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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
When he died in March of this year at the age of 70, Stanley Kubrick, the director of such films as "Paths of Glory," "Dr. Strangelove," "2001: A Space Odyssey," and "A Clockwork Orange," was almost as well-known for his eccentricities as he was for his movies. Of course, given his aversion to publicity and his stature as a filmmaker, rumors were bound to proliferate — by reputation, he was a paranoid recluse who refused to fly or even travel faster than 30 miles per hour by car; a control freak who micromanaged every aspect of his productions, from the lighting to the size of the newspaper ads, and would endlessly retake even the simplest shots until he was satisfied with them; a onetime boy wonder who turned his back on Hollywood three decades ago, retreating to the English countryside and communicating with the outside world only through his increasingly infrequent films — austere, sardonic masterpieces seemingly fixated on man's limitless capacity for cruelty and self-deception.
Rumors continue to surround his last film, "Eyes Wide Shut," at this time unseen by all but its stars and a handful of Warner Brothers executives. When he began shooting in November of 1997 under conditions of almost Area 51-like secrecy, almost nothing was known about it, other than that it was described as a thriller about "erotic obsession" and that it starred Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. As the shoot dragged on for an unprecedented 15 months, with the cast being called back for reshoots after the production had officially wrapped (it's a testament to Kubrick's standing in the industrythathe could get away with tying up one of Hollywood's most in-demand star couples for almost two years), a few bits of information grudgingly leaked out — it was based on a turn-of-the-century Austrian novel called Traumnovelle(Dream Novel) by Arthur Schnitzler that Kubrick had long wanted to film; the story had been updated and set in New York (re-created in London, as was Vietnam in "Full Metal Jacket"); the screenplay was by Kubrick and Frederic Raphael; it costarred Harvey Keitel and Jennifer Jason Leigh, both of whom subsequently dropped out and were replaced by Sydney Pollack and Marie Richardson respectively — but beyond that, any idea of what the film itself might be like remained maddeningly elusive.
Kubrick fans looking for an insider's view of the eccentric genius can at least get some idea of the man and his methods from Frederic Raphael's Eyes Wide Open. Raphael, an American writer who now divides his time between France and England, is a well-regarded novelist and screenwriter (his script for "Darling" (1965) won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay), and in this brief (190-page) memoir he describes the two years he spent working on the "Eyes Wide Shut" screenplay with the director.
Working for Kubrick seems to have been a somewhat frustrating experience for Raphael; it appears he came to regard his collaborator with a curious mixture of awe and exasperation. Though a great admirer of Kubrick's films, he finds the man himself a bit perplexing. Certainly the Kubrick who emerges from these pages is rather an odd duck. Sometimes he's garrulous, describing the logistics of shooting the battle scenes for "Paths of Glory" or his abortive experience working with Marlon Brando on "One-Eyed Jacks" (from which he was fired), and at others he's reticent to the point of being uncommunicative, causing Raphael to repeatedly complain that he won't tell him what he wants, but only what he doesn't like. Kubrick bombards Raphael with telephone calls and faxes, gets into long discussions about seemingly unrelated topics, and sometimes fixates on trivial details. (After noticing that the apartment of a character in Woody Allen's "Husbands and Wives" is "nice for moving cameras through but a little expensive for a guy [who] works for a publisher," he repeatedly warns Raphael not to make the apartment of their main character too grand for his perceived income level.) In the end, after urging Raphael to write in as much detail as he can, Kubrick cuts the script down to the barest possible outline, leading one to believe that he regards the scriptwriting process more as a means of getting the story straight in his head than anything else.
In retrospect, I suppose, it seems inevitable that Raphael, whose specialty is writing witty, well-observed studies of upper-middle-class mores, would clash temperamentally with Kubrick, whose style is more cool and cerebral and who is less interested in individual psychology than in moods and structures. In addition, Kubrick's working methods as a director — using the screenplay as a starting point and rebuilding his story on the shooting floor through a long and intensive series of rehearsals and improvisations — would appear antithetical to the sort of well-made script that is Raphael's forte.
Despite his complaints, however, Raphael does come to regard Kubrick as a friend, and though Eyes Wide Open is not without a touch of the resentment that's a constant subtheme of most screenwriters' memoirs (ever since the auteur theory enthroned the director as a given film's prime creator, most screenwriters tend to suspect the directors they work with of trying to steal credit for their work while simultaneously butchering it), it's still a brisk and fairly entertaining read, as well as an intriguing look into the mind of one of cinema's true originals.