Viddy well, little brother, viddy well!

For Stanley Kubrick no detail was ever too small or insignificant. Everything was important. Not perhaps equally important but still significant. Everything counted. If it could have any bearing on the film it counted. In spades. He would have someone investigate.

He liked to control everything.

That's why he had agents, or Irregulars as his assistant Anthony Frewin nicely put it, all over the world. Was the sound loud enough in The Shining in Winnipeg? Was the copy of 2001 too dark in Manila? To find out he'd employ spies who'd report back to him. He also had cuttings of advertisements for his movies from all over the world sent to his house where he'd go over them. Were the ads as they should? Were they as large as they ought to be? If not he'd send somebody to find out why they weren't. Questions would be asked and answered until he was satisfied. No matter how small a matter or how distant.

He was occasionally called obsessed, deranged, crazy even. However. It seems clear to me that it was his unrelenting focus on even the tiniest details that made his movies what they were.

This was clearly how his mind worked.

He had to know everything, see everything. If, like in Eyes Wide Shut, a scene took place in a toy department he'd want to see photos of just about every toy department in the south of England. If a scene took place in costume shop he'd want to see pictures of every single costume shop available. If Alex and his droogs were to wear hats he'd want to see any kind of hat there was. Preferably on the droogs.

Which was a lot of work. And took a long time. His preproduction time was usually long enough for his colleagues to complete their entire film in. Maybe even a couple.

But he was patient. If anything he was patient.

Because everything had to look right. But he didn't necessarily know what right was until he'd seen all the options. Only then could he make up his mind. Only then did it become evident.

There was also a great deal of secrecy involved in any given project. Most of the time he made sure the people he employed didn't have a clue for whom they were working. He had, for instance, a lot of people reading scripts and novels for him, in order to find something for him to film, and they had absolutely no idea it was Kubrick who employed them. When Frederic Raphael, as he writes in his fascinating book Eyes Wide Open, was asked by Kubrick to turn a short story into a movie script, Kubrick refused to tell him the name of the story and who'd written it. Raphael was sufficiently well read to pin it down anyway, making Kubrick a bit annoyed.

He did not give out information. That wasn't his game. He collected it. He hoarded it. He stashed it in boxes (the cornucopia of which we can witness in Jon Ronson's documentary Stanley Kubrick's boxes) and filed it away, to be used if and when it was needed. Often it was never needed.

But it was there. Just in case.

He couldn't help himself. Collecting information was his nature.

Kubrick was like a spider, sitting pretty in the middle of his gigantic international web, feeling every twitch of every thred, controlling it all: "He sits motionless, like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them." To quote Doyle.

Bear in mind also that he was ever the chess player. For him facts were like chess pieces. The more information one had, the more facts one had and hence the more pieces one had. The more pieces, the more options and moves. The more options, the better film one could make. For in that multitude of moves there lurked the perfect move, or at least the almost perfect one. Therefore it was imperative to have as many pieces as possible. Only then could anything like perfection be approached.

The secrecy, I believe, stems from the same source. A chess player never lets anyone know what his next move will be. That would entirely ruin his game. The element of surprise is in fact half the game. There's also a very practical aspect. Letting for instance script readers know they read for Kubrick would have influenced them. They would have started reading for Kubrick. They'd have started to anticipate what he would want in a script. Which isn't what he wanted at all. How could they anticipate his wants when he himself didn't know what he wanted?

John le Carré once tried to write a script for Kubrick and failed miserably. He attributed it to the fact that Kubrick had these images in his head that he wanted le Carré to write but he could not put them into words. That's what he needed le Carré for. To write what was in his, Kubrick's, head. But as he couldn't communicate what he wanted the task was virtually impossible. The scripts always were a struggle. Many a writer was squeezed dry and tossed aside to be replaced by a new and fresh one. The man just doesn't know what he wants, most writers thought. Maybe so.

But Kubrick did know what he wanted. He wanted a story. A story he'd want to tell. A story he'd fall in love with, as his wife put it.

That's not too much to ask, is it?


Usvazine said...

Sounds a little bit maniac mastermind, but so are we all, aren´t we? (masterminds I hope, not so maniac...)

PS said...

The very real tragedy most of us encounter on a daily basis is that we simply cannot afford to be mad geniuses because nobody would tolerate us. This makes me quite sad.

Usvazine said...

Hmm. Maybe a personal quality time? 15 minutes pure maddness every day. If not in front of everybody else then maybe it would be suitable to have a mental moment in a toilet or in a closet?

I'll get my coat...

PS said...

Excuse me my dear while I'm off on my fifteen minutes of deranged brilliance?