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Stanley Kubrick’s life in pictures is documented by his widow, 67-year-old Christiane Kubrick, a German-born artist married to the director for more than 40 years, and her brother Jan Harlan, who executive produced his movies for more than 30 years. They spoke to Jenny Cooney Carrillo in Los Angeles, on the eve of the film’s Australian screenings at the Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals.

Legendary director Stanley Kubrick is gone but he will never be forgotten. His widow Christiane Kubrick and long-time associate Jan Harlan have produced the two-hour-15-minute documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures, narrated by Tom Cruise.

This glimpse at the real Stanley Kubrick, who passed away in March, 1999, includes rare personal film footage and family photographs as well as testimonials from people who worked with him throughout his extraordinary career, including Jack Nicholson (The Shining), Malcolm McDowell (Clockwork Orange), Sir Arthur C. Clarke (2001: A Space Odyssey), Steven Spielberg (the up-coming A.I., based on a story by Kubrick) and Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman (Eyes Wide Shut).

The documentary, which screens at both the Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals, will be released as the Stanley Kubrick Collection, a special eight-title gift set including seven Kubrick masterpieces in new digital transfers.

Why did Stanley Kubrick not give interviews to promote his movies?
Christiane: He thought he wasn’t good at them. He feared them. He took great care of his films and he felt he was ruining them by talking nervously with the press. He didn’t want to say things that were less good than the film and he thought he’d hurt the film rather than help it if he talked.

But I understand he was going to do press for Eyes Wide Shut before his death. Is that true?
Yes, because by that time he realized that his silence had backlashed horribly and they’ve made him into this slimy monster in the English press particularly. Their sort of revenge for him being quiet and he’d never thought that would happen. He thought if he stayed quiet, it would all go away and the opposite happened so he then thought he had to do something to show he was nothing like the grotesque stories he was reading about himself. Some stories were so ludicrous – like he was meant to shoot tourists on his lawn and give them money so when they started bleeding they wouldn’t tell on him! He was sad and didn’t want this to happen anymore so he he wanted to do something and just didn’t quite know what.

Jan: But we have to add he did give some interviews over the years to Time and Newsweek. It’s not that he did nothing, but very, very rarely and very reluctantly. He really felt if he had anything important to say about his films, he would have put them in the film in the first place!

The documentary suggests that the death of Mr. Kubrick and the ending of the filming of Eyes Wide Shut were not unconnected. Was that meant to be your inference?
Jan: What I said in the documentary was that there was such a tremendous burden on him in Eyes Wide Shut. He was wrestling with this topic. He once said to me, ‘the big problem with this story is that everybody in the audience is an expert – everybody knows about jealousy and sexual fantasy’. So he wrestled with it and some people might say he failed. Some people think it’s absolutely wonderful. He himself was very, very happy with the film but particularly happy after March 1, when the top people at Warner Bros. and Tom and Nicole saw it and said it was wonderful. Of course he was relieved because he was never that sure of himself that it would work if you are digging your heels in for two years and intensely working on something. And he was relentless in his drive to get this made and walked on very thin ice to get to the other shores, so when they told him it was brilliant he was relieved. My interpretation was that this actually caused a physical change in him that might have contributed to his death (of heart failure shortly after). I can’t say this with real authority but he was holding on until it was finished and then he let go.

How did you decide which interviews to use and which films to feature more prominently?
Jan: It was simply where I had the best material. We gave a lot of room to Paths of Glory because while it was an early film, we had good material on it. On the other hand I didn’t have James Mason for Lolita or Peter Sellars for Dr. Strangelove. The Killing I had nobody alive. So it was a practical consideration and later it became very difficult to decide what not to use because I was overwhelmed with wonderful material. I had interviews with Leelee Sobieski, Vanessa Shaw, Todd Field, Ted Ashley and many more that never made it in. I had lots more fantastic footage with Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise and almost a history lesson on films with Martin Scorsese. So I’m grateful that Warner Bros. allowed me to go from one-and-a-half to two-hours-fifteen-minutes otherwise it would have been completely impossible.

Stanley Kubrick had a unique relationship with a studio and more control over his films than any other director in history yet he stayed away from Hollywood, lived in England and had nothing to do with the rest of the industry. What was his opinion on Hollywood?
Jan: Warner Bros. was his Hollywood and he had no intention of ever leaving them because they treated him with respect and were supportive. But he was a real movie buff and saw all films. He also really knew what was going on in Hollywood and read the trade papers on a daily basis. He knew what it was and he worked there in the beginning but was very happy to be in England. Not that he made a choice to live there but he moved there because of Lolita, came back for 2001: A Space Odyssey and the children grew up and went to school there and made a life there so that is how it happened. But he was very much connected to Hollywood in that sense because he was on the telephone and on the telex and knew he didn’t have to be physically there to be involved.

Christiane: He also did fear socially the anxiety of all people of the same profession in one town. He felt that would make him nervous and anxious and afraid to do things. He felt it was better to be a little further away and keep your distance. Not with dislike or anything, but just the sensation of you don’t want to always live in the shop where you work.

Jan, you executive-produced A.I. with Steven Spielberg. How much is this film what Kubrick wanted and how involved are you?
Jan: I had all the scripts and drawings and material and Stanley and Steven had already discussed a co-operation many, many years ago but technology had to catch up. Steven had flown to Stanley’s kitchen a long time ago and Stanley already had the credits in his mind, saying, ‘how does this sound – A Stanley Kubrick production of a Steven Spielberg Film’? So when Stanley died, I realized that A.I. would disappear and Steven was the only possibility. He was the only director who had the moral authority to make this into his own because he had already worked with Stanley on it so I was very happy Steven took it on and we worked together closely at the front end because I had over a thousand drawings, notes, notebooks and everything I gathered together to give him. I know Stanley would have been the first to applaud the changes Steven made to his script.

How did you feel when you heard that Tom and Nicole had split up after going through so much as a married couple during the making of Eyes Wide Shut?
Jan: I was very sad.

Christiane: I was very sad, too, because they’re such lovely people and it was a surprise.

How did the casting of that film come about? It can’t have been easy to work with two major stars not used to the director having so much control?
Jan: The casting happened quickly because right away it was Tom.

Christiane: Stanley wanted two people who have no problems finding loves, who are lovable and beautiful and everything should be easy. It was very important that they themselves ruin or behave badly within the story. Had they had other problems outside which they hadn’t created themselves, it would have distracted from the story. Stanley also felt it might actually be a good thing if they were married in real life. That he would get an extra something because of it.

What was the experience like for all of you on that film set? Are you still in touch?
Christiane: Yes, we like each other all and I think Stanley was very much a grandfather figure, particularly to Nicole and it was lovely. It was very intimate filmmaking and a happy time shooting that film.

Jan: They enjoyed it very much because it was a very different experience from what Tom normally does and I think very courageous to play this weak, weak guy. Normally Tom is the hero and a big shot and here is a man who is pushed around by his wife and by circumstances and whatever he does, he digs himself deeper into the hole. They both enjoyed the fact they were left alone and there was no time pressure. The scenes in the bedroom, not even Stanley was there. They were absolutely alone and the camera was on remote and Stanley was outside watching the monitor so they could do whatever they wanted for as long as it took. Maybe they came to England thinking they would do a film that wouldn’t take more than eighteen weeks but there was never a single complaint that it took a year. They liked him, they really did. And he liked them.

What kind of relationship did he have with technology?
Jan: Stanley was tremendously curious and constantly reading in magazines and finding out about the latest laptop and the latest camera development. I remember when Arthur C. Clark introduced him to the first hand-held Hewlett Packard HP35 calculator – I think for three weeks we didn’t talk about anything else! And we’ve had every Hewlett Packard hand-held product since. I was lucky because I always inherited them from him when he moved on to the newest model. Or he bought two right away; one for himself and one for me.

What about the Internet?
Christiane: He took lessons and had himself yelled at by rude young men. I remember him coming out of his room from a computer lesson saying, ‘he screamed at me!’ but he loved it all. In fact when week after week new things came out in computer technology, that was when he suddenly thought he had to make A.I. after all because it was now possible. All those things I feared, he said, I can do them now and he became very excited.

Did he have any fears?
Jan: What he feared was a room full of strangers like yourself who would ask him the meaning of 2001: A Space Odyssey and all his other movies (laughs)!

Published June 14, 2001

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1968 - 2001: A Space Odyssey

Christiane Kubrick

See Andrew L. Urban’s posthumous INTERVIEW with Stanley Kubrick

1980 - The Shining

1999 - Eyes Wide Shut


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