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From the day he entered grade school in , his attendance record had been a mysterious tissue of serial and sustained absences, his discipline nonexistent or at least nonapparent, his grades shocking. At 17 he was already working as a freelance photographer for Look magazine, and he joined the staff, and he played a lot of chess, and read a lot of books, and otherwise arranged for his own higher education, as all smart people do.
Stanley always seemed supernaturally youthful to his friends. Think of Lolita, with its cherry-pie, cavity-filling, and limp-noodle jokes, so blatantly smutty, without shame, subversive, which was the idea. What a fabulous shiny moral barometer that movie looked like in , when it was new, and how we loved which way we thought the wind was going to blow.
Alain J.-J. Cohen, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining - PhilPapers
Sometimes I imagined that I could see his actual adolescence in all its devious complexity. I think he scared himself with that one, which speaks well for any artist, art and life riding so close together and out of control here that there was no time for one to imitate the other, it was pouring from the same fount.
The copycat beatings and killings started as soon as it was shown in England, and he permanently withdrew it from release there. To win the game was important, to win the money was irresistible, but it was nothing compared with his game, with the searching, endless action of working on his game. But of course he was hustling, he was always hustling; as he grew older and moved beyond still photography, chess became movies, and movies became chess by other means. I doubt that he ever thought of chess as just a game, or even as a game at all. There was definitely such a thing as a bad movie, but there was no movie not worth seeing.
Reportedly he was already careless, even reckless, in his appearance, mixing his plaids in wild shirt, jacket and necktie combinations never seen on the street before, disreputable trousers, way-out accidental hairdos. He started infiltrating what- ever film facilities were in the city in those days, hanging around cutting rooms, labs, equipment stores, asking questions: How do you do that?
He had lots of modes and aspects, but Stanley was a hipster all the time.
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But get a load of the film too. Money well timed and properly applied can accomplish anything. We were driving toward Beckton, an abandoned gas- works in far East London, near the London docks. It was a late masterpiece of the 19th-century Imperial Industrial Style, and Stanley had arranged to blow it up for his Vietnam film, let the pieces fall exactly where he wanted them to fall, even if it meant countermanding the laws of physics, and re-create Hue, which it already uncannily resembled, built about the same time as the industrial district of the Vietnamese city, and out of the same grand, doomed cultural assumptions.
Very meticulous guy, Stanley. Beckton or Bec Phu, as it was called after its Vietnamization was about 40 miles from his house. He drove us, and he drove the white Porsche that he supposedly used only to tool around his driveway in. He handled the stick with great proficiency. He drove at speeds above 60, and neither of us wore a crash helmet. His whole hard drive was up there; it would only be prudent to protect it, to say the least.
As we approached the gasworks, Stanley pointed to a row of small, grimy houses across the road from the plant. They had them coming and going. It reminds me of the old studio system. Stanley liked to quote the songwriter Sammy Cahn, who was asked in an interview which came first, the words or the music.
He was excited by the roar of the propellers as big money took off and went flying through the system, circulating and separating into fewer and larger pockets, even if those pockets were not always his own; he just liked knowing that it was going on out there. He had great respect for the box office, if not the greatest respect, and found something to admire in even the most vile movie once it passed a hundred million. Stanley never was one of those middle-class American Jewish men who are afraid of success.
He loved the biz, the industry, the action he observed day and night from his bridge; all those actors and directors and projects, all the dumb energy endlessly turning over in the studios and the P. And modesty. I just think that he thought he was the greatest director, although he never said so in so many words. She marries a pompous, cowardly, ugly Englishman for her convenience and the convenience of her family, turning Redmond into a fatally hard case. His films were certainly unromantic, possibly even anti-romantic. I know from dozens of articles and a few too many books that Stanley was considered cold, although this would have to be among people who never knew him.
This perception devolved into cant among a lot of critics, who called his work sterile, particularly in the New York circle what an awful time liberals have had with his movies; what convolutions of reason and belief, what sad denials of pleasure , including some of the best, even Anthony Lane of The New Yorker. Not even Robert Bresson showed more suffering in his films. Merciless is not the same as pitiless. In , even the last words of a dying, sexually ambivalent computer are pitiful. Just as it made Stanley happy to know that all was well in the Emolumental Universe, so it upset and offended him to hear stories of profligacy among members of the industry.
Stanley shook his head sadly.
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He lived a simple outer life, and a largely devotional one, although admittedly secular. Childwick Bury was as much a studio as a home, a double studio actually, one for him and his movies and one for his wife, Christiane, and her painting. It was a space of perpetual creative activity. He was thought by the press, and so by the public, to be sequestered there, lurking, scheming, like Howard Hughes or Dr. Mabuse or the Wizard of Oz, depending on which paper you read.
This is because none of them could ever imagine living the kind of life Stanley lived.
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It would be more correct to say that he had no professional life, since everything he did was personally done; every move and every call he made, every impulse he expressed, was utterly personal, devoted to the making of his movies, which were all personal. When we first met I told him secondhand stories about the filming of Apocalypse Now, and what a tough shoot it had been. Yet something drew people to it, and kept them at it, even into the part of the process where you felt like you were a slave, to it and to him, like he and his movie were inseparable, insatiable, you were trapped in it, even though the door was always open and you were technically, if not always contractually, free to walk through it at any time.
The more highly paid you were, or the closer to the actual shooting, the more enslaved you were likely to be. If you were right there on the set with film running, the pressure could be amazing, or so I was convincingly told by many of the cast and crew of Full Metal Jacket. I may have rewritten a few scenes 20 or 30 times—I would have done that anyway—but I never had to go through the number of takes Stanley would require. Stanley had apparently wanted a last-minute reprieve for the condemned soldiers, a happy ending, because it was more commercial, and he wanted to make money.
Now, 25 years later, he wanted Joker, the teenage hero of The Short-Timers and of his still-untitled movie, to die. He also wanted a Joker voice-over.
You want a drink first? There were two sets of French doors opening onto the garden, part of which was fenced off to make sure that none of the dogs got to any of the cats. He kept the cats in this section of the house and fed them himself. While we talked he cleaned their litter boxes.
The American language of the Vietnam War gave him tremendous pleasure. He liked the way my pages looked: open spacing, agreeable format, good font, big enough for easy reading but never obtrusive. He was very happy with the dialogue. But he wanted the scenes shorter. This was , pre-laptop. I mean, how hard can it be? The police use them.