Skip to main content

Directors Discourse: The Existential as Pop Cultural

"I don't like doing interviews. There is always the problem of being misquoted or, what's even worse, of being quoted exactly." Stanley Kubrick.
"A film is — or should be — more like music than fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what's behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later" Stanley Kubrick.
"..a good film normally has to be well written, well acted, well directed, and this may give the impression that good films do resemble one another. But the truth is that they are for the most part quite different, because each one is unique." Stanley Kubrick.


Kubrick, Stanley:  1928--99, US film writer, director, and producer. He directed Lolita (1962), Dr Strangelove  (1963), 2001: A Space Odyssey  (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Shining (1980), Full Metal Jacket  (1987), and Eyes Wide Shut  (1999)

Stanley Kubrick's movies share with great literature the capacity to require repeated reading as well as a significant amount of mental effort. This stems from the fact that Kubrick himself, as described by his own school teacher, was a literary guy. The idea of literature and the reading of literature, from a non-academic, from a more human point of view, clearly was what interested him since his early life in New York. In fact, ten of Kubrick’s films were based on novels and one on a short story by a novelist. Kubrick had shown a distinct preference for adapting literary sources as opposed to working from original material. He was a filmmaker who placed tremendous value on literature. That’s not to say his films are mirror images of the novels from which they were adapted. They are not. Film and literature are two different mediums and can’t possibly impart the exact same experience. A novel is a solitary work, whereas a film is a collaboration of many artists guided by the vision and interpretation of the director.  
While it may seem surprising in a director as obsessively controlling as Kubrick, in an interview with French critic Michel Ciment he explains his choice; in adapting The Luck of Barry Lyndon, Kubrick created a film which, despite all the semantic differences from its source, closely parallels the iconic impact of that literary source. Kubrick had always been a voracious reader and the success of his early few films convinced him that he was better at adapting stories that interested him rather than inventing his own material although,of course, he made significant contributions to the finished screenplay on all of his films.
The Shining a novel by Stephen King was one important adaptation Kubrick made. The novel is extremely famous, but it isn't iconic the way Kubrick's version of it is. Stephen King has reportedly hated Kubrick's version of his novel so much. King actually tried to right what he thought was wrong in Kubrick's version by making the novel into a TV series which unfortunately was a flop. Kubrick beat the writer at his own game.
In King's novel, Kubrick seemed more fascinated with the supernatural than the psychological. He thought; " the unconscious appeal of a ghost story, lies in its promise of immortality. If you can be frightened by a ghost story, then you must accept the possibility that supernatural beings exist. If they do, then there is more than just oblivion waiting beyond the grave." Such where Kubrick's pursuits! Food for the existential mind!

There are several books on Stanley Kubrick and his films of which "Stanley Kubrick: Interviews" is particularly interesting as it sets in a chronological order an important compilation of interviews that reveal Kubrick's mastery of articulation and his candid sense of sharing. Kubrick was interviewed by famed historians and film critics such as: E. Nordin (1968), J. Gelmis (1969), M. Ciment, Vincente M. Foix  and Gene Siskel and others.
Kubrick, who had been called a 'recluse', appeared very approachable and communicable in the way he emerged in those interviews; explaining his vision and techniques with the subtle sensibilities of a brilliant writer. His differences with King over changes in the film with respect to the novel, unearthed Kubrick's deep interest and command of the literary as well as the writerly. While Kubrick praised the novel, King was reportedly, “dreadfully upset” with Kubrick’s adaptation, even going so far as to publicly denounce the director as “[a] man who thinks too much and feels too little.” And this was an unusual reaction from the writer, who has consistently claimed to be 'unconcerned with the fidelity of the movie adaptations of his novels.' Kubrick maintained a great admiration for the novel and saw the changes he had to make in keeping with the novel and with how to make it filmable. 
Exerpts (below) from V. Foix's interview with Kubrick reveal a lot about how Kubrick assumed and mastered full technical and expressive control over his creative works.

An Interview With Stanley Kubrick  (Dec. 1980)

By Vicente Molina Foix 

Most of your films are based on novels. Do you find it easier to make a film taking literary material as basis?

There's one great advantage taking it from literary material, and that is that you have the opportunity of reading the story for the first time. I've never written an original screenplay myself, so I'm only theorizing as to what I think the effect would be, but I suppose that if you had an idea yourself that you liked and you developed, your sense of whether or not the story was interesting would be almost gone by the time you wrote it. And then at that point, to try to make it into a film you'd have to trust only your own first interest and instincts. The advantage of a story you can actually read is that you can remember what you felt about it the first time you read it; and that serves as a very useful yardstick on making the decisions that you have to make directing the film, because even with somebody else's story you become so familiar with it after a while that you can never really tell what it is going to seem like to somebody seeing the film for the first time. So at least you have that first impression of the story and your first ideas, which are very important.

All the novels you have adapted (Nabokov's Lolita, Thackeray's Barry Lyndon, King's The Shining, to name only some) are very different from one another. What attracts you to a book to want to make it into a movie?

First of all just some indefinable personal response to the story. It sounds overtly simple but it has something to do with the fact that you just like the story. Then, the next question is, does the story keep you excited and, if you think about it for two weeks, is it still exciting? When it gets past that point, the next question is really: is the novel translatable into a film? Because most novels, really, if they are good, aren't; it's something inherent about a good novel, either the scale of the story or the fact that the best novels tend to concern themselves with the inner life of the characters rather than with the external action. So there's always the risk of oversimplifying them when you try to crystallize the elements of the themes or the characters. So, okay, some novels probably will never be able to be made into good movies. But ley's say you now decide that it is possible to make a movie out of it; the next questions are: does it have cinematic possibilities? Will it be interesting to look at? Are there good parts for the actors? Will anybody else be interested in it when you've finished with it? Those are the thoughts that cross my mind. But mostly, I would say, a sense of personal excitement about the thing; the fact that you just fell in love with the story.

What did you especially like in Stephen King's The Shining?

Well, the novel was sent to me by John Calley, an executive with Warner Bros., and it is the only thing which was ever sent to me that I found good, or that I liked. Most things I read with the feeling that after about [a certain number] pages I'm going to put it down and think that I'm not going to waste my time. The Shining I found very compulsive reading, and I thought the plot, ideas, and structure were much more imaginative than anything I've ever read in the genre. It seemed to me one could make a wonderful movie out of it.

Did you know King's previous novels?

No. I had seen Carrie, the film, but I hadn't read any of his novels. I would say King's great ability is in plot construction. He doesn't seem to take great care in writing, I mean, the writing seems like if he writes it once, reads it, maybe writes it again, and sends it off to the publisher. He seems mostly concerned with invention, which I think he's very clear about.

But were you thinking of making a horror film before you got that novel?

No. When I'm making a film I have never had another film which I knew I wanted to do, I've never found two stories at the same time. About the only consideration I think I have when I read a book is that I wouldn't particularly like to do a film which was very much like another film that I've done. Other than that, I have no preconceived ideas about what my next film should be. I don't know now, for instance, what I'm going to do. I wish I did. It saves a lot of time.

Yes, but what about the attraction of certain types of story? In previous films, you have worked within the conventions of specific genres (science-fiction, thriller, war film, etc.). Were you attracted to The Shining because it gave you the opportunity to explore the laws of a new genre in your career?

About the only law that I think relates to the genre is that you should not try to explain, to find neat explanations for what happens, and that the object of the thing is to produce a sense of the uncanny. Freud in his essay on the uncanny wrote that the sense of the uncanny is the only emotion which is more powerfully expressed in art than in life, which I found very illuminating; it didn't help writing the screen-play, but I think it's an interesting insight into the genre. And I read an essay by the great master H.P. Lovecraft where he said that you should never attempt to explain what happens, as long as what happens stimulates people's imagination, their sense of the uncanny, their sense of anxiety and fear. And as long as it doesn't, within itself, have any obvious inner contradictions, it is just a matter of, as it were, building on the imagination (imaginary ideas, surprises, etc.), working in this area of feeling. I think also that the ingeniousness of a story like this is something which the audience ultimately enjoys; they obviously wonder as the story goes on what's going to happen, and there's a great satisfaction when it's all over not having been able to have anticipated the major development of the story, and yet at the end not to feel that you have been fooled or swindled.
There are quite a few . Several characters have been, in a good way, simplified, the supernatural and pseudo-psychological sides have been almost eliminated and even the basic horror element is reduced. All this is to me a great improvement to the novel. Were you trying to escape from the more conventional norms of the genre in order to build something different, although, of course, the film can still be seen by many as a pure horror movie?
You say that a lot of the horror was cut out of the book and I don't agree on that. As a matter of fact, other than the scene where the child sees the blood splashed all over the walls and when he hears the little noise in the big drainpipe when he's playing in the snow, I think there's more horror in the film than there is in the book. People have said that. In the book, for instance, nobody gets killed.

Yes, but you have eliminated all the comings and goings of the animal figures cut in the topiary garden...

That's all. When Halloran, the black cook, comes at the end, these topiary animals try to stop him, but that is the only thing lost from the book.

And you have also emphasized the relationship between the main characters and their sense of isolation in the hotel, Jack's frustration as a writer.... All these things certainly become crucial in the film and not so much in the book.

I think in the novel, King tries to put in too much of what I would call pseudo-character and pseudo-psychological clues, but certainly the essence of the character such as it is, that he puts in the novel, was retained. The only change is we made Wendy perhaps more believable as a mother and a wife. I would say the psychological dynamics of the story, even in the novel, are not really changed. When you said the characters are simplified, well, obviously, they become more clear, less cluttered; that's it, less cluttered better than simplified.

When I said simplified, I meant exactly that: clarified. From Jack's character, for instance, all the rather cumbersome references to his family life have disappeared in the film, and that's for the better. I don't think the audience is likely to miss the many and self-consciously "heavy" pages King devotes to things like Jack's father's drinking problem or Wendy's mother. To me, all that is quite irrelevant.

There's the case of putting in too many psychological clues of trying to explain why Jack is the way he is, which is not really important.

Right. Reading the novel, I constantly felt he was trying to explain why all those horrible things happened, which I think is wrong, since the main force of the story lies in its ambiguity. At the same time, you have avoided the many references to Poe in the book, especially to his mask of the red death, and in fact, your film escapes completely Poe's influence and gets, I believe, much closer to Borges, particularly in its conclusion. To me, it's a major shift from the novel.

The most major shift is really the last thirty minutes of the film, because King's climax really only consisted of Jack confronting Danny, and Danny saying something like "you're not my father," and then Jack turns and goes down to the boiler and the hotel blows up. The most important thing that Diane Johnson and I did was to change the ending, to shift the emphasis along the lines you've just described. In terms of things like Jack's father and the family background, in the film a few clues almost do the same thing; when Wendy tells the doctor about how Jack broke Danny's arm, you can tell she's putting a very good face on the way she tells it, but you realize that something horrible must have happened. Or, for instance, when Ullman, the manager, asks Jack "How would your wife and son like it?" and you see a look in his eyes meaning he thinks "What an irrelevant question that is!" and then he smiles and just says "They'll love it." I mean, I think there are lots of little subtle points that give you at least subconsciously the same awareness that King works so hard to put in. Also I think that he was a little worried maybe about getting literary credentials for the novel; all his Poe quotes and "Red Death" things are all right but didn't seem necessary. He seemed too concerned about making it clear to everybody that this was a worthwhile genre of literature.
Edited by MMA 2013.

Watch This Before You Go


Popular posts from this blog

MovieGlobe: Japan's Version of Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet (2007) JapanOriginal Article by: Fateh Mirghani-Japan

I have just finished watching the masterpiece of Shakespeare” Romeo and Juliet “in its Japanese version.
The quality of the movie is great and the soundtrack, injected with a little Japanese folklore music, has given it a sensational dimension and Eastern fascination!
Basically, the theme of the movie remains the same as the original play, and that has been a particular Japanese notion in dealing with other nations’ cultural products. Part of the reason may lay in Japan's sensitivity to other nations’cultural products- given the long standing historical disputes with its neighbours, and part of it may lay in a fierce sense of homogeneity that has come to characterize Japan as an island nation-state since time immemorial. Thus the Japanese, unlike the Americans, don’t seem to have the temerity to ‘Japanize’ others’ cultural stuff. The movie “Renaissance man”  can be cited as an example of American boldness. The …

Thursday Evening

Short Story by Ali Elmak* Translated by MM
Getting off the tram, he slipped. Was it the right or the left foot that skidded? It did not matter!  All that mattered really, all that he cared for at that hour, at that moment, was that he fell and soiled his pants. those characteristically beautiful white pants which he had preserved for Thursday evenings; for the soiree gatherings which started by hanging around in the market; loitering for short or long periods; then to the cinema house; any film and peace be upon him. Then, was this bad luck or what? Did he really need to take the tram for such a short distance? “That was a fair reward for your laziness” he said to himself. As for those pants, they were turned into a dusty colored thing. The more he shook those tiny particles off, the closer they became attached to the pants. Oh what a gloomy evening for you!  "Is this what concerned you?" thought he.

The posters of Alan Ladd and Van Heflin still stood their, at the cinema entrance.…

Movie Critic Review: Zorba The Greek (1964)

" All right, we go outside where God can see us better." Alexis Zorba "God has a very big heart but there is one sin he will not forgive; [slaps table] if a woman calls a man to her bed and he will not go. I know because a very wise old Turk told me." Alexis Zorba

Zorba (Anthony Quinn) with a lascivious look lays the gentle order, 'Two beds Madam. Without bugs!' Mme Hortense defiantly tilts her head and answers proudly, 'Mme has not THE bugs!'

The bookish intellectual Basil  (Alan Bates) who has appeared unaffected by the collective vertigo experienced on the boat taking them to Crete, did not seem interested in this outward and stimulated first-time exchange between his newly-found companion, a robust natural philosopher named Alexis Zorbas and this old lady who rushed  to offer them her hospitality services in her own (Marriot) of a dilapidated house on this island of pathos and the poor. Mme Hortense then treats the c…