His grand project completed. A masterpiece long in the making. 20 years after optioning the rights to the book Traumnovelle, Stanley Kubrick handed over his adaptation and final cut of the film Eyes Wide Shut to his movie bosses at Warner Brothers.
In the Guinness Book of Records under longest consecutive shoot at over 400 days, the film was the end of him. It effectively killed him. Exhaustion took its toll and just four days after the Warner Brothers meeting, his heart exploded.
Stanley Kubrick was a master controller, taking great care in every single aspect of the filmmaking process. He was an obsessive perfectionist. Absolutely driven to achieve his goals no matter how long it took. That much we do know. But a combination of Stanley Kubrickʼs reclusive nature and his prodigious genius have helped create a fog of myth, misconception and thirst for a knowledge.
Stanley slept during the day, and worked at night. Like a scruffy, intellectual vampire, he worked feverishly during the night, occasionally phoning friends at 3am purely to ask questions such as ʻIs there a God?ʼ. He had five well-worn suits, which constituted his entire wardrobe choice. He breakfasted on chinese spare-ribs surrounding himself with acrobatic cats, dogs and monkeys. On his way out of his 200-acre estate he would pass through his library which was expansive and entirely filled with books on Napoleon Bonaparte, thread his way through rooms filled with ink, which he lovingly collected and smile to himself at the impressive perfected design of the stacks of boxes which he had a particular fetish for.
Kubrick would strap himself into his Porsche 928, put on his american football helmet and carefully drift along the motorway at 30mph until he would eventually, after many many hours of painstaking driving, arrive at his destination. A bookshop in leafy Berkshire, which he would hurry into excitedly, like a schoolboy. He would stand in the middle of the shop with a broom in one hand and his helmet on his head, and with the broom outstretched swing round and round in circles, emitting a high-pitched shrieking noise, until the end of his stick pointed at a book. This book he would buy and this, my friends, is the way the genius that was Stanley Kubrick decided on what to read.
He was a chess grand master, a qualified pilot who had a fear of planes, as well as having a burning love affair with Futura Extra Bold. He was also responsible, almost single- handedly, for faking the moon landings. His withering glare had a nickname, ʻthe-Kubrick- crazy-stareʼ which was an angry warning of intent. A force so powerful that it actually removed the layers of moisture from your eyeballs if you happened to meet his gaze.
Kubrick gave interviews very, very rarely. Before Eyes Wide Shut emerged, he hadnʼt been photographed for over 16 years. His attitude wasnʼt cold or uncaring concerning public perceptions, but one in which, despite the clamour from others to talk and explain his films, he said everything he wanted to say within his movies. If he wanted to add more, to expand upon something, he would have said it with a camera.
His back catalogue is, for someone who had been in the industry for a long time, relatively small. Kubrick only made films he had an extreme passion for. Yet the quality and perfection in those films is impossible to ignore. Spielberg described him as ʻthe master filmmaker of our ageʼ. He had a vision that was unsurpassed. This stemmed from the photographic background that he emerged from, like a hungry, grumpy film monster. He knew all aspects of the filmmaking process. A master editor, cinematographer, screenwriter and a director of actors. He had an impeccable calmness and possessed a tremendous ability to get the best out of his, at times egotistical, stars. A lighting technician of some 30+ years experience once said that Kubrick would tell him how to do his job, yet he would still walk away having learned something.
Yes, he could be exacting, hard-to-please and downright stubborn, but his reportedly tyrannical behaviour was only ever intended to achieve the best performances possible. Shelley Duvall, the leading lady in The Shining, portrayed a character that became more distressed, exhausted and distraught as the film goes on. Kubrick deliberately instilled a poisonous atmosphere around her, haranguing her at every opportunity, ordering the entire crew to ignore her, so that as the shoot progressed her performance naturally began to mirror her characters own.
At the time, Duvall hated Kubrick. Yet now, she believes it was the best experience she ever had. She learned more on that production than any other, and itʼs undoubtably her greatest performance.
Even today, years after his death, Stanley Kubrickʼs all-controlling pursuit of excellence and dizzying film standards lives on. His films are only available to be bought and watched in full-frame ratio, simply because that is how he designed them to be viewed. Controversial and a touch frustrating, yet who can doubt his vision when he glimpsed through his viewfinder all those years ago?
Stanley Kubrick wasnʼt mad. Sure he was odd, a touch eccentric. As much as some of the lifestyle of Kubrick mentioned earlier is based on reality, the fact is that his private life wasnʼt half as interesting as his true legacy. This was the secret that Stanley Kubrick knew. This was why he never had much to say, why he shunned publicity. The real star, the shining light in his lifetime, the noteworthy, the interesting and the memorable…were his films.