Time spent with Stanley Kubrick
I first heard about Stanley Kubrick in 1963 from a film publicist who had worked on two of his films. She recommended I see Paths of Glory which had just come out in London. After seeing it I asked the editor of the magazine Queen if she would be interested in an article about him. She agreed and I went down to Shepperton Studios where he was making Dr. Strangelove. When I arrived he was standing at a makeshift table on the war room set playing chess with a large man in an American Air Force uniform seated opposite him — General Turgidson, played by the late George C. Scott.
When I said goodbye to Stanley at the end of the day, he asked me if I would like to work for him,
“You stand in the right place.” he added. I said yes to his invitation, though knowing perfectly well that the last person you want to be on a film set is a stills photographer. You are always in the way, and in my experience, actors don't really like their pictures taken. That was the start of my association with Stanley as a guest photographer on three of his films. I guess I just liked Stanley — and he operated the camera himself, which I thought was unusual and sensible. An image that has stuck in my mind is the way he hand-held his stripped down Arriflex — so gently, and as though it weighed no more than a packet of Camel cigarettes.
His children used to come and sit beside him on the set. His eldest, Vivian, became an accomplished musician and film maker herself. I recommend a short film called Stanley Kubrick's Boxes directed by Jon Ronson, because in it are two clips by Vivian of her father, showing his sharpness and humor, and his calmness. It also shows the tracking shots through burning buildings towards the end of Full Metal Jacket, which Vivian scored. When I knew Vivian, sitting beside her father on the set, she was more worried about her pet mice than the techniques of film making. Stanley was worried about them too. Stanley particularly liked cats (and all animals for that matter) and I made a print for him of a photograph he took of one of his cats sitting on a shelf in his office. He wrote me such a charming letter thanking me.
When I spoke to Adrienne Corri after her rape in “A Clockwork Orange” she was full of praise for Stanley's handling of the filming. He was fair, patient, considerate and endlessly painstaking. She said that she too had received a charming letter from him, thanking her for being such a “sport.” I remember one of his directorial commands to her: “Turn around, Adrienne, we're paying you for full frontal.”
After chess, ping-pong was his favorite game. I'm not sure he ever beat Malcolm McDowell whereas he almost always won his chess games whoever the opponent. His ping-pong table, when I knew him, was under a tent on the front lawn of his house.
There was with Stanley never a question of accepting a shot or a take, until he knew it was right. It looked like he answered to no-one, but, at the same time he listened to everybody he thought knew something that he did not — the people from NASA, advice from the director of photography about lighting, his co-writers and his executive producer, the actors and designers. I don't know if he listened to the studio executives, but one day I turned up on the set and we hung around for a couple hours waiting for Stanley to appear. I asked what was happening. Somebody said, “We are expecting a visit from the studio executives so Stanley won't be coming in today.”
Copyright: Dmitri Kasterine 2016