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The Idea of Stanley Kubrick. . .

April 22, 2007

Stanley Kubrick

A couple of nights ago, I sat down to watch the recent and exceedingly limited release of the film, Colour Me Kubrick. The film stars John Malkovich in a very odd, but often fun portrayal of British con man, Alan Conway.

The film for me served as more of a curiosity piece than anything else. I’d read about Conway’s time spent impersonating Kubrick, and it was fascinating to me that a gay man who looked absolutely nothing like Kubrick could get away with impersonating the notoriously reclusive director. Alan Conway

Nonetheless, for a fair amount of time, Conway did just that, and managed to bilk his way around England claiming to be Stanley Kubrick himself. What was fascinating to me about the film wasn’t so much Conway’s story, but the fact that Conway represented an idea of a man, more than that particular man.

It isn’t giving too much away to say that the in the story, penned by Anthony Frewin, Kubrick’s longtime assistant, we’re treated to multiple episodes of Conway’s antics, each of which would leave any Kubrick aficionado laughing at the sheer ludicrousness.

Kubrick as a gay rake of a man? Kubrick was married to his second wife, Christiane right up until the end of his life. Kubrick with an English accent? Being born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx had left a notable accent which was clearly present even in the last recordings done in his life. It’s clear from the story and in the accompanying documentary, Being Alan Conway, that Conway knew virtually nothing of his “double”. Obviously, neither did his victims. But it’s fascinating to think that despite such gross disconnects from reality, Conway screwed over many an innocent victim. And to this day for many, Kubrick remains just as big an idea as he was a filmmaker.

And that is certainly true in my case. You’ll see that I owe my earliest memory of film to him. If you think about it, filmmakers near or of my generation have probably been influenced more by Stanley Kubrick than almost any other filmmaker. Especially, amongst young male filmmakers. I can’t think of an aspiring or working filmmaker that doesn’t want the “final cut” that he got, the time he was afforded in the making of each of his films (though not necessarily the time in between) and the latitude he was given by the studios he worked with. Perhaps more than any other, Kubrick was the quintessential independent filmmaker.

But one of the things that I was left with after watching the DVD were my own memories and the way they either inspired, colored or propelled my own impetus to get into film. Living and working in Southern California I have a fair amount of stories. Perhaps the only way I might have more stories is if I had lived and worked in England when Kubrick was active.

Mind you these stories are odd, random and sometimes so distant from Kubrick himself, it is only the connections that have formed in my heart and mind that bring them their overall significance.

Kubrick spent 1940 in Pasadena, California where I have spent the better part of twenty years growing up and pursuing my own filmmaking dreams. That still puts me about 46 years away from Kubrick’s whereabouts. Nothing too big there. . .

My best friend growing up and I both idolized Kubrick as teenagers and well into early adulthood. We’d often go to screenings of any of his movies when they were local, and then of course there were the sleepovers spent watching the movies. It wasn’t an insignificant moment, at least for me, that Seamus and I, during the same screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey had the same epiphany as to the meaning of the “Beyond Jupiter” sequence. But that’s another story.

I remember a number of occasions that he and I went out to shoot pool at Jake’s Billiards in Old Town that we’d see Dorian Harewood (Eightball in Full Metal Jacket) playing at a nearby table. One degree from Kubrick!

Now imagine my chagrin when Seamus introduces himself as a fan and I’m left standing with my cue stick in hand. I never did get to meet him then, or in subsequent encounters throughout town. But this isn’t where I get bitter, this is where the story gets funny.

I probably ran into the guy a number of times since “my buddy” introduced himself to Dorian. But the opportunities for me to say “Hey!” were always inopportune. Flash forward years later to a phone call on a brand new phone number.

“Is Dorian there?” Sorry, wrong number.

Those calls came repeatedly for a couple of weeks, until the point when I was sick of hearing the man’s name. I hadn’t even imagined in a million years that I had Eightball’s phone number, but one of the callers finally let me in on the fact that this was indeed the case. I shared a good laugh with the caller when related my little story. It doesn’t end there however.

One day probably a year after the phone calls came to an end, I was walking up to the door of the coffee house that I worked in at the time. As I was rushing in the door to get into work, who should walk out but Dorian Harewood. It was fast. Fast enough that I may have even startled him. At most I may have had a chuckle on my way in, but I never did say hello.

On the odd chance you’re reading this Dorian, call me at your old (fax?) number, and you and I can share a laugh or two. . .

I worked in the old Book Alley in Old Town Pasadena, when film critic Peter Rainer came in one day. Conversation quickly and easily turned to film, and next thing I know, he’s relating stories of how his father and Dr. Jack Kubrick were close friends in the Bronx.

There was also one of my film & technical theatre teachers, Bob Wilson @ Pasadena City College who had stories. Man, did Bob have stories. . . Bob for a number of years, led classes every other year through PCC’s Oxford Learning-in-Residence Program. One year, a few years prior to Eyes Wide Shut, Bob would be leading another group over. Furthermore, he’d have a number of his students in an independent study unit working on a series being shot at Pinewood Studios, Kubrick’s studio homebase.

Yes, I put all of this together at the time, and the possible one-in-a-million shot at proximity that it might afford me. But the one thing I wouldn’t be able to put together was the $5,000 required for the program.

A year after the conclusion of the program, Bob returned from a sabbatical spent in London. I went over to visit him @ PCC in search of stories. . . And stories he had. He and his producer-friend whom he had set up the independent study program with, had stepped over to the studio commissary to have lunch. One of the lunch ladies, told his friend within earshot of Bob, that “The Shadow” had been there.

“The Shadow?” Bob asked.

“Kubrick.”

“Kubrick was here? My God I’ve always wanted to work with Kubrick.” Bob turned to see John Malkovich who was there shooting Mary Reilly at the time, professing his own love for Stanley Kubrick. Makes me wonder if Malkovich himself ever had the chance to meet him.

John Malkovich as Alan Conway

There were other stories. . .

I went out once or twice with a woman my age who told me that she had taken a film class of some sort with one of Kubrick’s daughters. I figured it was probably the bushbaby coveting scamp, Vivian. Vivian had caught her father’s love of film, and in fact did a documentary on the making of The Shining.

Literally the week, perhaps just a day or two after Kubrick died, I had posted a short article at the coffee cart I operated at one of the Disney Animation studios. The article was from Variety and it was about Kubrick’s death and the completion of Eyes Wide Shut.

Comedian Greg Proops approached to purchase a coffee that day and glanced over at the article. He too had his story of SK, in this case auditioning for him. . . Sort of.

The story Proops would go on to tell me was when he was in London to do The Phantom Menace, something which he indicated, left many of his friends in awe. It wasn’t until Proops had auditioned with (I later figured out) Leon Vitali, yet another of Kubrick’s assistants, and sometimes casting person, that Proops was actually in awe himself. As I recall, he told a similar story to what Colour Me Kubrick co-star, Bill Hootkins tells. Vitali was a deep voiced man, British accent, wearing an ear piece, who videotaped the candidate as he auditioned.

What was funniest for me was in relating the story to me, Proops described the moment when he’s reading some lines from a script, and he’s interrupted by Leon Vitali’s booming voice exclaiming:

“Mr. Kubrick does not do sub-text!”

Proops’ accent and timing were perfect and left me rolling even during this sad time of Kubrick’s passing. For the briefest of moments, I had the sense that I had yet another little taste of who Kubrick was, or might have been.

There are actually a few other stories that I could tell. Third hand stories. People who could actually speak of working with Kubrick told to me by other friends in the business, but perhaps my most bittersweet of stories is the opportunity I never took to go after Stanley Kubrick.

Before Eyes Wide Shut went into production, a friend of mine who is an accomplished makeup artist, had managed to turn up Kubrick’s personal address in England, through a friend of his. Upon looking at the address, I knew it to be genuine.

I was quite young and had dreams of writing an eloquent letter in which I would offer to sleep on a couch somewhere and work as an intern on the set of his next film. It wasn’t quite a “hem-of-his-garment” sort of thing, but the opportunity to watch the man in action, to learn from him as if a fly on the wall. . . It would be the ultimate chance to learn from the ultimate filmmaker.

I never got the courage to even write the letter. Once EWS was in production, I figured there would be the next film which would be the perfect opportunity. Needless to say, that never happened either.

A part of my heart broke when Stanley Kubrick died. The man that crafted the initial spark which set this filmmaker’s heart on fire would never again set forth a new spark. We will all have those moments to look back upon the body of work he left behind, but somehow, I feel we really did lose Kubrick too early. It was just the idea of knowing that somewhere in the world, Stanley Kubrick was creating new ideas that made the world just a little bit more exciting.

I guess even amongst those of us who think we knew who he was: film fans, filmmakers, the ones who could have picked Stanley Kubrick out of a line up, even we only carry about a vague idea of who he was. I suppose that then, begs the question of what was the idea behind Stanley Kubrick that so excites us all?

I can’t say that I know, but I do have one more story.

A year or two ago, I heard at the very last moment, that one of my favorite authors, Umberto Eco, was in Los Angeles to do a speaking tour on his latest novel, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana. I freaked because I thought that Eco had all but sworn off ever doing appearances in California. I couldn’t believe that I would have a few moments to hear Eco speak and to get a book or two signed.

The subject of Eco and the movies came up. It is fairly common knowledge that he’d been disappointed with the outcome of The Name of the Rose, and that limitations that he perceived in the adaptation of novels to the screen had made him leery of another film adaptation of his work. Eco however related a story to the audience of a rumor of Kubrick’s interest in adapting Foucault’s Pendulum into a film.

Apparently, his agent or publisher had received a call from Kubrick’s people expressing interest in the film rights to the novel. Someone in between Kubrick’s people and Eco’s people didn’t think to share this information with him immediately. No doubt this was due to Eco’s refusal of previous offers. Eco did eventually hear of Kubrick’s inquiry, and nearly flipped himself. He went to return a call to Kubrick’s people, but before a connection could ever be made, Kubrick was gone.

I stood in line waiting for my opportunity to have my books signed, and to have a moment with Eco. Standing there, I couldn’t help but imagine what Stanley Kubrick’s production of Foucault’s Pendulum might have been like. When I got to Eco, I said my few words of appreciation and then I told him “My heart broke when you told us the story about Stanley Kubrick.”

He looked up at me briefly and said to me “Mine too.”

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 22, 2007 6:37 pm

    Foucault’s Pendulum is a great novel and I had no idea that Kubrick had some interest in making it. I just read Frederic Raphael’s book ‘Eyes Wide Open’ about his colloboration with Kubrick. It’s interesting how much little Kubrick says and yet gets a lot of his colloborators.

  2. April 23, 2007 2:06 am

    I read “Eyes Wide Open” when it originally came out. I enjoyed it for the insight it gave to Kubrick and the way he worked. I also thought Raphael came off as sounding terribly impressed with himself, but nonetheless it was a good book I would recommend to anyone.

    Thanks for stopping by!

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