5 Stories That Prove Stanley Kubrick Was A Maniac
There are a lot of stories out there about the madness of Stanley Kubrick, most of which seem to cover him torturing and almost killing his actors. But you can't sum up how loony this guy was with examples of his sadism alone. His obsessiveness spurred him into a true genre-spanning career in insanity. Look at how ...
He Applied For Insurance In Case We Found Aliens Before 2001 Came Out
A producer's worst nightmare is spending years of effort and millions of dollars on a movie, only to have some real-life event ruin it. What if some national tragedy means audiences are no longer in the mood for your slapstick comedy about a mass shooting? Well, Kubrick worried about something similar. What if real aliens were discovered before 2001: A Space Odyssey hit theaters? The film was written during the Space Race, and while there was no danger of cramped '60s space capsules surpassing the film's luxurious space mansions, it seemed plausible that other developments might leave it looking redundant. Like aliens.
Kubrick wanted the film to feature on-screen aliens, and they went through a ton of different designs, discarding each for fear that audiences might find them ridiculous. At one point, he wanted to take an idea from an Arthur C. Clarke story and make aliens that looked like what we'd call demons. Other ideas included aliens who look just like us, a city full of bipedal lizards, gargoyles, and towering insects. But the fear throughout this process was that NASA would discover real aliens, and then Kubrick's creations would look like a joke.
When Russians supposedly detected signals from space in 1965, Kubrick and Clarke reached out to a contact at The New York Times to find out if the news was accurate. It turned out the signals were just pulses from a quasar. Then Kubrick, already building a reputation for worrying about things that wouldn't even occur to normal brains, contacted Lloyd's of London to buy an insurance policy that would pay out if NASA found aliens, protecting himself against 2001's presumed resultant failure. Lloyd's is famous for unusual policies (whenever you hear a news story like "Sony has insured Zach Galifianakis' beard for $1.2 million," they probably did that through Lloyd's), so he'd gone to the right place.
They actually agreed to issue a policy. But they evidently rated the chances of NASA finding aliens pretty high (or thought Kubrick had some inside info?), because they demanded a premium that was " slightly astronomical," as Clarke put it. Kubrick couldn't afford it. He was still unsure how to portray aliens without looking silly when NASA inevitably discovered Transformers, but at some point, pal Carl Sagan posited that maybe they could just not show aliens at all. If they suggested aliens instead of depicting them, they could never be proven wrong. So in the end, that's what they went with. Cowards.
He Feared Flying, So All Filming Had To Accommodate His Refusal To Leave England
Kubrick never flew. Asked about it in an interview, he said, in his typical fashion, "Our ability, unlike the other animals, to conceptualize our own end creates tremendous psychic strains within us ... if man really sat back and thought about his impending termination, and his terrifying insignificance and aloneness in the cosmos, he would surely go mad, or succumb to a numbing sense of futility." He then continued talking for several more minutes, using a whole lot of words to essentially say "Flying scares me. I could die."
He'd actually had a pilot's license and flew planes himself years before, but he stopped around 1960. One story going around was that he'd had a close call when sitting in the cockpit, but according to his daughter, he swore off flying after a friend died in a crash. After he moved to England in 1961 to film Lolita, he never flew again. The few times he did leave Britain, he traveled by boat, and these trips were so rare that it was generally believed that he never left England, period.
"Ah," you say, "so he only left when it came to filming all those movies that took place outside England?" Nope. He shot all his movies during the last four decades of his life there, in studios within a couple hours of travel from his house. The Shining had some exterior shots (including that famous opening view from a helicopter) filmed in Oregon, but he didn't oversee those. Everything else was filmed indoors in Elstree Studios in the UK, including the hedge maze -- the snow was salt mixed with formaldehyde, and the fog was sprayed vegetable oil.
Full Metal Jacket? You'll notice that it features a bit less jungle than most Vietnam movies. The battle scenes were in London's Beckton Gas Works, though they did import 200 palm trees from Spain. Eyes Wide Shut? Kubrick sent scouts to Manhattan and then, through a great deal of pointless labor, recreated Greenwich Village on a British sound stage, right down to the placement of vending machines. 2001, that opening with the apes? Those were images of the Namibian desert, but the scene was shot in London's Shepperton Studios, with the desert footage projected in. And as for the scene of the monolith on the moon, the conspiracy theorists were right; that was filmed on a sound stage. Kubrick never went to the moon at all. Coward.
When Execs Ordered Voiceover To Make A Film Less Confusing, He Added Narration Errors To Make It More Confusing
Before most of the films you know, Kubrick made 1956's The Killing, an adaption of a novel called Clean Break. He and producer James B. Harris were putting it together with their fledgling production company while also taking orders from distributor United Artists, who were pretty keen on the picture back when it was going to star Frank Sinatra ... then a little less enthusiastic when it ended up starring some other random guy.
The Killing is a heist film whose events are told out of order. In a book, it's pretty easy to describe when everything is happening, even if time jumps all over the place, but that can be less clear in a movie. When Quentin Tarantino got around to doing nonlinear storytelling decades later, using The Killing as an inspiration, it was considered confusing and revolutionary. After seeing the first edit of the film, United Artists asked Kubrick to recut it in chronological order. This somehow wound up even more confusing, since the scenes weren't designed to be ordered that way, so they let him revert to the nonlinear version.
The studio's next attempt at finding a solution was to command Kubrick to add a voiceover explaining what was going on. Narrators are often considered crutches designed by and for stupid people, but they aren't necessarily bad. After all, Kubrick would go on to use some voiceover in A Clockwork Orange, and Eyes Wide Shut had voiceover in the screenplay he originally wrote. In this case, though, Kubrick didn't like the idea all that much. But he added it, using the narration to explain what times various scenes were happening. Except the voiceover said the wrong times.
It was subtle -- as in, specifically not enough to have the studio break all ties with him for his insolence -- but if you really listen to the narration and use that as a guide for your "The Killing timeline explained in one simple chart" infographic, you'll hear it mentioning the time, and then the characters themselves looking at a clock and saying different times. At this point, you have no choice but to question everything else the voiceover says too, leaving you more clueless than ever and hoping that next time, the studio will let Kubrick do his own thing.
He Did Astonishing Amounts Of Homework For Historical Movies That Didn't End Up Getting Made
There are famous stories about Kubrick insisting on the accuracy of the bombers in Dr. Strangelove (attracting suspicion from the real U.S. military) and the color of the war room table (in a film that was in black and white), but the real agonizing research was reserved for his historical movies. He put years of prep into those, reading literally hundreds of books. If you haven't heard much about these historical movies, it's because they never ended up being made -- and sometimes this was because of all that research.
For 20 years, he wanted to make a movie about the Holocaust, but wasn't sure what approach to take. He finally found a good basis for the project in a novel called Wartime Lies, which he adapted as the screenplay Aryan Papers, but he still figured he needed to study up on the subject to make the film work. He and his assistant spent two years doing this research full-time. During the same period, Steven Spielberg went through the entire pre-production, filming, and release of Schindler's List. Getting beaten to the punch was one reason Kubrick ended up abandoning the project, but he had also become deeply depressed from poring over the topic for years on end (can't imagine why), and was relieved to discard it.
For a film he planned about the life of Napoleon, Kubrick arranged to use 50,000 soldiers from the Romanian army -- 40,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry. He wanted full-scale battles, and CGI wasn't an option, so that was what he'd have to go with. With a cast this large, even dressing them would be a huge expense, so he figured out how to make their uniforms out of paper. He got 276 books on Napoleon. He filled a cabinet with index cards chronicling every day of the man's life. He sent staff through Switzerland, Germany, France, and the UK for two years of research, amassing over 10,000 photos of possible filming locations, plus another 10,000 slides of imagery associated with Napoleon.
One little problem: He didn't actually have the green light from any studio before doing all of this. He only had a pre-production deal -- that is, an agreement to produce a budget and a schedule. So he had no guarantee that this would come together as a film at all. And it didn't, when MGM decided not to go forward. He managed to use at least some of his research for Barry Lyndon, which wasn't about Napoleon, but took place at roughly the same time. Still, all the prep couldn't keep that shoot from stretching to an insane 300 days.
He Spent So Long Composing The Perfect Fan Letter To Akira Kurosawa That Kurosawa Died Before Getting It
Akira Kurosawa -- often called the greatest film director by directors themselves -- placed Barry Lyndon among his top movies of all time. Kurosawa generally didn't go in for making lists, but his daughter compiled a hundred of his favorites, the majority of which weren't in English, and getting any film on there was a big honor. While Barry Lyndon may not have made as much of a mark on pop culture as Kubrick's other works, it did make plenty of cinematographers shiver in delight with scenes filmed only by candlelight using lenses designed for Apollo shuttles to photograph the moon.
Kubrick, for his part, was very much a Kurosawa stan. According to his assistant, Anthony Frewin, if Kubrick could bring only five films with him to a desert island, three of them would be by Kurosawa. This is especially impressive because Kubrick died in 1999, before modern portable media devices, so he likely would have had absolutely no way of watching those films on his island. But he would take those reels with him anyway, instead of a hunting knife or, like, an inflatable raft.
In the late '90s, Kubrick received a fan letter from Kurosawa. He wanted to reply to this letter, of course, probably countering his compliments with compliments of his own that would frankly make Kurosowa's look pathetic in comparison. Since he was a perfectionist in all things, Kubrick spent a lot of time composing this reply.
He wrote one draft after another. He kept revising it, trying to get the tone precisely right. Weeks passed, then months. Finally, Kubrick figured he'd managed to nail it down, and he was all ready to send it. Then he heard on the news that the 88-year-old Kurosawa had died. Kubrick was crushed. As for Kurosawa, no one recorded his last words as he lay bedridden, but we imagine they had to be "Why? Why did Stanley never write back?"
For more, check out How Stanley Kubrick Is The Real Villain In The Shining:
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