impact."
"I was excited by everything about it, the plot, the ideas, the characters and, of course,
the language. Added to which, the story was of manageable size in terms of adapting it for films."
The film itself is a merciless vision of the near-future. Roving gangs rape, kill, maim
and steal. Citizens live in a vandalized pop art culture, gaudy, icy and filthy. Politicians and the police are vicious. The
film's central character, Alex (Malcolm McDowell), is transformed by scientists from an underworld tough to a defenseless
model citizen only to be resurrected, at the end, to his savage original state by the "good" forces.
"The story functions, of course, on several levels, political, sociological, philosophical
and, what's most important, on a kind of dreamlike psychological-symbolic level", Mr. Kubrick said.
"Alex is a character who by every logical and rational consideration should be completely
unsympathetic, and possibly even abhorrent to the audience", he went on. "And yet in the same way that Richard III gradually
undermines your disapproval of his evil ways, Alex does the same thing and draws the audience into his own vision of life.
This is the phenomenon of the story that produces the most enjoyable and surprising artistic illumination in the minds of
"I think an audience watching a film or a play is in a state very similar to dreaming,
and that the dramatic experience becomes a kind of controlled dream", he said. "But the important point here is that the film
communicates on a subconscious level, and the audience responds to the basic shape of the story on a subconscious level, as
it responds to a dream."
"On this level, Alex symbolizes man in his natural state, the way he would be if society
did not impose its 'civilizing' processes upon him."
"What we respond to subconsciously is Alex's guiltless sense of freedom to kill and rape,
and to be our savage natural selves, and it is in this glimpse of the true nature of man that the power of the story derives."
As an artist, Mr. Kubrick has a point of view that is undeniably bleak. "One of the most
dangerous fallacies which has influenced a great deal of political and philosophical thinking is that man is essentially good,
and that it is society which makes him bad", he said. "Rousseau transferred original sin from man to society, and this view
has importantly contributed to what I believe has become a crucially incorrect premise on which to base moral and political
A film craftsman who associates say is obsessed by his work, Mr. Kubrick rarely goes to
parties or takes vacations. (His last one was in 1961 when he completed Lolita.) Characteristically,
he is now spending days and nights checking prints of A Clockwork Orange, and expects to
view about 50 in the next few months as the film is released around the world.
"The laboratory is quite capable of making dreadful mistakes", said the director, who
was a KOOK magazine photographer at 17. "Just the other night I saw Paths
of Glory on television, and the lab had printed several reels a word out of synchronization. Printing machines
can make the print too dark, too light or the wrong colors. There are many variables involved."
Discussing his role as a director Mr. Kubrick said: "In terms of working with actors,
a director's job more closely resembles that of a novelist than of a Svengali. One assumes that one hires actors who are great
virtuosos. It is too late to start running an acting class in front of the cameras, and essentially what the director must
do is to provide the right ideas for the scene, the right adverb, the right adjective."
"The director must always be the arbiter of esthetic taste", he added. "The questions
always arise: Is it believable, is it interesting, is it appropriate? Only the director can decide this."
Mr. Kubrick said that film criticism, good or bad, rarely affected him. "No reviewer has
ever illuminated any aspect of my work for me", he observed.
The director said that his next film will deal with Napoleon, but that someday he hopes
to do a film in New York. "I would like to capture some of the visual impressions I have of the Bronx and Manhattan", he said.
"I love the city - at least I love the city that it used to be."
The New York Times, January 04, 1972
Nice Boy From the Bronx?
by Craig McGregor (1972)
So what is a nice Jewish boy from The Bronx like Stanley Kubrick doing making bizarre
films like A Clockwork Orange? Well, says Stanley, everybody starts off being a nice boy
from somewhere. He smiles. He has a good sense of humor. He is eating halibut in a restaurant, he is wearing his habitual
drab olive flak jacket, and with his brooding, bearded face he looks not unlike the Napoleon he is going to make his next
movie about. He doesn't look like a genius, no apocalyptic lumina haloes his head, and with his soft New York accent he could
almost still be that mythical nice boy from the Bronx.
But by the time you're 43, and Movie Director of the Year, and a Cult Figure as well,
you change. You live in a big manor house with a high wall around it, and you drive a Mercedes, and communicate through a
radio-telephone, and what you do see of the real world you often don't like; and so you end up, years later, making a movie
like A Clockwork Orange: a macabre, simplistic, chillingly pessimistic film whose main themes
are rape, violence, sexual sadism, brutality, and the eternal savagery of man.
"Man isn't a noble savage, he's an ignoble savage", says Kubrick, reaching for the iced
water. "He is irrational, brutal, weak, silly, unable to be objective about anything where his own interests are involved
- that about sums it up. I'm interested in the brutal and violent nature of man because it's a true picture of him. And any
attempt to create social institutions on a false view of the nature of man is probably doomed to failure."
Like what? "Well, many aspects of liberal mythology are coming to grief now - but I don't
want to give any examples or I'm going to sound like William Buckley."
Kubrick's vision of society is just as bleak: it can make man even worse than he naturally
is. "The idea that social restraints are all bad is based on a utopian and unrealistic vision of man", he says. "But in this
movie you have an example of social institutions gone a bit berserk. Obviously social institutions faced with the law-and-order
problem might choose to become grotesquely oppressive. The movie poses two extremes: it shows Alex in his precivilized state,
and society committing a worse evil in attempting to cure him."
Though A Clockwork Orange is ostensibly about the future,
Kubrick thinks it is of immediate relevance to cities in the United States. "New York City, for example, is the sort of place
where people feel very unsafe. Nearly everyone seems to know someone who's been mugged. All you have to do is add to that
a little economic disappointment, and the increasingly trendy view that politics are a waste of time and problems have to
be solved instantly, and I could see very serious social unrest in the United States which would probably be resolved by a
very authoritarian government."
"And then you could only hope you would have a benevolent despot rather than an evil one.
A Tito rather than a Stalin - though of the Right."
So Kubrick's kept away. He's been living in England for 10 years now. He hasn't been back
to New York for four years, even to fly through it - though he keeps talking to "refugees". About the closest he ever gets
is San Diego, where his parents live; he sees them a couple of times a year. Has he ever thought of going back? Kubrick shrugs
the idea off. If he did, it wouldn't be to New York City - "I guess one could always live in, heaven forbid, Connecticut or
In A Clockwork Orange, then, Kubrick feels he is satirizing
both Man and Society. The trouble is, for most of the film it's impossible to tell from what standpoint the satire is being
made; Kubrick has deliberately changed Anthony Burgess's novel to make all the victims of Alex's aggression even more detestable
than Alex himself. Such values as appear to exist are shifting, ambiguous, perverse: satire is a moral act, but Kubrick's
film ends by being glitteringly amoral.
The closest it gets to a point of view is the prison chaplain's thunderous proclamation
of the need for choice, which has the weight of Kubrick's own deeply held belief behind it: "It's the only non-satirical view
in the film, I mean he's right!" says Kubrick. But the film's ending, which also celebrates free will, is "obviously satirical
- you couldn't take it seriously." We (and Alex) are back to where we started.
Maybe one of the problems is that all the people in A Clockwork
Orange, aggressors and victims alike, are merely caricatures, cardboard targets for Kubrick's satire; even Alex
and his "droogs" remain clockwork cutouts with no history, no character, nothing to relate them to the society which nurtured
them. We learn nothing from them: no insight into the way man's violence may be created, triggered or changed by the world
he lives in, not even anything about the nature of violence itself. In his last three films Kubrick has portrayed hardly a
single normal relationship between people. HAL, the computer in 2001, is probably the closest
he has come to creating a human character.
Yet Kubrick maintains he doesn't feel "isolated" from people. "I have a wife, three children,
three dogs, seven cats. I'm not a Franz Kafka, sitting alone and suffering." In fact, he says he would like to make a movie,
sometime, about contemporary life - if only he could find the right story. "A great story is a kind of miracle", he says.
"I've never written a story myself, which is probably why I have so much respect for it. I started out, before I became a
film director, always thinking, you know, if I couldn't play on the Yankees I'd like to be a novelist. The people I first
admired were not film directors but novelists. Like Conrad."
As for the critics - "I find a lot of critics misunderstand my films; probably everybody's
films. Very few of them spend enough time thinking about them. They look at the film once, they don't really remember what
they saw, and they write the review in an hour. I mean, one spent more time on a book report in school. I'm very pleased with
A Clockwork Orange. I think it's the most skillful movie I've made. I can see almost nothing
wrong with it."
Given his despairing view of man and society, it's hardly surprising that Kubrick has
turned away from the contemporary world. He immerses himself in his work. His last three movies have been set in the future,
his next will be set in the past. And in recent years he has moved into his own private form of transcendentalism.
"2001 would give a little insight into my metaphysical
interests", he explains. "I'd be very surprised if the universe wasn't full of an intelligence of an order that to us would
seem God-like. I find it very exciting to have a semi-logical belief that there's a great deal to the universe we don't understand,
and that there is an intelligence of an incredible magnitude outside the earth. It's something I've become more and more interested
in. I find it a very exciting and satisfying hope."
Why? "Well, I mean, one would hate to think that this was it."
How did Kubrick come to such a pessimistic vision of mankind? "From observation", he replies
laconically. "Knowing what has happened in the world, seeing the people around me." He says it has nothing to do with anything
that's happened to him personally, nor with his Jewish background. "I mean, it's essentially Christian theology anyway, that
view of man."
He's wrong, of course. Kubrick's concept of man as essentially evil is straight Manichean,
one of the most perverse yet persistent of Christian heresies, and it's hardly an accident that he should seize upon a novel
from the tortuous Catholic conscience of a writer like Burgess; says Kubrick, "I just found I responded emotionally to the
book very intensely."
He doesn't believe that a work of art should have as its primary purpose "a political
or philosophical policy statement", and Burgess's novel had everything: great story, great ideas, and a main character, Alex,
who summarizes what Kubrick thinks natural man is all about. "You identify with Alex because you recognize yourself", he says.
"It's for this reason that some people become uncomfortable."
And so, for the first half of the movie, Kubrick throws endless, garishly imagined scenes
of sadism, gang rape, torture and terrorism onto the screen, dwelling on each with loving and lascivious detail. To the criticism
that this is gratuitous, because it has little intellectual and no satiric point behind it, he has a standard reply: "It's
all in the plot." He continues: "Part of the artistic challenge of the character is to present the violence as he sees it,
not with the disapproving eye of the moralist but subjectively as Alex experiences it."
Kubrick believes the cinema is a sort of daydreaming, wherein we can enact fantasies which
our conscious mind normally represses. But for some reason or other he doesn't believe he's doing that in A
Clockwork Orange, neither for himself (though he admits he is fascinated by violence) nor for those who might
like a bit of the old vicarious rape, torture and ultraviolence in superscreen glory-color. "That wasn't my motivation, I
don't think it has that effect."
Yet surely the violence and sexual sadism was one of the reasons Burgess's novel appealed
to him? Kubrick is plainly ambivalent about that. "Anyway, I don't think it's socially harmful, I don't think any work of
art can be", he concludes. "Unfortunately, I don't think it can be socially constructive either."
But don't works of art affect people at all? "They affect us when they illuminate something
we already feel, they don't change us. It's not the same thing." Art doesn't influence us? "I certainly wouldn't have said
my life has been influenced by any work of art."
So what does that leave Stanley Kubrick doing?
Making entertainments, I guess. And, come to think of it, that's all A
Clockwork Orange is: a marvelously executed, sensationalist, confused and finally corrupt piece of pop trivia,
signifying nothing. The old horror-show (Burgesspeak for "good") has always been a surefire theatrical recipe, and Kubrick's
mod sci-fi movie will probably be a great success. It's like a high class Russ Meyer pornyshow (no wonder those lipsmacking
stills should seem so perfectly at home in this month's Playboy) with some Andy Warhol freakery
thrown in for shockpower. But, like 2001, its intellectual poverty limits it to popfad art.
Ultimate effect? None.
And, saddest part of all, that's just how Stanley Kubrick seems to think it has to be.
The New York Times, January 30, 1972
Now Kubrick Fights Back
by Stanley Kubrick (1972)
"An alert liberal", says Fred M. Hechinger, writing about my film A
Clockwork Orange, "should recognize the voice of fascism." They don't come any more alert than Fred M. Hechinger.
A movie critic, whose job is to analyze the actual content of a film, rather than second-hand interviews, might have fallen
down badly on sounding the "Liberal Alert" which an educationist like Mr. Hechinger confidently set jangling in so many resonant
lines of alarmed prose. As I read them, the image that kept coming to mind was of Mr. Hechinger, cast as the embattled liberal,
grim-visaged the way Gary Cooper used to be, doing the long walk down main street to face the high noon of American democracy,
while out of the Last Chance saloon drifts the theme song, "See what the boys in the backlash will have and tell them I'm
having the same", though sung in a voice less like Miss Dietrich's than Miss Kael's. Alert filmgoers will recognize that I
am mixing my movies. But then alert educationists like Mr. Hechinger seemingly don't mind mixing their metaphors: "Occasionally,
the diverting tinsel was laced with some Grapes of Wrath realism," no less. It is baffling that in the course of his lengthy
piece encouraging American liberals to cherish their "right" to hate the ideology behind A Clockwork
Orange, Mr. Hechinger quotes not one line, refers to not one scene, analyzes not one theme from the film - but
simply lumps it indiscriminately in with a "trend" which he pretends to distinguish ("a deeply anti-liberal totalitarian nihilism")
in several current films. Is this, I wonder, because he couldn't actually find any internal evidence to support his trend-spotting?
If not, then it is extraordinary that so serious a charge should be made against it (and myself) inside so fuzzy and unfocused
a piece of alarmist journalism.
Hechinger is probably quite sincere in what he feels. But what the witness feels, as the
judge said, is not evidence - the more so when the charge is one of purveying "the essence of fascism". "Is this an uncharitable
reading of... the film's thesis?" Mr. Hechinger asks himself with unwonted, if momentary doubt. I would reply that it is an
*irrelevant* reading of the thesis, in fact an insensitive and inverted reading of the thesis, which, so far from advocating
that fascism be given a second chance, warns against the new psychedelic fascism - the eye-popping, multimedia, quadrasonic,
drug-oriented conditioning of human beings by other beings - which many believe will usher in the forfeiture of human citizenship
and the beginning of zombiedom.
It is quite true that my film's view of man is less flattering than the one Rousseau entertained
in a similarly allegorical narrative - but, in order to avoid fascism, does one have to view man as a *noble* savage, rather
than an ignoble one? Being a pessimist is not yet enough to qualify one to be regarded as a tyrant (I hope). At least the
film critic of The New York Times, Vincent Canby, did not believe so. Though modestly disclaiming
any theories of initial causes and long range effects of films - a professional humility that contrasts very markedly with
Mr. Hechinger's lack of the same - Mr. Canby nevertheless classified A Clockwork Orange
as "a superlative example" of the kind of movies that "seriously attempt to analyze the meaning of violence and the social
climate that tolerates it". He certainly did not denounce me as a fascist, no more than any well-balanced commentator who
read A Modest Proposal would have accused Dean Swift of being a cannibal.
Anthony Burgess is on record as seeing the film as "a Christian Sermon" - and lest this
be regarded as a piece of special pleading by the original begetter of A Clockwork Orange,
I will quote the opinion of John E. Fitzgerald, the film critic of The Catholic News, who,
far from believing the film to show man, in Mr. Hechinger's "uncharitable" reading, as "irretrievably bad and corrupt", went
straight to the heart of the matter in a way that shames the fumbling innuendos of Mr. Hechinger.
"In one year," Mr. Fitzgerald wrote, "we have been given two contradictory messages in
two mediums. In print, we've been told (in B.F. Skinner's Beyond Freedom and Dignity) that
man is but a grab-bag of conditioned reflexes. On screen, with images rather than words, Stanley Kubrick shows that man is
more than a mere product of heredity and-or environment. For as Alex's clergyman friend (a character who starts out as a fire-and-brimstone
spouting buffon, but ends up as the spokesman for the film's thesis) says: 'When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man.'"
"The film seems to say that to take away man's choice is not to redeem but merely to restrain
him; otherwise we have a society of oranges, organic but operating like clockwork. Such brainwashing, organic and psychological,
is a weapon that totalitarians in state, church or society might wish for an easier good, even at the cost of individual rights
and dignity. Redemption is a complicated thing and change must be motivated from within rather than imposed from without if
moral values are to be upheld."
"It takes the likes of Hitler or Stalin, and the violence of inquisitions, pogroms and
purges to manage a world of ignoble savages", declares Mr. Hechinger in a manner both savage and ignoble. Thus, without citing
anything from the film itself, Mr. Hechinger seems to rest his entire case against me on a quote appearing in The
New York Times of January 30, in which I said: "Man isn't a noble savage, he's an ignoble savage. He is irrational,
brutal, weak, silly, unable to be objective about anything where his own interests are involved... and any attempt to create
social institutions based on a false view of the nature of man is probably doomed to failure." From this, apparently, Mr.
Hechinger concluded, "the thesis that man is irretrievably bad and corrupt is the essence of fascism," and summarily condemned
the film. Mr. Hechinger is entitled to hold an optimistic view of the nature of man; but this does not give him the right
to make ugly assertions of fascism against those who do not share his opinion. I wonder how he would reconcile his simplistic
notions with the views of such an acknowledged anti-fascist as Arthur Koestler, who wrote in his book The
Ghost in the Machine, "The Promethean myth has acquired an ugly twist: the giant reaching out to steal the lightning
from the Gods is insane... When you mention, however tentatively, the hypothesis that a paranoid streak is inherent in the
human condition, you will promptly be accused of taking a one-sided, morbid view of history; of being hypnotized by its negative
aspects; of picking out the black stones in the mosaic and neglecting the triumphant achievements of human progress... To
dwell on the glories of man and ignore the symptoms of his possible insanity is not a sign of optimism but of ostrichism.
It could only be compared to the attitude of that jolly physician who, a short time before Van Gogh committed suicide, declared
that he could not be insane because he painted such beautiful pictures." Does this, I wonder, place Mr. Koestler on Mr. Hechinger's
newly started blacklist?
It is because of the hysterical denunciations of self-proclaimed "alert liberals" like
Mr. Hechinger that the cause of liberalism is weakened, and it is for the same reason that so few liberal-minded politicians
risk making realistic statements about contemporary social problems.
The age of the alibi, in which we find ourselves, began with the opening sentence of Rousseau's
Emile: "Nature made me happy and good, and if I am otherwise, it is society's fault." It is based on two misconceptions: that
man in his natural state was happy and good, and that primal man had no society.
Robert Ardrey has written in The Social Contract, "The
organizing principle of Rousseau's life was his unshakable belief in the original goodness of man, including his own. That
it led him into most towering hypocrises must follow from such an assumption. More significant are the disillusionments, the
pessimism, and the paranoia that such a belief in human nature must induce."
Ardrey elaborates in African Genesis: "The idealistic
American is an environmentalist who accepts the doctrine of man's innate nobility and looks chiefly to economic causes for
the source of human woe. And so now, at the peak of the American triumph over that ancient enemy, want, he finds himself harassed
by racial conflict of increasing bitterness, harrowed by juvenile delinquency probing championship heights."
Rousseau's romantic fallacy that it is society which corrupts man, not man who corrupts
society, places a flattering gauze between ourselves and reality. This view, to use Mr. Hechinger's frame of reference, is
solid box office but, in the end, such a self-inflating illusion leads to despair.
The Enlightenment declared man's rational independence from the tyranny of the Supernatural.
It opened up dizzying and frightening vistas of the intellectual and political future. But before this became too alarming,
Rousseau replaced a religion of the Supernatural Being with a religion of natural man. God might be dead. "Long live man."
"How else", writes Ardrey, "can one explain - except as a substitute for old religious
cravings - the immoderate influence of the rational mind of the doctrine of innate goodness?" Finally, the question must be
considered whether Rousseau's view of man as a fallen angel is not really the most pessimistic and hopeless of philosophies.
It leaves man a monster who has gone steadily away from his nobility. It is, I am convinced, more optimistic to accept Ardrey's
view that, "...we were born of risen apes, not fallen angels, and the apes were armed killers besides. And so what shall we
wonder at? Our murders and massacres and missiles and our irreconcilable regiments? For our treaties, whatever they may be
worth; our symphonies, however seldom they may be played; our peaceful acres, however frequently they may be converted into
battlefields; our dreams, however rarely they may be accomplished. The miracle of man is not how far he has sunk but how magnificently
he has risen. We are known among the stars by our poems, not our corpses."
Mr. Hechinger is no doubt a well-educated man but the tone of his piece strikes me as
also that of a well-conditioned man who responds to what he expects to find, or has been told, or has read about, rather than
to what he actually perceives A Clockwork Orange to be. Maybe he should deposit his grab-bag
of conditioned reflexes outside and go in to see it again. This time, exercising a little choice.
The New York Times - Section Two, February 27, 1972
Modern Times: An Interview with Stanley Kubrick
by Philip Strick and Penelope Houston (1972)
We met Kubrick last November  at his home near Borehamwood, a casual labyrinth of
studios, offices, and seemingly dual-purpose rooms in which family life and filmmaking overlap as though the one were unthinkable
without the other. Despite his reputed aversion to the ordeals of interrogation, Kubrick proved an immensely articulate conversationalist,
willing to talk out in detail any aspect, technical or theoretical, of his devotion to the cinema. When we came to transcribe
our tapes, what indeed emerged was perhaps rather more of a conversation covering a lot of ground, than a formal interview.
When A Clockwork Orange opened in London a few weeks
later, Kubrick found himself in the front line of somebody else's war. The critics were up in arms about Straw Dogs, in particular,
and A Clockwork Orange became caught in the crossfire, especially after the Home Secretary's
much publicised visit to the film. It was an extrodinary fuss (the novel was, after all, first published ten years ago), the
more so for seeming to be about A Clockwork Orange that sounded like nothing much to do
with the film Kubrick made. But it also meant that some of his replies to our original questions would have to be revised,
to make due allowance for the arguments the film had caused. So what follows is to some extent a Kubrick rewrite of a Kubrick
interview - in the interests, as always with Kubrick, of precision.
How closely did you work with Anthony Burgess in adapting
Orange for the screen?
I had virtually no opportunity of discussing the novel with Anthony Burgess. He phoned
me one evening when was passing through London and we had a brief conversation on the telephone. It was mostly an exchange
of pleasantries. On the other hand, I wasn't particularly concerned about this because in a book as brilliantly written as
A Clockwork Orange one would have to be lazy not to be able to find the answers to any questions
which might arise within the text of the novel itself. I think it is reasonable to say that, whatever Burgess had to say about
the story was said in the book.
How about your own contributions to the story? You
seemed to have preserved the style and structure of the original far more closely than with most of your previous films, and
the dialogues are often exactly the same as in the novel.
My contribution to the story consisted of writing the screenplay. This was principally
a matter of selection and editing, though I did invent a few useful narrative ideas and reshape some of the scenes. However,
in general, these contributions merely clarified what was already in the novel - such as the Cat Lady telephoning the police,
which explains why the police appear at the end of that scene. In the novel, it occurs to Alex that she may have called them,
but this is the sort of thing you can do in a novel and not in the screenplay. I was also rather pleased with the idea of
Singin' in the Rain as a means of Alexander identifying Alex again towards the end of the
How did you come to use Singin' in the Rain in the first place?
This was one of the more important ideas which arose during rehearsal. This scene, in
fact, was rehearsed longer than any other scene in the film and appeared to be going nowhere. We spent three days trying to
work out just what was going to happen and somehow it all seemed a bit inadequate. Then suddenly the idea popped into my head
- I don't know where it came from or what triggered it off.
The main addition you seem to have made to the original
story is the scene of Alex's introduction to the prison. Why did you feel this was important?
It may be the longest scene but I would not think it is the most important. It was a necessary
addition because the prison sequence is compressed, in comparison with the novel, and one had to have something in it which
gave sufficient weight to the idea that Alex was actually imprisoned. The routine of checking into prison which, in fact,
is quite accurately represented in the film, seemed to provide this necessary weight.
In the book there is another killing by Alex while
he is in prison. By omitting this, don't you run the risk of seeming to share Alex's own opinion of himself as a high-spirited
I shouldn't think so, and Alex doesn't see himself as a high-spirited innocent. He is
totally aware of his own evil and accepts it with complete openness. Alex seems a far more pleasant person in the film than
in the book... Alex makes no attempt to deceive himself or the audience as to his total corruption and wickedness. He is the
very personification of evil. On the other hand, he has winning qualities: his total candor, his wit, his intelligence and
his energy; these are attractive qualities and ones, I might add, which he shares with Richard III.
The violence done to Alex in the brain-washing sequence
is in fact more horrifying than anything he does himself...
It was absolutely necessary to give weight to Alex's brutality, otherwise I think there
would be moral confusion with respect to what the government does to him. If he were a lesser villain, then one could say:
"Oh, yes, of course, he should not be given this psychological conditioning; it's all too horrible and he really wasn't that
bad after all." On the other hand, when you have shown him committing such atrocious acts, and you still realise the immense
evil on the part of the government in turning him into something less than human in order to make him good, then I think the
essential moral idea of the book is clear. It is necessary for man to have choice to be good or evil, even if he chooses evil.
To deprive him of this choice is to make him something less than human - a clockwork orange.
But aren't you inviting a sort of identification with
I think, in addition to the personal qualities I mentioned, there is the basic psychological,
unconscious identification with Alex. If you look at the story not on the social and moral level, but on the psychological
dream content level, you can regard Alex as a creature of the id. He is within all of us. In most cases, this recognition
seems to bring a kind of empathy from the audience, but it makes some people very angry and uncomfortable. They are unable
to accept this view of themselves and, therefore, they become angry at the film. It's a bit like the King who kills the messenger
who brings him bad news and rewards the one who brings him good news.
The comparison with Richard III makes a striking defence
against accusations that the film encourages violence, delinquency, and so on. But as Richard is a safely distant historical
figure, does it meet them completely?
There is no positive evidence that violence in films or television causes social violence.
To focus one's interest on this aspect of violence is to ignore the principal causes, which I would list as: 1. Original sin:
the religious view; 2. Unjust economic exploitation: the Marxist view; 3. Emotional and psychological frustration: the psychological
view; 4. Genetic factors based on the 'Y' chromosome theory: the biological view; 5. Man, the killer ape: the evolutionary
view. To try to fasten any responsibility on art as the cause of life seems to me to put the case the wrong way around. Art
consists of reshaping life but it does not create life, nor cause life. Furthermore to attribute powerful suggestive qualities
to a film is at odds with the scientifically accepted view that, even after deep hypnosis, in a posthypnotic state, people
cannot be made to do things which are at odds with their natures.
Is there any kind of violence in films which you might
regard as socially dangerous?
Well, I don't accept that there is a connection, but let us hypothetically say that there
might be one. If there were one, I should say that the kind of violence that might cause some impulse to emulate it is the
'fun' kind of violence: the kind of violence we see in the Bond films, or in Tom and Jerry cartoons. Unrealistic violence,
sanitized violence, violence presented as a joke. This is the only kind of violence that could conceivably cause anyone to
wish to copy it, but I am quite convinced that not even this has any effect. There may even be an argument in support of saying
that any kind of violence in films, in fact, serves a useful social purpose by allowing people a means of vicariously freeing
themselves from the pent up, aggressive, aggressive emotions which are better expressed in dreams, or in the dreamlike state
of watching a film, than in any form of reality or sublimation.
Isn't the assumption of your audience in the case of Clockwork Orange likely to be that you support Alex's
point of view and in some way assume responsibility for it?
I don't think that any work of art has a responsibility to be anything but a work of art.
There obviously is a considerable controversy, just as there always has been, about what is a work of art, and I should be
the last to try to define that. I was amused by Cocteau's Orphee when the poet is given
the advice: "Astonish me". The Johnsonian definition of a work of art is also meaningful to me, and that is that a work of
art must either make life more enjoyable or more endurable. Another quality, which I think forms part of the definition, is
that a work of art is always exhilarating and never depressing, whatever its subject matter may be.
In view of the particular exhilaration of Alex's religious
fantasies, has the film run into trouble with clerical critics?
The reaction of the religious press has been mixed, although a number of superb reviews
have been written. One of the most perceptive reviews by the religious press, or any other press, appeared in The Catholic
News written by John E. Fitzgerald, and I would like to quote one portion of it: "In print we've been told (in B. F. Skinner's
Beyond Freedom and Dignity) that man is but a grab-bag of conditioned reflexes. On screen
with images rather than words, Stanley Kubrick shows that man is more than a mere product of heredity and/or environment.
For as Alex's clergyman friend (a character who starts out as a fire-and-brimstone-spouting buffoon but ends up the spokesman
for the film's thesis) says: "When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man." The film seems to say that to take away a
man's choice is not to redeem him but merely to restrain him: otherwise we have a society of oranges, organic but operating
like clock-work. Such brainwashing, organic and psychological, is a weapon that totalitarians in state, church, or society
might wish for an easier good even at the cost of individual rights and dignity. Redemption is a complicated thing and change
must be motivated from within rather than imposed from without if moral values are to be upheld. But Kubrick is an artist
rather than a moralist and he leaves it to us to figure what's wrong and why, what should be done and how it should be accomplished."
Your choice of lenses for the shooting of the film
often give it a subtly distorted visual quality. Why did you want that particular look?
It may sound like an extremely obvious thing to say, but I think it is worth saying nevertheless
that when you are making a film, in addition to any higher purpose you may have in mind, you must be interesting; visually
interesting, narratively interesting, interesting from an acting point of view. All ideas for creating interest must be held
up against the yardstick of the theme of the story, the narrative requirements and the purpose of the scene; but, within that,
you must make a work of art interesting. I recall a comment recorded in a book called Stanislavski Directs,
in which Stanislavski told an actor that he had the right understanding of the character, the right understanding of the text
of the play, that what he was doing was completely believable, but that it was still no good because it wasn't interesting.
Were you looking after the hand-held camera for the
fight with the Cat Lady?
Yes, all of the hand-held camerawork is mine. In addition to the fun of doing the shooting
myself, I find it is virtually impossible to explain what you want in a hand-held shot to even the most talented and sensitive
To what extent do you rationalise a shot before setting
There are certain aspects of a film which can meaningfully be talked about, but photography
and editing do not lend themselves to verbal analysis. It's very much the same as the problem one has talking about painting,
or music. The questions of taste involved and the decision-making criteria are essentially nonverbal, and whatever you say
about them tends to read like the back of a record album. These are decisions that have to be made every few minutes during
the shooting, and they are just down to the director's taste and imagination.
How did you come to choose the Purcell piece - the Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary?
Well, this answer is going to sound a lot like the last one. You're in an area where words
are not particularly relevant. In thinking about the music for the scene, the Purcell piece occurred to me and, after I listened
to it several times in conjunction with the film, there was simply no question in regards to using it.
The arrangements by Walter Carlos are extraodinarily
I think Walter Carlos has done something completely unique in the field of electronic
realisation of music - that's the phrase that they use. I think that I've heard most of the electronic music and musique concrete
LPs there are for sale in Britain, Germany, France, and the United States; not because I particularly like this kind of music,
but out of my researches for 2001 and A Clockwork Orange.
I think Walter Carlos is the only electronic composer and realiser who has managed to create a sound which is not an attempt
at copying the instruments of the orchestra and yet which, at the same time, achieves a beauty of its own employing electronic
tonalities. I think that his version of the fourth movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony
rivals hearing a full orchestra playing it, and that is saying an awful lot.
There is very little post-synchronisation of the dialog...
There is no post-synchronisation. I'm quite pleased about this because every scene was
shot on location; even the so-called sets that we built which were, in fact, built in a factory about 40 feet off the noisy
High Street in Borehamwood, a few hundred yards from the old M-G-M Studio. Despite this, we were able to get quite acceptably
clean soundtracks. With the modern equipment that's available today in the form of microphones, radio transmitters and so
forth, it should be possible t get a usable soundtrack almost anywhere. In the scene where the tramp recognises Alex who is
standing near the Thames, next to the Albert Bridge, there was so much traffic noise on the location that you had to shout
in order to be heard, but we were able to get such a quiet soundtrack that it was necessary to add street noise in the final
mix to make it realistic. We used a microphone the size of a paperclip, and it was secured with black tape on the tramp's
scarf. In several shots you can see the microphone, but you don't know what you're looking at.
In concentrating on the action of the film, as you
do, isn't there a danger that the lesser characters may appear rather one-dimensional?
The danger of everything that you do in a film is that it may not work, it may be boring,
or bland, or stupid. When you think of the greatest moments of film, I think you are almost always involved with images rather
than scenes, and certainly never dialogue. The thing a film does best is to use pictures with music and I think these are
the moments you remember. Another thing is the way an actor did something: the way Emil Jannings took out his handkerchief
and blew his nose in The Blue Angel, or those marvelous slow turns that Nikolai Cherkassov did in Ivan
How did you manage the subjective shot of Alex's suicide
We bought an old Newman Sinclair clockwork mechanism camera (no pun intended) for 40 Pounds.
It's a beautiful camera and it's built like a battleship. We made a number of polystyrene boxes which gave about 18 inches
of protection around the camera, and cut out a slice for the lens. We then threw the camera off a roof. In order to get it
to land lens first, we had to do this six times and the camera survived all six drops. On the final one it landed right on
the lens and smashed it but it didn't do a bit of harm to the camera. This, despite the fact that the polystyrene was literally
blasted away from it each time by the impact. The next day we shot a steady test on the camera and found there wasn't a thing
wrong with it. On this basis, I would say that the Newman Sinclair must be the most indestructible camera ever made.
How much planning do you do before you shoot a scene?
As much as there are hours in the day, and days in the week. I think about a film almost
continuously. I try to visualise it and I try to work out every conceivable variation of ideas which might exist with respect
to the various scenes, but I have found that when you come down to the day the scene is going to be shot and you arrive on
the location with the actors, having had the experience of already seeing some of the scenes shot, somehow it's always different.
You find out that you have not really explored the scene to its fullest extent. You may have been thinking about it incorrectly,
or you may simply not have discovered one of the variations which now in context with everything else that you have shot is
simply better than anything you had previously thought of. The reality of the final moment, just before shooting, is so powerful
that all previous analysis must yield before the impressions you receive under these circumstances, and unless you use this
feedback to your positive advantage, unless adjust to it, adapt to it and accept the sometimes terrifying weaknesses it can
expose, you can never realise the most out of your film.
How do you usually work when you get to the reality
of the final moment?
Whenever I start a new scene, the most important thing in my mind is, within the needs
of the theme and the scene, to make something happen worth putting on film. The most crucial part of this comes when you start
new rehearsals on a new scene. You arrive on the location, the crew is standing around eating buns and drinking tea, waiting
to be told what to do. You've got to keep them outside the room you're rehearsing in and take whatever time is necessary to
get everything right, and have it make sense. There's no way to define what this process consists of. It obviously has to
do with taste and imagination and it is in this crucial period of time that a film is really created. Once you know you've
got something worthwhile, the shooting becomes a matter of recording (improving, if you can) what you have already done in
rehearsal. Whatever problems exist during the actual shooting are not the kind of problems that worry me. If the actor isn't
getting it right, well, he'll get it right eventually. If the camera operator spoils a shot, it can be done again. The thing
that can never be changed, and the thing that is the make or break of a picture, are those few hours you spend alone in the
actual place with the actors, with the crew outside drinking their tea. Sometimes you find that the scene is absolutely no
good at all. It doesn't make sense when you see it acted. It doesn't provide the necessary emotional or factual information
in an interesting way, or in a way which has the right weight to it. Any number of things can suddenly put you in a position
where you've got nothing to shoot. The only thing you can say about a moment like this is that it's better to realise it while
you still have a chance to change it and to create something new, than it is to record forever something that is wrong. This
is the best and the worst time: it is the time you have your most imaginative ideas, things that not occurred to you before,
regardless of how much you've thought about the scene. It's also the time when you can stand there and feel very dumb and
unhappy with what you're seeing, and not have the faintest idea of what to do about it.
Do you very consciously favor a particular style of
If something is really happening on the screen, it isn't crucial how it's shot. Chaplin
had such a simple cinematic style that it was almost like I Love Lucy, but you were always
hypnotised by what was going on, unaware of the essentially non-cinematic style. He frequently used cheap sets, routine lighting
and so forth, but he made great films. His films will probably last longer than anyone else's. You could say that Chaplin
was no style and all content. On the other hand, the opposite can be seen in Eisenstein's films, who is all style and no content
or, depending on how generous you want to be, little content. Many of Eisenstein's films are really quite silly; but they
are so beautifully made, so brilliantly cinematic, that, despite their heavily propagandistic simplemindedness, they become
Do you have a preference for any one aspect of the
whole filmmaking process?
I think I enjoy editing the most. It's the nearest thing to some reasonable in which to do creative work. Writing,
of course, is very satisfying, but, of course, you're not working with film. The actual shooting of a film is probably the
worst circumstances you could try to imagine for creating a work of art. There is, first of all, the problem of getting up
very early every morning and going to bed very late every night. Then there is the chaos, confusion, and frequently physical
discomfort. It would be, I suppose, like a writer trying to write a book while working at a factory lathe in tempatures that
range from 95 to -10 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition to this, of course, editing is the only aspect of the cinematic art that
is unique. It shares no connection with any other art form: writing, acting, photography, things that are major aspects of
the cinema, are still not unique to it, but editing is.
How long did the editing take on Clockwork Orange?
The editing up to the point of dubbing took about six months, working seven days a week.
Do you ever have problems cutting out your own material?
When I'm editing, I'm only concerned with the questions of "Is it good or bad?" "Is it
necessary?" "Can I get rid of it ?" "Does it work?" My identity changes to that of an editor. I am never concerned with how
much difficulty there was to shoot something, how much it cost, and so forth. I look at the material with completely different
eyes. I'm never troubled losing material. I cut everything to the bone. When you're shooting, you want to make sure you don't
miss anything and you cover it as fully as time and budget allow. When you're editing, you want to get rid of everything that
How much support coverage do you shoot?
There's always a conflict between time, money and quality. If you shoot a lot of coverage,
then you must either spend a lot of money, or settle for less quality of performance. I find that when I'm shooting a scene,
I shoot a lot of takes but I don't try to get a lot of coverage from other angles. I try to shoot the scene as simply as possible
get the maximum performance from the actors without presenting them the problem of repeating the performance too many times
from different angles. On the other hand, in an action scene, where it's relatively easy to shoot, you want lots and lots
of angles so that you can do something interesting with it in the cutting room.
Do you direct actors in every detail, or do you expect
them to some extent to come up with their own ideas?
I come up with the ideas. That is essentially the director's job. There's a misconception,
I think, about what directing actors means: it generally goes along the lines of the director imposing his will over difficult
actors, or teaching people who don't know how to act. I try to hire the best actors in the world. The problem is one a conductor
might face. There's little joy in trying to get a magnificent performance from a student orchestra. It's difficult enough
to get one with all the subtleties and nuances you might want out of the greatest orchestra in the world. You want to have
great virtuoso soloists, and so with actors. Then it's not necessary to teach them how to act or to impose your will on them
because usually there is no problem along those lines. An actor will almost always do what you want him to do if he is able
to do it; and, therefore, since great actors are able to do almost anything, you find you have few problems. You can then
concentrate on what you want them to do, what is the psychology of the character, what is the purpose of the scene, what is
the story about? These are the things that are often muddled up and require simplicity and exactitude. The director's job
is to provide the actor with ideas, not to teach him how to act or to trick him into acting. There's no way to give an actor
what he hasn't got in the form of talent. You can give him ideas, thoughts, attitudes. The actor's job is to create emotion.
Obviously, the actor may have some ideas too, but this is not what his primary responsibility is. You can make a mediocre
actor less mediocre, you can make a terrible actor mediocre, but you cannot go very far without the magic. Great performances
come from the magical talent of the actor, plus the ideas of the director. The other part of the director's job is to exercise
taste: he must decide whether what he is seeing is interesting, whether it's appropriate, whether it's of sufficient weight,
whether it's credible. These are decisions no one else can make.
You have made what might seem some unusual casting
choices for your last two films - how do you find the actors you want?
Well, that really comes down to a question of taste, doesn't it? A lot of pictures are
cast by producers and their decisions are frequently based on proven success rather than unproven hints at talent. Many producers
aren't willing to decide whether an actor who is unknown and who has done very little work is really good. I have nothing
against people of proven talent, but sometimes there may be no one in that category who is right for the part.
Do you enjoy working with different actors? With a
few exceptions - Peter Sellers, for instance - you haven't often used the same actor twice, unlike a lot of directors who
obviously prefer to build up a sort of stock company of people who know their work.
I don't really think in those terms in those terms. I try to choose the best actors for
the parts, whether I know them or not. I would avoid actors who have reputations for being destructive or neurotic but, other
than that, there is no one whom I would not consider using for a part... The only thing that is really important in your relationship
with actors is that they must know that you admire them, that you admire their work, and there's no way to fake that. You
must really admire them or you shouldn't use them. If they know that you admire their work, which they can sense in a thousand
different ways, it doesn't really matter what you think of each other or what you say to them, or whether you are terribly
friendly or not. The thing they care about is their work. Some actors are very amusing and pleasant and always cheerful. They
are, of course, more pleasant to have around than those who are morose, vacant or enigmatic. But how they behave when you're
not shooting has very little to do with what happens when the camera turns over.
You made Clockwork Orange initially because you had to postpone your Napoleon project. How do you see the Napoleon film developing?
First of all, I start from the premise that there has never been a great historical film,
and I say that with all apologies and respect to those who have made historical films, including myself. I don't think anyone
has ever successfully solved the problem of dealing in an interesting way with the historical information that has to be conveyed,
and at the same time getting a sense of reality about the daily life of the characters. You have to get a feeling of what
it was like to be with Napoleon. At the same time, you have to convey enough historical information in an intelligent, interesting
and concise way so that the audience understands what happened.
Would you include Abel Gance's Napoleon in this verdict?
I think I would have to. I know that the film is a masterpiece of cinematic invention
and it brought cinematic innovations to the screen which are still being called innovations whenever someone is bold enough
to try them again. But on the other hand, as a film about Napoleon, I have to say I've always been disappointed in it.
Did you think of A Clockwork Orange as being in any way a form of relaxation between two
very big films?
I don't think in terms of big movies, or small movies. Each movie presents problems of
its own and has advantages of its own. Each movie requires everything that you have to give it, in order to overcome the artistic
and logistic problems that it poses. There are advantages in an epic film, just as there are disadvantages. It is much easier
to do a hugh crowd scene and make it interesting than it is to film a man sitting at a table thinking.
Sight & Sound, Spring 1972
How I learned to stop worrying and love Barry Lyndon
by John Hofsess (1976)
While watching Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, I realized
a story about a visitor to an art exhibit who, having studied each canvas with increasing perplexity, came up to the artist
who painted the pictures and said, "I like your work - but I'm not sure exactly what it is you're trying to say." The artist
replied, "If I could say it, I wouldn't have bothered painting it."
The same might be said of Barry Lyndon: there isn't
much for a verbally-oriented person to chew on. There's no conceptual or discursive aspect, no kernel of pop sociology or
philosophical nutmeat. It isn't at all like Nashville or Last Tango
in Paris, where a knowing reviewer could write the kind of richly allusive in-depth analysis that critics have
long done for novels. Instead, Barry Lyndon throws down the gauntlet to those film critics
who are really literary or drama critics in disguise and tests their ability to appreciate qualities of form, composition,
color, mood, music, editing rhythms - among other cinematic qualities that generally do not greatly interest them. Words are
a film critic's primary tools and when a movie doesn't lend itself to verbal translation - discussions about character, ideas,
values, plot development, and so on - many critics are inclined to dismiss it as unimportant or as a failure.
Being a "word-man" myself, I well understood the discontent of certain reviewers with
the film's lack of witty or memorable dialogue, its lack of provocative ideas, its lack of character development and an emotionally
engaging central performance.
Film critics are supposed to write with the certitude of exclamation marks; unlike philosophers,
they cannot build a reputation based on doubt. Yet, as my deadline drew near, I found myself turning into a question mark.
How much easier my task would be, I reflected, if Barry Lyndon were like Kubrick's early
films. They were graced by fine performances - one recalls Adolphe Menjou and Kirk Douglas in Paths
of Glory, James Mason in Lolita and, with special affection, Sterling Hayden
and Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove - and occasionally they even produced quotable lines,
like the ones in Strangelove about "preverts." They had definite subjects and were easy
to talk about. In those days, one went to his films and came home with a message.
Beginning with 2001, however, as Kubrick began pushing
inspiration and obsession to their outer limits, insisting on the primacy of a film experience that was essentially ambiguous
and hard to explicate, one went to a Kubrick film and came home floundering. Like it or not, your mind had been grazed by
Not everyone liked it. When 2001 opened in 1968, it
was greeted with derisive snorts from practically every major critic except Penelope Gilliatt. "A monumentally unimaginative
movie," wrote Pauline Kael. "A major disappointment," said Stanley Kauffmann. "Incredibly boring," commented Renata Adler.
"A regrettable failure," wrote John Simon, shrugging it off as "a shaggy God's story." "A disaster," said Andrew Sarris.
Bearing in mind the cold critical reception accorded 2001,
I once asked Kubrick - shortly before the London opening of A Clockwork Orange - if he had
ever learned anything about his work from reading film criticism. His response was a fast, firm "No."
"To see a film once and write a review is an absurdity," he said. "Yet very few critics
ever see a film twice or write about films from a leisurely, thoughtful perspective. The reviews that distinguish most critics,
unfortunately, are those slambang pans which are easy to write and fun to write and absolutely useless. There's not much in
a critic showing off how clever he is at writing silly, supercilious gags about something he hates."
During a recent visit to England, I talked with Kubrick again at his home in Borehamwood,
outside London. This time, of course, our main topic of discussion was Barry Lyndon, and
I had even arrived armed with an annotated edition of The Luck of Barry Lyndon. Obviously,
I was much better prepared to talk book than film.
"Quick!" Kubrick said to one of his assistants. "Hand me that Times article on Barry
Lyndon, so I can discuss Thackeray." The piece in question was a lengthy essay in the London Sunday
Times describing in detail Thackeray's struggle to write the novel against a background of gambling debts and
marital unhappiness. Kubrick's irony was playful but pointed. "The most important parts of a film," he said, "are the mysterious
parts - beyond the reach of reason and language."
When I asked him about the apparent change in his films - from the early, more conventional
dramas to the stylistic experiments of 2001 and later films, with their emphasis on images
and music - Kubrick said, "There may be a change in the films but it doesn't mean there is any personal change in me. What
happens in the film business is something like this: when a scriptwriter or director starts out, producers and investors want
to see everything written down. They judge the worth of a screenplay as they would a stage play, and ignore the very great
differences between the two. They want good dialogue, tight plotting, dramatic development. What I have found is that the
more completely cinematic a film is, the less interesting the screenplay becomes. Because a screenplay isn't meant to be read,
it's to be realized on film."
"So if my earlier films seem more verbal than the later ones, it is because I was obliged
to conform to certain literary conventions. Then, after some success, I was given greater freedom to explore the medium as
I preferred. There'll be no screenplay of Barry Lyndon published, because there is nothing
of literary interest to read."
Kubrick's point is well taken. There is a scene in Barry Lyndon,
for example, which in Kubrick's screenplay simply read, "Barry duels with Lord Bullingdon." Just that, nothing more. Yet what
finally reached the screen is one of the most stunning sequences in modern film. The scene runs about six minutes and if little
happens in terms of actual content - three shots are fired and Barry is wounded in the leg by his stepson - a great deal happens
in terms of style. It took six weeks - 42 working days - just to edit the sequence. To find the music - Handel's Sarabande
- Kubrick listened to every available recording of 17th and 18th-century music that he could acquire, literally thousands
of LPs. What he achieves in such moments of the film might be called cinematic gestalts - inspired combinations of words,
images, music and editing rhythms, creating a kind of artistic experience that no other medium can convey.
Eventually, Kubrick may end up in a cul-de-sac, for he is following a similar line of
development - using the "grammar" of the film medium - to that pursued by James Joyce and Vladimir Nabokov in fiction. There
is no question that Joyce and Nabokov - more than any other writers in the 20th century - brilliantly explored and expanded
the limits of language and the structure of novels, yet both were led irresistibly and obsessively to cap their careers with
those cold and lifeless masterpieces, Finnegans Wake and Ada,
more to be deciphered than read by a handful of scholars whose pleasure is strictly ratiocination. It is characteristic of
such careers that people keep saying, "This time you've really gone too far! We liked your last film or novel - but that's
it!" The price of growth is disaffection.
Two weeks after seeing Barry Lyndon, I still hadn't
formed a hard judgment of it. I kept wanting it to "add up" to something profound. But Victorian readers were equally dissatisfied
within Thackeray's story about a young Irish rake on the make who develops an inordinate ambition to attain wealth, power
and prestige, who gains the lot unscrupulously and then loses it with another turn of fortune's wheel. Readers complained
bitterly that the story lacked a point, a purpose, and above all, the customary dosage of moral edification.
"I have no head above my eyes," replied Thackeray to these criticisms - a line that Kubrick
could borrow to advantage. A second viewing of the film did not alter my lack of resolution. Then one night about another
week later, I played the soundtrack recording - Handel's Sarabande, Women
of Ireland by The Chieftans, and so on, and suddenly experienced a strong surge of emotion. Bits and pieces of
the film - Redmond Barry's tremulous first love with his cousin Nora, the gaming tables banked in candlelight, the dueling
sequence, among others - came rushing back to life, and I realized that they had become imperishable images in my memory,
and that I was seeing a film and appreciating qualities in a manner quite new to me.
Like many other critics and filmgoers, I have grown so accustomed to films based on literary
conventions and familiar structures, that to see a film which stretches one's awareness of what can be achieved in the medium
seems prickly and puzzling. Kubrick's films have a way - at least with some people - of working on in the mind, of passing
through all the stages from irritation to exhilaration. And curiously enough - for critics are supposed to be the most progressive
an perceptive of filmgoers - it is the general public in this case, unencumbered by literary prejudices, that has done most
of the leading in making 2001 and A Clockwork Orange not
just films of immense popularity but of steadily growing stature.
It may be only half-true to say that the split over Kubrick's films is mainly between
people who are verbally oriented and those who are visually oriented. Instead, the basic division seems to be between people
who are fixed in their notions of what a film is or should be, and those of more flexible personality who are willing to respond
to an esthetic experiment. Maybe the only abstract maxim that one can derive from Kubrick's new film is: "Openness is everything."
The New York Times, January 11, 1976
Kubrick on A Clockwork Orange (An interview with Michel Ciment)
Michel Ciment: Since so many different interpretations have been offered about A Clockwork Orange, how do you see
your own film?
Stanley Kubrick: The central idea of the film has to do with the question of free-will. Do we lose our humanity if
we are deprived of the choice between good and evil? Do we become, as the title suggests, A Clockwork Orange? Recent experiments
in conditioning and mind control on volunteer prisoners in America have taken this question out of the realm of science-fiction.
At the same time, I think the dramatic impact of the film has principally to do with the extraordinary character of Alex,
as conceived by Anthony Burgess in his brilliant and original novel. Aaron Stern, the former head of the MPAA rating board
in America, who is also a practising psychiatrist, has suggested that Alex represents the unconscious: man in his natural
state. After he is given the Ludovico 'cure' he has been 'civilized', and the sickness that follows may be viewed as the neurosis
imposed by society.
The chaplain is a central character in the film?
Although he is partially concealed behind a satirical disguise, the prison chaplain, played by Godfrey Quigley, is
the moral voice of the film. He challenges the ruthless opportunism of the State in pursuing its programme to reform criminals
through psychological conditioning. A very delicate balance had to be achieved in Godfrey's performance between his somewhat
comical image and the important ideas he is called upon to express.
On a political level the end of the film shows an alliance between the hoodlum and the authorities.
The government eventually resorts to the employment of the cruellest and most violent members of the society to control
everyone else -- not an altogether new or untried idea. In this sense, Alex's last line, 'I was cured all right,' might be
seen in the same light as Dr. Strangelove's exit line, 'Mein Fuehrer, I can walk.' The final images of Alex as the spoon-fed
child of a corrupt, totalitarian society, and Strangelove's rebirth after his miraculous recovery from a crippling disease,
seem to work well both dramatically and as expressions of an idea.
What amuses me is that many reviewers speak of this society as a communist one, whereas there is no reason to think
The Minister, played by Anthony Sharp, is clearly a figure of the Right. The writer, Patrick Magee, is a lunatic of
the Left. 'The common people must be led, driven, pushed!' he pants into the telephone. 'They will sell their liberty for
an easier life!'
But these could be the very words of a fascist.
Yes, of course. They differ only in their dogma. Their means and ends are hardly distinguishable.
You deal with the violence in a way that appears to distance it.
If this occurs it may be because the story both in the novel and the film is told by Alex, and everything that happens
is seen through his eyes. Since he has his own rather special way of seeing what he does, this may have some effect in distancing
the violence. Some people have asserted that this made the violence attractive. I think this view is totally incorrect.
The cat lady was much older in the book. Why did you change her age?
She fulfills the same purpose as she did in the novel, but I think she may be a little more interesting in the film.
She is younger, it is true, but she is just as unsympathetic and unwisely aggressive.
You also eliminated the murder that Alex committed in prison.
Stanley Kubrick: That had to do entirely with the problem of length. The film is, anyway, about two hours and seventeen
minutes long, and it didn't seem to be a necessary scene.
Alex is no longer a teenager in the film.
Malcolm McDowell's age is not that easy to judge in the film, and he was, without the slightest doubt, the best actor
for the part. It might have been nicer if Malcolm had been seventeen, but another seventeen-year-old actor without Malcolm's
extra- ordinary talent would not have been better.
Somehow the prison is the most acceptable place in the whole movie. And the warder, who is a typical British figure,
is more appealing than a lot of other characters.
The prison warder, played by the late Michael Bates, is an obsolete servant of the new order. He copes very poorly
with the problems around him, understanding neither the criminals nor the reformers. For all his shouting and bullying, though,
he is less of a villain than his trendier and more sophisticated masters.
In your films the State is worse than the criminals but the scientists are worse than the State.
I wouldn't put it that way. Modern science seems to be very dangerous because it has given us the power to destroy
ourselves before we know how to handle it. On the other hand, it is foolish to blame science for its discoveries, and in any
case, we cannot control science. Who would do it, anyway? Politicians are certainly not qualified to make the necessary technical
decisions. Prior to the first atomic bomb tests at Los Alamos, a small group of physicists working on the project argued against
the test because they thought there was a possibility that the detonation of the bomb might cause a chain reaction which would
destroy the entire planet. But the majority of the physicists disagreed with them and recommended that the test be carried
out. The decision to ignore this dire warning and proceed with the test was made by political and military minds who could
certainly not understand the physics involved in either side of the argument. One would have thought that if even a minority
of the physicians thought the test might destroy the Earth no sane men would decide to carry it out. The fact that the Earth
is still here doesn't alter the mind-boggling decision which was made at that time.
Alex has a close relationship with art (Beethoven) which the other characters do not have. The cat lady seems interested
in modern art but, in fact, is indifferent. What is your own attitude towards modern art?
I think modern art's almost total pre-occupation with subjectivism has led to anarchy and sterility in the arts. The
notion that reality exists only in the artist's mind, and that the thing which simpler souls had for so long believed to be
reality is only an illusion, was initially an invigorating force, but it eventually led to a lot of highly original, very
personal and extremely uninteresting work. In Cocteau's film Orpheé, the poet asks what he should do. 'Astonish me,' he is
told. Very little of modern art does that -- certainly not in the sense that a great work of art can make you wonder how its
creation was accomplished by a mere mortal. Be that as it may, films, unfortunately, don't have this problem at all. From
the start, they have played it as safe as possible, and no one can blame the generally dull state of the movies on too much
originality and subjectivism.
Well, don't you think that your films might be called original?
I'm talking about major innovations in form, not about quality, content, or ideas, and in this respect I think my
films are still not very far from the traditional form and structure which has moved sideways since the beginning of sound.
The film makes a reference to Christ...
Alex brutally fantasizes about being a Roman guard at the Crucifixion while he feigns Bible study in the prison library.
A few moments later, he tells the prison chaplain that he wants to be good. The chaplain, who is the only decent man in the
story, is taken in by Alex's phoney contrition. The scene is still another example of the blackness of Alex's soul.
But why did you shoot this crucifixion scene like a bad Hollywood movie?
I thought Alex would have imagined it that way. That's why he uses the American accent we've heard so many times before
in biblical movies when he shouts, 'Move on there!'
Do you think there is any relationship between this and your interpretation of antiquity in Spartacus?
None at all. In Spartacus I tried with only limited success to make the film as real as possible but I was up against
a pretty dumb script which was rarely faithful to what is known about Spartacus. History tells us he twice led his victorious
slave army to the northern borders of Italy, and could quite easily have gotten out of the country. But he didn't, and instead
he led his army back to pillage Roman cities. What the reasons were for this would have been the most interesting question
the film might have pondered. Did the intentions of the rebellion change? Did Spartacus lose control of his leaders who by
now may have been more interested in the spoils of war than in freedom? In the film, Spartacus was prevented from escape by
the silly contrivance of a pirate leader who reneged on a deal to take the slave army away in his ships. If I ever needed
any convincing of the limits of persuasion a director can have on a film where someone else is the producer and he is merely
the highest-paid member of the crew, Spartacus provided proof to last a lifetime.
You use technical devices which break the narrative fluidity, and the illusion of reality: accelerated action, slow
motion, and an unusual reliance on ultra-wide angle lenses.
I tried to find something like a cinematic equivalent of Burgess's literary style, and Alex's highly subjective view
of things. But the style of any film has to do more with intuition than with analysis. I think there is a great deal of oversimplified
over-conceptualizing by some film-makers which is encouraged by the way inter- viewers formulate their questions, and it passes
for serious and useful thought and seems to inspire confidence in every direction.
Why did you shoot the orgy in skip-frame high-speed motion?
It seemed to me a good way to satirize what had become the fairly common use of slow-motion to solemnize this sort
of thing, and turn it into 'art.' The William Tell Overture also seemed a good musical joke to counter the standard Bach accompaniment.
The first three sequences are very striking, employing the same zoom pull-back shots, starting from a close-up and
ending on the whole set. How do you prepare this kind of shot?
There was no special preparation. I find that, with very few exceptions, it's important to save your cinematic ideas
until you have rehearsed the scene in the actual place you're going to film it. The first thing to do is to rehearse the scene
until something happens that is worth putting on film -- only then should you worry about how to film it. The what must always
precede the how. No matter how carefully you have pre-planned a scene, when you actually come to the time of shooting, and
you have the actors on the set, having learned their lines, dressed in the right clothes, and you have the benefit of knowing
what you have already got on film, there is usually some adjustment that has to be made to the scene in order to achieve the
There are many sequences -- for example Alex's return to his parents' house or the prison -- in which the camera is
very still and the editing reduced to a minimum.
I think there should always be a reason for making a cut. If a scene plays well in one camera set up and there is
no reason to cut, then I don't cut. I try to avoid a mechanical cutting rhythm which dissipates much of the effect of editing.
You did a lot of hand-held camera work yourself, especially for the action scenes.
I like to do hand-held shooting myself. When the camera is on a dolly you can go over the action of the scene with
the camera operator and show him the composition that you want at each point in the take. But you can't do this when the camera
is hand-held. Sometimes there are certain effects which can only be achieved with a hand-held camera, and sometimes you hand
hold it because there's no other way to move through a confined space or over obstacles.
Most of the shooting was done on location.
The entire film was shot on location with the exception of four sets which were built in a small factory which we
rented for the production. Nothing was filmed in a studio. The four sets we had to build were the Korova Milk Bar, the Prison
Check-in, the Writer's Bathroom, and the Entrance Hall to his house. In the latter case, we built this small set in a tent
in the back garden of the house in which we filmed the interiors of the writer's house. The locations were supposed to look
a bit futuristic, and we did our preliminary location search by looking through back issues of several British architectural
magazines, getting our leads for most of the locations that way.
Was the idea of the Milk Bar yours?
Part of it was. I had seen an exhibition of sculpture which displayed female figures as furniture. From this came
the idea for the fibreglass nude figures which were used as tables in the Milk Bar. The late John Barry, who was the film's
Production Designer, designed the set. To get the poses right for the sculptress who modelled the figures, John photographed
a nude model in as many positions as he could imagine would make a table. There are fewer positions than you might think.
It was with Dr. Strangelove that you really started to use music as a cultural reference. What is your attitude to
film music in general?
Unless you want a pop score, I don't see any reason not to avail yourself of the great orchestral music of the past
and present. This music may be used in its correct form or synthesized, as was done with the Beethoven for some scenes in
A Clockwork Orange. But there doesn't seem to be much point in hiring a composer who, however good he may be, is not a Mozart
or a Beethoven, when you have such a vast choice of existing orchestral music which includes contemporary and avant-garde
work. Doing it this way gives you the opportunity to experiment with the music early in the editing phase, and in some instances
to cut the scene to the music. This is not something you can easily do in the normal sequence of events.
Was the music chosen after the film was completed? And on which grounds?
Most of it was, but I had some of it in mind from the start. It is a bit difficult to say why you choose a piece of
music. Ideas occur to you, you try them out, and at some point you decide that you're doing the right thing. It's a matter
of taste, luck and imagination, as is virtually everything else connected with making a film.
Is your taste for music linked to the Viennese origins of your father?
My father was born in America, and he is a doctor living in California. His mother was Rumanian, and his father came
from a place which today is in Poland. So I think my musical tastes were probably acquired, not inherited.
It would appear that you intended to make a trilogy about the future in your last three films. Have you thought about
There is no deliberate pattern to the stories that I have chosen to make into films. About the only factor at work
each time is that I try not to repeat myself. Since you can't be systematic about finding a story to film, I read anything.
In addition to books which sound interesting, I rely on luck and accident to eventually bring me together with the book. I
read as unselfconsciously as I can to avoid interfering with the story's emotional impact. If the book proves to be exciting
and suggests itself as a possible choice, subsequent readings are done much more carefully, usually with notes taken at the
same time. Should the book finally be what I want, it is very important for me to retain, during the subsequent phases of
making the film, my impressions of the first reading. After you've been working on a film, perhaps for more than a year, everything
about it tends to become so familiar that you are in danger of not seeing the forest for the trees. That's why it's so important
to be able to use this first impression as the criterion for making decisions about the story much later on. Whoever the director
may be, and however perceptively he has filmed and edited his movie, he can never have the same experience that the audience
has when it sees the film for the first time. The director's first time is the first reading of the story, and the impressions
and excitement of this event have to last through to the final work on the movie. Fortunately I've never chosen a story where
the excitement hasn't gone the distance. It would be a terrible thing if it didn't.
What were the various projects that you have dropped?
One was a screenplay of Stefan Zweig's story, "The Burning Secret," which Calder Willingham and I wrote in the middle
fifties, for Dore Schary at MGM, after I made The Killing. The story is about a mother who goes away on vacation without her
husband but accompanied by her young son. At the resort hotel where they are staying, she is seduced by an attractive gentleman
she meets there. Her son discovers this but when mother and son eventually return home the boy lies at a crucial moment to
prevent his father from discovering the truth. It's a good story but I don't know how good the screenplay was. A few years
later, I wrote an incomplete screenplay about Mosby's Rangers, a Southern guerilla force in the American Civil War.
Around that time I also wrote a screenplay called "I Stole 16 Million Dollars," based on the autobiography of Herbert
Emmerson Wilson, a famous safe-cracker. It was written for Kirk Douglas who didn't like it, and that was the end of it. I
must confess I have never subsequently been interested in any of these screenplays.
There is also a novel by Arthur Schnitzler, Rhapsody: A Dream Novel, which I intend to do but on which I have not
yet started to work. It's a difficult book to describe -- what good book isn't? It explores the sexual ambivalence of a happy
marriage, and tries to equate the importance of sexual dreams and might-have-beens with reality. All of Schnitzler's work
is psychologically brilliant, and he was greatly admired by Freud, who once wrote to him, apologizing for having always avoided
a personal meeting. Making a joke (a joke?), Freud said this was because he was afraid of the popular superstition that if
you meet your Doppelgänger (double) you would die.
Did you make a film for American television around 1960 about Lincoln?
It was in the early fifties, and I only worked for about a week doing some second unit shots in Kentucky for the producer,
Richard de Rochemont.
Your films seem to show an attraction for Germany: the German music, the characters of Dr. Strangelove, Professor
Zempf in Lolita.
I wouldn't include German music as a relevant part of that group, nor would I say that I'm attracted but, rather,
that I share the fairly widespread fascination with the horror of the Nazi period. Strangelove and Zempf are just parodies
of movie cliches about Nazis.
You seem to be very interested in language. Lolita and A Clockwork Orange are two films where the manipulation of
words play an essential role.
Yes, of course I am. But my principal interest in A Clockwork Orange wasn't the language, however brilliant it was,
but rather, the story, the characters and the ideas. Of course the language is a very important part of the novel, and it
contributed a lot to the film, too. I think A Clockwork Orange is one of the very few books where a writer has played with
syntax and introduced new words where it worked.
In a film, however, I think the images, the music, the editing and the emotions of the actors are the principal tools
you have to work with. Language is important but I would put it after those elements. It should even be possible to do a film
which isn't gimmicky without using any dialogue at all. Unfortunately, there has been very little experimentation with the
form of film stories, except in avant-garde cinema where, unfortunately, there is too little technique and expertise present
to show very much.
As far as I'm concerned, the most memorable scenes in the best films are those which are built predominantly of images
We could find that kind of attempt in some underground American films.
Yes, of course, but as I said, they lack the technique to prove very much.
The powerful things that you remember may be the images but perhaps their strength comes from the words that precede
them. Alex's first-person narration at the beginning of the film increases the power of the images.
You can't make a rule that says that words are never more useful than images. And, of course, in the scene you refer
to, it would be rather difficult to do without words to express Alex's thoughts. There is an old screenplay adage that says
if you have to use voice-over it means there's something wrong with the script. I'm quite certain this is not true, and when
thoughts are to be conveyed, especially when they are of a nature which one would not say to another person, there is no other
This time you wrote your script alone. How would you equate the problems of writing a screenplay to writing a novel?
Writing a screenplay is a very different thing than writing a novel or an original story. A good story is a kind of
a miracle, and I think that is the way I would describe Burgess's achievement with the novel. A Clockwork Orange has a wonderful
plot, strong characters and clear philosophy. When you can write a book like that, you've really done something. On the other
hand, writing the screenplay of the book is much more of a logical process -- something between writing and breaking a code.
It does not require the inspiration or the invention of the novelist. I'm not saying it's easy to write a good screenplay.
It certainly isn't, and a lot of fine novels have been ruined in the process.
However serious your intentions may be, and however important you think are the ideas of the story, the enormous cost
of a movie makes it necessary to reach the largest potential audience for that story, in order to give your backers their
best chance to get their money back and hopefully make a profit. No one will disagree that a good story is an essential starting
point for accomplishing this. But another thing, too, the stronger the story, the more chances you can take with everything
I think Dr. Strangelove is a good example of this. It was based on a very good suspense novel, Red Alert, written
by Peter George, a former RAF navigator. The ideas of the story and all its suspense were still there even when it was completely
changed into black comedy.
The end of A Clockwork Orange is different from the one in the Burgess book.
There are two different versions of the novel. One has an extra chapter. I had not read this version until I had virtually
finished the screenplay. This extra chapter depicts the rehabilitation of Alex. But it is, as far as I am concerned, unconvincing
and inconsistent with the style and intent of the book. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the publisher had somehow prevailed
upon Burgess to tack on the extra chapter against his better judgment, so the book would end on a more positive note. I certainly
never gave any serious consideration to using it.
In A Clockwork Orange, Alex is an evil character, as Strangelove was, but Alex somehow seems less repellent.
Alex has vitality, courage and intelligence, but you cannot fail to see that he is thoroughly evil. At the same time,
there is a strange kind of psychological identification with him which gradually occurs, however much you may be repelled
by his behaviour. I think this happens for a couple of reasons. First of all, Alex is always completely honest in his first-person
narrative, perhaps even painfully so. Secondly, because on the unconscious level I suspect we all share certain aspects of
Are you attracted by evil characters?
Of course I'm not, but they are good for stories. More people read books about the Nazis than about the UN. Newspapers
headline bad news. The bad characters in a story can often be more interesting than the good ones.
How do you explain the kind of fascination that Alex exercises on the audience?
I think that it's probably because we can identify with Alex on the unconscious level. The psychiatrists tell us the
unconscious has no conscience -- and perhaps in our unconscious we are all potential Alexes. It may be that only as a result
of morality, the law and sometimes our own innate character that we do not become like him. Perhaps this makes some people
feel uncomfortable and partly explains some of the controversy which has arisen over the film. Perhaps they are unable to
accept this view of human nature. But I think you find much the same psychological phenomena at work in Shakespeare's Richard
III. You should feel nothing but dislike towards Richard, and yet when the role is well played, with a bit of humour and charm,
you find yourself gradually making a similar kind of identification with him. Not because you sympathize with Richard's ambition
or his actions, or that you like him or think people should behave like him but, as you watch the play, because he gradually
works himself into your unconscious, and recognition occurs in the recesses of the mind. At the same time, I don't believe
anyone leaves the theatre thinking Richard III or Alex are the sort of people one admires and would wish to be like.
Some people have criticized the possible dangers of such an admiration.
But it's not an admiration one feels, and I think that anyone who says so is completely wrong. I think this view tends
to come from people who, however well-meaning and intelligent, hold committed positions in favour of broader and stricter
censorship. No one is corrupted watching A Clockwork Orange any more than they are by watching Richard III. A Clockwork Orange
has received world-wide acclaim as an important work of art. It was chosen by the New York Film Critics as the Best Film of
the year, and I received the Best Director award. It won the Italian David Donatello award. The Belgian film critics gave
it their award. It won the German Spotlight award. It received four USA Oscar nominations and seven British Academy Award
nominations. It won the Hugo award for the Best Science-Fiction movie.
It was highly praised by Fellini, Bunuel and Kurosawa. It has also received favourable comment from educational, scientific,
political, religious and even law-enforcement groups. I could go on. But the point I want to make is that the film has been
accepted as a work of art, and no work of art has ever done social harm, though a great deal of social harm has been done
by those who have sought to protect society against works of art which they regarded as dangerous.
What was your attitude towards violence and eroticism in your film?
The erotic decor in the film suggests a slightly futuristic period for the story. The assumption being that erotic
art will eventually become popular art, and just as you now buy African wildlife paintings in Woolworth's, you may one day
buy erotica. The violence in the story has to be given sufficient dramatic weight so that the moral dilemma it poses can be
seen in the right context. It is absolutely essential that Alex is seen to be guilty of a terrible violence against society,
so that when he is eventually transformed by the State into a harmless zombie you can reach a meaningful conclusion about
the relative rights and wrongs. If we did not see Alex first as a brutal and merciless thug it would be too easy to agree
that the State is involved in a worse evil in depriving him of his freedom to choose between good and evil. It must be clear
that it is wrong to turn even unforgivably vicious criminals into vegetables, otherwise the story would fall into the same
logical trap as did the old, anti-lynching Hollywood westerns which always nullified their theme by lynching an innocent person.
Of course no one will disagree that you shouldn't lynch an innocent person -- but will they agree that it's just as bad to
lynch a guilty person, perhaps even someone guilty of a horrible crime? And so it is with conditioning Alex.
What is your opinion about the increasing presence of violence on the screen in recent years?
There has always been violence in art. There is violence in the Bible, violence in Homer, violence in Shakespeare,
and many psychiatrists believe that it serves as a catharsis rather than a model. I think the question of whether there has
been an increase in screen violence and, if so, what effect this has had, is to a very great extent a media-defined issue.
I know there are well-intentioned people who sincerely believe that films and TV contribute to violence, but almost all of
the official studies of this question have concluded that there is no evidence to support this view. At the same time, I think
the media tend to exploit the issue because it allows them to display and discuss the so-called harmful things from a lofty
position of moral superiority. But the people who commit violent crime are not ordinary people who are transformed into vicious
thugs by the wrong diet of films or TV. Rather, it is a fact that violent crime is invariably committed by people with a long
record of anti-social behaviour, or by the unexpected blossoming of a psychopath who is described afterward as having been
'...such a nice, quiet boy,' but whose entire life, it is later realized, has been leading him inexorably to the terrible
moment, and who would have found the final ostensible reason for his action if not in one thing then in another. In both instances
immensely complicated social, economic and psychological forces are involved in the individual's criminal behaviour. The simplistic
notion that films and TV can transform an otherwise innocent and good person into a criminal has strong overtones of the Salem
witch trials. This notion is further encouraged by the criminals and their lawyers who hope for mitigation through this excuse.
I am also surprised at the extremely illogical distinction that is so often drawn between harmful violence and the so-called
harmless violence of, say, "Tom and Jerry" cartoons or James Bond movies, where often sadistic violence is presented as unadulterated
fun. I hasten to say, I don't think that they contribute to violence either. Films and TV are also convenient whipping boys
for politicians because they allow them to look away from the social and economic causes of crime, about which they are either
unwilling or unable to do anything.
Alex loves rape and Beethoven: what do you think that implies?
I think this suggests the failure of culture to have any morally refining effect on society. Hitler loved good music
and many top Nazis were cultured and sophisticated men but it didn't do them, or anyone else, much good.
Contrary to Rousseau, do you believe that man is born bad and that society makes him worse?
I wouldn't put it like that. I think that when Rousseau transferred the concept of original sin from man to society,
he was responsible for a lot of misguided social thinking which followed. I don't think that man is what he is because of
an imperfectly structured society, but rather that society is imperfectly structured because of the nature of man. No philosophy
based on an incorrect view of the nature of man is likely to produce social good.
Your film deals with the limits of power and freedom.
The film explores the difficulties of reconciling the conflict between individual freedom and social order. Alex exercises
his freedom to be a vicious thug until the State turns him into a harmless zombie no longer able to choose between good and
evil. One of the conclusions of the film is, of course, that there are limits to which society should go in maintaining law
and order. Society should not do the wrong thing for the right reason, even though it frequently does the right thing for
the wrong reason.
Michel Ciment: What attracted you in Burgess's novel?
Everything. The plot, the characters, the ideas. I was also interested in how close the story was to fairy tales and
myths, particularly in its deliberately heavy use of coincidence and plot symmetry.
In your films, you seem to be critical of all political factions. Would you define yourself as a pessimist or anarchist?
I am certainly not an anarchist, and I don't think of myself as a pessimist. I believe very strongly in parliamentary
democracy, and I am of the opinion that the power and authority of the State should be optimized and exercized only to the
extent that is required to keep things civilized. History has shown us what happens when you try to make society too civilized,
or do too good a job of eliminating undesirable elements. It also shows the tragic fallacy in the belief that the destruction
of democratic institutions will cause better ones to arise in their place.
Certainly one of the most challenging and difficult social problems we face today is, how can the State maintain the
necessary degree of control over society without becoming repressive, and how can it achieve this in the face of an increasingly
impatient electorate who are beginning to regard legal and political solutions as too slow? The State sees the spectre looming
ahead of terrorism and anarchy, and this increases the risk of its over-reaction and a reduction in our freedom. As with everything
else in life, it is a matter of groping for the right balance, and a certain amount of luck.
Kubrick on Barry Lyndon (An interview with Michel Ciment)
Michel Ciment: You have given almost no interviews on Barry Lyndon. Does this decision relate to this film
particularly, or is it because you are reluctant to speak about your work?
Stanley Kubrick: I suppose
my excuse is that the picture was ready only a few weeks before it opened and I really had no time to do any interviews. But
if I'm to be completely honest, it's probably due more to the fact that I don't like doing interviews. There is always the
problem of being misquoted or, what's even worse, of being quoted exactly, and having to see what you've said in print. Then
there are the mandatory -- "How did you get along with actor X, Y or Z?" -- "Who really thought of good idea A, B or C?" I
think Nabokov may have had the right approach to interviews. He would only agree to write down the answers and then send them
on to the interviewer who would then write the questions.
Do you feel that Barry Lyndon is a more secret film, more difficult to talk about?
Not really. I've always found it difficult to talk about any of my films. What I generally manage to do is to discuss
the background information connected with the story, or perhaps some of the interesting facts which might be associated with
it. This approach often allows me to avoid the "What does it mean? Why did you do it?" questions. For example, with Dr.
Strangelove I could talk about the spectrum of bizarre ideas connected with the possibilities of accidental or unintentional
warfare. 2001: A Space Odyssey allowed speculation about ultra-intelligent computers, life in the universe, and a whole
range of science-fiction ideas. A Clockwork Orange involved law and order, criminal violence, authority versus freedom,
etc. With Barry Lyndon you haven't got these topical issues to talk around, so I suppose that does make it a bit more
Your last three films were set in the future. What led you to make an historical film?
I can't honestly say what led me to make any of my films. The best I can do is to say I just fell in love with the
stories. Going beyond that is a bit like trying to explain why you fell in love with your wife: she's intelligent, has brown
eyes, a good figure. Have you really said anything? Since I am currently going through the process of trying to decide what
film to make next, I realize just how uncontrollable is the business of finding a story, and how much it depends on chance
and spontaneous reaction. You can say a lot of "architectural" things about what a film story should have: a strong plot,
interesting characters, possibilities for cinematic development, good opportunities for the actors to display emotion, and
the presentation of its thematic ideas truthfully and intelligently. But, of course, that still doesn't really explain why
you finally chose something, nor does it lead you to a story. You can only say that you probably wouldn't choose a story that
doesn't have most of those qualities.
Since you are completely free in your choice of story material, how did you come to pick up a
book by Thackeray, almost forgotten and hardly republished since the nineteenth century?
I have had a complete set of Thackeray sitting on my bookshelf at home for years, and I had to read several of his
novels before reading Barry Lyndon. At one time, Vanity Fair interested me as a possible film but, in the end,
I decided the story could not be successfully compressed into the relatively short time-span of a feature film. This problem
of length, by the way, is now wonderfully accommodated for by the television miniseries which, with its ten- to twelve-hour
length, pressed on consecutive nights, has created a completely different dramatic form. Anyway, as soon as I read Barry
Lyndon I became very excited about it. I loved the story and the characters, and it seemed possible to make the transition
from novel to film without destroying it in the process. It also offered the opportunity to do one of the things that movies
can do better than any other art form, and that is to present historical subject matter. Description is not one of the things
that novels do best but it is something that movies do effortlessly, at least with respect to the effort required of the audience.
This is equally true for science-fiction and fantasy, which offer visual challenges and possibilities you don't find in contemporary
How did you come to adopt a third-person commentary instead of the first-person narrative which
is found in the book?
I believe Thackeray used Redmond Barry to tell his own story in a deliberately distorted way because it made it more
interesting. Instead of the omniscient author, Thackeray used the imperfect observer, or perhaps it would be more accurate
to say the dishonest observer, thus allowing the reader to judge for himself, with little difficulty, the probable truth in
Redmond Barry's view of his life. This technique worked extremely well in the novel but, of course, in a film you have objective
reality in front of you all of the time, so the effect of Thackeray's first-person story-teller could not be repeated on the
screen. It might have worked as comedy by the juxtaposition of Barry's version of the truth with the reality on the screen,
but I don't think that Barry Lyndon should have been done as a comedy.
You didn't think of having no commentary?
There is too much story to tell. A voice-over spares you the cumbersome business of telling the necessary facts of
the story through expositional dialogue scenes which can become very tiresome and frequently unconvincing: "Curse the blasted
storm that's wrecked our blessed ship!" Voice-over, on the other hand, is a perfectly legitimate and economical way of conveying
story information which does not need dramatic weight and which would otherwise be too bulky to dramatize.
But you use it in other way -- to cool down the emotion of a scene, and to anticipate the story.
For instance, just after the meeting with the German peasant girl -- a very moving scene -- the voice-over compares her to
a town having been often conquered by siege.
In the scene that you're referring to, the voice-over works as an ironic counterpoint to what you see portrayed by
the actors on the screen. This is only a minor sequence in the story and has to be presented with economy. Barry is tender
and romantic with the girl but all he really wants is to get her into bed. The girl is lonely and Barry is attractive and
attentive. If you think about it, it isn't likely that he is the only soldier she has brought home while her husband has been
away to the wars. You could have had Barry give signals to the audience, through his performance, indicating that he is really
insincere and opportunistic, but this would be unreal. When we try to deceive we are as convincing as we can be, aren't we?
The film's commentary also serves another purpose, but this time in much the same manner it did in the novel. The
story has many twists and turns, and Thackeray uses Barry to give you hints in advance of most of the important plot developments,
thus lessening the risk of their seeming contrived.
When he is going to meet the Chevalier Balibari, the commentary anticipates the emotions we are
about to see, thus possibly lessening their effect.
Barry Lyndon is a story
which does not depend upon surprise. What is important is not what is going to happen, but how it will happen.
I think Thackeray trades off the advantage of surprise to gain a greater sense of inevitability and a better integration of
what might otherwise seem melodramatic or contrived. In the scene you refer to where Barry meets the Chevalier, the film's
voice-over establishes the necessary groundwork for the important new relationship which is rapidly to develop between the
two men. By talking about Barry's loneliness being so far from home, his sense of isolation as an exile, and his joy at meeting
a fellow countryman in a foreign land, the commentary prepares the way for the scenes which are quickly to follow showing
his close attachment to the Chevalier. Another place in the story where I think this technique works particularly well is
where we are told that Barry's young son, Bryan, is going to die at the same time we watch the two of them playing happily
together. In this case, I think the commentary creates the same dramatic effect as, for example, the knowledge that the Titanic
is doomed while you watch the carefree scenes of preparation and departure. These early scenes would be inexplicably dull
if you didn't know about the ship's appointment with the iceberg. Being told in advance of the impending disaster gives away
surprise but creates suspense.
There is very little introspection in the film. Barry is open about his feelings at the beginning
of the film, but then he becomes less so.
At the beginning of the story, Barry has more people around him to whom he can express his feelings. As the story
progresses, and particularly after his marriage, he becomes more and more isolated. There is finally no one who loves him,
or with whom he can talk freely, with the possible exception of his young son, who is too uoung to be of much help. At the
same time I don't think that the lack of introspective dialogue scenes are any loss to the story. Barry's feelings are there
to be seen as he reacts to the increasingly difficult circumstances of his life. I think this is equally true for the other
characters in the story. In any event, scenes of people talking about themselves are often very dull.
In contrast to films which are preoccupied with analyzing the psychology of the characters, yours
tend to maintain a mystery around them. Reverend Runt, for instance, is a very opaque person. You don't know exactly what
his motivations are.
But you know a lot about Reverend Runt, certainly all that is necessary. He dislikes Barry. He is secretly in love
with Lady Lyndon, in his own prim, repressed, little way. His little smile of triumph, in the scene in the coach, near the
end of the film, tells you all you need to know regarding the way he feels about Barry's misfortune, and the way things have
worked out. You certainly don't have the time in a film to develop the motivations of minor characters.
Lady Lyndon is even more opaque.
Thackeray doesn't tell you a great deal about her in the novel. I found that very strange. He doesn't give you a lot
to go on. There are, in fact, very few dialogue scenes with her in the book. Perhaps he meant her to be something of a mystery.
But the film gives you a sufficient understanding of her anyway.
You made important changes in your adaptation, such as the invention of the last duel, and the
Yes, I did, but I was satisfied that they were consistent with the spirit of the novel and brought the story to about
the same place the novel did, but in less time. In the book, Barry is pensioned off by Lady Lyndon. Lord Bullingdon, having
been believed dead, returns from America. He finds Barry and gives him a beating. Barry, tended by his mother, subsequently
dies in prison, a drunk. This, and everything that went along with it in the novel to make it credible would have taken too
much time on the screen. In the film, Bullingdon gets his revenge and Barry is totally defeated, destined, one can assume,
for a fate not unlike that which awaited him in the novel.
And the scene of the two homosexuals in the lake was not in the book either.
The problem here was how to get Barry out of the British Army. The section of the book dealing with this is also fairly
lengthy and complicated.
The function of the scene between the two gay officers was to provide a simpler way for Barry to escape. Again, it
leads to the same end result as the novel but by a different route. Barry steals the papers and uniform of a British officer
which allow him to make his way to freedom. Since the scene is purely expositional, the comic situation helps to mask your
Were you aware of the multiple echoes that are found in the film: flogging in the army, flogging
at home, the duels, etc., and the narrative structure resembling that of A Clockwork Orange? Does this geometrical pattern attract you?
The narrative symmetry arose primarily out of the needs of telling the story rather than as part of a conscious design.
The artistic process you go through in making a film is as much a matter of discovery as it is the execution of a plan. Your
first responsibility in writing a screenplay is to pay the closest possible attention to the author's ideas and make sure
you really understand what he has written and why he has written it. I know this sounds pretty obvious but you'd
be surprised how often this is not done. There is a tendency for the screenplay writer to be "creative" too quickly. The next
thing is to make sure that the story survives the selection and compression which has to occur in order to tell it in a maximum
of three hours, and preferably two. This phase usually seals the fate of most major novels, which really need the large canvas
upon which they are presented.
In the first part of A Clockwork Orange, we were against Alex. In the second part, we were on his side. In this film, the attraction/repulsion
feeling towards Barry is present throughout.
Thackeray referred to it as "a novel without a hero". Barry is naive and uneducated. He is driven by a relentless
ambition for wealth and social position. This proves to be an unfortunate combination of qualities which eventually lead to
great misfortune and unhappiness for himself and those around him. Your feelings about Barry are mixed but he has charm and
courage, and it is impossible not to like him despite his vanity, his insensitivity and his weaknesses. He is a very real
character who is neither a conventional hero nor a conventional villain.
The feeling that we have at the end is one of utter waste.
Perhaps more a sense of tragedy, and because of this the story can assimilate the twists and turns of the plot without
becoming melodrama. Melodrama uses all the problems of the world, and the difficulties and disasters which befall the characters,
to demonstrate that the world is, after all, a benevolent and just place.
The last sentence which says that all the characters are now equal can be taken as a nihilistic
or religious statement. From your films, one has the feeling that you are a nihilist who would like to believe.
I think you'll find that it is merely an ironic postscript taken from the novel. Its meaning seems quite clear to
me and, as far as I'm concerned, it has nothing to do with nihilism or religion.
One has the feeling in your films that the world is in a constant state of war. The apes are fighting
in 2001. There is fighting, too, in Paths Of Glory, and Dr. Strangelove. In Barry Lyndon, you have a war in the first part, and then
in the second part we find the home is a battleground, too.
Drama is conflict, and violent conflict does not find its exclusive domain in my films. Nor is it uncommon for a film
to be built around a situation where violent conflict is the driving force. With respect to Barry Lyndon, after his
successful struggle to achieve wealth and social position, Barry proves to be badly unsuited to this role. He has clawed his
way into a gilded cage, and once inside his life goes really bad. The violent conflicts which subsequently arise come inevitably
as a result of the characters and their relationships. Barry's early conflicts carry him forth into life and they bring him
adventure and happiness, but those in later life lead only to pain and eventually to tragedy.
In many ways, the film reminds us of silent movies. I am thinking particularly of the seduction
of Lady Lyndon by Barry at the gambling table.
That's good. I think that silent films got a lot more things right than talkies. Barry and Lady Lyndon sit at the
gaming table and exchange lingering looks. They do not say a word. Lady Lyndon goes out on the balcony for some air. Barry
follows her outside. They gaze longingly into each other's eyes and kiss. Still not a word is spoken. It's very romantic,
but at the same time, I think it suggests the empty attraction they have for each other that is to disappear as quickly as
it arose. It sets the stage for everything that is to follow in their relationship. The actors, the images and the Schubert
worked well together, I think.
Did you have Schubert's Trio in mind while preparing and shooting this particular scene?
No, I decided on it while we were editing. Initially, I thought it was right to use only eighteenth-century music.
But sometimes you can make ground-rules for yourself which prove unnecessary and counter-productive. I think I must have listened
to every LP you can buy of eighteenth-century music. One of the problems which soon became apparent is that there are no tragic
love-themes in eighteenth-century music. So eventually I decided to use Schubert's Trio in E Flat, Opus 100, written
in 1828. It's a magnificent piece of music and it has just the right restrained balance between the tragic and the romantic
without getting into the headier stuff of later Romanticism.
You also cheated in another way by having Leonard Rosenman orchestrate Handel's Sarabande in a
more dramatic style than you would find in eighteenth-century composition.
This arose from another problem about eighteenth-century music -- it isn't very dramatic, either. I first came across
the Handel theme played on a guitar and, strangely enough, it made me think of Ennio Morricone. I think it worked very well
in the film, and the very simple orchestration kept it from sounding out of place.
It also accompanies the last duel -- not present in the novel -- which is one of the most striking
scenes in the film and is set in a dovecote.
The setting was a tithe barn which also happened to have a lot of pigeons resting in the rafters. We've seen many
duels before in films, and I wanted to find a different and interesting way to present the scene. The sound of the pigeons
added something to this, and, if it were a comedy, we could have had further evidence of the pigeons. Anyway, you tend to
expect movie duels to be fought outdoors, possibly in a misty grove of trees at dawn. I thought the idea of placing the duel
in a barn gave it an interesting difference. This idea came quite by accident when one of the location scouts returned with
some photographs of the barn. I think it was Joyce who observed that accidents are the portals to discovery. Well, that's
certainly true in making films. And perhaps in much the same way, there is an aspect of film-making which can be compared
to a sporting contest. You can start with a game plan but depending on where the ball bounces and where the other side happens
to be, opportunities and problems arise which can only be effectively dealt with at that very moment.
In 2001: A Space Odyssey, for example, there seemed no clever way for HAL to learn that the two astronauts
distrusted him and were planning to disconnect his brain. It would have been irritatingly careless of them to talk aloud,
knowing that HAL would hear and understand them. Then the perfect solution presented itself from the actual phsical layout
of the space pod in the pod bay. The two men went into the pod and turned off every switch to make them safe from HAL's microphones.
They sat in the pod facing each other and in the center of the shot, visible through the sound-proof glass port, you could
plainly see the red glow of HAL's bug-eye lens, some fifteen feet away. What the conspirators didn't think of was that HAL
would be able to read their lips.
Did you find it more constricting, less free, making an historical film where we all have precise
conceptions of a period? Was it more of a challenge?
No, because at least you know what everything looked like. In 2001: A Space Odyssey everything had to be designed.
But neither type of film is easy to do. In historical and futuristic films, there is an inverse relationship between the ease
the audience has taking in at a glance the sets, costumes and decor, and the film-maker's problems in creating it. When everything
you see has to be designed and constructed, you greatly increase the cost of the film, add tremendously to all the normal
problems of film-making, making it virtually impossible to have the flexibility of last-minute changes which you can manage
in a contemporary film.
You are well-known for the thoroughness with which you accumulate information and do research
when you work on a project. Is it for you the thrill of being a reporter or a detective?
I suppose you could say it is a bit like being a detective. On Barry Lyndon, I accumulated a very large
picture file of drawings and paintings taken from art books. These pictures served as the reference for everything we needed
to make -- clothes, furniture, hand props, architecture, vehicles, etc. Unfortunately, the pictures would have been too awkward
to use while they were still in the books, and I'm afraid we finally had very guiltily to tear up a lot of beautiful art books.
They were all, fortunately, still in print which made it seem a little less sinful. Good research is an absolute necessity
and I enjoy doing it. You have an important reason to study a subject in much greater depth than you would ever have done
otherwise, and then you have the satisfaction of putting the knowledge to immediate good use. The designs for the clothes
were all copied from drawings and paintings of the period. None of them were designed in the normal sense. This is
the best way, in my opinion, to make historical costumes. It doesn't seem sensible to have a designer interpret -- say --
the eighteenth century, using the same picture sources from which you could faithfully copy the clothes. Neither is there
much point sketching the costumes again when they are already beautifully represented in the paintings and drawings of the
period. What is very important is to get some actual clothes of the period to learn how they were originally made. To get
them to look right, you really have to make them the same way. Consider also the problem of taste in designing clothes, even
for today. Only a handful of designers seem to have a sense of what is striking and beautiful. How can a designer, however
brilliant, have a feeling for the clothes of another period which is equal to that of the people and the designers of the
period itself, as recorded in their pictures? I spent a year preparing Barry Lyndon before the shooting began and I
think this time was very well spent. The starting point and sine qua non of any historical or futuristic story is to make
you believe what you see.
The danger in an historical film is that you lose yourself in details, and become decorative.
The danger connected with any multi-faceted problem is that you might pay too much attention to some of the problems
to the detriment of others, but I am very conscious of this and I make sure I don't do that.
Why do you prefer natural lighting?
Because it's the way we see things. I have always tried to light my films to simulate natural light; in the daytime
using the windows actually to light the set, and in night scenes the practical lights you see in the set. This approach has
its problems when you can use bright electric light sources, but when candelabras and oil lamps are the brightest light sources
which can be in the set, the difficulties are vastly increased. Prior to Barry Lyndon, the problem has never been properly
solved. Even if the director and cameraman had the desire to light with practical light sources, the film and the lenses were
not fast enough to get an exposure. A 35mm movie camera shutter exposes at about 1/50 of a second, and a useable exposure
was only possible with a lens at least 100% faster than any which had ever been used on a movie camera. Fortunately, I found
just such a lens, one of a group of ten which Zeiss had specially manufactured for NASA satellite photography. The lens had
a speed of fO.7, and it was 100% faster than the fastest movie lens. A lot of work still had to be done to it and to the camera
to make it useable. For one thing, the rear element of the lens had to be 2.5mm away from the film plane, requiring special
modification to the rotating camera shutter. But with this lens it was now possible to shoot in light conditions so dim that
it was difficult to read. For the day interior scenes, we used either the real daylight from the windows, or simulated daylight
by banking lights outside the windows and diffusing them with tracing paper taped on the glass. In addition to the very beautiful
lighting you can achieve this way, it is also a very practical way to work. You don't have to worry about shooting into your
lighting equipment. All your lighting is outside the window behind tracing paper, and if you shoot towwards the window you
get a very beautiful and realistic flare effect.
How did you decide on Ryan O'Neal?
He was the best actor for the part. He looked right and I was confident that he possessed much greater acting ability
than he had been allowed to show in many of the films he had previously done. In retrospect, I think my confidence in him
was fully justified by his performance, and I still can't think of anyone who would have been better for the part. The personal
qualities of an actor, as they relate to the role, are almost as important as his ability, and other actors, say, like Al
Pacino, Jack Nicholson or Dustin Hoffman, just to name a few who are great actors, would nevertheless have been wrong to play
Barry Lyndon. I liked Ryan and we got along very well together. In this regard the only difficulties I have ever had with
actors happened when their acting technique wasn't good enough to do something you asked of them. One way an actor deals with
this difficulty is to invent a lot of excuses that have nothing to do with the real problem. This was very well represented
in Truuffaut's Day For Night when Valentina Cortese, the star of the film within the film, hadn't bothered to learn
her lines and claimed her dialogue fluffs were due to the confusion created by the script girl playing a bit part in the scene.
How do you explain some of the misunderstandings about the film by the American press and the
The American press was predominantly enthusiastic about the film, and Time magazine ran a cover story about
it. The international press was even more enthusiastic. It is true that the English press was badly split. But from the very
beginning, all of my films have divided the critics. Some have thought them wonderful, and others have found very little good
to say. But subsequent critical opinion has always resulted in a very remarkable shift to the favorable. In one instance,
the same critic who originally rapped the film has several years later put it on an all-time best list. But, of course, the
lasting and ultimately most important reputation of a film is not based on reviews, but on what, if anything, people say about
it over the years, and on how much affection for it they have.
You are an innovator, but at the same time you are very conscious of tradition.
I try to be, anyway. I think that one of the problems with twentieth-century art is its preoccupation with subjectivity
and originality at the expense of everything else. This has been especially true in painting and music. Though initially stimulating,
this soon impeded the full development of any particular style, and rewarded uninteresting and sterile originality. At the
same time, it is very sad to say, films have had the opposite problem -- they have consistently tried to formalize and repeat
success, and they have clung to a form and style introduced in their infancy. The sure thing is what everone wants,
and originality is not a nice word in this context. This is true despite the repeated example that nothing is as dangerous
as a sure thing.
You have abandoned original film music in your last three films.
Exclude a pop music score from what I am about to say. However good our best film composers may be, they are not a
Beethoven, a Mozart or a Brahms. Why use music which is less good when there is such a multitude of great orchestral music
available from the past and from our own time? When you're editing a film, it's very helpful to be able to try out different
pieces of music to see how they work with the scene. This is not at all an uncommon practice. Well, with a little more care
and thought, these temporary music tracks can become the final score. When I had completed the editing of 2001:
A Space Odyssey, I had laid in temporary music tracks for almost all of the music which was eventually used in
the film. Then, in the normal way, I engaged the services of a distinguished film composer to write the score. Although he
and I went over the picture very carefully, and he listened to these temporary tracks (Strauss, Ligeti, Khatchaturian)
and agreed that they worked fine and would serve as a guide to the musical objectives of each sequence he, nevertheless, wrote
and recorded a score which could not have been more alien to the music we had listened to, and much more serious than that,
a score which, in my opinion, was completely inadequate for the film. With the premiere looming up, I had no time left even
to think about another score being written, and had I not been able to use the music I had already selected for the temporary
tracks I don't know what I would have done. The composer's agent phoned Robert O'Brien, the then head of MGM, to warn him
that if I didn't use his client's score the film would not make its premiere date. But in that instance, as in all others,
O'Brien trusted my judgment. He is a wonderful man, and one of the very few film bosses able to inspire genuine loyalty and
affection from his film-makers.
Why did you choose to have only one flashback in the film: the child falling from the horse?
I didn't want to spend the time which would have been required to show the entire story action of young Bryan sneaking
away from the house, taking the horse, falling, being found, etc. Nor did I want to learn about the accident solely through
the dialogue scene in which the farm workers, carrying the injured boy, tell Barry. Putting the flashback fragment in the
middle of the dialogue scene seemed to be the right thing to do.
Are your camera movements planned before?
Very rarely. I think there is virtually no point putting camera instructions into a screenplay, and only if some really
important camera idea occurs to me, do I write it down. When you rehearse a scene, it is usually best not to think about the
camera at all. If you do, I have found that it invariably interferes with the fullest exploration of the ideas of the scene.
When, at last, something happens which you know is worth filming, that is the time to decide how to shoot it. It is almost
but not quite true to say that when something really exciting and worthwhile is happening, it doesn't matter how you shoot
it. In any event, it never takes me long to decide on set-ups, lighting or camera movements. The visual part of film making
has always come easiest to me, and that is why I am careful to subordinate it to the story and the performances.
Do you like writing alone or would you like to work with a script writer?
I enjoy working with someone I find stimulating. One of the most fruitful and enjoyable collaborations I have had
was with Arthur C. Clarke in writing the story of 2001: A Space Odyssey. One of the paradoxes of movie writing is that,
with a few notable exceptions, writers who can really write are not interested in working on film scripts. They quite correctly
regard their important work as being done for publication. I wrote the screenplay for Barry Lyndon alone. The first
draft took three or four months but, as with all my films, the subsequent writing process never really stopped. What you have
written and is yet unfilmed is inevitably affected by what has been filmed. New problems of content or dramatic weight reveal
themselves. Rehearsing a scene can also cause script changes. However carefully you think about a scene, and however clearly
you believe you have visualized it, it's never the same when you finally see it played. Sometimes a totally new idea comes
up out of the blue, during a rehearsal, or even during actual shooting, which is simply too good to ignore. This can necessitate
the new scene being worked out with the actors right then and there. As long as the actors know the objectives of the scene,
and understand their characters, this is less difficult and much quicker to do than you might imagine.
Stanley Kubrick's horror show
by Jack Kroll
Stanley Kubrick hungers for the ultimate. In The Shining, he has gone after the ultimate
horror movie, something that will make The Exorcist look like Abbott
and Costello Meet Beelzebub.
The result is the first epic horror film, a movie that is to other horror movies what
his 2001: A Space Odyssey was to other space movies. In 2001,
Kubrick understood that the point was not all the ravishing technology but its interaction with human beings. In The
Shining, he understands that the point is not all the supernatural machinery but its effect on human beings. For
all its brilliant effects, the strongest and scariest element in The Shining is the face
of Jack Nicholson undergoing a metamorphosis from affectionate father to murderous demon.
Kubrick and his co-screenwriter, novelist Diane Johnson, have changed the emphasis of
Stephen King's best-selling thriller to a much more subtle and shocking balance between the natural and supernatural. In 2001, the astronauts, venturing into outer space, become a different species. In The
Shining, Jack Nicholson, venturing into the inner space of the wast Overlook Hotel in Colorado, becomes a different
Nicholson plays Jack Torrance, an ex-teacher and struggling writer who signs on with his
wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and 7-year-old son, Danny (newcomer Danny Lloyd), to be the caretaker of the luxurious old grand
hotel during the brutal winter when the resort is closed. Torrance is told by Ullman, the manager (Barry Nelson), about a
horrifying incident that occurred at the hotel some years before when a previous caretaker, Grady, possibly affected by the
isolation annd loneliness, murdered his two little daughters with an ax, shot his wife and then blew out his brains with a
shotgun. Nicholson smiles-no need to worry about anything like that with him, he says.
That smile is the first of many by Nicholson, the most eloquent smiler on the screen.
The smile is the facial barometer by which we read the state of his soul as it's sucked deeper and deeper into demonism by
the black forces that infest the huge hotel. You suspect that Kubrick cast Nicholson in the part chiefly because of Nicholson's
unique face-the sharp nose, wide, mobile mouth and angled eyebrows that can re-deploy themselves in an instant from sunny
friendliness to Mephistophelean menace. The movies have never shown us a more haunted face than this, as the vestiges of obscene
evil haunting the hotel infiltrate Torrance's spirit. The Overlook Hotel becomes a vast but claustrophobic universe in which
Torrance and his family are the aliens. Their surface affection and Blondie-and-Dagwood banter drop away to reveal the rage
and frustration that lie beneath. The friendly, smiling guy from Vermont becomes a raging fiend who goes after his family
with an ax.
Kubrick builds this two-hour-and-twenty-minute crescendo of terror with a mastery that
is itself more than a bit demonic. He not only gets the horror, he gets the perverse beauty of horror-a major achievement.
He and production designer Roy Walker created the entire Overlook Hotel in the studio. It's one of the greatest sets in movie
history-an astonishing catacomb of corridors, rooms, lobbies, lounges, giant kitchens and basements, through which Kubrick's
camera, directed by his marvelous cinematographer, John Alcott, moves restlessly and relentlessly, following the Torrances
as they discover the infernal forces that are the hotel's true guests.
Kubrick's camera moves like a haunted thing itself, whizzing behind little Danny as he
pedals his tricycle furiously through the endless hallways, moving backward from Wendy as she flees desperately from the husband
who has turned into a mad slaughterer, gliding beside Torrance as he lurches through the corridors with the flailing gestures
and gibberish that have become his monstrous language, wheeling with dizzying velocity through the hotel's outdoor maze where
Danny goes to flee his father's murderous pursuit. Panic and terror have never been choreographed with such exquisite rhythms,
aided by Kubrick's now-famous method of using existing recordings of music, in this case by Bela Bartok, Gyorgy Ligeti and
mostly by the Polish modernist Krzysztof Penderecki. The soundtrack becomes a dissonant, wailing, pounding but seductive symphony
of human fear as it makes contact with the irrational energies buried deep inside its heart.
This is that rare horror film in which we sense its intelligence even as it scares us.
But Kubrick hasn't perfectly balanced the inner breakdown of his characters with the occult creatures that gradually reveal
themselves. (Have no fear, they won't be revealed here.) The boy, Danny, has an imaginary friend named Tony who speaks to
him and shows him visions of the ax-murdered little girls, and it turns out that Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers), the head
chef of the hotel, also has this psychic gift, which, he explains to Danny, his grandma called "shining". But this supernatural
stuff doesn't entirely mesh with the logic of the story. The real horror of the film is expressed in Torrance's frustration.
No blood vision or demon lover or putrefying corpse is as frightening as the moment when Wendy looks at the writing that Jack
has supposedly been working on and finds that it consists of reams of paper with the single sentence, "All work and no play
makes Jack a dull boy," repeated in endless typographical variations.
This scene is more frightening than, for example, the brilliant special effect in which
one of the hotel's beautiful art-deco hallways literally begins to bleed through its walls in what becomes a torrent of blood.
The sight of Torrance's endlessly repeated sentence chills you with its revelation of a man so clogged and aching with frustrated
creativity that his desire to kill doesn't need to be explained by his seizure by sinister and suppurating creatures from
a time warp of pure evil. When Torrance turns on his son in a mad rage, The Shining becomes
a kind of perverse reversal of Kramer Vs. Kramer, where father and son found mutual flowering
in each other.
There is a grisly psychological accuracy in this that affects us more than the spooks
and haunts in the Overlook. Nevertheless, they, too, are chilling and grotesquely beautiful, as when the materialize in the
deserted hotel ballroom as spectral revelers right out of "The Great Gatsby." Nicholson's Jack Torrance is a classic piece
of horror acting: his metamorphosis into evil has its comic sides as well-which makes us remember that the devil is the ultimate
clown. Young Danny Lloyd acts mostly with his clairvoyant eyes, and Shelley Duvall creates a figure of wifely banality that
is itself frightening to behold. You notice I've not revealed the denouement (does Jack liquidate his kith and kin?). But
one detail indicates Kubrick's grim humour and cutting insight. As Torrance smashes a door to get at his screaming wife, he
sticks his head through and grins, "Heeeeeeere's Johnny." That's Kubrick's real vision of horror.
Pinned to the wall of Stanley Kubrick's sprawling, cluttered editing room at the old Elstree
Studios near London is a newspaper photo of the Joint Chiefs of Staff-a stern row of jut-jawed brass. "Shades of Dr. S," reads
a scrawl on the photo, and indeed the chiefs look just like Generals Jack D. Ripper and Buck Turgidson in Kubrick's 1964 black
comedy "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb." Another scrawl, in Kubrick's own hand across
a record jacket, says "Badly performed. Find another recording." The music is by the composer Gyorgy Ligeti, part of the score
for "The Shining." Satirizing generals or criticizing modern music, Stanley Kubrick acts with precision and decisiveness.
He knows what he wants and he gets it. His eleven films include at least two great movies, 2001
and Dr. Strangelove, two brilliant and unsettling works, Lolita
and A clockwork Orange, and just one film that seems to have been a failure of energy, his
last film, the 1975 Barry Lyndon. The personality that emerges from these works is powerful
Kubrick is famous for his obsessive attention to detail. He will shoot a scene over and
over, looking for the combination of precise control and fortuitous nuance that turns it into magic. "Stanley's demanding,"
Jack Nicholson told Newsweek's Janet Huck in Los Angeles last week. "He'll do a scene 50
times and you have to be good to do that. There are so many ways to walk into a room, order breakfast or be fright-ened to
death in a closet. Stanley's approach is, how can we do it better than it's ever been done before? It's a big challenge. A
lot of actors give him what he wants. If you don't, he'll beat it out of you-with a velvet glove, of course." No one on The Shining felt that glove more than Shelley Duvall, who had perhaps the toughest job: she had
to stay hysterical for nearly four months. Kubrick would say, piercingly but never raising his voice: "Shelley, that's not
it. How long do we have to wait for you to get it right?" But Duvall admits that "Stanley makes you do things you never thought
you could do," and Robert Altman, who is currently directing her in "Popeye," says that she is a changed artist since she
suffered with Kubrick for nearly a year.
Scatman Crothers, the veteran actor and song-and-dance man, had never heard of Kubrick
until he was chosen for the film. Kubrick got a performance of sweetness annd clarity out of Crothers. "In one scene," recalls
Scatman, "I had to get out of a Sno-Cat and walk across the street, no dialogue. Forty takes. He had Jack Nicholson walk across
the street, no dialogue. He had Shelley, Jack and the kid walk across the street. Eightyseven takes, man, he always wants
something new and he doesn't stop until he gets it."
From the time he was a kid in the Bronx making his first movie, Fear
and Desire, Kubrick's impulse has been to master every element of the filmmaking process. "Stanley's good on sound,"
says Nicholson. "So are a lot of directors, but Stanley's good in designing a new harness. Stanley's good on the color of
the mike, Stanley's good about the merchant he bought the mike from. Stanely's good about the merchant's daughter who needs
some dental work. Stanley's good." John Alcott, who's made four films with Kubrick, credits the director with making him into
a cinematographer. "He inspired me," says Alcott. "If most sought-after one in the world. For many films after I've worked
on a Kubrick film, I'm using ideas he gave me." As Scatman Crothers puts it, "Stanley's like a god. He sees everything and
Like most gods, Kubrick is not always easy to deal with. There were reports that relations
between Nicholson and Kubrick sometimes turned into a battle of the giants. "I'm a great off-stage grumbler," says Nicholson.
"I complained that he was the only director to light the sets with no standins. We had to be there even to be lit. Just because
you're a perfectionist doesn't mean you're perfect."
Kubrick would be the last god to claim perfection. He's become a movie-business legend
for his obsession with privacy as well as with filmmaking. When he made Lolita in England
in 1961, he decided to move there. He lives in a big rambling house outside London with his wife, Christiane, a painter, and
his three daughters, and he hasn't been back to the U.S. since 1968. "I haven't had the time," he says with disarming logic.
"I'm constantly involved with making films. And if you don't fly it's a bloody inconvenient trip." Kubrick is famous for his
fear of flying, a fear doubly striking because he once held a pilot's license. "I love airplanes but I don't like to be in
them," he says. "I began to be aware of the unsafe aspects of flying and they got to my imagination."
Kubrick's imagination is unlike any other moviemaker's. He's been accused of being cold
and emotionless, but the truth seems to be that he's a man of very strong feeling who's made an immense effort to control
his emotion. "I used to play chess twelve hours a day," he says. "You sit at the board and suddenly your heart leaps. Your
hand trembles to pick up the piece and move it. But what chess teaches you is that you must sit there calmly and think about
whether it's really a good idea and whether there are other, better ideas."
The view of humankind implicit in A Clockwork Orange,
2001, Barry Lyndon and now The Shining
seems anything but warm and hopeful, but Kubrick says he's simply being "objective." He insists that he was interested in
The Shining as an ingenious example of the ghost-story genre but, if you press him hard
("You're backing me up against the wall," he says), he admits to deeper implications in the story. "There's something inherently
wrong with the human personality," he says. "There's an evil side to it. One of the things that horror stories can do is to
show us the archetypes of the unconscious: we can see the dark side without having to confront it directly. Also, ghost stories
appeal to our craving for immortality. If you can be afraid of a ghost, then you have to believe that a ghost may exist. And
if a ghost exist, then oblivion might not be the end."
More than any other director, Kubrick in his films seems to construct an alternate reality,
something more logical and precise than the real world with its sloppy design and dangerous leaps of the unthinking heart.
This explains his love for the technical and formal sides of filmmaking. "Eisenstein does it with cuts," he says. "Max Ophuls
does it with fluid movement. Chaplin does it with nothing. Eisenstein seems to be all form and no content, Chaplin is all
content and little form. Nobody could have shot a film in a more pedestrian way than Chaplin. Nobody could have paid less
attention to story than Eisenstein. Alexander Nevsky is, after all, a pretty dopey story.
Potemkin is built around a heavy propaganda story. But both are great filmmakers."
Mistakes: Kubrick insists he hasn't changed, but simply become aware of more things. "I
breezed through ‘Paths of Glory' without being aware of many things I now see are mistakes. The more you learn about
an art form the more difficult it becomes because you create harder rules for yourself." Is Kubrick - at 51, engaging, soft-spoken,
but clearly self-protective - happy? "I'm happy - at times - making films," he says. "I'm certainly unhappy not making films."
Maybe Scatman Crothers sees the complex Kubrick best, in a song he wrote during the filming
of The Shining:
There's a man lives in London town,
Makes movies, he's world-renowned.
he's really got the fame,
Stanley Kubrick is his name.
He does it all, he does it all,
Stanley does it all...
a man who looks ahead
To make you think he raised the dead
And he cuts all his flicks,
He's a genius with his tricks
does it all, he does it all.
I'm tellin' y'all, Stanley does it all.
An Interview With Stanley Kubrick
by Vicente Molina Foix
London, New York, Hollywood
Although you have been making films and living in England
for quite a long time, you're still considered an American director. Are the reasons for you living in the UK only personal
or are they related to the fact that filmmaking in England is cheaper than in America?
If you're going to make films in English, there are three places which are centers of
production, Los Angeles, New York, and London, and since I spend so much time in the preparations and the cutting of a film,
I have to live in one of those production centers, otherwise I'd never be home, I'd always be away. New York is not as well
equipped as London, and Hollywood is slightly better equipped, but given the choice to live between Hollywood and London,
I just like London much more, it's a more interesting city and I like living here. I probably would like living in New York,
but New York simply is not a practical place to try to make pictures other than location films; if you're talking about a
studio picture like The Shining or 2001, New York does
not have big studio facilities or big set construction facilities. So England just seems the place to be.
But has your being in contact with a different reality
and film industry had any influence on your work?
I don't think so. Because even living in America... if you live in New York, that is a
completely different thing than living in Atlanta or Dallas or Minneapolis or the rest of the country. If you live in New
York the most you can say is that you have a "New York sense of life." I think living in London I still have whatever American
sense of life I would have living in New York. And certainly I have more sense of reality than living in Hollywood, which
is the most unreal place. I read the New York Times every day, I read American magazines, I see American films, so I don't
really feel that it makes any great difference to me. In fact, I don't feel that I'm not living in America. I don't feel isolated
or cut off culturally in any way. I'm never aware of any cultural gap, as I would be if I lived, for example, in France or
in some other country. I live in London as if I were in a neighbourhood of New York.
The other day you told me that you've always enjoyed
going to the movies. Do you still go regularly?
I try to see every movie, I have projectors at home, so it's a little easier for me now;
those pictures that I can borrow prints of I run at home, and those that I cannot, I go and see, but I try to see everything.
I would like to ask your preferences. What kind...?
I like good films. [Laughs]
Would you agree with those (mainly Europeans) who after
years of lavishing praise on the Hollywood film product now believe that good filmmaking there is virtually disappeared?
Well, certainly some of the most entertaining films have come from Hollywood. Whether
if you made a list of the most important films which will go down in film history, those people will look at for a long time,
whether the majority of those come from Hollywood, I'm not so sure. I rather doubt it. Some of them may.
Are you interested in the new paths or trends within
current Hollywood production being tried by people like Coppola, Schrader, Spielberg, Scorsese, or De Palma?
I think one of the most interesting Hollywood films, well not Hollywood - American films
- that I've seen in a long time is Claudia Weill's Girlfriends. That film, I thought, was
one of the very rare American's films that I would compare with the serious, intelligent, sensitive writing and filmmaking
that you find in the best directors in Europe. It wasn't a success, I don't know why; it should have been. Certainly I thought
it as a wonderful film. It seemed to make no compromise to the inner truth of the story, you know, the theme and everything
else. Really magnificent.
So you obviously are not very keen on the, let's call
it, "Hollywoodesque" kind of movie.
I wouldn't say "Hollywoodesque" but I think it's very hard to make a film that is both
dramatically appealing to a wide audience and contains the kind of truth and perception which you associate with great literature.
I suppose it's hard enough to do something like that even if you don't appeal to a wide audience... [great laughter] because
films do cost a lost of money in the United States, people might be overtly concerned with appealing to a wide audience. Now,
it should be possible to make something which is dramatically appealing and yet still not false. But it is difficult.
Do you know many examples of that?
It's hard to think of many examples, because if you made a list of what you would consider
your ten best films, they would never be the ten biggest grossing films, would they? But of course it all depends on how much
the films cost, I mean, the gross is only really relevant to the cost of the film. If making a film in Hollywood costs eight
million dollars, plus a million for the copies and another million for advertising, and it takes in around fifteen million,
you still lose. If someone makes a film in Europe for about a million dollars and takes in six million, he gets rich. The
profit has to be calculated on the basis of the costs. The great problem is that the films cost so much now; in America it's
almost impossible to make a good film, which means you have to spend a certain amount of time on it, and have good technicians
and good actors, that aren't very, very expensive. This film that Claudia Weill did, I think she did on an amateur basis;
she shot it for about a year, two or three days a week. Of course she had a great advantage, because she had all the time
she needed to think about it, to see what she had done. I thought she made the film extremely well.
Were you ever interested in the so-called "underground"
American cinema, either in its politicallyminded directors (Kramer, Di Antonio) or the more explicitly avant-garde New York
names (Warhol, Anger, Mekas, Markopoulos)?
Well, I haven't really seen any good underground movies. I mean, one of the problems with
movies is that it does require some degree of technical ability to keep the film from looking foolish. And most underground
films are poorly made. But I wouldn't call, for instance, Girlfriends an underground movie,
that was really just a low-budget professional film. I certainly haven't seen any underground films that I thought were important
or particularly interesting. I mean, they are rather interesting in a way because people are doing things that no one would
ever think of doing. But I couldn't say that they are very stimulating or important in creating new ideas that are going to
be taken up by other people.
In the past few days we have often touched upon the
theme of Spanish filmmaking and the limited repercussion it has had outside Spain - perhaps unjustifiably limited. Could you
say something more about the few Spanish films you have seen, apart, obviously, from Bunuel.
I have to confess that my knowledge is quite insufficient. The only director I can really
say anything about is Carlos Saura, and also, in virtue of his single, excellent film, Victor Erice. But then, you ought to
mention in the interview that here in London, unfortunately there are not many opportunities of seeing Spanish films.
Yes, the fact is very well known in my country.
I first encountered Saura's work by chance and in a rather strange way one day I got home
quite late and turned on the television; a film in Spanish with subtitles, that I knew absolutely nothing about and besides
I'd missed the first half hour. It was hard for me to follow and understand but, at the same time, I was convinced it was
the film of a great director. I watched the rest of the film glued to the TV set and when it was over I picked up a newspaper
and saw that it was Peppermint Frappè by Carlos Saura. Later I found a copy of the film,
which of course I watched from the beginning and with great enthusiasm, and since then all of Saura's films that I've seen
have confirmed the really high quality of his work. He is an extremely brilliant director, and what strikes me in particular
is the marvelous use he makes of his actors. I'd also like to mention the great impression the young girl Ana Torrent made
on me in the two roles I saw her play: in Erice's film, El Espiritu de la Colmena, and in
Saura's Cria Cuervos. I dare say that in a few years she will be a woman of rare beauty
- you can see it already - and a great actress. And besides these two directions I must of course mention Luis Bunel, whom
I have profoundly admired for many many years.
But do you see anything in common between these three
directors? I ask you this question, which may seem gratuitous, because when Cria Cuervos was shown recently on the BBC, there were numerous references in
the English press to the "Bunuelesque" quality of Saura's film, and the names of both directors were linked to Erice's.
All good films have something in common. Apart from that, divining kinships is critics'
work, and more often than not they make them up. Sure, some hypotheses of the critics are more plausible than others... All
great films are great because they have something unique about them and, for this reason, each one is incomparable. But, on
the other hand, a good film normally has to be well written, well acted, well directed, and this may give the impression that
good films do resemble one another. But the truth is that they are for the most part quite different, because each one is
Most of your films are based on novels. Do you find
it easier to make a film taking literary material as basis?
There's one great advantage taking it from literary material, and that is that you have
the opportunity of reading the story for the first time. I've never written an original screenplay myself, so I'm only theorizing
as to what I think the effect would be, but I suppose that if you had an idea yourself that you liked and you developed, your
sense of whether or not the story was interesting would be almost gone by the time you wrote it. And then at that point, to
try to make it into a film you'd have to trust only your own first interest and instincts. The advantage of a story you can
actually read is that you can remember what you felt about it the first time you read it; and that serves as a very useful
yardstick on making the decisions that you have to make directing the film, because even with somebody else's story you become
so familiar with it after a while that you can never really tell what it is going to seem like to somebody seeing the film
for the first time. So at least you have that first impression of the story and your first ideas, which are very important.
All the novels you have adapted (Nabokov's Lolita, Thackeray's Barry Lyndon, King's The Shining, to name only some) are very different from one another. What attracts you
to a book to want to make it into a movie?
First of all just some indefinable personal response to the story. It sounds overtly simple
but it has something to do with the fact that you just like the story. Then, the next question is, does the story keep you
excited and, if you think about it for two weeks, is it still exciting? When it gets past that point, the next question is
really: is the novel translatable into a film? Because most novels, really, if they are good, aren't; it's something inherent
about a good novel, either the scale of the story or the fact that the best novels tend to concern themselves with the inner
life of the characters rather than with the external action. So there's always the risk of oversimplifying them when you try
to crystallize the elements of the themes or the characters. So, okay, some novels probably will never be able to be made
into good movies. But ley's say you now decide that it is possible to make a movie out of it; the next questions are: does
it have cinematic possibilities? Will it be interesting to look at? Are there good parts for the actors? Will anybody else
be interested in it when you've finished with it? Those are the thoughts that cross my mind. But mostly, I would say, a sense
of personal excitement about the thing; the fact that you just fell in love with the story.
What did you especially like in Stephen King's The Shining?
Well, the novel was sent to me by John Calley, an executive with Warner Bros., and it
is the only thing which was ever sent to me that I found good, or that I liked. Most things I read with the feeling that after
about [a certain number] pages I'm going to put it down and think that I'm not going to waste my time. The Shining I found
very compulsive reading, and I thought the plot, ideas, and structure were much more imaginative than anything I've ever read
in the genre. It seemed to me one could make a wonderful movie out of it.
Did you know King's previous novels?
No. I had seen Carrie, the film, but I hadn't read any
of his novels. I would say King's great ability is in plot construction. He doesn't seem to take great care in writing, I
mean, the writing seems like if he writes it once, reads it, maybe writes it again, and sends it off to the publisher. He
seems mostly concerned with invention, which I think he's very clear about.
But were you thinking of making a horror film before
you got that novel?
No. When I'm making a film I have never had another film which I knew I wanted to do,
I've never found two stories at the same time. About the only consideration I think I have when I read a book is that I wouldn't
particularly like to do a film which was very much like another film that I've done. Other than that, I have no preconceived
ideas about what my next film should be. I don't know now, for instance, what I'm going to do. I wish I did. It saves a lot
Yes, but what about the attraction of certain types of
story? In previous films, you have worked within the conventions of specific genres (science-fiction, thriller, war film,
etc.). Were you attracted to The Shining
because it gave you the opportunity to explore the laws of a new genre in your career?
About the only law that I think relates to the genre is that you should not try to explain,
to find neat explanations for what happens, and that the object of the thing is to produce a sense of the uncanny. Freud in
his essay on the uncanny wrote that the sense of the uncanny is the only emotion which is more powerfully expressed in art
than in life, which I found very illuminating; it didn't help writing the screen-play, but I think it's an interesting insight
into the genre. And I read an essay by the great master H.P. Lovecraft where he said that you should never attempt to explain
what happens, as long as what happens stimulates people's imagination, their sense of the uncanny, their sense of anxiety
and fear. And as long as it doesn't, within itself, have any obvious inner contradictions, it is just a matter of, as it were,
building on the imagination (imaginary ideas, surprises, etc.), working in this area of feeling. I think also that the ingeniousness
of a story like this is something which the audience ultimately enjoys; they obviously wonder as the story goes on what's
going to happen, and there's a great satisfaction when it's all over not having been able to have anticipated the major development
of the story, and yet at the end not to feel that you have been fooled or swindled.
Who is Diane Johnson, who wrote the screenplay with
She's a very good novelist, she's published about five or six books. I was interested
in one of the books and started to talk to her about it and then I learned that she also was teaching a course on the Gothic
novel at Berkeley University in California. It just seemed that it would be interesting to work on the screenplay with her,
which it was. This was her first screenplay.
There are quite a few changes in the film with respect
to the novel. Several characters have been, in a good way, simplified, the supernatural and pseudo-psychological sides have
been almost eliminated and even the basic horror element is reduced. All this is to me a great improvement to the novel. Were
you trying to escape from the more conventional norms of the genre in order to build something different, although, of course,
the film can still be seen by many as a pure horror movie?
You say that a lot of the horror was cut out of the book and I don't agree on that. As
a matter of fact, other than the scene where the child sees the blood splashed all over the walls and when he hears the little
noise in the big drainpipe when he's playing in the snow, I think there's more horror in the film than there is in the book.
People have said that. In the book, for instance, nobody gets killed.
Yes, but you have eliminated all the comings and goings
of the animal figures cut in the topiary garden...
That's all. When Halloran, the black cook, comes at the end, these topiary animals try
to stop him, but that is the only thing lost from the book.
And you have also emphasized the relationship between
the main characters and their sense of isolation in the hotel, Jack's frustration as a writer.... All these things certainly
become crucial in the film and not so much in the book.
I think in the novel, King tries to put in too much of what I would call pseudo-character
and pseudo-psychological clues, but certainly the essence of the character such as it is, that he puts in the novel, was retained.
The only change is we made Wendy perhaps more believable as a mother and a wife. I would say the psychological dynamics of
the story, even in the novel, are not really changed. When you said the characters are simplified, well, obviously, they become
more clear, less cluttered; that's it, less cluttered better than simplified.
When I said simplified, I meant exactly that: clarified.
From Jack's character, for instance, all the rather cumbersome references to his family life have disappeared in the film,
and that's for the better. I don't think the audience is likely to miss the many and self-consciously "heavy" pages King devotes
to things like Jack's father's drinking problem or Wendy's mother. To me, all that is quite irrelevant.
There's the case of putting in too many psychological clues of trying to explain why Jack
is the way he is, which is not really important.
Right. Reading the novel, I constantly felt he was
trying to explain why all those horrible things happened, which I think is wrong, since the main force of the story lies in
its ambiguity. At the same time, you have avoided the many references to Poe in the book, especially to his mask of the red
death, and in fact, your film escapes completely Poe's influence and gets, I believe, much closer to Borges, particularly
in its conclusion. To me, it's a major shift from the novel.
The most major shift is really the last thirty minutes of the film, because King's climax
really only consisted of Jack confronting Danny, and Danny saying something like "you're not my father," and then Jack turns
and goes down to the boiler and the hotel blows up. The most important thing that Diane Johnson and I did was to change the
ending, to shift the emphasis along the lines you've just described. In terms of things like Jack's father and the family
background, in the film a few clues almost do the same thing; when Wendy tells the doctor about how Jack broke Danny's arm,
you can tell she's putting a very good face on the way she tells it, but you realize that something horrible must have happened.
Or, for instance, when Ullman, the manager, asks Jack "How would your wife and son like it?" and you see a look in his eyes
meaning he thinks "What an irrelevant question that is!" and then he smiles and just says "They'll love it." I mean, I think
there are lots of little subtle points that give you at least subconsciously the same awareness that King works so hard to
put in. Also I think that he was a little worried maybe about getting literary credentials for the novel; all his Poe quotes
and "Red Death" things are all right but didn't seem necessary. He seemed too concerned about making it clear to everybody
that this was a worthwhile genre of literature.
How do you normally work with the actors? Do you like
to introduce their improvisations on the set?
Yes. I find that no matter how carefully you write a scene, when you rehearse it for the
first time there always seems to be something completely different, and you realize that there are interesting ideas in the
scene which you never thought of, or that ideas that you thought were interesting aren't. Or that the weight of the idea is
unbalanced; something is too obvious or not clear enough, so I very often rewrite the scene with the rehearsal. I feel it's
the way you can take the best advantage of both the abilities of the actors and even perhaps the weaknesses of the actors.
If there's something they aren't doing, or it's pretty clear they can't do (I must say that's not true in The
Shining because they were so great), you suddenly become aware of ideas and possibilities which just didn't occur
to you. I've always been impressed reading that some directors sketch out the scenes and can actually find that it works.
It may be some shortcoming of my screenplay, but I find that no matter how good it ever looks on paper, the minute you start
in the actual set, with the actors, you're terribly aware of not taking the fullest advantage of what's possible if you actually
stick to what you wrote. I also found that thinking of shots, or thinking of the way to shoot a scene before you've actually
rehearsed it and got it to the point where something is actually happening that is worth putting on film, will frequently
prevent you from really getting into the deepest possible result of the scene.
You always try to keep total control of every step taken
in the making of a film. I feel curious about one or two aspects of this fastidious control. The first concerns the art direction
of your films, and The Shining
is particular. Do you intervene directly in this?
Well, yes. For example in this film, the art director, Roy Walker, went for a month all
over America photographing hotels, apartments, things that could be used for reference. We must have photographed hundreds
of places. Then, based on the photographs we liked, the draughtsmen drew up the working drawings from the photos, but keeping
the scale exactly as it was, exactly what was there, not something like it. When the photographs were taken he stood there
with a ruler, so that you could actually get a scale of everything, which is very important. Take something like the apartment
they are living in at the beginning of the film, with very small rooms and the narrow corridors and that strange window in
the boy's bedroom, about five feet high. Well, it's first of all silly to try to design something which everybody sees in
real life and knows that looks slightly wrong. So, things like those apartments and their apartment inside the hotel, which
is so ugly, with this sort of lack of design, the way things actually get built without architects, is also important to preserve.
So those have to be carefully copied as well as the grander rooms, which are beautiful and where you want to preserve what
the architect did. Certainly, rather than have an art director try to design a hotel for this, which I think is almost impossible
without it looking like a stage set or and opera set, it was necessary to have something real. I think also because in order
to make people believe the story it's very important to place it in something that looks totally real, and to light it as
if it were virtually a documentary film, with natural light coming from the light sources, rather than dramatic, phony lighting,
which one normally sees in a horror film. I compare that with the way Kafka or Borges writes, you know, in a simple, non-baroque
style, so that the fantastic is treated in a very everyday, ordinary way. And I think that in the sets it's very important
they just be very real, and very uninteresting architecturally, because it just means there are more compositions and more
corners to go around. But they must look real. Every detail in those sets comes from photographs of real places very carefully
copied. The exterior of the hotel is based on an existing hotel in Colorado, but the interiors are based on several different
places, for example, the red toilet is a Frank Lloyd Wright designed toilet which the art director found in a hotel in Phoenix,
Arizona. It's exactly like it, color and everything. Why try to design a toilet when you not only have a real toilet with
all the proportions right, but an interesting toilet too? If you are going to build sets, it's crucially important to leave
the possibilities for simulating natural light. For instance, all of the chandeliers that were built had to be very specially
wired, because each of those bulbs is a 1000-watt bulb, on lower voltage, so that it's bright, but it has a warm light. If
you noticed, the color and everything else in the hotel is warm - well, that's by burning 1000-watt bulbs on lower voltage.
The daylight coming through the windows was simulated by a 100-foot long translucent backing, thirty feet high, on the big
sets, right? And there were about 750 1000-watt bulbs behind the backing, so that the soft light that comes in from the windows
is like daylight; it was really like an artificial sky. So that in the daytime it looks real. Considerations like that have
to be thought of very early on, because they are really part of the making of the sets; the lighting has to be integrated
very early on in the design of the set.
Are you already thinking of a new project?
No, I'm anxiously awaiting getting an idea.
El Pais - Artes, December 20, 1980
Kubrick on The Shining (An interview with Michel Ciment)
Michel Ciment: In several of your previous films you seem to have had a prior interest in the facts and problems
which surround the story -- the nuclear threat, space travel, the relationship between violence and the state -- which led
you to Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange. In the case of The Shining, were you attracted
first by the subject of ESP, or just by Stephen King's novel?
Stanley Kubrick: I've always
been interested in ESP and the paranormal. In addition to the scientific experiments which have been conducted suggesting
that we are just short of conclusive proof of its existence, I'm sure we've all had the experience of opening a book at the
exact page we're looking for, or thinking of a friend a moment before they ring on the telephone. But The Shining didn't
originate from any particular desire to do a film about this. The manuscript of the novel was sent to me by John Calley, of
Warner Bros. I thought it was one of the most ingenious and exciting stories of the genre I had read. It seemed to strike
an extraordinary balance between the psychological and the supernatural in such a way as to lead you to think that the supernatural
would eventually be explained by the psychological: "Jack must be imagining these things because he's crazy". This allowed
you to suspend your doubt of the supernatural until you were so thoroughly into the story that you could accept it almost
Do you think this was an important factor in the success of the novel?
Yes, I do. It's what I found so particularly clever about the way the novel was written. As the supernatural events
occurred you searched for an explanation, and the most likely one seemed to be that the strange things that were happening
would finally be explained as the products of Jack's imagination. It's not until Grady, the ghost of the former caretaker
who axed to death his family, slides open the bolt of the larder door, allowing Jack to escape, that you are left with no
other explanation but the supernatural. The novel is by no means a serious literary work, but the plot is for the most part
extremely well worked out, and for a film that is often all that really matters.
Don't you think that today it is in this sort of popular literature that you find strong archetypes,
symbolic images which have vanished somehow from the more highbrow literary works?
Yes, I do, and I think that it's part of their often phenomenal success. There is no doubt that a good story has always
mattered, and the great novelists have generally built their work around strong plots. But I've never been able to decide
whether the plot is just a way of keeping people's attention while you do everything else, or whether the plot is really more
important than anything else, perhaps communicating with us on an unconscious level which affects us in the way that myths
once did. I think, in some ways, the conventions of realistic fiction and drama may impose serious limitations on a story.
For one thing, if you play by the rules and respect the preparation and pace required to establish realism, it takes a lot
longer to make a point than it does, say, in fantasy. At the same time, it is possible that this very work that contributes
to a story's realism may weaken its grip on the unconscious. Realism is probably the best way to dramatize argument and ideas.
Fantasy may deal best with themes which lie primarily in the unconscious. I think the unconscious appeal of a ghost story,
for instance, lies in its promise of immortality. If you can be frightened by a ghost story, then you must accept the possibility
that supernatural beings exist. If they do, then there is more than just oblivion waiting beyond the grave.
This kind of implication is present in much of the fantastic literature.
I believe fantasy stories at their best serve the same function for us that fairy tales and mythology formerly did.
The current popularity of fantasy, particularly in films, suggests that popular culture, at least, isn't getting what it wants
from realism. The nineteenth century was the golden age of realistic fiction. The twentieth century may be the golden age
After Barry Lyndon did you begin work straight away on The Shining?
When I finished Barry Lyndon I spent most of my time reading. Months went by and I hadn't found anything very
exciting. It's intimidating, especially at a time like this, to think of how many books you should read and never will. Because
of this, I try to avoid any systematic approach to reading, pursuing instead a random method, one which depends as much on
luck and accident as on design. I find this is also the only way to deal with the newspapers and magazines which proliferate
in great piles around the house -- some of the most interesting articles turn up on the reverse side of pages I've torn out
for something else.
Did you do research on ESP?
There really wasn't any research that was necessary to do. The story didn't require any and, since I have always been
interested in the topic, I think I was as well informed as I needed to be. I hope that ESP and related psychic phenomena will
eventually find general scientific proof of their existence. There are certainly a fair number of scientists who are sufficiently
impressed with the evidence to spend their time working in the field. If conclusive proof is ever found it won't be quite
as exciting as, say, the discovery of alien intelligence in the universe, but it will definitely be a mind expander. In addition
to the great variety of unexplainable psychic experiences we can all probably recount, I think I can see behaviour in animals
which strongly suggests something like ESP. I have a long-haired cat, named Polly, who regularly gets knots in her coat which
I have to comb or scissor out. She hates this, and on dozens of occasions while I have been stroking her and thinking
that the knots have got bad enough to do something about them, she has suddenly dived under the bed before I have made the
slightest move to get a comb or scissors. I have obviously considered the possibility that she can tell when I plan to use
the comb because of some special way I feel the knots when I have decided to comb them, but I'm quite sure that isn't how
she does it. She almost always has knots, and I stroke her innumerable times every day, but it's only when I have actually
decided to do something about them that she ever runs away and hides. Ever since I have become aware of this possibility,
I am particularly careful not to feel the knots any differently whether or not I think they need combing. But most of the
time she still seems to know the difference.
Who is Diane Johnson who wrote the screenplay with you?
Diane is an American novelist who has published a number of extremely good novels which have received serious and
important attention. I was interested in several of her books and in talking to her about them I was surprised to learn that
she was giving a course at the University of California at Berkeley on the Gothic novel. When The Shining came up she
seemed to be the ideal collaborator, which, indeed, she proved to be. I had already been working on the treatment of the book,
prior to her starting, but I hadn't actually begun the screenplay. With "The Shining," the problem was to extract the essential
plot and to re-invent the sections of the story that were weak. The characters needed to be developed a bit differently than
they were in the novel. It is in the pruning down phase that the undoing of great novels usually occurs because so much of
what is good about them has to do with the fineness of the writing, the insight of the author and often the density of the
story. But The Shining was a different matter. Its virtues lay almost entirely in the plot, and it didn't prove to
be very much of a problem to adapt it into the screenplay form. Diane and I talked a lot about the book and then we made an
outline of the scenes we thought should be included in the film. This list of scenes was shuffled and reshuffled until we
thought it was right, and then we began to write. We did several drafts of the screenplay, which was subsequently revised
at different stages before and during shooting.
It is strange that you emphasize the supernatural aspect since one could say that in the film
you give a lot of weight to an apparently rational explanation of Jack's behaviour: altitude, claustrophobia, solitude, lack
Stephen Crane wrote a story called "The Blue Hotel." In it you quickly learn that the central character is a paranoid.
He gets involved in a poker game, decides someone is cheating him, makes an accusation, starts a fight and gets killed. You
think the point of the story is that his death was inevitable because a paranoid poker player would ultimately get involved
in a fatal gunfight. But, in the end, you find out that the man he accused was actually cheating him. I think The
Shining uses a similar kind of psychological misdirection to forestall the realization that the supernatural events are
Why did you change the end and dispense with the destruction of the hotel?
To be honest, the end of the book seemed a bit hackneyed to me and not very interesting. I wanted an ending which
the audience could not anticipate. In the film, they think Hallorann is going to save Wendy and Danny. When he is killed they
fear the worst. Surely, they fear, there is no way now for Wendy and Danny to escape. The maze ending may have suggested itself
from the animal topiary scenes in the novel. I don't actually remember how the idea first came about.
Why did the room number switch from 217 in the novel to 237 in the film?
The exterior of the hotel was filmed at the Timberline Lodge, near Mount Hood, in Oregon. It had a room 217 but no
room 237, so the hotel management asked me to change the room number because they were afraid their guests might not want
to stay in room 217 after seeing the film. There is, however, a genuinely frightening thing about this hotel which nestles
high up on the slopes of Mount Hood. Mount Hood, as it happens, is a dormant volcano, but it has quite recently experienced
pre-eruption seismic rumbles similar to the ones that a few months earlier preceded the gigantic eruption of Mount St. Helens,
less than sixty miles away. If Mount Hood should ever erupt like Mount St. Helens, then the Timberline Hotel may indeed share
the fiery fate of the novel's Overlook Hotel.
How did you conceive the hotel with your art director, Roy Walker?
The first step was for Roy to go around America photographing hotels which might be suitable for the story. Then we
spent weeks going through his photographs making selections for the different rooms. Using the details in the photographs,
our draughtsmen did proper working drawings. From these, small models of all the sets were built. We wanted the hotel to look
authentic rather than like a traditionally spooky movie hotel. The hotel's labyrinthine layout and huge rooms, I believed,
would alone provide an eerie enough atmosphere. This realistic approach was also followed in the lighting, and in every
aspect of the decor it seemed to me that the perfect guide for this approach could be found in Kafka's writing style. His
stories are fantastic and allegorical, but his writing is simple and straightforward, almost journalistic. On the other hand,
all the films that have been made of his work seem to have ignored this completely, making everything look as weird and dreamlike
as possible. The final details for the different rooms of the hotel came from a number of different hotels. The red men's
room, for example, where Jack meets Grady, the ghost of the former caretaker, was inspired by a Frank Lloyd Wright men's room
in an hotel in Arizona. The models of the different sets were lit, photographed, tinkered with and revised. This process continued,
altering and adding elements to each room, until we were all happy with what we had.
There are similar movie cliches about apparitions.
From the more convincing accounts I have read of people who have reported seeing ghosts, they were invariably described
as being as solid and as real as someone actually standing in the room. The movie convention of the see-through ghost, shrouded
in white, seems to exist only in the province of art.
You have not included the scene from the novel which took place in the elevator, but have only
used it for the recurring shot of blood coming out of the doors.
The length of a movie imposes considerable restrictions on how much story you can put into it, especially if the story
is told in a conventional way.
Which conventions are you referring to?
The convention of telling the story primarily through a series of dialogue scenes. Most films are really little more
than stage plays with more atmosphere and action. I think that the scope and flexibility of movie stories would be greatly
enhanced by borrowing something from the structure of silent movies where points that didn't require dialog could be presented
by a shot and a title card. Something like: Title: Billy's uncle. Picture: Uncle giving Billy ice cream. In a few seconds,
you could introduce Billy's uncle and say something about him without being burdened with a scene. This economy of statement
gives silent movies a much greater narrative scope and flexibility than we have today. In my view, there are very few sound
films, including those regarded as masterpieces, which could not be presented almost as effectively on the stage, assuming
a good set, the same cast and quality of performances. You couldn't do that with a great silent movie.
But surely you could not put 2001: A Space Odyssey on the stage?
True enough. I know I've tried to move in this direction in all of my films but never to an extent which has satisfied
me. By the way, I should include the best TV commercials along with silent films, as another example of how you might better
tell a film story. In thirty seconds, characters are introduced, and sometimes a surprisingly involved situation is set up
When you shoot these scenes which you find theatrical, you do it in a way that emphasizes their
ordinariness. The scenes with Ullman or the visit of the doctor in The Shining, like the conference with the astronauts in 2001, are characterized
by their social conventions, their mechanical aspect.
Well, as I've said, in fantasy you want things to have the appearance of being as realistic as possible. People should
behave in the mundane way they normally do. You have to be especially careful about this in the scenes which deal with the
bizarre or fantastic details of the story.
You also decided to show few visions and make them very short.
If Danny had perfect ESP, there could be no story. He would anticipate everything, warn everybody and solve every
problem. So his perception of the paranormal must be imperfect and fragmentary. This also happens to be consistent with most
of the reports of telepathic experiences. The same applies to Hallorann. One of the ironies in the story is that you have
people who can see the past and the future and have telepathic contact, but the telephone and the short-wave radio don't work,
and the snowbound mountain roads are impassable. Failure of communication is a theme which runs through a number of my films.
You use technology a lot but seem to be afraid of it.
I'm not afraid of technology. I am afraid of aeroplanes. I've been able to avoid flying for some time but, I suppose,
if I had to I would. Perhaps it's a case of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing. At one time, I had a pilot's license
and 160 hours of solo time on single-engine light aircraft. Unfortunately, all that seemed to do was make me mistrust large
Did you think right away of Jack Nicholson for the role?
Yes, I did. I believe that Jack is one of the best actors in Hollywood, perhaps on a par with the greatest stars of
the past like Spencer Tracy and Jimmy Cagney. I should think that he is on almost everyone's first-choice list for any role
which suits him. His work is always interesting, clearly conceived and has the X-factor, magic. Jack is particularly
suited for roles which require intelligence. He is an intelligent and literate man, and these are qualities almost impossible
to act. In The Shining, you believe he's a writer, failed or otherwise.
Did the scene where he fights with Shelley Duvall on the stairs require many rehearsals?
Yes, it did. It was only with the greatest difficulty that Shelley was able to create and sustain for the length of
the scene an authentic sense of hysteria. It took her a long time to achieve this and when she did we didn't shoot the scene
too many times. I think there were five takes favouring Shelley, and only the last two were really good. When I have to shoot
a very large number of takes it's invariably because the actors don't know their lines, or don't know them well enough. An
actor can only do one thing at a time, and when he has learned his lines only well enough to say them while he's thinking
about them, he will always have trouble as soon as he has to work on the emotions of the scene or find camera marks. In a
strong emotional scene, it is always best to be able to shoot in complete takes to allow the actor a continuity of emotion,
and it is rare for most actors to reach their peak more than once or twice. There are, occasionally, scenes which benefit
from extra takes, but even then, I'm not sure that the early takes aren't just glorified rehearsals with the added adrenalin
of film running through the camera. In The Shining, the scene in the ballroom where Jack talks to Lloyd, the sinister
apparition of a former bartender, belongs to this category. Jack's performance here is incredibly intricate, with sudden changes
of thought and mood -- all grace notes. It's a very difficult scene to do because the emotion flow is so mercurial. It demands
knife-edged changes of direction and a tremendous concentration to keep things sharp and economical. In this particular scene
Jack produced his best takes near the highest numbers.
He is just as good when he walks down the corridor making wild movements before meeting the barman.
I asked Jack to remember the rumpled characters you see lunging down the streets of New York, waving their arms about
and hissing to themselves.
Did you choose Shelley Duvall after seeing her in Three Women?
I had seen all of her films and greatly admired her work. I think she brought an instantly believable characterization
to her part. The novel pictures her as a much more self-reliant and attractive woman, but these qualities make you wonder
why she has put up with Jack for so long. Shelley seemed to be exactly the kind of woman that would marry Jack and be stuck
with him. The wonderful thing about Shelley is her eccentric quality -- the way she talks, the way she moves, the way her
nervous system is put together. I think that most interesting actors have physical eccentricities about them which make their
performances more interesting and, if they don't, they work hard to find them.
How did you find the boy?
About 5000 boys were interviewed in America over a period of six months. This number eventually narrowed down to five
boys who could have played the part. That worked out to about one child in a thousand who could act -- actually not a bad
average. The interviews were done in Chicago, Denver and Cincinnati, by my assistant, Leon Vitali, the actor who played the
older Lord Bullingdon in Barry Lyndon, and his wife, Kersti. I chose those three cities because I wanted the child
to have an accent which would fall somewhere between the way Jack and Shelley speak. The local Warner Bros. office placed
newspaper ads inviting parents to make applications with photographs for the part. From the photographs a list was made of
the boys who looked right. Leon interviewed everyone in this group, subsequently doing small acting improvisations which he
recorded on video tape with those who seemed to have a little something. Further video work was done with the boys who were
good. I looked at the tapes.
Where does Danny Lloyd come from?
He comes from a small town in Illinois. His father is a railway engineer. Danny was about five-and-a-half when we
cast him. We had certain problems shooting with him in England because children are only allowed to work for three hours a
day, and may only work a certain number of days in a calendar year. But, fortunately, rehearsal days on which you do not shoot
are not counted in this total. So we rehearsed with him one day and shot on the next. I think his performance was wonderful
-- everything you could want from the role. He was a terrific boy. He had instinctive taste. He was very smart, very talented
and very sensible. His parents, Jim and Ann, were very sensitive to his problems and very supportive, and he had a great time.
Danny always knew his lines, and despite the inevitable pampering which occurred on the set, he was always reasonable and
What did the Steadicam achieve for you in the film?
The Steadicam allows one man to move the camera any place he can walk -- into small spaces where a dolly won't fit,
and up and down staircases. We used an Arriflex BL camera, which is silent and allows you to shoot sound. You can walk or
run with the camera, and the Steadicam smooths out any unsteadiness. It's like a magic carpet. The fast, flowing camera movements
in the maze would have been impossible to do without the Steadicam. You couldn't lay down dolly tracks without the camera
seeing them and, in any case, a dolly couldn't go around the right-angled corners of the maze pathways. Without a Steadicam
you could have done your best with the normal hand-held camera but the running movements would have made it extremely unsteady.
The only problem with the Steadicam is that it requires training, skill and a certain amount of fitness on the part of the
operator. You can't just pick it up and use it. But any good camera operator can do useful work even after a few days' training.
He won't be an ace but he'll still be able to do much more than he could without it. I used Garrett Brown as the Steadicam
operator. He probably has more experience than anyone with the Steadicam because he also happened to invent it. The camera
is mounted on to a spring-loaded arm, which is attached to a frame, which is in turn strapped to the operator's shoulders,
chest and hips. This, in effect, makes the camera weightless. The tricky part is that the operator has to control the camera
movements in every axis with his wrist. He watches the framing on a very small television monitor which is mounted on his
rig. It takes skill while you are walking or running to keep the horizon of the camera frame parallel to the ground, and pan
and tilt just using your wrist. A further problem is caused by inertia, which makes it difficult to stop a movement smoothly
and exactly where you want it. In order to stop on a predetermined composition you have to anticipate the stop and keep your
The Steadicam allowed you to do even more of those long-tracking shots you have done in all your
Most of the hotel set was built as a composite, so that you could go up a flight of stairs, turn down a corridor,
travel its length and find your way to still another part of the hotel. It mirrored the kind of camera movements which took
place in the maze. In order to fully exploit this layout it was necessary to have moving camera shots without cuts, and of
course the Steadicam made that much easier to do.
In the normal scenes you used dissolves and many camera movements. On the other hand, the paranormal
visions are static and the cuts abrupt.
I don't particularly like dissolves and I try not to use them, but when one scene follows another in the same place,
and you want to make it clear that time has passed, a dissolve is often the simplest way to convey this. On the other hand,
the paranormal visions are momentary glimpses into the past and the future, and must be short, even abrupt. With respect to
the camera movements, I've always liked moving the camera. It's one of the basic elements of film grammar. When you have the
means to do it and the set to do it in, it not only adds visual interest but it also permits the actors to work in longer,
possibly complete, takes. This makes it easier for them to maintain their concentration and emotional level in the scene.
Did you always plan to use the helicopter shots of the mountains as the main-title background?
Yes I did. But the location, in Glacier National Park, Montana, wasn't chosen until very near the end of principal
shooting. It was important to establish an ominous mood during Jack's first drive up to the hotel -- the vast isolation and
eerie splendour of high mountains, and the narrow, winding roads which would become impassable after heavy snow. In fact,
the roads we filmed for the title sequence are closed throughout the winter and only negotiable by tracked vehicles.
I sent a second-unit camera crew to Glacier National Park to shoot the title backgrounds but they reported that the place
wasn't interesting. When we saw the test shots they sent back we were staggered. It was plain that the location was perfect
but the crew had to be replaced. I hired Greg McGillivray, who is noted for his helicopter work, and he spent several weeks
filming some of the most beautiful mountain helicopter shots I've seen.
Did you have all those extras pose for the last shot?
No, they were in a photograph taken in 1921 which we found in a picture library. I originally planned to use extras,
but it proved impossible to make them look as good as the people in the photograph. So I very carefully photographed Jack,
matching the angle and the lighting of the 1921 photograph, and shooting him from different distances too, so that his face
would be larger and smaller on the negative. This allowed the choice of an image size which when enlarged would match the
grain structure in the original photograph. The photograph of Jack's face was then airbrushed in to the main photograph, and
I think the result looked perfect. Every face around Jack is an archetype of the period.
What type of music did you use?
The title music was based on the Dies Irae theme which has been used by many composers since the Middle Ages. It was
re-orchestrated for synthesizer and voices by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind, who did most of the synthesizer music for A
Clockwork Orange. Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta was used for several other scenes. One composition
by Ligeti was used. But most of the music in the film came from the Polish composer Krystof Penderecki. One work titled Jakob's
Dream was used in the scene when Jack wakes up from his nightmare, a strange coincidence. Actually there were a number
of other coincidences, particularly with names. The character that Jack Nicholson plays is called Jack in the novel. His son
is called Danny in the novel and is played by Danny Lloyd. The ghost bartender in the book is called Lloyd.
What music did you use at the end?
It is a popular English dance tune of the twenties, "Midnight, the Stars and You", played by Ray Noble's band with
an Al Bowly vocal.
How do you see the character of Hallorann?
Hallorann is a simple, rustic type who talks about telepathy in a disarmingly unscientific way. His folksy character
and naive attempts to explain telepathy to Danny make what he has to say dramatically more acceptable than a standard pseudo-scientific
explanation. He and Danny make a good pair.
The child creates a double to protect himself, whereas his father conjures up beings from the
past who are also anticipations of his death.
A story of the supernatural cannot be taken apart and analysed too closely. The ultimate test of its rationale is
whether it is good enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. If you submit it to a completely logical and detailed
analysis it will eventually appear absurd. In his essay on the uncanny,Das Unheimliche, Freud said that the uncanny
is the only feeling which is more powerfully experienced in art than in life. If the genre required any justification, I should
think this alone would serve as its credentials.
How do you see Danny's evolution?
Danny has had a frightening and disturbing childhood. Brutalized by his father and haunted by his paranormal visions,
he has had to find some psychological mechanism within himself to manage these powerful and dangerous forces. To do this,
he creates his imaginary friend, Tony, through whom Danny can rationalize his visions and survive.
Some people criticized you a few years ago because you were making films that did not deal with
the private problems of characters. With Barry Lyndon and now withThe Shining, you seem to be dealing more with personal relationships.
If this is true it is certainly not as a result of any deliberate effort on my part. There is no useful way to explain
how you decide what film to make. In addition to the initial problem of finding an exciting story which fulfills the elusively
intangible requirements for a film, you have the added problem of its being sufficiently different from the films you have
already done. Obviously the more films you make, the more this choice is narrowed down. If you read a story which someone
else has written you have the irreplacable experience of reading it for the first time. This is something which you obviously
cannot have if you write an original story. Reading someone else's story for the first time allows you a more accurate judgement
of the narrative and helps you to be more objective than you might otherwise be with an original story. Another important
thing is that while you're making a film, and you get deeper and deeper into it, you find that in a certain sense you know
less and less about it. You get too close to it. When you reach that point, it's essential to rely on your original feelings
about the story. Of course, at the same time, because you know so much more about it, you can also make a great many other
judgements far better than you could have after the first reading. But, not to put too fine a point on it, you can never again
have that first, virginal experience with the plot.
It seems that you want to achieve a balance between rationality and irrationality, that for you
man should acknowledge the presence of irrational forces in him rather than trying to repress them.
I think we tend to be a bit hypocritical about ourselves. We find it very easy not to see our own faults, and I don't
just mean minor faults. I suspect there have been very few people who have done serious wrong who have not rationalized away
what they've done, shifting the blame to those they have injured. We are capable of the greatest good and the greatest evil,
and the problem is that we often can't distinguish between them when it suits our purpose.
Failing to understand this leads to some misunderstanding of A Clockwork Orange.
I have always found it difficult to understand how anyone could decide that the film presented violence sympathetically.
I can only explain this as a view which arises from a prejudiced assessment of the film, ignoring everything else in the story
but a few scenes. The distinguished film director Luis Bunuel suggested this in a way when he said in the New York Times:
'A Clockwork Orange is my current favourite. I was very predisposed against the film. After seeing it, I realized it
is the only movie about what the modern world really means.' A Clockwork Orange has been widely acclaimed throughout
the world as an important work of art. I don't believe that anyone really sympathizes with Alex, and there is absolutely no
evidence that anyone does. Alex clashes with some authority figures in the story who seem as bad as he is, if not worse in
a different way. But this doesn't excuse him. The story is satirical, and it is in the nature of satire to state the opposite
of the truth as if it were the truth. I suppose you could misinterpret the film on this count, if you were determined to do
How do you see the main character of Jack in The Shining?
Jack comes to the hotel psychologically prepared to do its murderous bidding. He doesn't have very much further to
go for his anger and frustration to become completely uncontrollable. He is bitter about his failure as a writer. He is married
to a woman for whom he has only contempt. He hates his son. In the hotel, at the mercy of its powerful evil, he is quickly
ready to fulfill his dark role.
So you don't regard the apparitions as merely a projection of his mental state?
For the purposes of telling the story, my view is that the paranormal is genuine. Jack's mental state serves only
to prepare him for the murder, and to temporarily mislead the audience.
And when the film has finished? What then?
I hope the audience has had a good fright, has believed the film while they were watching it, and retains some sense
of it. The ballroom photograph at the very end suggests the reincarnation of Jack.
You are a person who uses his rationality, who enjoys understanding things, but in 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining you
demonstrate the limits of intellectual knowledge. Is this an acknowledgement of what William James called the unexplained
residues of human experience?
Obviously, science-fiction and the supernatural bring you very quickly to the limits of knowledge and rational explanation.
But from a dramatic point of view, you must ask yourself: 'If all of this were unquestionably true, how would it really happen?'
You can't go much further than that. I like the regions of fantasy where reason is used primarily to undermine incredulity.
Reason can take you to the border of these areas, but from there on you can be guided only by your imagination. I think we
strain at the limits of reason and enjoy the temporary sense of freedom which we gain by such exercises of our imagination.
Of course there is a danger that some audiences may misunderstand what you say and think that
one can dispense altogether with reason, falling into the clouded mysticism which is currently so popular in America.
People can misinterpret almost anything so that it coincides with views they already hold. They take from art what
they already believe, and I wonder how many people have ever had their views about anything important changed by a work of
Did you have a religious upbringing?
No, not at all.
You are a chess-player and I wonder if chess-playing and its logic have parallels with what you
First of all, even the greatest International Grandmasters, however deeply they analyse a position, can seldom see
to the end of the game. So their decision about each move is partly based on intuition. I was a pretty good chess-player but,
of course, not in that class. Before I had anything better to do (making movies) I played in chess tournaments at the Marshall
and Manhattan Chess Clubs in New York, and for money in parks and elsewhere. Among a great many other things that chess teaches
you is to control the initial excitement you feel when you see something that looks good. It trains you to think before grabbing,
and to think just as objectively when you're in trouble. When you're making a film you have to make most of your decisions
on the run, and there is a tendency to always shoot from the hip. It takes more discipline than you might imagine to think,
even for thirty seconds, in the noisy, confusing, high-pressure atmosphere of a film set. But a few seconds' thought can often
prevent a serious mistake being made about something that looks good at first glance. With respect to films, chess is more
useful preventing you from making mistakes than giving you ideas. Ideas come spontaneously and the discipline required to
evaluate and put them to use tends to be the real work.
Did you play chess on the set of The Shining as you did on Dr. Strangelove (with George C. Scott) and on 2001?
I played a few games with Tony Burton, one of the actors in the film. He's a very good chess-player. It was very near
the end of the picture and things had gotten to a fairly simple stage. I played quite a lot with George C. Scott during the
making of Dr. Strangelove. George is a good player, too, but if I recall correctly he didn't win many games from me.
This gave me a certain edge with him on everything else. If you fancy yourself as a good chess-player, you have an inordinate
respect for people who can beat you.
You also used to be a very good photographer. How do you think this helped you as a film-maker?
There is a much quoted aphorism that when a director dies he becomes a photographer. It's a clever remark but it's
a bit glib, and usually comes from the kind of critic who will complain that a film has been too beautifully photographed.
Anyway, I started out as a photographer. I worked for Look magazine from the age of seventeen to twenty-one. It was
a miraculous break for me to get this job after graduation from high-school. I owe a lot to the then picture editor, Helen
O'Brian, and the managing editor, Jack Guenther. This experience was invaluable to me, not only because I learned a lot about
photography, but also because it gave me a quick education in how things happened in the world. To have been a professional
photographer was obviously a great advantage for me, though not everyone I subsequently worked with thought so. When I was
directing Spartacus, Russel Metty, the cameraman, found it very amusing that I picked the camera set-ups myself and
told him what I wanted in the way of lighting. When he was in particularly high-spirits, he would crouch behind me as I looked
through my viewfinder, holding his Zippo cigarette lighter up to his eye, as if it were a viewfinder. He also volunteered
that the top directors just pointed in the direction of the shot, said something like, "Russ, a tight 3-shot," and went back
to their trailer.
What kind of photography were you doing at Look?
The normal kind of photo-journalism. It was tremendous fun for me at that age but eventually it began to wear thin,
especially since my ultimate ambition had always been to make movies. The subject matter of my Look assignments was
generally pretty dumb. I would do stories like: "Is an Athlete Stronger Than a Baby?", photographing a college football player
emulating the 'cute' positions an 18-month-old child would get into. Occasionally, I had a chance to do an interesting personality
story. One of these was about Montgomery Clift, who was at the start of his brilliant career. Photography certainly gave me
the first step up to movies. To make a film entirely by yourself, which initially I did, you may not have to know very much
about anything else, but you must know about photography.
Do you have a preference for shooting in a studio or in real locations?
If the real locations exist, and if it's practical getting your crew there, it is a lot easier and cheaper to work
on location. But sometimes going away on location is more expensive than building sets. It costs a lot of money today to keep
a crew away from home.
Why did you do The Killing in a studio?
Because the sets were fairly cheap to build and the script let you spend a good chunk of time in each of them. Also,
at that time, it was much more difficult to shoot in location interiors. There were no neck mikes or radio transmitters, and
the cameras were big and the film slow. Things have changed a lot since then. But I remember having an argument at the time
with a cameraman who refused to shoot a scene with a 25mm lens, insisting that the lens was too wide-angled to pan or move
the camera without distorting everything. Today, people think of a 25mm almost as a normal lens, and a wide-angle lens goes
down to 9.8mm, which gives you about a 90x horizontal viewing angle. The Shining could not have had the same lighting
if it had been filmed on location, and because of the snow effects it would have been extremely impractical to do it that
way. We would have been far too much of a nuisance in a real hotel, and in the case of those which were shut in the winter,
they were closed because they really were inaccessible.
What kind of horror films did you like? Did you see Rosemary's Baby?
It was one of the best of the genre. I liked The Exorcist too.
And John Boorman's The Heretic?
I haven't seen it, but I like his work. Deliverance is an extremely good film. One of the things that amazes
me about some directors (not Boorman) who have had great financial successes, is that they seem eager to give up directing
to become film moguls. If you care about films, I don't see how you could want someone else to direct for you.
Perhaps they don't like the actual shooting.
It's true -- shooting isn't always fun. But if you care about the film it doesn't matter. It's a little like changing
your baby's diapers. It is true that while you're filming you are almost always in conflict with someone. Woody Allen, talking
about directing Interiors, said that no matter how pleasant and relaxed everything seemed on the surface he felt his
actors always resented being told anything. There are actors, however, with whom communication and co-operation is so good
that the work really becomes exciting and satisfying. I find writing and editing very enjoyable, and almost completely lacking
in this kind of tension.
Today it is more and more difficult for a film to get its money back. The film rental can be three
times the cost of the film.
Much more than that. Take a film that costs $10 million. Today it's not unusual to spend $8 million on USA advertising,
and $4 million on international advertising. On a big film, add $2 million for release-prints. Say there is a 20% studio overhead
on the budget; that's $2 million more. Interest on the $10 million production cost, currently at 20% a year, would add an
additional $2 million a year, say, for two years -- that's another $4 million. So a $10 million film already costs $30 million.
Now you have to get it back. Let's say an actor takes 10% of the gross, and the distributor takes a world-wide average of
a 35% distribution fee. To roughly calculate the break-even figure, you have to divide the $30 million by 55%, the percentage
left after the actor's 10% and the 35% distribution fee. That comes to $54 million of distributor's film rental. So a $10
million film may not break even, as far as the producer's share of the profits is concerned, until 5.4 times its negative
cost. Obviously the actual break-even figure for the distributor is lower since he is taking a 35% distribution fee
and has charged overheads.
But you came to realise very early in your career that if you didn't have the control of the production
you couldn't have the artistic freedom.
There is no doubt that the more legal control you have over things, the less interference you have. This, in itself,
doesn't guarantee you're going to get it right, but it gives you your best chance. But the more freedom you have the greater
is your responsibility, and this includes the logistical side of film-making. I suppose you could make some kind of military
analogy here. Napoleon, about whom I still intend to do a film, personally worked out the laborious arithmetic of the complicated
timetables which were necessary for the coordinated arrival on the battlefield of the different elements of his army, which
sometimes were scattered all over Europe. His genius on the battlefield might have been of little use if large formations
of his army failed to arrive on the day. Of course, I'm not making a serious comparison between the burdens and the genius
of L'Empereur and any film director, but the point is that if Napoleon believed it was necessary to go to all that
trouble, then a comparative involvement in the logistical side of film-making should be a normal responsibility for any director
who wants to ensure he gets what he wants when he wants it. In a more fanciful vein, and perhaps stretching the analogy a
bit, I suspect that for Napoleon, his military campaigns provided him with at least all of the excitement and satisfaction
of making a film and, equally so, I would imagine everything in between must have seemed pretty dull by comparison. Of course
this is not an explanation of the Napoleonic wars, but perhaps it suggests some part of the explanation for Napoleon's apparently
irrepressible desire for still one more campaign. What must it be like to realize that you are perhaps the greatest military
commander in history, have marshals like Ney, Murat, Davout, the finest army in Europe, and have no place to go and nothing
to do? Then, continuing with this by now overstretched analogy, there is the big-budgeted disaster -- the Russian Campaign,
in which, from the start, Napoleon ignored the evidence which suggested the campaign would be such a costly disaster. And,
finally, before his first exile, after fighting a series of brilliant battles against the Allies' superior numbers, Napoleon
still had a final opportunity for compromise, but he over-negotiated, gambled on his military magic, and lost.
In your screenplay about Napoleon, did you adopt a chronological approach?
Yes, I did. Napoleon, himself, once remarked what a great novel his life would be. I'm sure he would have said 'movie'
if he had known about them. His entire life is the story, and it works perfectly well in the order it happened. It would also
be nice to do it as a twenty hour TV series, but there is, as yet, not enough money available in TV to properly budget such
a venture. Of course, there is the tremendous problem of the actor to play Napoleon. Al Pacino comes quickly to mind. And
there is always the possibility of shooting the twenty episodes in such a way that he would be fifty by the time he got to
Al, I'm joking! I'm joking!
Stanley Kubrick, at a Distance
by Lloyd Grove
PINEWOOD GREEN, England
The board room at Pinewood Studios is disturbingly baroque. The ceiling sags with
chandeliers. Gilt-edged paneling dresses every inch of wall. At one end a cold-eyed movie mogul, the late J. Arthur Rank,
grins from his painted portrait. It hangs above a sideboard bearing an electric burner. "IMPORTANT! COFFEE MUST NOT BOIL"
reads a label on the machine, atop of which two pots contain smoking black sludge. At the other end of the room, far, far
away, a filigreed mirror. The chasm between is filled by a table and 20 padded chairs. In front of each, a sea-green blotter.
Natural light, diffused through curtains, washes in from a bank of windows.
Time passes slowly here, if at all. Portentous pops from the burner occasionally break
the silence. Thus brewing anarchy threatens stolid formalism. It could be a scene out of a Stanley Kubrick film.
At length the director of Full Metal Jacket, an elegant
vision of chaos during the Vietnam war, shambles in through a set of double doors, which spring back and forth on their hinges
until they reach a point of equilibrium. He plops a satchel on the table and takes the chairman's seat. He wears an ocher
corduroy jacket - unabashedly shabby, with a dark blue stain at the chest - khakis that ride toward his calves, and jogging
shoes worn to a fare-thee-well (though not, it would seem, by jogging). Black hair sprouts from a balding head. The grayish
beard is like jungle growth. The eyes, gazing through wire rims, look slightly surprised.
"Has it been seven years?" he asks with the hint of a smile. His last movie, The Shining,
came out in 1980. "I never remember the years... I don't remember dates. I usually have trouble remembering how old my children
are. I know that one's about 28. But I'm not sure. Is she 28? 27?"
For Kubrick, who will turn 59 next month, time is infinitely malleable, though he periodically
consults a digital watch. One of his avowed artistic goals is to explode the narrative structure of movies. He has also managed
to explode the narrative structure of life. At one point in a five-hour conversation, he seems to remember that World War
II ended 20 years ago. At another point he mistakenly refers to Richard Nixon as president during the Tet offensive in the
early months of 1968, the setting of his new film.
"Was it Johnson?" he asks ingenuously.
The release of a Stanley Kubrick movie is always an event. In his long absences and astonishing
reappearances - he has made 12 movies since 1953 - he evokes the dark monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, his classic about
the ascent of man from apehood to the cosmos. It's "as if Stanley K. were the black slab itself", critic David Denby wrote
in the current Premiere magazine, "a force of supernatural intelligence, appearing at great intervals amid high-pitched shrieks,
who gives the world a violent kick up the next rung of the evolutionary ladder."
Full Metal Jacket - based on former Marine combat correspondent Gustav Hasford's
1979 novel The Short-Timers and filmed, audaciously, entirely in England - will probably provoke its share of shrieks.
"I know there's going to be a lot of outraged and offended responses to this movie", says
Michael Herr, author of the acclaimed Vietnam memoir Dispatches, who spent a year working
with Kubrick on the screenplay. "The political left will call him a fascist, and the right - well, who knows? I can't imagine
what women are going to think of this film."
Kubrick, as ever, is reluctant to shed light on his $17 million creation, the first of
a three-picture deal with Warner Bros. The film, at once visceral and cerebral, seems to crystallize his concerns about the
destruction of human personality (as in A Clockwork Orange, 1971), the machinery of mass
delusion (Dr. Strangelove, 1964), and the undivine comedy of war (Paths
of Glory, 1957).
"We were just going for the way it is", he says, unable to resist a chuckle, perhaps thinking
about all the film buffs who will be chewing on it for years.
"I certainly don't think the film is anti-American", he expands. "I think it tries to
give a sense of the war and the people, and how it affected them. I think with any work of art, if I can call it that, that
stays around the truth and is effective, it's very hard to write a nice capsule explanation of what it's about."
He mentions last year's Vietnam blockbuster, with which Full Metal
Jacket has inevitably been compared. "I liked Platoon", he says. "It's very
different. I think Platoon tries to ingratiate itself a little more with the audience. But then, I have enough faith in enough
of the audience to think that they are able to appreciate something which doesn't do that. At least you're not bored. I don't
know if you go to the movies a lot, but that's one of the biggest problems."
Kubrick submits to interviews so seldom, and then usually under the most calibrated of
conditions, that he has become the J.D. Salinger of movie mythology. "Or worse", he laments, "Howard Hughes."
"I don't know what you've read about Stanley", says Matthew Modine, who plays the new
film's central character, a cynical Marine combat correspondent nicknamed Private Joker, "but the impression I got was that
he was this crazy lunatic who was afraid of germs and flies. It's just not true."
"He's not a recluse", says Herr. "He doesn't go to parties but he sees a lot of people.
He's a very sane guy."
"He may think," says Hasford, who also worked on the screenplay, "that the public enjoys
thinking of him as a mad scientist."
In case one hasn't heard the bizarre stories, Kubrick is happy to repeat them, albeit
with a few strategic shrugs.
"I mean," he says, "I'm supposed to wear a football helmet and have a chauffeur who's
told not to drive more than 30 miles an hour. In fact, I have a Porsche 928S, which I drive myself, like anybody else on the
motorway, at 70 or 80 miles an hour... I've read I have a huge fence around where I live. In fact, I have a car gate which
is about that high to keep the dogs from running out on the road, where you press a button and the gate opens. That's described
as 'an electronically operated security gate.' I did an interview with a guy once, and he wrote that I hire a helicopter to
spray my garden because I don't like mosquitoes. Well, I mean, there are very few mosquitoes in England."
And if he indulges a fear of flying, "there are about 50 million other people who don't
like to fly. But with me, it tends to be attributed to some kind of singularly neurotic and generally incomprehensible weakness.
In fact, I had a pilot's license. I used to fly single-engine aircraft out of Teterboro Airport in New Jersey." For a moment
he reflects. "I don't know why people don't do it. Certain things get to your imagination and boom!" He smacks the table.
"Who can define where phobias come from?"
Born in the Bronx, a fact still evident in his speech, at once hard edged and homey, he
has lived half his life in England, these days on a country estate outside London. He hasn't been back to his native land
since 1968. He keeps up by reading newspapers and watching videotapes (often of old football games, his passion along with
chess), screening movies in his projection room, talking on the phone and sending messages by modem and fax. "Stanley", says
Herr, "is a great tool-using animal."
Kubrick's rambling house and converted stables - which he shares with his third wife Christiane,
pets both canine and feline, and a rotating retinue of assistants - are stacked with papers, books and film cans. Kubrick
himself cuts every foot of his films - he spent 10 months on Full Metal Jacket - and half
a dozen rooms are devoted to high-tech editing gear, run by a computer that is never turned off.
"They say it likes to be on, it likes to be hot", he explains. "So it's been on since
we started editing, and it's still on. It's a bit like HAL", he adds, referring to the computer that turned homicidal when
threatened with disconnection in 2001.
His is an entirely self-contained world, from which he rarely ventures forth. Over the
years he has marshaled a panoply of reasonable-sounding explanations. Traveling to no purpose is "boring", he says, the equivalent
of "aimless wandering". Then there's the problem of pets. "It's one thing to leave your house", he says, "but then suddenly
you've got to leave your dogs and cats, and there's really no one particularly to take care of them properly. So it starts
to become inconvenient to leave the place. And I have no particular reason to."
London is also a good place to make movies, with production facilities superior to New
York's and less expensive than Hollywood's. And, after all, it doesn't really matter these days where one hangs one's hat.
"If you live, say, in New York, you get the images of your neighborhood and your friends, but essentially it's all the electronic
village stuff and it isn't that different now living any place, with cities being decentralized and computer modems and TV."
He fails to cite the most persuasive argument - that this carefully composed environment
is probably the only one in which his obsessive imagination could flourish. The image of Kubrick abroad evokes the hapless
astronaut in 2001 struggling with a severed life-support system as he hurtles through the
The director who explored the horror genre in The Shining, knockabout satire in Dr. Strangelove, and costume drama in Barry Lyndon (1975), insists
that he never set out to put his stamp on the Vietnam War Movie. As always, he says, he just wanted to tell a good story.
"There are certain things about a war story that lend itself to filming," he says, "but
only if the story's good. There's something about every kind of story. There's something about a love story with Greta Garbo
in it. Whether it's a war story, or a love story, or an animal story... I would say it's the story, not the subject."
On finishing The Shining, based on the novel by Stephen
King, he launched a literary reconnaissance mission. "When I don't have a story" he says, "it's like saying a lion walking
around in the veld isn't looking for a meal. I'm always looking." In 1982 he happened on The Short-Timers,
in which young Marines are molded by boot camp and then twisted by war - and was immediately enthralled. It took him longer
to decide that the novel was filmable. The term "full metal jacket", which appears nowhere in the book, describes the casing
of a bullet.
"This book", Kubrick says, "was written in a very, very, almost poetically spare way.
There was tremendous economy of statement, and Hasford left out all the 'mandatory' war scenes that are put in to make sure
you understand the characters and make you wish he would get on with the story... I tried to retain this approach in the film.
I think as a result, the film moves along at an alarming - hopefully an alarming - pace."
Beginning in 1983, he steeped himself in Vietnam - countless movies and documentaries,
Vietnamese newspapers on microfilm from the Library of Congress and hundreds of photographs from the era - as he collaborated
on the screenplay with Herr and Hasford and looked for locations in England. He found a British Territorial Army base to serve
as the Marine boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., where the movie's searing opening sequences unfold. For Da Nang, Phu Bai and
the Imperial City of Hue, which was devastated by the Tet fighting, he found an abandoned gas works on the Thames River at
Beckton, already scheduled for demolition.
The architecture on the isolated site, about a mile square, closely resembled certain
neighborhoods in Hue, circa 1968. It was "all in this industrial functionalism style of the 1930s, with the square modular
concrete components and big square doors and square windows", Kubrick says. "And so we had a demolition team in there for
a week blowing up buildings, and the art director spent about six weeks with a guy with a wrecking ball and chain, knocking
holes in the corners of things and really getting interesting ruins - which no amount of money would have allowed you to build."
Kubrick's Hue was finished off with grillwork and other architectural accents, 200 palm
trees imported from Spain and thousands of plastic plants shipped from Hong Kong. Weeds and tall yellow grass - "which look
the same all over the world", he notes - were conveniently indigenous. Four M41 tanks arrived courtesy of a Belgian army colonel
who is a Kubrick fan, and historically correct S55 helicopters were leased and painted Marine green. A selection of rifles,
M79 grenade launchers and M60 machine guns were obtained through a licensed weapons dealer.
"It looks absolutely perfect, I think", the director says of his dusty rendering of Vietnam
on the Thames. "There might be some other place in the world like it, but I'd hate to have to look for it. I think even if
we had gone to Hue, we couldn't have created that look. I know we couldn't have."
Kubrick discarded documentary realism only once in the film - for the sake of facing rows
of naked toilets in the boot camp barracks, built on an interior set in London. The actual Parris Island toilets didn't have
that sinister configuration. "We did that as a kind of poetic license", he says. "It just seemed funny and grotesque."
He hired extras from the local Vietnamese community, and cast the principals largely from
videotaped auditions. He received about 2,000 tapes, including one from a then-unknown named Vincent D'Onofrio, whose performance
as Private Pyle, a weak-minded recruit who spiritually melds with his M14, is already being touted for an Oscar nomination.
But perhaps his luckiest discovery was retired Marine gunnery sergeant Lee Ermey, a Vietnam veteran and former drill instructor
who was already employed as Kubrick's technical adviser.
After videotaping Ermey insulting and intimidating prospective actor-recruits, an exercise
designed to see who would react in interesting ways, Kubrick picked him to play the savagely efficient drill instructor, Gunnery
Sergeant Hartman. The D.I.'s dialogue, much of it Ermey's invention, nearly all of it unprintable, forges new frontiers of
"It was quite clear that Lee was a genius for this part," Kubrick says of Ermey, who heretofore
had performed only in small movie roles. "I've always found that some people can act and some can't, whether or not they've
had training. And I suspect that being a drill instructor is, in a sense, being an actor. Because they're saying the same
things every eight weeks, to new guys, like they're saying it for the first time - and that's acting."
Kubrick concedes that certain Marine Corps PR types might be less than thrilled with the
depiction. "I just think the dialogue is so good it goes beyond the question of 'should he be saying this? Is it right or
wrong?' The most important thing is that it's dramatically effective and interesting and it's true. It's both funny and frightening."
For music, Kubrick scoured Billboard Top 100 lists of the era - using, for instance, Nancy
Sinatra's These Boots Are Made for Walking for a shot of a hooker slinking through downtown
Da Nang - and hired first-time film composer Abigail Mead to supply some deftly ominous ambiance.
Vietnam, Kubrick says, was "probably the only war that was run by hawk intellectuals who
manipulated facts and fine-tuned reality, and deceived both themselves and the public." History records that the Tet Offensive
was a military defeat for the North Vietnamese, but also a pivotal psychological victory. In this regard, the director quotes
one of his favorite lines from the film, spoken by a Marine lieutenant as he briefs correspondents for Stars
and Stripes: "The civilian press are about to wet their pants, and we've heard that even Cronkite is about to
say the war is now unwinnable." "Probably the war was always unwinnable", Kubrick says. "I'm sure it was. The Tet Offensive
wasn't really the most appropriate time to realize that. They could have realized it a lot earlier."
"Stanley is an extremely difficult and talented person", set designer Ken Adam once said
of his stint on Dr. Strangelove. "We developed an extremely close relationship, and as a
result I had to live almost completely on tranquilizers."
"He's a control freak", says Herr. "But he's philosophical about the things he can't control."
His compulsion for detail is famous. Once, during the opening week of A
Clockwork Orange, he ordered a theater in New York repainted because he'd heard, from 3,000 miles away, that the
walls were a bit too shiny. His sets are closed to everyone but cast and crew. He rarely shows his films to the studio executives
until a few weeks before the release dates. He doesn't do audience test-screenings because they are, in his view, "irrelevant
and potentially dangerous." It goes without saying that he has final cut.
"I may have poor insight about myself", Kubrick says when asked if he is indeed a control
freak, "but I don't think so, no. Obviously, in the nature of making a film, you are trying to control a lot of people. Either
you control them or they do what they want. I suppose somebody could agree that if you are able to do that, and are not made
uncomfortable by it, it appeals to you. But that's certainly not why I've made movies."
If anything, says Jan Harlan, Kubrick's longtime executive producer, the director has
grown "more thorough, more precise" over the years. "Stanley is a locomotive", Harlan adds. "He just pulls everybody along."
Midinterview, Kubrick requests to see a transcript of his quotes. He wants to make sure
that he can recognize his voice. Some days later, after 18 pages of transcript are dispatched to London, he sends back 28
pages of corrections. He insists during a subsequent discussion that he has no interest in appearing spontaneous in an interview,
that he sounds inarticulate to himself - that that's not the way he talks. (A few of his suggestions were incorporated into
He is also sensitive to the suggestion that he films endless takes.
"I think this about takes", he says. "An actor has to know his lines before he can begin
to act. You cannot think about your lines and act. Some actors - and those are usually the ones who go back to L.A. and do
interviews about what a perfectionist I am and how they had to do a take 70 or 80 times - don't go home after shooting, study
their lines and go to bed. They go out, stay out late, and come in the next morning unprepared..."
"So you can reason with them or explain how they're hurting themselves, or you can yell
at them. Some of them respond, some don't, and there isn't an awful lot you can do about it except not work with them again."
"He's very kind, one of the kindest people I've ever known", says Ermey. "But he's in
a position where he can't show that side of himself. You can't be Mr. Nice Guy and win awards."
"He's probably the most heartfelt person I ever met", says Modine. "It's hard for him,
being from the Bronx, with that neighborhood mentality, and he tries to cover it up. Right underneath that veneer is a very
loving, conscientious man, who doesn't like pain, who doesn't like to see human suffering or animals suffering. I was really
surprised by the man."
In Full Metal Jacket Modine's Joker, sporting a peace
sign on his fatigues and the words "Born to Kill" on his helmet, defines this condition as "the duality of man".
"The Jungian thing, sir!" he explains to an inquisitive officer.
In the striving, middle-class Bronx neighborhood where Kubrick grew up, the son of a doctor,
he was considered slightly Bohemian - a polite, soft-spoken young man with a far-off look in his eye. "As if he were somewhere
else", recalls one of his contemporaries from William Howard Taft High School, where Kubrick's grades were so poor he couldn't
get into college. Instead, at age 17, he became a photographer for LOOK magazine. He left
at 21 to make documentary short subjects.
The old neighborhood "isn't there any more", Kubrick says. "I guess the part I grew up
in is still there, it's just different." How does he know? "Because people tell me. And I've seen documentaries." He describes
one in which snipers take pot shots at firefighters.
"My sort of fantasy image of movies was created in the Museum of Modern Art, when I looked
at Stroheim and D.W. Griffith and Eisenstein", he recalls. "I was star struck by these fantastic movies. I was never star
struck in the sense of saying, 'Gee, I'm going to go to Hollywood and make $5,000 a week and live in a great place and have
a sports car.' I really was in love with movies. I used to see everything at the RKO in Loew's circuit, but I remember thinking
at the time that I didn't know anything about movies, but I'd seen so many movies that were bad, I thought, 'Even though I
don't know anything, I can't believe I can't make a movie at least as good as this.' And that's why I started, why I tried."
He was 25 when he borrowed $9,000 from family and friends to make Fear
and Desire, his first feature. He made his second, Killer's Kiss, two years
later. "I was forced to do everything, literally everything," he says, "from photographing them, going and buying the film,
keeping the accounts, editing them, laying in the footsteps, creating the sound effects, to going to the lab." He went from
there to Hollywood, where he detected a "general sense of insecurity and slight malevolence... That immediate effect on you
isn't particularly useful in trying to make films. It's very easy to be put off your balance."
He made Paths of Glory, Spartacus
and Lolita in quick succession. He'd just as soon have Spartacus hacked from his oeuvre.
"I don't know what to say to people who tell me, 'Boy I really loved Spartacus. Gee, I think that's my favorite film'", Kubrick
says of the only movie on which he was just a hired hand.
Some critics since have noted a strange detachment in his films, an observation that leaves
him baffled. "I don't even think that's a particularly valid comment", he says. "It's more in the department that those normal
signals - ingratiating and reassuring signals that most films make sure they give, and which are usually false - are not in
Kubrick, in any case, has little use for critics.
"I wouldn't like to have to write an appreciation of a movie that I liked, because I think
it's so elusive, and the things that critics are forced to do – make connections and conceptualizations of it –
seem at best minor, and at worst fairly irrelevant to what seems almost inexpressibly beautiful about the movie."
He can still be a fan. "Your expertise only clicks in when the thing isn't good", he says.
"When a film really works, you're captured by it and you're just sitting there responding to it and enjoying it."
Occasionally, Kubrick will respond almost to point of tears. "Close to it, but don't ask
me which ones. There aren't that many movies that try to bring you to tears that are that good."
For the next three months, he must maintain his composure. He will be supervising the
dubbing and subtitling of Full Metal Jacket for international release. Then he will retreat
from the limelight, no doubt to return once again.
"The structure of making films is nice and enjoyable, and I like to make films", he says.
"But there are certain virtues and benefits to doing other things... like living."
Washington Post, June 28, 1987
The Rolling Stone Interview: Stanley Kubrick
by Tim Cahill
He didn't bustle into the room and he didn't wander in. Truth, as he would reiterate several
times, is multifaceted, and it would be fair to say that Stanley Kubrick entered the executive suite at Pinewood Studios,
outside London, in a multifaceted manner. He was at once happy to have found the place after a twenty-minute search, apologetic
about being late and apprehensive about the torture he might be about to endure. Stanley Kubrick, I had been told, hates interviews.
It's hard to know what to expect of the man if you've only seen his films. One senses
in those films painstaking craftsmanship, a furious intellect at work, a single-minded devotion. His movies don't lend themselves
to easy analysis; this may account for the turgid nature of some of the books that have been written about his art. Take this
example: "And while Kubrick feels strongly that the visual powers of film make ambiguity an inevitability as well as a virtue,
he would not share Bazin's mystical belief that the better film makers are those who sacrifice their personal perspectives
to a "fleeting crystallization" of a reality [of] whose environing presence one is ceaselessly aware."
One feels that an interview conducted on this level would be pretentious bullshit. Kubrick,
however, seemed entirely unpretentious. He was wearing running shoes and an old corduroy jacket. There was an ink stain just
below the pocket where some ball point pen had bled to death "What is this place?" Kubrick asked. "It's called the executive
suite", I said. "I think they put big shots up here."
Kubrick looked around at the dark wood-paneled walls, the chandeliers, the leather couches
and chairs. "Is there a bathroom?" he asked, with some urgency. "Across the hall", I said.
The director excused himself and went looking for the facility. I reviewed my notes. Kubrick
was born in the Bronx in 1928. He was an undistinguished student whose passions were tournament-level chess and photography.
After graduation from Taft High School at the age of seventeen, he landed a prestigious job as a photographer for LOOK
magazine, which he quit after four years in order to make his first film. Day of the Fight
(1950) was a documentary about the middleweight boxer Walter Cartier. After a second documentary, The
Flying Padre (1951), Kubrick borrowed $10,000 from relatives to make Fear and Desire
(1953), his first feature, an arty film that he now finds "embarrassing". Kubrick, his first wife and two friends were the
entire crew for the film. By necessity, Kubrick was director, cameraman, lighting engineer, makeup man, administrator, prop
man and unit chauffeur. Later in his career, he would take on some of these duties again, for reasons other than necessity.
Kubrick's breakthrough film was Paths of Glory (1957).
During the filming, he met an actress, Christiane Harlan, whom he eventually married. Christiane sings a song at the end of
the film in a scene that, on four separate viewings, has brought tears to my eyes.
Kubrick's next film was Spartacus (1960), a work he
finds disappointing. He was brought in to direct after the star, Kirk Douglas, had a falling-out with the original director,
Anthony Mann. Kubrick was not given control of the script, which he felt was full of easy moralizing. He was used to making
his own films his own way, and the experience chafed. He has never again relinquished control over any aspect of his films.
And he has taken some extraordinary and audacious chances with those works. The mere decision
to film Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita (1961) was enough to send some censorious sorts into a
spittle-spewing rage. Dr. Strangelove (1963), based on the novel Red Alert, was conceived
as a tense thriller about the possibility of accidental nuclear war. As Kubrick worked on the script, however, he kept bumping
up against the realization that the scenes he was writing were funny in the darkest possible way. It was a matter of slipping
on a banana peel and annihilating the human race. Stanley Kubrick went with his gut feeling: he directed Dr.
Strangelove as a black comedy. The film is routinely described as a masterpiece.
Most critics also use that word to describe the two features that followed, 2001:
A Space Odyssey (1968) and A Clockwork Orange (1971). Some reviewers see a subtle
falling off of quality in his Barry Lyndon (1975) and The Shining
(1980), though there is a critical reevaluation of the two films in process. This seems to be typical of his critical reception.
Kubrick moved to England in 1968. He lives outside of London with Christiane (now a successful
painter) three golden retrievers and a mutt he found wandering forlornly along the road. He has three grown daughters. Some
who know him say he can be "difficult" and "exacting".
He had agreed to meet and talk about his latest movie, Full Metal
Jacket, a film about the Vietnam War that he produced and directed. He also co-wrote the screenplay with Michael
Herr, the author of Dispatches, and Gustav Hasford, who wrote The
Short-Timers, the novel on which the film is based. Full Metal Jacket is Kubrick's
first feature in seven years.
The difficult and exacting director returned from the bathroom looking a little perplexed.
"I think you're right", he said. "I think this is a place where people stay. I looked
around a little, opened a door, and there was this guy sitting on the edge of a bed."
"Who was he?" I asked.
"I don't know", he replied.
"What did he say?"
"Nothing. He just looked at me, and I left."
There was a long silence while we pondered the inevitable ambiguity of reality, specifically
in relation to some guy sitting on a bed across the hall. Then Stanley Kubrick began the interview.
"I'm not going to be asked any conceptualizing questions, right?"
All the books, most of the articles I read about you
- it's all conceptualizing.
Yeah, but not by me.
I thought I had to ask those kinds of questions.
No. Hell, no. That's my... [He shudders] It's the thing I hate the worst.
Really? I've got all these questions written down in
a form I thought you might require. They all sound like essay questions for the finals in a graduate philosophy seminar.
The truth is that I've always felt trapped and pinned down and harried by those questions.
Questions like [reading from notes] "Your first feature,
Desire, in 1953, concerned
a group of soldiers lost behind enemy lines in an unnamed war; Spartacus contained some battle scenes; Paths of Glory was an indictment of war and, more specifically, of the generals
who wage it; and Dr. Strangelove was the blackest of comedies about accidental nuclear war. How does Full Metal Jacket complete your examination of the subject of war? Or does it?"
Those kinds of questions.
You feel the real question lurking behind all the verbiage
is "What does this new movie mean?"
Exactly. And that's almost impossible to answer, especially when you've been so deeply
inside the film for so long. Some people demand a five-line capsule summary. Something you'd read in a magazine. They want
you to say, "This is the story of the duality of man and the duplicity of governments." [A pretty good description of the
subtext that informs Full Metal Jacket, actually.] I hear people try to do it - give the five-line summary - but if a film
has any substance or subtlety, whatever you say is never complete, it's usually wrong, and it's necessarily simplistic: truth
is too multifaceted to be contained in a five-line summary. If the work is good, what you say about it is usually irrelevant.
I don't know. Perhaps it's vanity, this idea that the work is bigger than one's capacity to describe it. Some people can do
interviews. They're very slick, and they neatly evade this hateful conceptualizing. Fellini is good; his interviews are very
amusing. He just makes jokes and says preposterous things that you know he can't possibly mean. I mean, I'm doing interviews
to help the film, and I think they do help the film, so I can't complain. But it isn't... it's... it's difficult.
So let's talk about the music in Full Metal Jacket. I was surprised by some of the choices,
stuff like These
Boots Are Made for Walkin', by Nancy Sinatra. What does that song mean?
It was the music of the period. The Tet offensive was in '68. Unless we were careless,
none of the music is post-'68.
I'm not saying it's anachronistic. It's just that the
music that occurs to me in that context is more, oh, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison.
The music really depended on the scene. We checked through Billboard's list of Top 100
hits for each year from 1962 to 1968. We Were looking for interesting material that played well with a scene. We tried a lot
of songs. Sometimes the dynamic range of the music was too great, and we couldn't work in dialogue. The music has to come
up under speech at some point, and if all you hear is the bass, it's not going to work in the context of the movie. Why? Don't
you like These Boots Are Made for Walkin?
Of the music in the film, I'd have to say I'm more partial
to Sam the Sham's Wooly Bully,
which is one of the great party records of all time. And Surfin Bird.
An amazing piece, isn't it?
Surfin Bird comes in during the aftermath of a
battle, as the marines are passing a medevac helicopter. The scene reminded me of Dr. Strangelove, where the plane is being refueled in midair with that
long, suggestive tube, and the music in the background is Try a Little Tenderness. Or the cosmic waltz in 2001, where the spacecraft is slowly cartwheeling through space in time to The Blue Danube. And now you have the chopper and the
What I love about the music in that scene is that it suggests post combat euphoria - which
you see in the marine's face when he fires at the men running out of the building: he misses the first four, waits a beat,
then hits the next two. And that great look on his face, that look of euphoric pleasure, the pleasure one has read described
in so many accounts of combat. So he's got this look on his face, and suddenly the music starts and the tanks are rolling
and the marines are mopping up. The choices weren't arbitrary.
You seem to have skirted the issue of drugs in Full Metal Jacket.
It didn't seem relevant. Undoubtedly, Marines took drugs in Vietnam. But this drug thing,
it seems to suggest that all marines were out of control, when in fact they weren't. It's a little thing, but check out the
pictures taken during the battle of Hue: you see marines in fully fastened flak jackets. Well, people hated wearing them.
They were heavy and hot, and sometimes people wore them but didn't fasten them. Disciplined troops wore them, and they wore
People always look at directors, and you in particular,
in the context of a body of work. I couldn't help but notice some resonance with Paths of Glory at the end of Full Metal Jacket: a woman surrounded by enemy soldiers, the odd, ambiguous
gesture that ties these people together...
That resonance is an accident. The scene comes straight out of Gustav Hasford's book.
So your purpose wasn't to poke the viewer in the ribs,
point out certain similarities...
Oh, God, no. I'm trying to be true to the material. You know, there's another extraordinary
accident. Cowboy is dying, and in the background there's something that looks very much like the monolith in 2001.
And it just happened to be there. The whole area of combat was one complete area - it actually exists. One of the things I
tried to do was give you a sense of where you were, where everything else was. Which, in war movies, is something you frequently
don't get. The terrain of small-unit action is really the story of the action. And this is something we tried to make beautifully
clear: there's a low wall, there's the building space. And once you get in there, everything is exactly where it actually
was. No cutting away, no cheating. So it came down to where the sniper would be and where the marines were. When Cowboy is
shot, they carry him around the corner - to the very most logical shelter. And there, in the background, was this thing, this
monolith. I'm sure some people will think that there was some calculated reference to 2001,
but honestly, it was just there.
You don't think you're going to get away with that,
[Laughs] I know it's an amazing coincidence.
Where were those scenes filmed?
We worked from still photographs of Hue in 1968. And we found an area that had the same
1930's functionalist architecture. Now, not every bit of it was right, but some of the buildings were absolute carbon copies
of the outer industrial areas of Hue.
Where was it?
Here. Near London. It had been owned by British Gas, and it was scheduled to be demolished.
So they allowed us to blow up the buildings. We had demolition guys in there for a week, laying charges. One Sunday, all the
executives from British Gas brought their families down to watch us blow the place up. It was spectacular. Then we had a wrecking
ball there for two months, with the art director telling the operator which hole to knock in which building.
Art direction with a wrecking ball.
I don't think anybody's ever had a set like that. It's beyond any kind of economic possibility.
To make that kind of three-dimensional rubble, you'd have to have everything done by plasterers, modeled, and you couldn't
build that if you spent $80 million and had five years to do it. You couldn't duplicate, oh, all those twisted bits of reinforcement.
And to make rubble, you'd have to go find some real rubble and copy it. It's the only way. If you're going to make a tree,
for instance, you have to copy a real tree. No one can "make up" a tree because every tree has an inherent logic in the way
it branches. And I've discovered that no one can make up a rock. I found that out in Paths of Glory.
We had to copy rocks, but every rock also has an inherent logic you're not aware of until you see a fake rock. Every detail
looks right, but something's wrong. So we had real rubble. We brought in palm trees from Spain and a hundred thousand plastic
tropical plants from Hong Kong. We did little things, details people don't notice right away, that add to the illusion. All
in all, a tremendous set dressing and rubble job.
How do you choose your material?
I read. I order books from the States. I literally go into bookstores, close my eyes and
take things off the shelf. If I don't like the book after a bit, I don't finish it. But I like to be surprised.
Full Metal Jacket is based on Gustav Hasford's book The Short-Timers.
It's a very short, very beautifully and economically written book, which, like the film,
leaves out all the mandatory scenes of character development: the scene where the guy talks about his father, who's an alcoholic,
his girlfriend - all that stuff that bogs down and seems so arbitrarily inserted into every war story. What I like about not
writing original material - which I'm not even certain I could do - is that you have this tremendous advantage of reading
something for the first time. You never have this experience again with the story. You have a reaction to it: it's a kind
of falling-in-love reaction. That's the first thing. Then it becomes almost a matter of code breaking, of breaking the work
down into a structure that is truthful, that doesn't lose the ideas or the content or the feeling of the book. And fitting
it all into the much more limited time frame of a movie. As long as you possibly can, you retain your emotional attitude,
whatever it was that made you fall in love in the first place. You judge a scene by asking yourself, "Am I still responding
to what's there?" The process is both analytical and emotional. You're trying to balance calculating analysis against feeling.
And it's almost never a question of, "What does this scene mean?" It's, "Is this truthful, or does something about it feel
false?" It's "Is this scene interesting? Will it make me feel the way I felt when I first fell in love with the material?"
It's an intuitive process, the way I imagine writing music is intuitive. It's not a matter of structuring an argument.
You said something almost exactly the opposite once.
Someone had asked you if there was any analogy between
chess and filmmaking. You sald that the process of making decisions was very analytical in both cases. You said that depending
on intuition was a losing proposition.
I suspect I might have said that in another context. The part of the film that involves
telling the story works pretty much the way I said. In the actual making of the movie, the chess analogy becomes more valid.
It has to do with tournament chess, where you have a clock and you have to make a certain number of moves in a certain time.
If you don't, you forfeit, even if you're a queen ahead. You'll see a grand master, the guy has three minutes on the clock
and ten moves left. And he'll spend two minutes on one move, because he knows that if he doesn't get that one right, the game
will be lost. And then he makes the last nine moves in a minute. And he may have done the right thing. Well, in filmmaking,
you always have decisions like that. You are always pitting time and resources against quality and ideas.
You have a reputation for having your finger on every
aspect of each film you make, from inception right on down to the premiere and beyond. How is it that you're allowed such
an extraordinary amount of control over your films?
I'd like to think it's because my films have a quality that holds up on second, third
and fourth viewing. Realistically, it's because my budgets are within reasonable limits and the films do well. The only one
that did poorly from the studio's point of view was Barry Lyndon. So, since my films don't
cost that much, I find a way to spend a little extra time in order to get the quality on the screen.
Full Metal Jacket seemed a long time in the making.
Well, we had a couple of severe accidents. The guy who plays the drill instructor, Lee
Ermey, had an auto accident in the middle of shooting. It was about 1:00 in the morning, and his car skidded off the road.
He broke all his ribs on one side, just tremendous injuries, and he probably would have died, except he was conscious and
kept flashing his lights. A motorist stopped. It was in a place called Epping Forest, where the police are always finding
bodies. Not the sort of place you get out of your car at 1:30 in the morning and go see why someone's flashing their lights.
Anyway, Lee was out for four and a half months.
He had actually been a marine drill instructor?
How much of his part comes out of that experience?
I'd say fifty percent of Lee's dialogue, specifically the insult stuff, came from Lee.
You see, in the course of hiring the marine recruits, we interviewed hundreds of guys. We lined them all up and did an improvisation
of the first meeting with the drill instructor. They didn't know what he was going to say, and we could see how they reacted.
Lee came up with, I don't know, 150 pages of insults. Off the wall stuff: "I don't like the name Lawrence. Lawrence is for
faggots and sailors." Aside from the insults, though, virtually every serious thing he says is basically true. When he says,
"A rifle is only a tool, it's a hard heart that kills", you know it's true. Unless you're living in a world that doesn't need
fighting men, you can't fault him. Except maybe for a certain lack of subtlety in his behavior. And I don't think the United
States Marine Corps is in the market for subtle drill instructors.
This is a different drill instructor than the one Lou
Gosset played in An Officer and a Gentleman.
I think Lou Gosset's performance was wonderful, but he had to do what he was given in
the story. The film clearly wants to ingratiate itself with the audience. So many films do that. You show the drill instructor
really has a heart of gold - the mandatory scene where he sits in his office, eyes swimming with pride about the boys and
so forth. I suppose he actually is proud, but there's a danger of falling into what amounts to so much sentimental bullshit.
So you distrust sentimentality?
I don't mistrust sentiment and emotion, no. The question becomes, are you giving them
something to make them a little happier, or are you putting in something that is inherently true to the material? Are people
behaving the way we all really behave, or are they behaving the way we would like them to behave? I mean, the world is not
as it's presented in Frank Capra films. People love those films - which are beautifully made - but I wouldn't describe them
as a true picture of life. The questions are always, is it true? Is it interesting? To worry about those mandatory scenes
that some people think make a picture is often just pandering to some conception of an audience. Some films try to outguess
an audience. They try to ingratiate themselves, and it's not something you really have to do. Certainly audiences have flocked
to see films that are not essentially true, but I don't think this prevents them from responding to the truth.
Books I've read on you seem to suggest that you consider
editing the most important aspect of the filmmaker's art.
There are three equal things: the writing, slogging through the actual shooting and the
You've quoted Pudovkin to the effect that editing is
the only original and unique art form in film.
I think so. Everything else comes from something else. Writing, of course, is writing,
acting comes from the theater, and cinematography comes from photography. Editing is unique to film. You can see something
from different points of view almost simuluneously, and it creates a new experience. Pudovkin gives an example: You see a
guy hanging a picture on the wall. Suddenly you see his feet slip; you see the chair move; you see his hand go down and the
picture fall off the wall. In that split second, a guy falls off a chair, and you see it in a way that you could not see it
any other way except through editing. TV commercials have figured that out. Leave content out of it, and some of the most
spectacular examples of film art are in the best TV commercials.
Give me an example.
The Michelob commercials. I'm a pro football fan, and I have videotapes of the games sent
over to me, commercials and all. Last year Michelob did a series, just impressions of people having a good time...
The big city at night...
And the editing, the photography, was some of the most brilliant work I've ever seen.
Forget what they're doing - selling beer - and it's visual poetry. Incredible eight-frame cuts. And you realize that in thirty
seconds they've created an impression of something rather complex. If you could ever tell a story, something with some content,
using that kind of visual poetry, you could handle vastly more complex and subtle material.
People spend millions of dollars and months' worth
of work on those thirty seconds.
So it's a bit impractical. And I suppose there's really nothing that would substitute
for the great dramatic moment, fully played out. Still, the stories we do on film are basically rooted in the theater. Even
Woody Allen's movies, which are wonderful, are very traditional in their structure. Did I get the year right on those Michelob
I think so.
Because occasionally I'll find myself watching a game from 1984.
It amazes me that you're a pro football fan.
It doesn't fit my image of you.
Stanley Kubrick is a monk, a man who lives for his
work and virtually nothing else, certainly not pro football. And then there are those rumors...
I know what's coming.
You want both barrels?
Stanley Kubrick is a perfectionist. He is consumed
by mindless anxiety over every aspect of every film he makes. Kubrick is a hermit, an expatriate, a neurotic who is terrified
of automobiles and who won't let his chauffeur drive more than thirty miles an hour.
Part of my problem is that I cannot dispel the myths that have somehow accumulated over
the years. Somebody writes something, it's completely off the wall, but it gets filed and repeated until everyone believes
it. For instance, I've read that I wear a football helmet in the car.
You won't let your driver go more than thirty miles
an hour, and you wear a football helmet, just in case.
In fact, I don't have a chauffeur. I drive a Porsche 928S, and I sometimes drive it at
eighty or ninety miles an hour on the motorway.
Your film editor says you still work on your old films.
Isn't that neurotic perfectionism?
I'll tell you what he means. We discovered that the studio had lost the picture negative
of Dr. Strangelove. And they also lost the magnetic master soundtrack. All the printing
negatives were badly ripped dupes. The search went on for a year and a half. Finally, I had to try to reconstruct the picture
from two not-too-good fine-grain positives, both of which were damaged already. If those fine-grains were ever torn, you could
never make any more negatives.
Do you consider yourself an expatriate?
Because I direct films, I have to live in a major English-speaking production center.
That narrows it down to three places: Los Angeles, New York and London. I like New York, but it's inferior to London as a
production center. Hollywood is best, but I don't like living there. You read books or see films that depict people being
corrupted by Hollywood, but it isn't that. It's this tremendous sense of insecurity. A lot of destructive competitiveness.
In comparison, England seems very remote. I try to keep up, read the trade papers, but it's good to get it on paper and not
have to hear it every place you go. I think it's good to just do the work and insulate yourself from that undercurrent of
I've heard rumors that you'll do a hundred takes for
It happens when actors are unprepared. You cannot act without knowing dialogue. If actors
have to think about the words, they can't work on the emotion. So you end up doing thirty takes of something. And still you
can see the concentration in their eyes; they don't know their lines. So you just shoot it and shoot it and hope you can get
something out of it in pieces. Now, if the actor is a nice guy, he goes home, he says, "Stanley's such a perfectionist, he
does a hundred takes an every scene." So my thirty takes become a hundred. And I get this reputation. If I did a hundred takes
on every scene, I'd never finish a film. Lee Ermey, for instance, would spend every spare second with the dialogue coach,
and he always knew his lines. I suppose Lee averaged eight or nine takes. He sometimes did it in three. Because he was prepared.
There's a rumor that you actually wanted to approve the
theaters that show Full Metal Jacket. Isn't that an example of mindless anxiety?
Some people are amazed that I worry about the theaters where the picture is being shown.
They think that's some form of demented anxiety. But Lucasfilms has a Theater Alignment Program. They went around and checked
a lot of theaters and published the results in a  report that virtually confirms all your worst suspicions. For instance,
within one day, fifty percent of the prints are scratched. Something is usually broken. The amplifiers are no good, and the
sound is bad. The lights are uneven...
Is that why so many films I've seen lately seem too
dark? Why you don't really see people in the shadows when clearly the director wants you to see them?
Well, theaters try to put in a screen that's larger than the light source they paid for.
If you buy a 2000-watt projector, it may give you a decent picture twenty feet wide. And let's say that theater makes the
picture forty feet wide by putting it in a wider-angle projector. In fact, then you're getting 200 percent less light. It's
an inverse law of squares. But they want a bigger picture, so it's dark. Many exhibitors are terribly guilty of ignoring minimum
standards of picture quality. For instance, you now have theaters where all the reels are run in one continuous string. And
they never clean the aperture gate. You get one little piece of gritty dust in there, and every time the film runs, it gets
bigger. After a couple of days, it starts to put a scratch on the film. The scratch goes from one end of the film to the other.
You've seen it, I'm sure.
That thing you see, it looks like a hair dangling down
from the top of the frame, sort of wiggling there through the whole film?
That's one manifestation, yeah. The Lucas report found that after fifteen days, most films
should be junked. [The report says that after seventeen days, most films are damaged.] Now, is it an unreal concern if I want
to make sure that on the press shows or on key city openings, everything in the theater is going to run smoothly? You just
send someone to check the place out three or four days ahead of time. Make sure nothing's broken. It's really only a phone
call or two, pressuring some people to fix things. I mean, is this a legitimate concern, or is this mindless anxiety?
Initial reviews of most of your films are sometimes
inexplicably hostile. Then there's a reevaluation. Critics seem to like you better in retrospect.
That's true. The first reviews of 2001 were insulting, let alone bad. An important Los
Angeles critic faulted Paths of Glory because the actors didn't speak with French accents.
When Dr. Strangelove came out, a New York paper ran a review under the head MOSCOW COULD
NOT BUY MORE HARM TO AMERICA. Something like that. But critical opinion on my films has always been salvaged by what I would
call subsequent critical opinion. Which is why I think audiences are more reliable than critics, at least initially. Audiences
tend not to bring all that critical baggage with them to each film. And I really think that a few critics come to my films
expecting to see the last film. They're waiting to see something that never happens. I imagine it must be something like standing
in the batter's box waiting for a fast ball, and the pitcher throws a change-up. The batter swings and misses. He thinks "Shit,
he threw me the wrong pitch." I think this accounts for some of the initial hostility.
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.
That's because I don't have any easy answers.
The Rolling Stone, August 27, 1987
Mankind on the Late, Late Show
by Penelope Gilliatt (The Observer,1987)
On my way out of Pinewood's screening room at 9pm to see Kubrick ('He'll definitely be somewhere') a message
came that he was in the Chairman's flat on this very lot waiting. With his editor, I looked for the Chairman's flat. We went
up and down Pinewood's grand stairs and marble halls, through dim passages of dressing rooms, tried the locked door of the
restaurant that I remembered from the dud heyday of J. Arthur Rank. The same mock-Tudor furniture still, the same mock-Tudor
woodworm, the same mock-stately topiary in the garden. But no Chairman's flat.
We found a way out again, drove in the direction of a mock-Tudor electric lantern, under which a lot of empty parked
cars looked likely to be owned by a Chairman's guests. But no sign of Kubrick's white Porsche. Eventually we found humankind:
a faraway figure at the security entrance. Telephones crackled. We could have been in the jungle. The Chairman's flat was
unlisted, said the security guard. Then a clear message: Mr. Kubrick was not in the Chairman's flat after all, but
at Shepperton in a dubbing room and free at eleven forty-five.
A quarter to midnight. I remembered his wife Christiane describing to me once his night-owl habits. Shooting over,
he lives night-for-day. When other people are waking up, he is staring into the fridge for something for dinner. It takes
awhile because he is editing in his head.
At Shepperton we were again in borrowed territory, which seemed apt enough considering the movie's Vietnam. This time
it was an anonymous someone's 'drawing-room'. Sofa, coffee-table, a telephone, lamps. The tent-pegs of daily life -- events
and conversations at usual times of day, places recognisably owned -- had vanished in this unmarked interlude. It was the
no-world of Full Metal Jacket.
The film's Vietnam is a world of no compass-points: a young black American Marine turns a map round and round in vain
and finally says 'I think we should change direction.' Yes, but where to? The war is a war of no declaration, no conclusion,
no truthfully-named enemy. Its muddled bloodshed yields no gains. It is fought by nulled killer-Marines whose brutish training
has been a total-immersion course in the lunatic. A trumped-up score of killings counts as a win in this nightmare dreamt
for television, and haplessness is made to seem purposeful by dint of propaganda. We are in the airless zone of commercials.
"Vietnam was probably the first war that was run -- certainly during the Kennedy era -- as an advertising agency might
run it," said Kubrick, after inspecting my tape-recorder ("Stanley would be perfectly happy with eight tape recorders and
one pair of pants," his wife Christiane once said to me). "It was managed with cost-effective estimates and phony statistics
and kill-ratios and self-deceiving predictions about how victory was the light at the end of the tunnel," death-grin pieces
of the counterfeit language that Kubrick sees as a symptom of our growing and perilous willingness to entertain the sham.
It is not just that our military jargon endows the manic with apparent level- headedness, it is that pseudo-scientific euphemisms
congratulate cleverness when we urgently need intelligence.
"The Americans in Vietnam were encouraged to lie", he said. "If a couple of shots were fired on patrol it was good
to say that you'd killed two gooks and if you said two somebody would make it eight." The points are made in a scene of an
editorial briefing. Kubrick has studied those combat magazines with no relish of their bogus tone of home-spun authenticity.
One of them, he says, even ran the TV guide. "The good-looking young lieutenant says 'We do two kinds of stories. Ones about
soldiers giving perhaps half their pay to buy gooks toothbrushes and deodorants, that's the winning of hearts and minds; and
ones about combat actions that result in a kill -- winning the war'".
Kubrick first hired Lee Ermey as his technical advisor. Ermey had been a Parris Island Marine drill instructor. "We
had some of the greatest off-the-wall insults we'd ever heard. We had a transcript of 240 pages of his abuse". He was natural
casting for the film's own sadistic drill instructor, the poetically scurrilous Hartman.
Hartman's horrendous discipline is drilled to its purpose. "If you're going to train elite fighting men, what you're
talking about is killing. And obviously killing is something there can be equivocation about". Plighting your troth to a rifle
is merely the start. As Hartman yells, 'Your rifle is only a tool. It's a hard heart that kills.'
I asked Kubrick whether he had ever thought of acting himself. Photographer for Look; in film, a writer, a lighting
cameraman, a particularly innovative -- and musical -- sound man, a director, a producer, but not an actor. "Acting is an
amazing, part crazy, part magical gift," he said. "An actor's power rests in his ability to create emotion in himself, and
thus in the audience. The ability to cry at the crack of a clapper board is a very strange and rare talent. Of course, drill
instructors can do it naturally because they're performers. And liars can do it because lying's generally important to the
The screenplay is Kubrick's, Michael Herr's (author of Dispatches, an exceptional report about Vietnam that
speak to a generation when it says 'I think that Vietnam is what we had instead of happy childhoods'), and Gustav Hasford's,
himself a Marine combat correspondent. Kubrick's attestor to the exactness of the vile training was Lee Ermey: "Of course,
people say about the scene where fat Private Pyle had to walk with his pants round his ankles sucking his thumb, 'It doesn't
happen like that today...' They always say that". The sardonic Stanley.
Paths of Glory stands close
to Full Metal Jacket. The kinship is there even in the lighting, often innocently pale in both films in both films
at their moments of darkest sophistry. Kubrick is far from a naturalist film-maker. When be stylises a technical choice, it
is to point an idea. White for scenes of keenest atrocity: think of the white marble floors and the powdery white sunlight
in Paths of Glory. The whitened scenes in Full Metal Jacket make magnificent use of the way colour film-stock
can produce monotones. A white of awesome hygiene in a training-camp latrine where murder and suicide occur among endless
forced mopping. White lime on graves neatly lined with Vietnamese corpses. White dust on the Faces of soldiers beyond fatigue.
It is no accident that, at the end of both Paths of Glory and Full Metal Jacket the killer-training
of men is suddenly undone by the sight of a woman. In Full Metal Jacket, a sniper at the finish turns out to be a young
Vietnamese girl already machine-gunned to near-death. 'Shoot me,' she says several times, and the only one who can manage
it is the soldier who can never quite be plundered of mufti, Private Joker. The take on Matthew Modine's face lasts for "about
a minute and forty seconds," Kubrick thinks. We seem to be watching the passage of a lifetime's sensibility. "Humanity rearing
its ugly head," says Kubrick, in the style that he gives to expression of high feeling. How awry, the commonplace notion that
this man is chilly. Kubrick's work and presence are full of grace notes.
Kubrick worries that our aggression and xenophobia may be beyond recall. "Probably way back they did serve a survival
purpose. One way to improve the survival of the hunting band is to hate and suspect outsiders. Nationalism is, I suppose,
the equivalent of what held the hunting band together. But with atomic weapons the evolutionary programming that served Cro-Magnon
man now threatens our existence...International Law still offers little in resolving conflict between nation states but fighting,
certainly between nuclear powers, offers only the possibility of extinction."
He sees much greater risk to world peace in the Arab-Israeli situation, the Iran-Iraq situation, than in anything
going on between America and Russia. "South Africa's got a problem, but it's not affecting world peace". As he says this he
looks to me distinctly Chinese: a sage, immeasurably old Mandarin playing Kubrick's favourite chess against a computer in
the particle of time remaining while the rest of us, with luck, think.
I asked what had happened to his planned film about Napoleon. Years ago I had seen the trays of index-cards beside
his edge of the Kubricks' bed. He said, "I'm not sure that in three hours you could do justice...." and wheeled his mind back
to his current film again.
With the stilled ending in mind, I asked him whether he thought women could ever be turned by such a process into
such excellent killers of killers. No, mostly because the training plays on vulnerabilities of young manhood. "Historically,
armies have tended to be made up of adolescents. In Vietnam, the average age of the soldiers was 19. The shock of the brutal
eight weeks of Marine Corp boot camp recruit-training is much like the ordeal of initiation rites young men must endure in
primitive tribal societies. Added to which the drill instructor becomes a kind of nightmarish father-figure. There's also
the strong appeal of a kind of down-market immortality. The DI says 'Marines die. That's what we're here for. But the Marine
Corps lives forever, and that means you live forever'. That sort of identification with the Marines: the British have it with
the regiment, don't they?" Though long based in England, Kubrick remains American, looking at his country with "distance giving
a better perspective"; characteristically, he talks to anyone English enquiringly.
We had often spoken about the exile's capacity to carry time and place in his head. Kubrick is steeped in American
TV and pop culture and movies, as well as in the books and music of Europe past and present. Memories of his film of Thackeray's
Barry Lyndon: its score, its compassionate and saddened perceptions of the flaws of the mortal enterprise, in which
it is very like Full Metal Jacket.