Eyes Wide Open: A Memoir of Stanley Kubrick


We've all heard the rumors.

He was a hermit. He refused to fly and wouldn't be driven at more than thirty miles an hour. He avoided having his picture taken and was terrified of being assassinated. As a filmmaker, he was obsessed with perfection. He insisted on total control of every facet of the process. ...
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We've all heard the rumors.

He was a hermit. He refused to fly and wouldn't be driven at more than thirty miles an hour. He avoided having his picture taken and was terrified of being assassinated. As a filmmaker, he was obsessed with perfection. He insisted on total control of every facet of the process. Simple scenes required one hundred takes. No wonder he made only six movies in the past thirty-five years.

But what was he really like?

For more than two years, Frederic Raphael collaborated closely with Stanley Kubrick on the screenplay of what was to be the director's final movie, Eyes Wide Shut. Over time, as his professional caution was replaced by a certain affection, Kubrick lowered his guard for Raphael as he never had with journalists or biographers, to reveal much about his early life in the cinema and of the reverses and humiliations he had to endure. They spoke for hours about a variety of subjects, from Julius Caesar to the Holocaust, from Kubrick's views about other directors to reminiscences of the many stars with whom both men had worked (or nearly worked)—Kirk Douglas, Audrey Hepburn, James Mason, Peter Sellers, Marisa Berenson, Sterling Hayden, Marlon Brando, and Gregory Peck.

Here, with his own distinctly cinematic style, Raphael chronicles their often fiery exchanges, capturing Kubrick's voice as no one else could. Disdaining false veneration, he opens our eyes to the mind and art of a truly complex and hitherto elusive twentieth-century genius.
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Editorial Reviews

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The 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.

Ian Toll

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345437761
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/22/1999
  • Pages: 190
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.59 (d)

Meet the Author

The American-born, British-educated writer Frederic Raphael is the author of nineteen novels and four short story collections, including Richard's Things, The Glittering Prizes, Oxbridge Blues, and most recently Coast to Coast, as well as the original screenplays for John Schlesinger's Darling, for which he won an Academy Award, and Stanley Donen's Two for the Road. He has adapted for the screen the works of Thomas Hardy (Far from the Madding Crowd), Iris Murdoch (A Severed Head), Henry James (Daisy Miller) and Arthur Schnitzler (Traumnovelle, filmed as Eyes Wide Shut). He is married with three children and divides his time between France and England.
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Interviews & Essays

On Friday, August 6th, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Frederic Raphael to discuss EYES WIDE OPEN.

Moderator: Welcome, Frederic Raphael! We are so pleased you could join us this afternoon from overseas to discuss your memoir, EYES WIDE OPEN, about the late director Stanley Kubrick and his last film. How are you?

Frederic Raphael: I am well, but somewhat thunderstruck because we have huge storms going on here, so if you hear crackles it is not my system but the world.

Moderator: How would you characterize your working relationship with Kubrick on the script for "Eyes Wide Shut?" Conciliatory or combative?

Frederic Raphael: I don't think that it was quite conciliatory, and it was not quite combative. When two people work together on a creative project, it is somewhat helpful if they don't get along too cozily. You can't play a game without a certain attack on both sides. There has to be some sort of rapport in the attack. You have to play the game so both of you come well out of it. You soon discover if your games suit each other, and if they don't, the thing is likely to collapse into rancor or just dullness.

Cameron Lone from NYC: Loved the movie and enjoyed your book. What storylines didn't make it into the film that you would have like to see but Kubrick didn't? And what made it into the film that you didn't like?

Frederic Raphael: Well, I haven't seen the film because I am in the middle of the French countryside. I think that what Kubrick did not like as much as I do is a kind of humorous play between the married couple. I like comedy between husbands and wives, and Kubrick preferred bare-knuckled fights. There weren't any knuckles that were bare in the end, but that is another story. It always happens in the movies that a huge amount of writing, in the screenwriter's opinion, gets wasted.

Mike from Orehgone: What type of changes did Kubrick make to your original screenplay for the film? Did you write the screenplay keeping in mind Kubrick's unique cinematic style, or did Kubrick bring this to the story once filming began? I'm also wondering if Kubrick was flexible with your suggestions or if he was steadfast in maintaining his vision for the film. Thanks!

Frederic Raphael: The truth is that I don't know how you could define his uniqueness, because part of his uniqueness is his variety. I tried to think of ideas that I thought would extend Kubrick. I didn't want him just to do what he did before. I don't think he resisted because he did not have any specific ideas about the film. He really wanted to go fishing in my mind and see if the right fish came out. He never let me into his thinking at all except sharing the negative, and that is what made it difficult to work with him. Very often the way he said "yes" was just not saying no.

Colleen Morgan from Seattle, WA: Loved the movie! But what would you have done differently? What would you have liked to see in it that wasn't depicted?

Frederic Raphael: I think that I am much more interested in very precise dialogue and drama expressed in precise dialogue. Stanley liked precise images but didn't have the same respect for the written word that I do (and that I would have liked him to have), but I didn't question his priority because he was a great director and we were doing movies and that is the way it goes in movies. What's funny is that all directors want to believe they can write, so somehow they are paying tribute to writing and at the same time assuming it is not very important.

Joseph from Austria: The "Traümnovelle" by Arthur Schnitzler is a story that lives in and out of fantasies, the goal of which is never to be realized. The hero is a doctor like many bourgeois men at the turn of the century in Vienna, who always keeps his mind and body from having sex. While the media are making "Eyes Wide Shut" the most scandalous sex movie ever, the novel it is based on exactly celebrates the opposite. Don`t you feel a little bit misunderstood?

Frederic Raphael: I don't think that it is the bourgeois men who became doctors; it was a great many Jews. The ingredient in "Traümnovelle" that is most obviously omitted is its Jewishness. I don't think this is a fault with Stanley, nor is it a symptom of his fear. It was simply the wish to make as general a statement as possible. But I agree that the story is about someone who is fascinated by sex but never actually has it in the story, except with his wife. I don't think the film should be judged by the publicity; I think the film is quite true to Schnitzler's idea.

movie fan from USA: You mentioned when you first met Kubrick in his house, and you were in his kitchen, that there were some books out on the table. Did you catch the title of any of them?

Frederic Raphael: I was not in the kitchen. I was in a big room with a big table with a buffet on it. I only remember a book of his wife's paintings. I was tempted to ask if I could look at it, but I didn't. I usually do. It is a very good question.

Aldo Speck from Waltham, MA: In your opinion, did the character played by Tom Cruise really cause the woman's death, or was it all just a scare tactic as Sydney Pollack's character says it is?

Frederic Raphael: I don't think I can have an opinion. You have to take ambiguity in stories as ambiguity. Fiction depends on the reading of each individual. I think that everyone always imagines that he or she has more influence on the world than in general we do. In fact, what happens in this story is that the doctor is always led by events -- he never controls them. He actually is irresponsible, not responsible.

Mark from NYC: I was really moved by the closing scene in which the doctor and his wife reconcile. I thought this was particularly well-written and acted. I especially like Kidman's line about how she would rather focus on the rest of her life -- the many days and hours that encompass that -- than dwell on the events of the last 24 hours. Was this one of the more difficult scenes to shoot and write?

Frederic Raphael: I know nothing about how difficult it was to shoot, but it is pretty true to Schnitzler's book. Stanley wanted that all along. I was frustrated by that, but if the scene was as good as you say, that suggests he was right. There is a great line from Schnitzler that might be worth quoting (from another story): "Only those who look for a meaning will find it. Dreaming and waking, truth and lie mingle. Security exists nowhere. We know nothing of others, nothing of ourselves. We always play. Wise is the man who knows."

Kate Wood from Sarasota: What is one of your most poignant memories of the late director?

Frederic Raphael: I think that the most touching thing about Stanley was how difficult he found it to be level with you. I don't mean he condescended, but he didn't look you in the eye. I think he was a frightened man. But the answer to your question is that I remember his putting his arm around my shoulder as we parted for the last time. It was so unnatural for him to do that, but it was touching.

Roger Lewis from Austin, TX: Great movie. In your book (which I also enjoyed), you wrote about the artistic conflict you have with Kubrick. You like your stories structured tight, and he was resistant to that. The one weakness in an otherwise enchanting movie is how neatly things wrap up at the end. Care to comment on this? Thanks for contributing to a wonderful movie.

Frederic Raphael: The neatness may be due to the fact that the scene perhaps lacked the ambiguity that the rest of the movie had, but you have to finish somehow. Perhaps it is a little bit of a relief to wake up from a dream, but it is not so dreamy, is it?

Dale Hoak from Williamsburg, VA: In the confrontation between Cruise and Kidman early in the film, she confesses that the summer before, as a result of the look that the naval officer gave her, she could have given up everything -- marriage, et cetera. Doesn't this strain credibility? This is a crucial admission, as it sets in motion Cruise's own night of fantasy cruising. (2) The "orgy" scene: Would it have been more powerful if presented as a dream, rather than as something literally experienced?

Frederic Raphael: I think that it is always dangerous for people to make frank confessions to each other. Fantasies are meant to be fantastic. There is a remark that Schnitzler made once that might explain what happens: "Feelings and understanding may sleep under the same roof, but they run completely separate households in the human soul." If you try to make someone understand your feelings, I think you are confusing two households (and you will break a lot of dishes that way!) As to your second question -- I think the presentation of dreams in film is always very difficult, but if you have an answer you could just make your fortune! Or give the idea to me, and I will make mine! Dreams don't have frames, and that is the difficulty.

Hannah from Trenton: What is your take on the infamous orgy scene?

Frederic Raphael: I think that the truth is that orgies are something that people dream about but won't admit they would do. I think they have always been a function of wealth. I have never been to one, but I won't like to say they don't go on somewhere each night. My problem is that you keep meeting people that you won't mind having a drink with but nothing else.

Stan from Berkeley: It is rumored that Kubrick once planned to film "Eyes Wide Shut" as a comedy (even cast Steve Martin), but eventually signed the Cruises and decided to follow a more faithful reading of the story "Traümnovelle." Were you part of this decision-making process? Would you have been game writing the script either way?

Frederic Raphael: I was not part of that at all. I heard about the Steve Martin rumor. Stanley never mentioned it to me. I am a fan of Steve Martin's and would love him to do a book of mine, COAST TO COAST. I think it could work as a comedy. Stanley took this story seriously, instead of making it a comedy. He took "Dr. Strangelove" as a comedy because he found he couldn't make it seriously. These things happen.

Erica Swan from Seattle: A newspaper in my town suggested that Kubrick's first choice of the leading roles were to be played by two women and that you convinced him otherwise. How would this have changed the dynamics of your screenplay?

Frederic Raphael: I like my rumored personality more than my own! I don't think that rumor has any foundation. Mind you that it could work with two females.

Bernard from Paris: Describe the process and evolution of writing a Kubrick script. How much creative room did the late director give you? Kubrick is notorious for requiring dozens of takes on a scene. Did this level of perfectionism carry over to the script editing also?

Frederic Raphael: I am not going to keep you up all night telling you the whole process. I don't think perfectionism was the reason he liked to have many drafts. I think it was just that he liked the chef to keep bringing in more dishes in case one smelled better or tasted better than the last. I think he preferred tasting the food to ordering from the menu.

Lance from Miami, OH: Why do you think Kubrick picked you to write the screenplay for his last movie? How did he approach you, and were you committed from the start?

Frederic Raphael: I was told by one of his people that somebody said, "We tried the rest and now we will try the best," but I don't want to say that about myself! I don't know how many others there were, but I guess he felt I could do it. He did tell me that he had read my books as well as my scripts.

Ravi from NYC: Great movie! How about the issue of conspiracy? Did you want the viewers to think at any point that Nicole Kidman's character knew what her husband was doing all along?

Frederic Raphael: I think that husbands and wives often have fearful accuracy in their imagination of each other, and sometimes they have completely mistaken ones. I don't come home not thinking that my wife knows exactly what I was doing (not that I was doing anything that she would disapprove of!). Stanley was interested in how people "smelt." He told me to describe the smell of the scene. I think this is true. You can smell what people have been up to. I think Alice (Nicole Kidman) smelled it on him, so to speak.

Ian from New York: Given that Kubrick was famous for using the script as a sort of starting point and relying on a lot of improvisation on set to build his stories, is this something you took into account or talked about? I realize this might be difficult to judge if you haven't seen the film yet.

Frederic Raphael: No, it is not something we talked about, and I didn't take it into account. I won't know how to write if I didn't believe what I said mattered. I don't actually like improvisation, and I don't think it is a good way to get to the truth, but it wasn't for me to call the shots. I hate the subtext.

Nicholas from Minnesota: I loved the movie, but one of my only complaints deals with the "mirror scene" with both Kidman and Cruise naked. It doesn't seem to "fit" in the context of the rest of the movie -- was this scene part of the source novel, or someone else's idea? Thanks!

Frederic Raphael: It was not in the source novel, because the novel is strangely enough very chaste. It certainly wasn't my idea. I think it was Stanley's idea in the light and the beauty of his actors, but if you didn't like it, you didn't.

Thomas from Connecticut: How would you describe Kubrick's sense of humor?

Frederic Raphael: Sweet and sour, I would say. He was amused quite a lot. We used to tell each other disreputable jokes. I think he found human beings dangerously comic, and aren't they? They are if you are lucky.

Nicholas from Minnesota: Do you have any idea why Kubrick was always so reclusive around the press? Why he was so withdrawn from the public spotlight?

Frederic Raphael: I suspect -- though I have no reason to know -- that he despised people who got famous being famous. He hid behind the camera and he hid behind his work, and that is what artists ought to do.

Erica Swan from Seattle: When writing a screenplay, do you feel an urge to control some of the visuals that the director decides, or are you content handing over the creation process to another person?

Frederic Raphael: I am not in the least content, but you have to recognize what is legitimate discontent and what is not. I like to imagine the whole film and offer the director choices. Sometimes he chose element from my menu, and sometimes not. The best movies are never made, but we screenwriters must never say so. All writers are frustrated directors and directors frustrated writers.

Jerry from Philadelphia: How did the masked woman at the party decide that it was William behind his mask?

Frederic Raphael: The answer is, as the politicians say, I am glad you asked that question! I look forward to your answer. She just did, I guess.

Mercury from LA: After all the publicity and anticipation of the rumored sex scenes in the flick, especially between Cruise and Kidman, the movie didn't deliver much eroticism. I think the couple kissed briefly, and the orgy was somewhat asexual because of the impersonal masks. In the editing process, did Kubrick cut out erotic scenes? Was it all rumor?

Frederic Raphael: I have no idea what he cut out. He must have cut out a great deal, because that's what people who shoots miles of film have to do. I think you have to distinguish what Stanley did as the director and what they did to sell the movie. Trust the movie and its director.

Screenwriter from NYC: Can you talk about the problems of effectively writing an episodic movie where the character doesn't have to achieve a specific task (win the game, get the gold)? One difficulty is making all things he encounters germane to the spine of the movie -- as opposed to a guy who just encounters interesting characters along the way. Love the movie.

Frederic Raphael: I think that if you follow an interesting man with a camera or your mind, he will construct an interesting movie for you. I think that Stanley was to a degree more European in his filmmaking than American (like I am). I don't think that is good or bad, but if you take Fellini's "La Dolce Vita," nothing much happens to Mastroianni, but without him you won't know why you are looking at all this stuff.

Mark from Philadelphia: In all honesty, how much of the final script is yours and how much Kubrick's?

Frederic Raphael: It is not a question of the script. The entire adaptation of the piece is part of the script. A huge part of the foundation was by me, and a lot of the fancy brickwork by Stanley.

Moderator: Thank you so much for joining us for this fascinating chat, Frederic Raphael. Before you go, do you have any closing comments for your online audience?

Frederic Raphael: I hope to be doing a movie with Meg Ryan very soon called "This Man, This Woman" to prove that I don't just work with Mr. Kubrick, and that all my movies aren't just improvised!

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