18 February 2008

Stanley Kubrick's Achilles Heel

A lot of people ask what inspired me to make this documentary. It was a visit to this traveling exhibition from the Stanley Kubrick Archives on display in the Zurich in 2007. The following snip from a New York Times review of the exhibition correctly sums up the essence of the exhibition.

"For those intrigued by his work habits -- he made only eight films after 1962 -- the show answers an enduring question: What took him so long? Kubrick did his homework with a zeal that would make the most conscientious planner look rash. His reputation as a stickler for detail is well known. But the sheer mass of primary materials he used is staggering. At times the prep work seemed an end in itself...[T]he most interesting section concerns a film he never made, 'Napoleon.' In the course of a three-decade quest to film a biography, Kubrick pored through more than 18,000 documents and books about Napoleon's life. He amassed a card file that recorded every significant event in the life of Napoleon, day by day. Kubrick's ambitions were summed up in a letter he sent to a studio in 1971: ''It's impossible to tell you what I'm going to do, except to say I expect to make the best movie ever made.'' No amount of labor was able to save the project, however. MGM pulled the plug because of ever-increasing costs. (Rubbing salt into the wound, a polite letter from Audrey Hepburn turns down his offer of a part.) 'Stanley was devastated,' said Jan Harlan, his executive producer. 'He was very depressed for a while.'"
Apparently Brother Kubrick did not know when to stop. No doubt a cautionary tale can be drawn from this material. Here is a snip from a think piece on the hit play "August: Osage County" currently running on Broadway.
Finally, at least for this go-round, I like what this play represents: a life-long association of a writer with a group of actors and a theater. This is why Shakespeare wrote so much, he had a whole gang of actors waiting to do his work. Go down the list — the writers who wrote a lot of wonderful plays were always associated with a community of actors they could write for: Shepard, Chekhov, Brian Friel, Alan Ackbourne, David Mamet, Lanford Wilson, Caryl Churchill, Richard Foreman, Wendy Wasserstein.
After reading this entry by playwright, librettist and screenwriter Marsha Norman from a New York Times blog, she may have hit on the another reason why Kubrick made so few pictures as a mature artist. He did immerse himself in a subject rather than surround himself with a society of artists eager to perform. Remember, Kubrick started out as a visual storyteller, using his camera to capture images that told a tale, so there is nothing wrong to playing to your strength. Nevertheless, perhaps there is in the cinema more virtue in having your words come alive during the early stages. Perhaps the study of the drama of your story is preferable to piling a mountain of books on your table and creating a visually rich universe around your words.

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