BROADCASTING FROM THE BACK ALLEY IN HOLLYWOOD, IT’S THE INDIE FILM HUSTLE PODCAST, WHERE WE SHOW YOU HOW TO SURVIVE AND THRIVE AS AN INDIE FILMMAKER, IN THE JUNGLES OF THE FILM BUSINESS; AND HERE’S YOUR HOST ALEX FERRARI!
Welcoming Indie Film Hustlers to a very special episode of the indie film hustle podcast. I am your humble host Alex Ferrari. Now guys, you know I’m all about sharing information and trying to get as much information out there to the indie film world, and as if anybody has ever seen my site or seen the articles I write, or anything like that, or listened to the podcast, they know that I am a huge! And I cannot express enough how huge of a fan I am of the late great master, Stanley Kubrick. And the influences he had on my life and on my work as an artist, as a director and as a human being as well. And I did have the pleasure of going to the Stanley Kubrick exhibit at the LACMA here in Los Angeles a few years ago. I went like three or four times, I would literally just sit there for hours, just soaking it all in, soaking in, the man’s genius. And I know a lot of people might not like his film, some people like him, some people love him, he’s that kind of artist. Either you love him or hate him there is no middle ground with Stanley Kubrick but regardless, if you love him or hate him you can’t deny the man’s impact on cinema; and not only on cinema but probably if you are like a director or like a filmmaker, more likely than not, they have been influenced in one way, shape or form by Stanley Kubrick. He created amazing ripples in the film business and the film industry and he definitely moved, pushed and sometimes dragged the film medium forward; and he was always ahead of his time with every single one of his movies. It took people years to understand his movies. When I was young and I saw ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ for the first time when it came out in theaters, I was asked “what did you think?” I’m like oh, I didn’t understand it, but I’ll probably understand it in about 10 years, and it took a little longer for me to get it and now it’s actually one of my favorite Kubrick films. I know a lot of people disagree with me on that but I absolutely love love love love ‘Eyes Wide Shut’; and I think Scorsese has also said it’s one of his favorites as well but I wanted to bring this interview, this his extremely rare interview by Stanley Kubrick, because he was a very private man and he did not talk a lot about his process as an artist and as a filmmaker, and a reporter by the name of Jeremy Bernstein back in November 27 of 1966, got a 37 year old Stanley Kubrick to sit down for about an hour and 16 minutes or so (76 minutes) and It’s the one of the rarest interviews with Mr. Kubrick and he tells his entire story up to that date, how he got started, his troubles, struggles, the hustle that he had to do, how he was a chess hustler, and how he used to hustle people for money in the parks of New York; and that’s what he used to do to make a living for a while, actually supported himself hustling chess games, and a lot of other stuff. And I really found it’s so valuable that I really wanted to share it with the indie film hustle tribe, and I wanted to just bring it to you. So please, do me a favor and share this with as many people as you can; talk about it with as many people as you can, because I think it’s so important that masters like this who give rare insights to their story and their struggle is an inspiration to all of us. Because he was coming up in the 40s, 50s, 60s, he was already who he was in the 50s and the 60s but, he was coming up in the 40s and the 30s, and his struggle is sound. When you listen to the interview, you find out that his struggle as an artist and as filmmaker was not that much different than many of ours; you know. He was trying to get his movies made; he was trying to get his voice heard; he was trying to find financing for his movies. It’s all very unfortunately a little too dejavu for filmmakers to listen to, but I just wanted to bring this interview to you guys because, it was so impactful to me and I think it will be impactful to you. So, I really am so proud to present this amazing interview by Jeremy Bernstein of Mr. Stanley Kubrick.
TESTING 1234 – JEREMY BERNSTEIN’S TAPE, NOVEMBER 27, SIDE A.
Stanley Kubrick: Born July 26, 1928, New York City. My father was a doctor. One sister, Barbra; Married; two children; lives in New Jersey; six years younger; her husband is a lawyer.
I was taught to play chess at the age of 12, but did not play seriously until about age of 17 when I joined the martial chess club in New York; on west Elm Street between 5th and 6th and 7th and whatever came along.
Did you happen to pick your intellectual interests as a child or was it as an adult that you did all of that?
Stanley Kubrick: Ah, No. I had a few intellectual interests as a child. I was a school misfit and considered that you know, reading a book, schoolwork, and I don’t think I read a book for pleasure until after I graduated high school.
Well, what were you doing that you always did well?
Stanley Kubrick: Well, I had that one thing I think that perhaps helped me get over being a misfit in school. It is that I became interested in photography about the same time, 12 or 13, and I think that, if you get involved in any kind of problem-solving and depth on almost anything, it is surprisingly similar to problem-solving of anything you know. I started by just you know, getting a camera and learning how to take pictures, and learning how to print pictures, and learning how to build a dark room, and learning how to do all the technical things; and so on and so on. And then, finally trying to find out how you could sell pictures and become a proper; you know, would it be possible to be a professional photographer and sophomore. So I think that photography, though it seemed like a hobby and up but, and ultimately led to a professional job – photography, might have been more valuable than you know doing the proper things in school
Were you sort of despaired of your family at that time, because of your schoolwork or did you?
Stanley Kubrick: Well, it wasn’t a real drama you know, I imagine so, but it was never completely apparent until I graduated from high school that I couldn’t go to college, because I graduated in 1945 when all the GI’s went outpouring back on the GI Bill, and I had a 67 average and it turned out, that there wasn’t any college in the United States, even of the lowest caliber that would take a student with less than a 75 average in that year. So I couldn’t get in. I failed to pre-get into college.
Did you take all the required classes, the aptitude tests and so on?
Stanley Kubrick: Yeah, there were but they wouldn’t consider you. In other words they wouldn’t even accept your application if you didn’t have a 75 average in that particular year.
Looking back and sort of retrospective is not going to college and its circumstances sort of an unfortunate thing all?
Stanley Kubrick: Tremendously because, what happened was that, well I had developed myself as a photographer and prior to graduating high school, I had sold two still-picture stories to LOOK.
What were they about?
Stanley Kubrick: One was about a teacher in high school named Mr. Traister, who taught English and he used to dramatize Shakespeare. He would read the parts and act it out. he made it very interesting you know, it was one of the few courses that were interesting, and you know most of the English courses that I had, consisted of the teacher saying, “you would read five pages of Silas Marner tonight”, and the next day the class was spent in sitting at the book like ‘arnold Channing’s in the blue angel’, Looking up over the book and saying “you know, Mr. Kubrick”, and then you’d stand up and I say “when Silas Marner walked out of the door what did he see?” and if you didn’t know what he saw, you got a zero. And that was it. And this is why I failed English once and had to make it up in summer school.
Did you show aptitude to things like mathematics and so on?
Stanley Kubrick: Actually, the only courses that I got good marks in were science courses. Yeah! I think I got, I can’t remember now but I think I got about an 87 in physics, and not in mathematics though but in science courses, I liked and did reasonably well. But anyway, ‘Traister’ was one, and I’ve forgotten what the other one was now. But they bought these two picture-stories. Oh and I also sold them a picture. I just told him to “put your stories and a photograph of a news dealer sitting on a 170 street on a grand concourse, right across two blocks away from Taft High School.
Was that when the headlines quoted you?
Stanley Kubrick: Yeah. With all the headlines saying Roosevelt dies, or FDR dead, yeah. And he was sitting there Looking depressed and they liked this picture and used it in a whole series about Roosevelt. You know, sort of the final picture of the series.
Were you interested in extracurricular activities apart from photography, that’s while you were still in school, you know. Did you do like sports and stuff like that?
Stanley Kubrick: Well, I used to play but I mean, I wasn’t on any of the school team.
Stanley Kubrick: No. I used to play everything you know, but basketball in the concrete, you know, outdoor, what do they call them again? The playground, the city playground and the stickball in the street and the odd softball game in the Taft dirt – Jim yard. They had a very large dirt Jim yard, things like that.
Would you say that the fact that you didn’t go to college has given you a certain sense of performance over graduates, college graduates who don’t meet up to what you could say to be specific intellectual standards and thought process for guys who got a lot of degrees but doesn’t seem to relate to your thought process, have you?
Stanley Kubrick: No, I don’t think I look at it that way. You know, the reason I think it was an advantage for me is that I went back got into this, fantastically good job at the age of 17. I went, I can’t really remember where I was but I took some pictures down there. What happened is that I could not get into college, and all sorts of things. My father who was an alumni of NYU uptown, took me to see the Dean and said “this is my son” and I was the student here and sophomore and nothing worked. So I started going to City College at night under the hope that if I gotta be average for so many credits, I remember now, that I could then get into day school; a day college. but within about a few weeks of this, I was down at LOOK with some other pictures and there was an extremely nice picture editor then, his name was Helen O’Brien, and the managing editor at the time was Jack Gunter who was some time later killed in the Bryce Canyon Utah plane crash, and she asked me what I was doing and I told her “nothing”, and that I was gonna try whatever; and she said something about, that she thought she might be able to get me a job as an apprentice photographer. So I went up to see Jack Gunter and said to him “I got a job”.
And how long were you working for them, or did that relationship work?
Stanley Kubrick: Well, I was the apprentice photographer for six months, and then I became a staff photographer, and I was there for four years.
I see you were actually there as it is?
Stanley Kubrick: Yeah. and of course that would have been the period I’d spent a college, and I think that the things, what I learned, and the practical experience in every respect including photography, what I learned in that period pretty exceeded what I could have learned in school. and also, getting out of school, I can’t remember what was the particular turning-point, but being out of school, I began to read and within a relatively short period of time, I would imagine caught up with where I probably should have been, had I had a monochrome of interest in things in the high school. Because I mean, after all you really only miss, I mean before you’re 12 or 13, how many serious books can you read? So I only really blew four years of part-time reading. How much time? You go to school all day, play a certain magic, you do your homework. So in retrospect, I don’t feel that I missed reading that many books and I felt that I caught up pretty quickly when I became interested in singing in general
Well, what first gave you the idea of actually going to the movies as opposed to work?
Stanley Kubrick: Like everybody else you know, I was always very interested in movies and I used to go to see films and I’d say probably every film and I used to see all the films at the museum of modern art and the failure and actually at that time. You know when I was a teenager the so-called art palace didn’t really exist to the extent it does now. It was the post-war Italian sort of the Mussolini pictures which brought the art houses into existence; so they weren’t that many good films that were played and the theaters around except the museum. Anyway I used to see all the films and I knew I’d seen them all a number of times at the museum.
A friend of mine who subsequently has become a phone directory Malik Singer was working as an office boy at the march of time and one day, he told me that it cost $40,000 to make a march of time and it was a one reeler and I said to him “geez! That’s a lot of money”. I said I can’t believe it cost that much to make eight or nine minutes of film”. So I called up basement Kodak and checked on the price of film, and then I called up the laboratory to know how much it costs to develop it, and I checked on how much it costs to rent 35-millimeter movie cameras, and then I check the cost of the other facilities sound and editing and score; and I forgot what it added up to, but it was something that I could do a documentary film with an original music score and everything for about $3,500 so I thought “geez! If they’re making these pictures of 40,000 I can make them for 3500, surely I must be able to sell them and at least get my money back and probably make a profit. So I think we thought that we could make a considerable profit because we assumed but if they were making them for $40,000 apiece, that they must be making a profit.
So I rented a 35-millimeter EYE-MO camera, which is a spring wound camera, produces a professional picture, and I did a documentary film about a boxer named Walter Cartier who I had previously done a picture story for LOOK about, on him and it was called ‘day of the fight’. And I got the whole thing, and I did everything, Alex helped me you know, sort of carried lights around and assisted me and I did the whole thing just myself and Alex and Walter and his people. And I cut it and another friend of mine who subsequently has become professional movie composer named Gerald Fried did a film score and got the whole thing finished with $39,000. And then when we began to take it around to the various companies to sell it. They all liked it, though they were offering things like $1,500 and $2,500 and self-worth.
This is about the time you were still aged 21 right?
Stanley Kubrick: Well less than that, but I did this about I’d say maybe 9 months before I quit LOOK about 20 or plus, and at one point I said to them “Christ! Why you want you offering us so little for this?” You know, one reel should get you more than $40,000 and they said “wait, you must be crazy” and I said “why do you think that?”, and so I told them about ‘the march of time’ and anyway, they said it was ridiculous and shortly after that, ‘the march in time’ got out of business (laughs) for the reason we’d later find out that they were spending approximately, I mean you know if ‘the march of time’ those me for this Ally just somehow found out when he was working there that that it was costing $40,000 plus to make one of their own reelers and that was not business.
Well anyway, I finally sold the film to RKO cafe who are no longer in business either. And I sold it for about a hundred dollars less than it cost me to make it. I knew it was a small loss, but I had the pleasure of seeing it shown and I remember I went to the paramount theatre where it was playing with some Robert gardener Robert vision picture and you know it was very exciting seeing it on the screen, and it got a nationwide and worldwide distribution. And so I thought everybody liked it and I thought it was good and I thought that this would be, I’d get millions of offers from which I got none to do anything. So I made another documentary, this time about a flying priest ‘Father Stock Muller’ or something in New Mexico, who flew a Piper Cub around to Indian parishes in arcadia. It was a colorful subject and so I went there and pretty much on my own again made this short, and still you know nothing was happening.
They would release of work through this?
Stanley Kubrick: No. they gave me a $1,500 and of which I had to pay for the film, the travel, and I made nothing. I think I lost money on that too. But I had been making a reasonably good salary at LOOK for 4 years, so I had a certain amount of money and I was still working. So then I quit LOOK because I decided that there obviously wasn’t any money in shots, but that I would find out how much feature films were being made for, and they were millions! And I had calculated that I could make a feature film for about $10,000.
I bet you got excited by that?
Stanley Kubrick: Going by, projecting the manner of film I’d shoot, figuring that I get actors to work for probably nothing, you know work with, I mean at this point I was the whole crew: cameraman, assistant cameraman, director, everything; so I had no cost. So a friend of mine in the village did a script.
You were living in the village at that time?
Stanley Kubrick: I was living on 16th Street, 56 avenue. And he needed a script which was a terrible kind of dull, undramatic, but very very serious allegorical story about four soldiers from an unnamed country lost behind enemy lines trying to find their way home again. It had the lines in it like we spend our lives running our fingers down the list of names and addresses, looking for our real. No running the fingers down the list of something-or-other, Looking for our real names are our real addresses. I came in line with this. It was that kind of a thing you know. and of course, I totally failed to recognize the, what I didn’t know about making films or anything you know, I just thought well these are the two things have turned out pretty well; but they were documentaries.
And the second thing that turned out pretty well?
Stanley Kubrick: Yeah. but I didn’t really know what I didn’t know and I thought well Christ there really wasn’t very much more to making a feature film and I certainly couldn’t make one worse than the films that I kept saying every day. But I wasn’t satisfied to just make an interesting film, I wanted it to be a very poetic and meaningful film. And it was a little bit like the favorite story about the midget who wouldn’t take the base on balls and decided to swing. So I got the film made, but it was a very very dull, and it got an art-house distribution; was called ‘Fear and Desire’, distributed by Joseph Bernstein, who was at one time, I think he was the distributor for first-brand and Russell pictures. It got a few reasonably good reviews. It got a nice blurb from Marc Van Doreen who was very kind about it. I had a few good moments in it, but with the exception of one or two of the actors they were all terrible actors and I knew nothing about directing and actors.
How did you go out to recognize the sort of?
Stanley Kubrick: Well, I just, I don’t remember you know. It was really just actually from some of the so-called professional efforts I have subsequently seen people doing, I would say didn’t go that much differently than a lot of people do but I didn’t really know anything. But there were some good moments in it, and I said, it even got a few good reviews but it never returned a penny of its investment.
Was it your own money that you put up?
Stanley Kubrick: No, I raised the money privately and then while this picture was, it took a long time to edit the film and get all the, you know. I spent over a year on it all. It opened at the guild theater in New York and it was pretty apparent that it was terrible. while it was still playing, I decided well I better uh I’d better get another script very fast and try to promote some more money on the strength of just the fact that the thing was playing, because it wasn’t apparent to me how he’s going to earn a living I do anything you know, again. Not one single offer to do anything from anybody. So I in about two weeks, got together another script with somebody and this time it was sort of reaction to the other one. This was nothing but action sequences and mostly mechanically constructed of action-gangster plot.
Was this the time that you were hustling Chess?
Stanley Kubrick: Well, I wasn’t hustling chess. But I was playing chess for quarters. I mean, I wasn’t a hustler but I pretended not to be a good player and beat people. I just was playing in the park you know for quarters, quarter again.
But were you actually doing this for the fun or?
Stanley Kubrick: No. I was doing for the fun of it but I also didn’t make about two or three dollars a day which really goes a long way if you’re not buying anything except food.
Well do you still retain a lot of acquaintances from that stage, growing-up?
Stanley Kubrick: What there’s only one person, one friend who I still see, a boy named David Miller who is an operations research analyst, and who I’ve remained friendly with. I still know all the people there, you know, like Arthur and Feldman and there’s a guy named Edmund Packover but the regulars at the park don’t change too much.
But were they in the category of people playing for money or not?
Stanley Kubrick: But yeah, I mean there were the regulars you know, like the real regulars used to be Arthur Feldman who was really the best player there.
You also pay for money?
Stanley Kubrick: Oh!! yeah, I mean, all the regulars play for money and it was Arthur Feldman who I’d say was the best player, then there was a guy named Joe Richmond, who was probably the next-best player, then there was a guy named Edmund Peckover, I would have put him say third and another regular was a guy named Amos Kaminski, who was a physicist, he would have been next, then I would say myself and David Miller, about equal and then it was descending, I mean, I was only interested in the people who were better than I was, you know, so those are the ones that I particularly remember because, they were enjoyable appeal and there was a whole lot of Potters and semi-potters, you know, and people who put up a fierce struggle but who invariably lost.
How many hours in a day were you putting in down there?
Stanley Kubrick: Well, when I was waiting for things to happen, you know, waiting to get an answer on something which went on for months, sometimes I would go there about twelve o’clock and stay there until you know midnight. I would say, look at 12 hours a day, with breaks for food
You were just playing with the lights?
Stanley Kubrick: Oh!!! yeah in the summer it was marvelous, you know.
Did they still have the concrete tables?
Stanley Kubrick: Yeah, in the daytime you get a table in the shade and at night you get a table by the light and if you made the switch the right way, you had a good table all the time but you know, there are those two end tables where the light is by the fountain, that have the best light at night and that was always the tables at night that you would try to get.
Did you have a regular clientele guys or you know, just sort of misguided pride and provide and?
Stanley Kubrick: Well, I used to play of course a lot with the better players because, they give me odds and because, you know, they couldn’t get a game really. For instance, Feldman used to give me a pawn and move and with a point and move, I never really kept track but it was pretty even, I mean Feldman didn’t make his living off me, you know, but when there was no sort of real patches around, then the better players would play each other and with it would give you know fair odds so there would be a pretty good game, like there was some players that will just give you always white which was a small advantage but it was an advantage, point and move of course, is well, is the smallest advantage would be white, then the next advantage would be two moves, you know, and then the next one would be point and move.
How do you stack up in the Marshall Chess Club, how did you stack yourself up in the Marshall Chess Club?
Stanley Kubrick: I won the B- tournament and I played in one A-tournament and finished around in the middle.
Well, but did you think that…?
Stanley Kubrick: I would like to point out to you that the A tournament that is not the top 10, the top tournaments, that’s the club championship, so, you know that’s that, you can figure out where I stand.
But did you think you could get to do the point and move, was that a serious point appraisal?
Stanley Kubrick: Oh!!!, absolutely yeah.
That’s kind of impressing. When did you get launched after this point into the movie?
Stanley Kubrick: Well, as I say, when Feldman and I was still playing the gill fitter, I spent about two weeks lashing together this all action script and let’s say, you know.
What is the relation to the family?
Stanley Kubrick: Well, the guy’s name was Mo Boulcel and he has two drug stores in the Bronx. Mo Boulcel co-produced and put up the money to make killer’s kiss, his name is Morris Boulcel, M o r r i s B o u l c e l.
Now, it’s not a great financially thought…
Stanley Kubrick: That was at that time that I was playing chess for four quarters in the park, speaking of Jimmy Harris.
There was a guy in the village who was making films by himself, just doing everything together and then you thought that you and he should get together and reduced you and then I remember Jimmy suggested that, this is the impression I got, which may be wrong and he suggested that he could take the producing burden of the films, Is that right, the finance technologist?
Stanley Kubrick: Yeah, well, I had made killer’s kiss the second feature film and substantially that’s what happened well first you mean I made the killing and
You made that by yourself?
Stanley Kubrick: No, well, we formed the company which is called Harris Kubrick Pictures Corporation and after looking for a story we bought a book called The Clean Break by Lionel White and this was the story that we made into the killing for United Artists. The United Artists had bought killer’s kiss, well, first of all, United artists function was only to finance and distribute the film so, it was up to us to hire the people and make the film and I presume that generalized thought that, if the killer’s kiss could be made and I mean, on the semi-professional basis it was, that with an adequate amount of money which was fairly minimum anyway that, you know, we could make a film. Jimmy had to guarantee completion of the movie which means that, if the movie ran over the budget, he had to put up all the extra money, which is a great safeguard and especially since financially he was responsible to make this kind of a guarantee. It wasn’t that much of a risk on the part of an artist but we had a very good cast but none of the people were big stars in the sense that they were extremely choosy about what they were in and I would say that, all of them had probably been in worst films than they might have even at the beginning thought this one might turn out to be.
Wasn’t Marylyn Monroe…?
Stanley Kubrick: Keep the principal cast was Sterling Hayden, Colleen Gray, Marie Windsor, Elijah Cook jnr. John Sawyer, Techno Cassia, Vince Edwards.
I saw that film that…
Stanley Kubrick: who later became Dr. Kilda
So long ago that I’m just trying to remember, was it the one where Sterling Hayden dies in the end?
Stanley Kubrick: No, he gives up, the money blows away at the airport and he gives up.
I’m getting confused
Stanley Kubrick: You probably haven’t seen the person.
No, I remember Sterling Hayden very clearly but I can’t…
Stanley Kubrick: You’re thinking he’s the asphalt jungle, that’s why some element and rolls on it, he dies at the NPS world angle, in a field with a horse.
Oh!!! That’s right now.
Stanley Kubrick: you’re thinking about another person; you never saw the Killing.
Maybe that’s right
Stanley Kubrick: If you want to see it, there’s a part of the Museum of modern art, the artist could give you the painting. So, anyway we made the killing and the somehow, Durry Sherry saw it and he liked it and he was the first one who really showed any interest in us, you know, to the extent of offering us any sort of a deal to make another picture and so we went to MGM and look through, the deal was that we could look through all their backlog of story properties and if we found one that they liked, we could do it and I think I tell you this, it’s kind of with his burning secret by Stefan Wine and I did the screenplay with Colder Willingham, about which time Durry Sherry had not taken out of his job and the project came to an end I mean, just about the time script was finished.
It was at that point that you were run across with your war story?
Stanley Kubrick: Well, it was really sort of kin kind with us that I remembered reading Paths of Glory as one of the few books that I did read.
Is it a fair description of German descent, is it independently wealthy?
Stanley Kubrick: Yes, you have to have patience because, if you don’t, your own frustrations proved to be too much of a distraction, it is a slow, you know, it’s like those games we had to jiggle all the balls into place, sometimes, as more balls are jiggling than others but, it’s likely that and if you allow yourself to become irritated then it’s just another distraction.
Well, how do you keep yourself amused when we always admire the way sometimes breaks and girls sometimes…
Stanley Kubrick: Because, I keep thinking about the next things that I’m doing, I try to use all the time, that’s why I found Francis one all these people, there I found myself and slightly up in a year feeling luckily, this stuff was quite simple but then, I usually, I would imagine to anyone sort of looking at me, I have a sort of, they withdraw and look at my face because, what I’m just doing is thinking about what I’m about to do, what other scenes, when I just use the time to think a little, like sitting in the park playing chess.
You think about how to work, manipulate the actors and that sort of thing?
Stanley Kubrick: Well, I think about whatever problems as problems, I mean, sometimes many of the actors aren’t the problem, so now, the problem is the story or the schedule or asset that isn’t completely designed something but whatever it is, I always have plenty to think about.
How close do you prove yourself to get to the actors as friends, you have to be traveling with guys working for you?
Stanley Kubrick: I mean, if you can, I mean in other words, it’s bad if you don’t like somebody, to have a bad social situation occur, like an attempt at friendliness which turns out to be sour or you know, his wife goes away saying how terrible you are, isn’t like that but I mean, if you like the people, it’s it helps to know the minutes enjoyable filming them.
Is not that offer quite disappointing or anything?
Stanley Kubrick: Well, it isn’t disappointing anyway because, unless the actor is, it’s so rare that you would ever get to the point where you said the actor; look this is my picture and you’re working for me and you do it the way I want or go home because, what you really want him to do is to feel confident and enjoy what he’s doing, otherwise, he’s not gonna do it very well. So, somehow, you have to be clever enough or be more persuasive enough, although persuasive isn’t even the right word because, I tend to believe that if you’re right, people realize it.
Are you usually right?
Stanley Kubrick: Well, I try to be. I have found that when I am right, you know, when it went in retrospect it turned out to be always right and in doing it, it seemed always right. You do not usually find difficulties arising if you’re right unless the actor is incapable of doing what you’re asking him to do. To limitations of his talent, there is emotional range or something and he gets insecure and thinks of a lot of reasons why you’re wrong but really what you are trying to do is avoid failing but then really, you should try to figure out what the limitations of the actors are and put him in a spot like that. After leaving MGM and the burning secret trip pride of this to me and I had bought Paths of Glory, I did a screenplay with Jim Thompson and Colder Willingham and nobody wanted to do it, it was turned down by every company until our agent Ronnie Lubin interested Kirk Douglas on the project and through Kirk’s interest, United Artists put up the money on the basis of it being done for very low budget in Europe. The picture was a moderate success but it was nothing to create opportunities for us because of big grosses or profits. The reviews on it were very good, many reviews were supportive and from that point of view was an enormous success. The greatest virtue of the films that I met my wife, Christina, who was an actress. I was watching a television broadcast looking for an actress, was actually watching someone else and saw her and got in touch with her agent, she came over to the studio we met and I began dating her and we subsequently got married a year later. she is a marvelous actress, she had done a lot of work in Germany, I would like her to act but she has no interest in doing dull routine acting things in this march and painting. If I ever have a part, a decent part for women which for some reason I never seem to write into my films, she would certainly do it. This is followed by about six months been working on a script for Kirk Douglas which he didn’t like and was abandoned and some more months working on something which Gregory Peck was supposed to do for us, which was also abandoned because, it wasn’t liked and followed by the offer from Marlon Brando to direct his Western which resulted in six months of work again abandoned, as far as I was concerned because, I left the project two weeks before it started, this was followed by a script called The German Lieutenant, which again no one liked and followed by Kirk Douglas’ offer to take over Spartacus after weeks of shooting, which I did.
And you found yourself?
Stanley Kubrick: Yes, and my narrative criticisms which were at first so enthusiastically received, began to grow pale as time went on due to the counter pressures of the writer, Dalton Trumbo and co- producer Amy Lewis, who did not see eye-to-eye with me on the story work between the shooting and the editing of Spartacus. Two children were born to me, to Christina, Vivian and Renata, I was on the picture almost two years. Children’s names; Vivian Vanessa age five, Anya Renata age 6, Katherine Susana, Katherine spelled K, age 11. Only if about eight weeks were spent in Spain during the battles in the Big March Buys, the whole picture was done on the back lot of universal
Did you get any sense of intellectual satisfaction of those particles at all?
Stanley Kubrick: No but, it was, you know, again an opportunity to work and it was interesting to, from a purely, as an exercise, you know, to try to do scenes that you thought weren’t very good and to try to make them interesting. I thought the first 45 minutes of the film, of the life in a gladiatorial school which was simple, turned out quite well, as far as I’m concerned but then, the rest of the story from the slave rebellion onto the end, I thought seemed a bit silly.
That’s the event and then what happened?
Stanley Kubrick: Well, during the making of Spartacus, we bought Lolita, Jimmy and I and now nobody wanted to make Lolita, actually the history of all the film proudly that I’ve done is, no one ever wanted to particularly make them and we just sort of running out the clock, managed to put the picture together someplace, you know, well nobody particularly wanted to make Lolita and finally, Seven Arts, a company named Seven Arts, put up the money and we made it, it was made in one.
Did you yourself do the rewriting of the book?
Stanley Kubrick: Yes, well, Navicoff and I, well, I believe get along very well and I know he liked the film very much when he saw it.
Is there anything that is particularly striking about making that film that you remember?
Stanley Kubrick: Well, you mean, antidotes, not really. I think the only thing that is regrettable about the film is that, due to the incredible pressure against making the film and put on by the carload by all sorts of groups, although I think the film was faithful psychologically to all the characters and captured I think the sense of them, I think that the total lack of eroticism in the story, in this film presentation of it, spoil some of the pleasure of it, you know, you can apply all the eroticism you want but there’s nothing like delivering some to help understand a little more the enslavement, you know, that Humber Humber was under. I think that I would consider that a criticism of the film but one that was, you know, the film could not have been made and nobody would have met it at all and it would never have been distributed. There were some criticism by some people that said that she looked too old but I never thought that was a valid criticism because, it was one of those books where nobody bothered to really read the description that Humber Hummer gave of Lolita and they got this, somehow there is, it was a rare interesting example of sort of mass delusion because, it’s all inevitably, people imagine her as being about nine years old and looking about nine or ten years old and yet there’s a very clear description in the book of Annabelle, his childhood sweetheart and he says in the narrative that were not for Annabelle they would never know Lolita and then when he sees Lolita, he says that she was a perfect reincarnation of Annabelle and Annabelle is described as a, you know, a pretty sexy 12 and a half, I forgot, actually i don’t exactly remember Annabelle’s age but I know that Lolita was something like 12 years and three months when he meets her and then the story progresses through quite a few years will sue line was actually just 13 or mental picture and I thought this criticism was not valid. Many of the people who voted, I think, well, I know didn’t bother to really read how old he said she was and what she looked like and there was this peculiar example of a lot of people imagining her as being about 10 years old.
It was strange, it was the first film work which proceeded really from an intellectual, a great intellectual premise rather than from a story or from an intellectual situation rather than from a specific story curiosity about the possible outcomes of nuclear strategy, how did that that come about after the leaders…?
Stanley Kubrick: Well, I was interested in whether or not I was going to get blown up by an H-bomb prior to Lolita but my interest intensified itself sort of concurrently with that, I believe that the Berlin crisis took place during Lolita and about that time I became keenly and started reading up on all the, you know, literature of which there’s a terrific extent, you know, tremendous a lot, am I getting fucked up on it, had a tremendous a lot and you know, I read, I would say, I pretty much read the spectrum, I began finding afterwards that I wasn’t reading anything new and I decided I knew the whole thing, you know and it was then that I began to, the thing that struck me most of all about it was that, at first when you read the brilliant analyses and the games theories and Herman Kahn, you’re very reassured because, you start off by thinking gee!!! you know, God!! there are these bumps and you get an image vaguely observe a world war two mentality and then when you read the literature in the field, your first reaction superficially is your very encouraged because you suddenly realize there’s this whole body of thought that’s going into the whole thing in it and you think, ahh!!!, yes, well, now I know and then as you read on and on, you become more involved than it began to realize that all these things lead to very paradoxical outcomes and reviewing the whole thing, every line and it leads to a paradoxical point and I suppose this was the most dramatically obvious thing about Dr. Strangelove was the paradoxical outcome of any particular line of thought.
If it really is true, in real world every line proves paradoxical outcome, what hope is that?
Stanley Kubrick: Well, personally I think that the hope is basically just luck, the situation is simply fist for just luck reasons, is never really put to getting particularly great strain, a lot of course had, you know, a lot has been done, a lot keeps being done about trying to prove the situation against accidental war and better command and control and more sophisticated threat technique of trying to graduate threat into as many steps as you can, to leave as many alternatives and back away points but the depressing thing is that at every period of history, the people always thought that they had, I mean, the power structure and the leaders always look back on the previous period of history and thought that they had learned something and I think that ,you know, the old thing about, the only thing you can learn about history is that, you can’t learn from history is it’s probably true and that this illusion that you get that you’re much more sophisticated and that it can never happen that way again maybe true, but the thing you don’t realize is, it will happen a different way, you know, I know that everybody’s very convincing don’t ever have another 1914-type situation, you know, they may have a 1985-type situation that they are not prepared for.
What’s up with a set of the pressure you’re perfectly prepared for the last?
Stanley Kubrick: Yeah, well, most armies are, you know, you’d find the occasional exception like Nazi Germany but inevitably, I think that as time goes on, the danger increases because, the thing becomes more and more remote, I mean the problem to begin with is that, people do not react to abstractions, you know, they only react to direct experience. Very few people are even interested in the abstractions and even fewer people can become emotionally involved or emotionally react to an abstract thing. The only reality that nuclear weapons have are a few movie shots of mushroom clouds and a few documentaries that occasionally showing our houses about the effects of Hiroshima but that the atomic bomb is much of an abstraction as you could possibly have. I mean, it’s as abstract as the fact that you know that someday you’ll die, it’s something that you know but you really do a very good job and you do an excellent job of denying it psychologically. To begin with, because of the very effective denial and the lack of any evidence, there’s almost no interest in the problem, I mean, I would say in the minds of most people, it’s less interesting even than city government, you know and the longer the time goes on without the thing happening, this illusion is created that somehow it’s like money in the bank or you’re building up security, in fact I think you’re just becoming more accustomed to it and more liable to think that at some point that you’ve been taking these wonderful precautions and that chances are minimized and so forth and finally you will get confronted with a situation that you couldn’t anticipate. For instance, even now I think that, it surprises me that the Russian and United States could do a lot to almost completely eliminate the possibility of accidental nuclear war without any real loss of security, both of them could allow observers and key places to instantly authenticate whether or not a nuclear war was in progress you know or it seemed to be in process of happening and that if there were some nuclear accident or a screwball, you know, nuclear psychotic, you know, the Mad Major or the missile it gets away, you can instantly authenticate this might be true. I know that United States seems anyway, geared not to respond to say a single nuclear explosion anyplace, at least that’s what they say, that they now have, they feel invulnerable retaliatory capabilities and that the single City taken out would not start a nuclear war but you know, again, you never know that panic that happens when suddenly all the lights go out like you described in New York City, you know, that indefinable something that might just make the senior decision-maker abandon all his previously beautifully worked out graduated steps of response, you never know and it depends on who he is and what his personal state of mind is, what information is available to him and so forth. The fact that a lot of effort has been going to try to work out possible accidents and I suspect that great precautions have been taken to protect against these accidents but whether the human imagination is capable of really devising the subtle permutations and psychological variance to all those things, I doubt the people who make up these war scenarios are not really as inventive say as a great writer or as reality. I think Herman Kahn is a genius and I think that he can envision certain situations but when you read the many of the sort of war scenario possibilities, they don’t strike you as being the work of a master novelist, they don’t really seem real, you know, their political possibilities but they don’t have the real trappings of reality that might, you know, confuse and panic the decision maker in the real circumstance.
Were you surprised that the reaction to Stranger on the fact that was so widely discussed and so widely reviewed and did you have any feelings of responsibility to it?
Stanley Kubrick: Well, I mean all films are reviewed, the discussion went beyond reviews but it was quite obviously something that might become a controversial issue.
Well when you got finished with the digit, did you have some set, was a winner?
Stanley Kubrick: Well, I was very pleased with it, I mean, when you say a winner, I mean I thought, I was very pleased with the film, it happens to also be a very successful film commercially.
How did Terry Southern get into the act?
Stanley Kubrick: Well, Terry came to interview me for Show Magazine shortly before I was leaving for London to make the picture and I became friendly with him. I had read the Magic Christian and Flesh and Filigree and I thought he was a terrific writer and I came to London and started the script.
Did you get along with the script pretty well?
Stanley Kubrick: The script was done and it was done in its black comedy form, a fact which a certain amount of confusion has been created about in certain areas. The script was done, Peter Sellers was cast and I was coming over here to prepare the film and you know, Southern Terry was very talented, I never stopped working on a script, I like to work with somebody else because we’re under the time pressure that you’re under you can’t afford these sort of laps of intensity that if you work by yourself you might suffer and then Terry seemed like an ideal person because, the style of the script was similar, you know, to his sense of humor and so, about six weeks before the picture started, I asked him if he wanted to come over here and work on it with me and do some more dialogue and revision and he came over, he worked for six weeks and that was it. I started the picture and he went off and did some other things.
Has any of the pictures been as intellectually complicated as the present one as in 2001 causes many intellectual problems, I mean, that’s a repeat, it’s terrific undertaking prime creating future?
Well, I don’t know, intellectually complicated isn’t really the right description for a thing, I mean trailer was more intellectually complicated picture and you know, it involved complex arguments and quite a few, you know, abstract ideas clearly or comically stated, this is not as complex a picture, it’s not as complicated a picture in terms of, you know, ideas represented. There are ideas actually spoken in praise of Arthur C Clarke, this true that, he is I think, the most poetic science-fiction writer.
He’s also really the best informed?
Stanley Kubrick: Right, he is scientifically the best informed, his narrative ideas I think from my tastes, the most appealing and he has this rather unique poetic sense of the sort of nostalgia for the, you know, the mountains that have eroded away over millions of years and the millions of years in the future and people looking back and forward and you’ll have to fix this up because, it sounds like crap but it’s very hard to, you know, define it nicely but it is true.
I’ve found out that every time I was reading some story like that Barker’s book, I always feel sad as I go, it’s either he made the venusaur, compounded venusaur, they all had a vision of something in the future which you’ll never ever see.
Stanley Kubrick: Or something in the past that you can never know about. Well, but I think that’s marvelous, you know, I think that somehow without trying to, without making it sound too pompous or precious, that he captures the hopeless but admirable human desire to know, you know, these things that they never will, you know, can never really know and to reach for things that they can never, you know, really reach back and you know, it’s very hard to say exactly but the sense of sadness and this poetic sense of time passing and this sort of loneliness of worlds, I mean, he manages, I tell you what he also manages to do, he can take a star, a Sun, say and in that one story, I’ve forgotten the name of it, where the sort of Sun creatures come towards mercury, he can take an inanimate object like a star or a world or even a galaxy and somehow make it into a very poignant thing which almost seems alive. He has a way of writing about mountains and planets and the world with the same point to which people write about the children or love affairs and also although you haven’t read the script and you should really try to refer to the story there is that without underlining it there was a contrast in the story between a giant orbiting bombs, which you might say is the negative use of nuclear energy and this particular spaceship which leads to great fantastic accomplishments which is also another good use of nuclear energy.
But I think one can talk about the Orion, it’s something I wanted to do for a long time and finally…
Stanley Kubrick: Have a standard way of pounding that, yeah
I have a set of notes somewhere which I wanted to put down for just writing a piece on the Orion, showing why, showing sort of logically speaking, why it’s the only propulsion system that’s worth considering if you talk really about the interplanetary missions, that doesn’t make any sense fundamentally because, its operating temperatures is that the escape velocity that’s really the crucial element in it and so, that would be very nice, I actually should talk about the part about the Orion and he’s absolutely magnificent, the paintings which the guys have been doing over there and because the other thing that strikes if you compare making such a fictional space mission with the real thing, the thing that amazes one is how fast everything is done, in the sense that, if you make a decision whether it’s on costume or on lettering or on all of that, you get the satisfaction of seeing it created in some form almost immediately, I mean, it is not sort of if you’d say
Stanley Kubrick: It doesn’t seem almost immediately to me but if I was used to another time
Yeah, compared to the scientific timescale
Stanley Kubrick: It must be seen very quick
Yeah, I mean, in a scientific project, you make any suggestion just like that and maybe it’s six months or more and take a typical experiment physics, that’s a good idea for an experiment, by the time you get an answer these days, typically, it’s a year-and-a-half, so, it’s a completely different order.
Stanley Kubrick: It’s interesting that you would feel that way because to the average person, the timescale of a movie seems like time has stopped. Most people are so bored and so astonished when they see the pace of things, somehow, they have an image in their mind that it’s all done in a week or something like that and most people that I found who don’t come from your side of the fence, think that everything works incredibly slowly, you know it just depends what you used to.
There’s this thing you know, when you shoot me over to watch a television thing of course but
Stanley Kubrick: That’s right, you tell too
But that’s a different side of it, that’s the side of making these sort of Quaffle sequences, which you would you work for three hours to extract 30 seconds of something, that was driving me off my head but the technological side of it, where you get an idea, say from propulsion system or Christ knows where and within three days, well, you’ve got a drawing there, you’ve got some guys making a model and you have a lot of thought on a different size, I mean, like what time scale these guys are using, the Eastern Standard Time or all sorts of stuff but all these goes fantastically fast, I mean, the number of problems that you deal with and solve in a half an hour is more than what you would deal with in a comparable scientific project in six months, because, of course, you’re just working in a different media in the sense that you don’t really have to worry say, in the case of a spaceship about the structural stability of these things, you might spend six months or a year computing something out of machines, well, you know it’s going to work, that it can be designed, so, you take that as a premise that you put something there which in principle is going to work, then you can stop at that point, that’s what really cause the difference in the, it’s very interesting, I find it extremely remarkable.
Stanley Kubrick: If these things do work that quickly, the thing that does take all the time is to abstract a 2 hours and 15 minutes of the story and really keep distilling and distilling and distilling and distilling and distilling, I would say that, if you count the time that spent during the shooting day, also working on the story in rehearsal and rewriting, so, I would say that an average of at least four hours a day has been spent on this story much more than of course, in the real solid writing period was like, you know what I mean but let’s just say average four hours a day for two years, that’s an average of six days a week, that’s 24 hours a week times maybe a hundred weeks, I’d say that’s a good 2400 hours spent on, call it two hours and 40 minutes of the story, so, that’s about a thousand to one on the story and that’s what a real crunch is put.
One doesn’t get the impression that film directors do think you’re great though.
Stanley Kubrick: You said that on purpose, you know, they’re supposed to. Let’s get this going, I think we running. The analogy of using the frustrating wasted time periods on the set with thinking on your opponent’s moving chips.
The tiring thing about the daily working with or without colors, which I didn’t completely understand, he said that when he directs, that he has a quarter of works every day and that you do not have a quarter of works every day and this is somehow a good thing.
Stanley Kubrick: With the exception of a few directors like David Lane and well, let’s not say who, with the exception of a few directors, most people have their film edited by film editors as they go along and then when the film is done, they look at the film and dictate the notes about it and the film editor tries to do what they say and maybe they look at it again and they do it again but basically, it’s like trying to, say, redesign a city by driving through it in a car, you can notice a few things and say, put that traffic light in the middle of the street or those buildings over there are like kind of shabby or something, but if you really want to do it right you must do it yourself, piece by piece, so, I think by now I have enough, sort of, ability to imagine the way a scene will come out, that I can tell without looking in the material if I have enough film coverage and you know, what I can do with it and then I edit the film with the editor myself, when the film is, when it’s all finished.
But you are back to editing after that, I didn’t know about that.
Stanley Kubrick: Just the thing, just linking together that thing, it’s all
Because I don’t see how you, I mean, you have these you know a couple of these few minutes sequences, now, I don’t see how you cook all of that, really.
Stanley Kubrick: Well, you haven’t seen them but that’s only a fraction of the material there is, anyways, what you’ve seen is only the comings and goings of other scenes to just show you what the set looks like, I mean, we’ve shot about 80,000 feet of film already.
What’s 8,000 feet in time?
Stanley Kubrick: It’s about, well, it’s 5,400 feet an hour, it’s 6 x 9, yeah, 54 in an hour.
How much film will you shoot before the all pictures?
Stanley Kubrick: By the way, that is a lot of film. People have shot a million feet actually.
You mean in our lives?
Stanley Kubrick: No, I mean in the film. Let’s just say a picture is three hours long, it would be 16,200 feet, so what ratio is that, that’s about the 50-1 or something, 50-something to 1.
It almost like a thousand to one.
Stanley Kubrick: No it isn’t, ninety percent to one, that if it’s up to. Film directing I think is a misnomer for anybody that seriously want to make films because, directing the film is only, you might say, one-third of the process, you know, writing the film, directing the film and then editing the film is, you might say, the whole job and it was really it’s only the old major studio sort of image of how film was made that the producer held in his hand on the palate, you know, the various people, the artist, the cameraman, the actors, the film editor, the director and director is really just sort of like a senior member of the crew and that he had no real integrating status and what happened, I mean, they were the few exceptional characters even in the great days of the Hollywood studios, who somehow exerted their authority of working on but and even today, you know, you talk about directors have the right, they call the first cut, which means, they must approve the first cut but they have to bend the producer can do it every once, virtually and it’s a right to try to persuade someone because, I mean, if you don’t even have the right of the first cut, you can’t even explain what you want but, I do the cutting this off.
You have a picture of yours at this stage, is your picture, has it always been like that or is that, you know?
Stanley Kubrick: Yeah, let’s say, it was like that Dr. Strange’s Love and Lovely night and I think there’s a, I don’t remember, subject to delivering the minimum censorship requirements to play in it and the way the way you make deals the way you make that arrangement as you say the picture will not be longer than a certain period of time and that you will be deliver the minimum required censorship so that’s picture can be played. I mean, if they’ll just say, give it to us any way you want and you deliver a picture that it’s legally unplayable, they have to protect themselves against that.
What do you feel like your pictures being shown on Television?
Stanley Kubrick: Well, I wish that they didn’t put the commercials and the worst thing that they sometimes do is cut the films.
You don’t retain the rights over that?
Stanley Kubrick: Well, in some of the films I know but then, it’s terribly difficult to police it because, unless you see the film yourself, there are very few people who are qualified to tell you what was cut from it, I mean even if a friend calls up and says, “you know, I saw your film and it looked cut”, you said, “what was cut out?”, they say, “well, I don’t know, but I think it was cut”. Well, it’s almost impossible to find out what was done that’s peculiar problem.
Roger just lost a court case over that.
Stanley Kubrick: I believe his case was against interruption of commercials, I don’t think it was the cutting issue, I don’t know.
Commercials are certainly the key thing huh but Ross got a piece about that case and Yorker, there she described the reason why he lost which is basically, he knows what he was doing when he signed the agreement.
Stanley Kubrick: Well, that’s it, I mean, they have the right to do what they’ve done.
Well, I really hope you guys enjoyed this real extra special edition of the Indie Hustle Podcast because, Stanley is one of my heroes, he’s up there with of course, Hitchcock, Scorsese and many other filmmakers as well but, Stanley stands at possibly the very top of my list but I really hope you enjoyed this interview. If you want to see a couple of great interviews, if you want to see anything, first of all, if you want to see what was, hear more about Stanley Kubrick, head over to Indiefilmhustle.com/Stanley–Kubrick and it will take you to an insane amount of documentaries, of breaking down of his style, everything like that and I just uploaded a new article about the Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes Documentary, which is also in that link, which is amazing, it’s about how he kept all of his work, he kept every piece of paper, everything since the beginning of his career, he had just amazing amount of information about his process but it’s all boxed up. So, it’s now in an archive and they did this amazing little documentary about the boxes and what’s in the boxes and how they became there, his process and all that stuff and that’s also at that link as well, and of course, if you want any more information about this episode you can go to indiefilmhustle. com/112, I’ve put a bunch of links there as well for more Stanley Kubrick stuff. I got some other cool Stanley Kubrick articles and stuff coming up in the coming weeks that I’m working on because, I’m again such a big fan, I really do believe that he has changed cinema, he’s one of those masters that change cinema and I do think that his work can benefit us, as in, indie filmmakers, if we even understand even a percent of a percent of a percent of what he was doing, it might be able to help us as filmmakers tell better stories and definitely by studying the Masters you do so. So, this is just one of the many masters but he’s definitely high on that totem pole. So, thanks for listening guys and as always, keep that hustle going, keep that dream alive and I’ll talk to you soon. Thanks for listening to the Indie Film Hustle podcast at indiefilmhustle.com, that’s, I n d i e f i l m h u s t l e .com
Stanley Kubrick – The Cinematic Experience
Born July 26,1928, New York City. My father was a doctor. I had few intellectual interests. As a child I was a school misfit and I don’t think I read a book for pleasure until after I graduated high school. I had one thing I think that perhaps helped me get over being a misfit…a school misfit, and that is that I became a student of photography, I mean at this point I was the whole crew, cameraman, assistant cameraman, director, everything.
You have to have patience because if you don’t your own frustrations prove to be too much of a distraction. It is a slow…you know it’s like those games where you jiggle all the balls into place, sometimes there’s more balls you’re jiggling than others but it’s largely that, and if you allow yourself to become irritated then it’s just another distraction.
Narrator: Your first experience with a Kubrick film will be a somewhat perplexing one. The distinguished approach to film making can make it difficult to comprehend let alone analyze what you’ve just seen. However if you do find yourself delving into this artist’s …then you’ll discover a filmography comprised not of accessibility but experimentation, headed by a director whose craft becomes established through a desire to reshape cinematic form itself defined by his constant need for continual change in technique where everything becomes centered around reinvention.
It’s a strenuous task to look at the works of Stanley Kubrick without coming across as panegyric, but I have to make that preference when discussing possibly the most celebrated visual artist of the 20th Century.
Speaker: You know everybody pretty much acknowledges he’s the man and I still feel that underrates him.
Narrator: So what is it about Kubrick’s films that escalate them to the highest tier of cinema? Well you’ll find that every project is received as an artistic revolution, not just in the context of his other work but in the domain of film itself. His filmmaking techniques are striking, but these salient approaches define the man as a director of extremes both in content and execution. His films don’t deal with intimate dramas, they examine the grandiose characteristics of life, exploring the deteriorating effects of war or the secrets kept by society so they may partake in their darkest fantasies. High concept subject matter and filmmaking techniques delivered with such ferocity that it redefines the cinematic experience. Redefine to such a degree that logic almost dissipates and pure experientiality takes over.
Few other filmmakers match Kubrick’s attention to detail in his work, and his process to think of work as ways to reshape lives could be seen as the origin of this because to think of art as having responsibilities other than just to be art elevates its importance in the mind of its creator. When it must convey a message it must have a purpose, this created a style of directing for Kubrick wherein every single element on screen was motivated, from character movement to costume design everything had a meaning. There’s an immeasurable degree of depth in Kubrick’s collection of work due to his refined conscientious filmmaking style because when every detail becomes a necessary intellectual component of a narrative it becomes simpler to understand its prestige in the medium.
Speaker: When I first saw 2001 I didn’t like it, three or four months later I was with some woman in California and I went to see it again and I liked it a lot more. A couple of years later I saw it again and I thought, “Gee this is really a sensational movie!” And it was one of the few times in my life that I realized that the artiste was much ahead of me.
Narrator: In order to research this project I decided to visit the Stanley Kubrick Archives in London. My time there was spent rummaging through boxes upon boxes of research material, script and story book, it’s a haven of everything from his films that you could possibly imagine. What I discovered was the procedure of how Kubrick would make a film, learning that every stage required a meticulous approach in the molding of them. Few rivaled his research and his work ethic bordered on the obsessed. This experience was how I imagined it is to see a great painter’s brushes, it was a way to gain a brief glimpse into the mind of a master at work.
Across all phases of Kubrick’s projects diligent attention to detail can be found, here was a man who even though he was financed by the studios, he gained a good enough reputation that meant he could maintain full creative control and he took this advantage into every area of every project.
Speaker: I remember one of the visits that I had with Stanley was at his home when he was working on Napoleon and he had a grid, a very detailed grid, and this covered the wall, he was counting the figures in each of these little squares that made up the grid.
Narrator: Pre-production may have meant location scouting an entire city just to find the perfect doorway. During filming it wasn’t unknown for one scene to have over 50 takes, and once the film was finished the editing may have been the most demanding task. Kubrick would have countless reaction shots and instead of setting simply with one that worked, he would go through every single take. The intense control even continued to Kubrick’s involvement with distribution, checking all the prints sent to cinemas and even visiting a few theatres himself.
Many may look upon his work ethic and find it extensive but this need to complete his vision and the determination he pursued it with is what gave Kubrick films such depth. But what exactly are people referring to when they refer to depth in a Kubrick film?
Speaker: Many artists when they put a canvas up which is blank, they start with very detailed pencil strokes, very small delicate pencil strokes. Stanley started conceptually in all of his movies, from my point of view, with large primary colored brush strokes and he would just like beat out these concepts.
Narrator: What was the culmination of this method? Well it’s one thing to have control, but to fuse this with Kubrick’s tendency for dynamic visual storytelling, granted every visual aspect of the frame an almost sacred quality. If there’s one thing Kubrick should be remembered for is that he changed the way visual stories were told.
By manipulating the…on sand in a way that hadn’t been done before, he was able to communicate through his own unique methods. Backgrounds and supporting areas of the main narrative contained some of the most vital information through its imagery. A majority of the film’s thematic presence thus became hidden in plain sight. This resulted in films with a multitude of narrative layers.
Kubrick’s narrative focus existed perpetually in a grey area. He would never sacrifice the main subject story; however his ostensible subject matter conceal the true messages within his film. With Kubrick a camera movement was more than just a camera movement and an action was more than just an action. This method of articulating ideas was one wherein everything seemed to contain a double meaning, one that serviced a narrative and another to deliver a symbolic connotation.
Speaker: He reaches over to shake Jack Nicholson’s hand and so step through that scene frame by frame and the minute that he and Jack Nicholson touch hands and right after the line which is “Nice to see you,” you can see a paper tray on the desk, turns into a very large straight on hard on coming out of Barry Nelson.
Narrator: For instance…character intentions were disguised in their actions. Victor’s two taps on the red table…matches the two taps of …staff on the red floor, and Kubrick carefully choreographed the sequence down to each step. Similarly in Clockwork, Alex’s enjoyment of …is demonstrated through his two kicks on the writer…matched with the two taps in the battle. And these are the less extreme examples
Because of Kubrick’s fascination with the visuals this transcended to their usage in his films to be implemented in a most abstract form, pure symbolism. Kubrick’s manner of filmmaking was to deliver all of the information to the audience, just not tell them that that information is there because he found that the least effective way to tackle ambitious themes was to do so directly, so instead subtle scenes had to be planted into the audience’s consciousness.
Kubrick raises the importance of the symbolic narratives to equal that of his main subject narrative, and in doing so his films blur the line of the conscious and the unconscious.
Kubrickian storytelling can be summed up by saying that it’s the audience’s job to discover meaning for themselves and it’s accomplished by complementing with those two opposing forces.
The most important part of watching a Kubrick film is how the experience feels, not the analysis of its reasoning. His films are puzzles that the viewer must assemble, reporting…and all things mysterious never explained.
Kubrick avoided offering answers in his work, each film is merely a hypothesis. Never abandoning the key subjects of his films, they always remained his main focus; however one of their duties was to be a vessel for the filmmaker to explore greater themes. His films are methods of expressing an idea without offering explanations for them because when an audience must create meaning for themselves it tests them to think on a higher plain of consciousness. Remember Kubrick wanted to reshape lives, we see this even in his subject matter. Writer Michele Simon said that Eyes Wide Shut and The Shining are opposite in intention, one is about the dangers of being pent up in family life whereas the other is about the dangers of straying too far from the family. These could be viewed as contradictory ideals but Kubrick doesn’t say that either is right, the themes don’t offer a conclusion, the filmmaker is holding a mirror to us and asking that we figure it out.
Many of Kubrick’s films can be viewed as allegories. His first film Fear and Desire is a very obvious example, the title itself is the themes of the film. But over the course of his career Kubrick learned that the key to his idea of cinematic experience is ambiguity, for instance take how transitions were used in his early work. (Insert)
And here they are later when pure experience was the priority.
Kubrick understood that exposition isn’t always necessary, first work on the content of the scene and then figure out how that message can be translated cinematically. For Kubrick this could be injected in the subtlest of ways because of his fastidious control. Character relationships surreptitiously conveyed through the art department and positioning displaying paradigm shifts or perhaps that things have remained the same. There’s a circularity of the film’s details throughout Kubrick’s work, techniques would re-emerge later in the piece so that scenes ought to be compared and contrasted with one another. This is how Kubrick dealt with his grand themes, by envisioning his films as self-contained ideas that grow and morph throughout their expression as ideas do in real life. Visuals were Kubrick’s biggest ally, he utilized the notion that all elements within an image had the capacity to convey something, something that the audience must figure out. They’re jigsaws where a piece is not so much missing as it is purposefully concealed. This is how cinema is done.
As an artiste is nothing without film, and filmmaking techniques are the trademarks of any director. So what was Kubrick known for?
I referred to Kubrick earlier as a director of extremes, and I used this definition because of the frequency as well as the intensity of his techniques. Kubrick’s films often feel very distant and that’s because they’re supposed to be, you can sense a certain barrier between the viewer and film’s universe, a barrier that’s strengthened by the film’s cinematic methods to disengage the viewer from personally identifying with the world. Techniques that stand out are essential because Kubrick was creating a unique perspective, this wasn’t our world, this world is exclusive at the movie.
Speaker: One of the things he said to me that I’ve always remembered was in movies you don’t try and photograph the reality, you try and photograph the photograph of the reality.
Narrator: First we need to examine the artistic decisions that Kubrick made, and we can categorize the purpose of many as methods to exaggerate and distract. The camera carried a frenzied need to amplify whatever was on screen, wide angels become extreme wide angles, low angles become extreme low angles.
The reason behind this penchant for the excessive was because Kubrick emphasizes a reality that presents a warped representation of humanity and the universe of the film replicates this. This is a metaphoric reality, a cinematic reality, his methods always reminded us of this fact therefore it was crucial that they be distinctive. Take a look at zooms for example, they’re an almost absent tool in cinema nowadays just because of how distracting they are, yet Kubrick used them religiously.
There are certain rules that filmmakers typically follow so that they can retain audience emersion but Kubrick sought to continually break these rules. He utilized the technique that were unique to cinema,, the camera movement, the editing, and heightened them so that he could distinguish his world as separate from our own. In turn they acknowledge and embrace a symbolic nature. This can be seen even further with the inhabitants of these worlds.
Because Kubrick’s focus revolved heavily around humanity, the acting was watched with heavy scrutiny. Kubrick typically let shots ride out with very little editing to not only build to a climax but to focus on an actor’s performance. Often during dialog scenes sometimes the only thing shown would be the reaction shots. Kubrick felt it more important to show people deal with their situations rather than the situations themselves. Focusing on the reaction gets this message across very well as you isolate the effect. Kubrick could even forgo what the character was looking at just to focus on their face, removing what would typically be a close-up, another example of reducing information delivered to the audience. But whenever possible action and reaction would be in the same shot.
But displaying the exaggerated depiction of humanity becomes evident in the performance itself. Kubrick once said that it can be very difficult not to have a cynical view of human relationships, and his pessimistic view can’t be ignored from his work as it becomes very visible in his characters’ expressions and performance.
We see the infamous Kubrick glare where faces contort into the most sinister forms imaginable and character interactions can feel stilted and cold, that’s because these characters are products of the environments they populate. The denizens of each universe simple exist in the most discernible part of the moral spectrum and their actions are intensified to match Kubrick’s extreme view of the darkest parts of the human spirit, the area he was so interested in exploring.
The methodology of Kubrick centered on developing a cinematic world whose self-awareness mimic the extreme tone that his characters lived in. It all serves us as creating an atmosphere that would make it believable that the situations we see could occur. The techniques of Kubrick weren’t just there to be obnoxious and show off, they were complementary of this belief, whether this meant the destabilization of the camera during the most thrilling moments or the action on screen practically choreographed to the music that’s played.
It’s important that the filmmaking of a movie matches its tone and Kubrick did just that as well as create a much deeper significance. He assembled films of tonal excellence because every possibility was exhausted in order to find the correct way to relay these messages. The multiple narratives were complemented by Kubrick’s filmmaking because every decision was galvanized by his desire for artistic expression.
Kubrick was once asked on how much he planned a scene, he responded, “As much as there are hours in a day and days in a week.” This pretty much sums up how Kubrick thought of movies. He was a known perfectionist, but how can you argue with the results? Nothing was out of the realm of possibility for Kubrick, if something seemed impossible, he’d simply work on propelling the technology of the medium forward so he could get it done because everything Kubrick did had a sufficient reason. Through his stylization of every filmic element he was able to communicate through all facets, through an audience that he treated with respect because in order to test the audience you must first test yourself.
Stanley Kubrick didn’t just make films, he defined the cinematic experience.