HAD STANLEY KUBRICK LIVED, THE STYLE AND CONTENT of this article ~ and every other published to coincide with the release of Eyes Wide Shut -- would not have been very different. Nothing is written about more in the last days of the 20th century than the art of cinema and business of movies, yet Kubrick refused to join in the hoopla, choosing instead to devote his energy to the discovery, development and realisation of new projects. The fact is it’s no harder to get an interview with the great man now than it was the moment he moved to England in 1960 and ticked the box marked 'no publicity'.
There are two ways to write about Stanley Kubrick: as a journalist (The Life), or as a film critic (The Work). Taking the hack approach starts off relatively simply, with some incontrovertible facts. He was born in July 1928, in the Bronx. He was Jewish. He had a wife called Christiane and three daughters. About these things there can be no argument —- but what of his personality, his behaviour? That's when things get complicated, because since Kubrick never spoke about himself, we must look to other sources for clues.
Was he, as Kirk Douglas insisted in his autobiography, ’a talented shit’ ready to exploit blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo by taking the screen-writing credit on Spartacus? Was he so insensitive he could say to Malcolm McDowell ’l’ll favour the right eye’ when the actor's left cornea was scratched filming A Clockwork Orange? Or do we trust Tony Curtis, who called him 'a very fine person, my favourite director, in fact'? And what of Tom and Nicole insisting upon his passing that it felt like losing a father and a friend? Was he the agoraphobic depicted in Frederic Raphael‘s hideously self-serving memoir Eyes Wide Open? Or, as his widow insists, did he often pop into Marks & Spencers in St Albans? In the face of such contradictory
evidence, Kubrick the man must remain a mystery, leaving us with Kubrick the artist.
Paradoxically, the director's refusal to talk about his work makes the critic's job far easier, since every film - every frame, almost — is left open for the individual to interpret without fear of contradiction. This is not the case with Scorsese, Coppola or Spielberg, for example, who talk at length about the inspirations and aims of each project,
and somehow diminish its stature in the process. If Kubrick had given lengthy televised interviews explaining exactly what 2007: A Space Odyssey was all about, would it have retained its fascination even as we approach the year in question?
The director had a stock answer for people quizzing him on any given picture: ’I would not think of quarreling with your interpretation nor offering any other, as l have found it always the best policy to allow the film to speak for itself.’ A great line — at once mischievous and arrogant: if a film is to speak for itself, it surely must have something to say worth hearing.
The thing Kubrick’s eleven features speak most often and loudest about is masculinity. Other filmmakers may have depicted certain areas of guyhood (Howard Hawks, Paul Schrader, Sam Peckinpah), but nobody has explored the entire spectrum of the male psyche with the same diligence as Kubrick. Typically, it’s impossible to find anything as banal as a definitive Kubrickian man within his work; instead we are offered an array of possibilities. At one extreme there is the crazed General Ripper in Dr Strange/ove, ready to destroy the planet in a fit of impotent pique. At the other is the astronaut in 2001, ready to take the next step up the evolutionary ladder to a higher plane of consciousness. Somewhere in between are the street gangs of A Clockwork Orange, the hoods of The Killing and the grunts of Full Metal Jacket — all arrested adolescents, but surely less dangerous than the psychotic father figures in The Shining and Lolita.
Where Stanley himself belonged on the great manly totem pole remains unknowable, but his place in the cinematic pecking order is assured — future generations will see Kubrick as the most significant artist the medium has ever produced. Before you take to the streets with
your ’What about Adam Sandler?‘ banners, consider this: historians studying the 20th century will search for cultural artifacts of the period. They will find depictions of slaughter on the battlefields of Europe, satire of Cold War nuclear hysteria, a philosophical treatise on space travel, and a Freudian portrait of a marriage. Each of these diverse documents will have one thing in common: the name above the title will read ’Stanley Kubrick’.
9—23 Sep 1999 THE llST9