When I read, on March 7, 1999, that Stanley Kubrick had diedof heart failure the day before, at age 70, just four months (as it turned out) before the release of his last picture, the words that popped into my head — and surprised me sufficiently that a moment later I found myself speaking them aloud — were “My God, so young!” This sentiment was, I think, less a reflection of my own advancing age than it was of the pace at which Kubrick, with his meticulous, problem-solving approach to filmmaking, had worked through his last several projects. It had been 12 years, after all, between Full Metal Jacketand Eyes Wide Shut. With Kubrick, I’d always felt a little like the dog wondering, “How long is that in human years?”
Or maybe like the human wondering, “How long is that in God years?” Apropos of which, just four years earlier, I’d veered off the fast track to a consecrated life in a Benedictine monastery with a single, obsessively recurring thought: “Where will that leave me on the Friday night the next Kubrick movie —A.I., say, or the even longer-gestating adaptation of Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle, or, who knows, maybe even Napoleon— opens? AWOL from the hermitage? Or worse, nursing a big fat grudge against the abbot who wouldn’t spring for bus fare to the nearest multiplex?” Thus did I wind up renouncing my renunciation of the world. (Next to missing out on the new Kubrick, celibacy had seemed, you know, no? biggie.)
The rest is payback, or maybe just poetic justice: Be careful what you wish for. Six years later, I was editing the film section at this esteemed publication, up to my ears in videotapes and DVDs, press screenings, theater passes and festival credentials. The catch? Kubrick had kicked the bucket, and I was feeling more and more that really, I’d rather just read the book.
For the moment, anyway, that would be The Stanley Kubrick Archives, all 544 pages and 1,600 illustrations of it, from Taschen, weighing in at 14.6 pounds, which is four pounds less than my two-volume OED, making it a true coffee-table book. The sections, two for each of the director’s 11 extant features, are tabbed (unlike the OED) for easy reference. The first half of the book takes us chronologically through the films, the stories remembered in pictures, and a reminder that Kubrick started out as a still photographer, as the precocious teenage creator of Look magazine photo-essays — examples of which may be found early on in the volume’s introductory section — before going to work as a freelancer for Movietone newsreels. Section two takes us back through the films, or rather through Kubrick’s personal archives, through production stills of the director at work with cast, crew and other collaborators (for Dr. Strangelove, Kubrick commissioned crime-blotter photographer Weegee to take the pictures), through notes and draft pages, costume sketches and storyboards and poster ideas, correspondence and budget estimates. (For much of this material, a magnifying glass — like the one that comes with my OED — would have helped.) The archive material is fleshed out (or, in the way of so many coffee-table books, padded) with synopses, personal reminiscences and interviews, including chestnuts like the portentous 1968 Playboy interview (in which Kubrick actually tackles questions, from Eric Nordern about 2001: A Space Odyssey, like, “If life is so purposeless, do you feel that it’s worth living?”), and rarities, like the excerpts from a rambling, hitherto unpublished conversation with Joseph Heller. All followed, in the book’s end pages, by material on three unfinished projects (A.I., Napoleon and a Holocaust drama, Aryan Papers), a hodgepodge of “essays” (including a long excerpt from Michael Herr’s Vanity Fairprofile), and a Kubrick chronology rich in family and personal snapshots. And finally — first, actually (but not least) — those pockets, glued to the title page, that contain a) a bona fide relic, a 12-frame strip of 70mm film from a print of 2001 owned by Kubrick; and b) on CD, a raw 75-minute excerpt from the 1966 taped interview, by Jeremy Bernstein, that became a New Yorker profile and which demonstrates, conclusively, that Peter Sellers’ model for the flat, Bronx-accented voice of Lolita’s Clare Quilty was that of the movie’s director.
That revelation alone is worth Taschen’s $200 ticket price, and besides, like any idol worth his salt, Kubrick demands sacrifices.
THE STANLEY KUBRICK ARCHIVES | Edited by ALISON CASTLE, in cooperation with Jan Harlan, Christiane Kubrick and the Stanley Kubrick Estate | Taschen | 544 pages | $200 hardcover