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KUBRICK, STANLEY: A POSTHUMOUS CONVERSATION

This is the eve of the future – 1999. Upside down it’s 6661.  Stanley Kubrick was a space traveler back in 2001, and is now an atomic blip in the universe, a cyber-dot perhaps in the galactic milk of our universe – where ANDREW L. URBAN managed this posthumous conversation.*

ALU: Is Eyes Wide Shut an allegory for the decaying society in which we live, its morals flayed and worn by constant rubbing against greed, selfishness, lies and fatty foods?

SK: "I would not think of quarreling with your interpretation nor offering any other, as I have found it always the best policy to allow the film to speak for itself."

ALU: Yeah, but I think retiring to the big cinema in the sky to avoid discussing your last film is a bit drastic. Don’t you want to explain your film and your intentions or meanings…?

SK: "How could we possibly appreciate the Mona Lisa if Leonardo had written at the bottom of the canvas: 'The lady is smiling because she is hiding a secret from her lover.' This would shackle the viewer to reality. . ."

ALU: That’s interesting; I didn’t realise she was hiding a secret … Anyway, what about you? What is in Eyes Wide Shut that you want to say?

SK: "I don't think that writers or painters or filmmakers function because they have something they particular 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 don't think that any genuine artist has ever been oriented by some didactic point of view, even if he thought he was."

ALU: Well then, is it true as Time’s Richard Corliss said in his review of Eyes Wide Shut, that "Kubrick really made the same movie over and over again . . . a man (or sometimes a group of men), without thinking very hard about it, places his faith either in his own rationality or in the rationality of the systems by which his world is governed, whereupon something goes awry . . ."

SK: "I haven't come across any recent new ideas in film 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."

ALU: Do you feel successful, punk? Well, do ya? (This an ‘in’ joke for us movie lovers, Stan, no disrespect intended)

SK: "I've never achieved spectacular success with a film. My reputation has grown slowly. I suppose you could say that I'm a successful filmmaker--in that a number of people speak well of me. But none of my films have received unanimously positive reviews, and none have done blockbuster business."

ALU: Did you take lots of drugs during the shoot to enhance your vision and give you great ideas for the film?

SK: "I believe that drugs are basically of more use to the audience than to the artist. I think that the illusion of oneness with the universe, and absorption with the significance of every object in your environment, and the pervasive aura of peace and contentment is not the ideal state for an artist. It tranquilizes the creative personality, which thrives on conflict and on the clash and ferment of ideas. The artist's transcendence must be within his own work; he should not impose any artificial barriers between himself and the mainspring of his subconscious. One of the things that's turned me against LSD is that all the people I know who use it have a peculiar inability to distinguish between things that are really interesting and stimulating and things that appear to be so in the state of universal bliss that the drug induces on a "good" trip. They seem to completely lose their critical faculties and disengage themselves from some of the most stimulating areas of life. Perhaps when everything is beautiful, nothing is beautiful."

ALU: Your body of work is extremely varied – from Lolita to 2001…What defining intellectual quest drove you to choose what sort of films to make?

SK: "If it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed. A filmmaker has almost the same freedom as a novelist has when he buys himself some paper."

ALU: And why this fascination for film? You were keen on drums and photography at an early age…what appeals about the screen?

SK: "The screen is a magic medium. It has such power that it can retain interest as it conveys emotions and moods that no other art form can hope to tackle."

ALU: Your film subjects have often involved criminals or soldiers . . . why not camel drivers or gossip columnists?

SK: "I've got a peculiar weakness for criminals and artists -- neither takes life as it is. Any tragic story has to be in conflict with things as they are. The criminal and the soldier at least have the virtue of being against something or for something in a world where many people have learned to accept a kind of grey nothingness, to strike an unreal series of poses in order to be considered normal.... It's difficult to say who is engaged in the greater conspiracy--the criminal, the soldier, or us."

ALU: You graduated from high school in 1946 with a 67 average, too low to get into university – not exactly a scholar, were you?

SK: "I never learned anything at all in school and didn't read a book for pleasure until I was 19 years old. I think the big mistake in schools is trying to teach children anything, and by using fear as the basic motivation. Fear of getting failing grades, fear of not staying with your class, etc. Interest can produce learning on a scale compared to fear as a nuclear explosion to a firecracker."

ALU: What about film school? Would you send young filmmakers to an institution to learn filmmaking and its associated crafts of deal making, bottom line observing and gross revenue point scoring?

SK: "Perhaps it sounds ridiculous, but the best thing that young filmmakers should do is to get hold of a camera and some film and make a movie of any kind at all."

ALU: Well, thanks, Mr Kubrick. I reckon you were something like the title of your penultimate film, Full Metal Jacket. Technically, it refers to the outer casing, or jacket, of a bullet. According to screenplay co-author Michael Herr, you picked the title after reading the phrase in a gun catalog, finding it "beautiful and tough, and kind of poetic."

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1928 - 1999

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* Urban had to supply the questions, but he is indebted to various sources for Kubrick’s answers, including :

  • The Making of Kubrick's 2001 edited by Jerome Agel, 1970, Signet.
  • Stanley Kubrick Directs by Alexander Walker, 1972, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
  • New York Times Magazine, Oct. 12, 1958 (reprinted in The Cinema of Stanley Kubrick)
  • The Observer, Dec. 4, 1960 (reprinted in The Cinema of Stanley Kubrick)
  • Soho News, May 28, 1980 (reprinted in The Cinema of Stanley Kubrick)
  • Playboy, Sept. 1968 (reprinted in The Making of Kubrick's 2001)

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Stanley Kubrick
Born July 26, 1928 The Bronx, New York
Died March 7, 1999 outside London


Young Stanley Kubrick


...Clockwork Orange, 1971


...Shining, 1980

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See our reviews of

EYES WIDE SHUT

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Hallo Hal
Was HAL, the computer in 2001, named after IBM?

It is rumored that the name HAL was created by using the letters in the alphabet which precede the individual letters of IBM. However, both Kubrick and screenplay co-author Arthur C. Clarke deny this, claiming it is a surprising coincidence. According to Clarke, the H stands for Heuristically and the AL stands for Algorithmic, as in "heuristically programmed algorithmic computer."

Heuristic means serving to find out, and algorithm means an effective procedure for solving a particular mathematical problem in a finite number of steps (I looked it up in the dictionary). I prefer the IBM story.
ALU

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