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Aug. 1 2009 - 4:56 pm | 38 views | 0 recommendations | 9 comments

The films Kubrick never made

Jack Nicholson as our short French hero?

And starring, as our short French hero... Jack Nicholson!?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about Stanley Kubrick. The man holds a rarefied position in film history that he managed to secure after only four or five films, two of which he personally denounced. The man made only 13 features in his 50 year career. And since he disowned both the first and fifth (Fear and Desire and Spartacus) it was really just 11. 11 movies! I’m pretty sure the only other “great filmmaker” with fewer movies to prove it is Orson Welles.

While both of these fellows were wunderkinds of the first order, the difference of course is that Welles cemented his status with his very first attempt (at ye ripe ol’ 24), and spent the rest of his frustrating life chipping away at it with every film he tried (a crucial word) to make. It took the young Kubrick at least a couple attempts at making a real movie to get his film legs under him. But by the time The Killing was in the can, Kubrick’s precise style was pretty much set. Each new film (with the exception of Spartacus, over which he had no control), simply refined that precision.

There’s no doubt that Kubrick was a great filmmaker. There was a time when I used to call him my favorite. But the more I watch his movies, the less of an impression they make on me. I used to think that Full Metal Jacket was a great movie. Now I think it’s half a great movie and half a tolerable one. Even the über classic, Dr. Strangelove, doesn’t seem to be hölding üp.

One aspect of Kubrick’s career that’s always been a bit suspect is his casting. The man was practically Eastwoodian when it came to who he chose to say “okay” to. I mean, I like Matthew Modine as much as the next guy. He was great in Vision Quest. It’s odd, really, because sometimes Kubrick’s choices were excellent. Malcolm McDowell pretty much makes A Clockwork Orange. And both Dr. Strangelove and Lolita were perfectly cast. But then somebody like Ryan O’Neal comes along, wig and all, to play Barry Lyndon. WTF!? It’s a crime, really (probably felonious but at the very least a misdemeaner), that Kubrick had to go and die after Eyes Wide Shut. Nobody wants Eyes Wide Shut to be the movie they go out on. Let’s see here. I wanna make a super hot, psuedo-porno, with a couple super sexy Hollywood types who are, like, totally hot for each other. I want pawing, and slobbering, and steam rising from sweat-slick buttocks so perfectly round they remind me of the hills outside Dorset. So I’m gonna cast… Tom Cruise.

That’s just gross. Seriously. Nobody wants to see Tom Cruise making out. Not today. Not now. Not even Katie Holmes wants to see that. Maybe Kubrick had watched Top Gun a few too many times. Maybe it really did take his breath away. Plus, I like Nicole Kidman, and a hell of a lot more than Mr. Cruise, but she’s not sexy either (and she’s even less sexy when she’s holding Tom’s tongue in her mouth). Granted, it doesn’t seem like Kubrick wanted sexy. Chances are, deep down, he wanted to spend fifty million of Warner’s bucks to embarrass Hollywood royalty. How else to explain the last exchange of the film (Cruise: “You know what we need to do now?” Kidman: “Fuck.” Roll credits!)? Had Kubrick wanted to make his feelings any more clear to us all, he chould have added two additional words:  “You” and “audience.” Buh-bye. Thanks for the ten spot, suckers. Please don’t pee on my grave.

But had Kubrick not been such a perfectionista, there would have been a hell of a lot more than 11 movies. More than any other filmmaker (with the possible exception of Terry Gilliam, thanks to some documentary dudes), Kubrick is known nearly as well for his almosts as he is for his actuals. Remember 2001, when Spielberg decided to “pay homage to” (pee on) his master by bringing Kubrick’s script of A.I. (Pinoccio 2.0) to the silver screen? 

With any luck, all of Kubrick’s other almosts will remain the stuff of legend. The great UK film magazine, Empire, recently took a look at some of those aborted projects. It’s fun stuff. Check it out:


The greatest movie he never made, Napoleon was a lifelong obsession for Kubrick. Scrupulous as ever, the auteur trawled thousands of documents, creating 25,000 index cards charting character and plot developments. He lined up Jack Nicholson to play the diminutive emperor and scouted locations. So committed was he that he even started eating like Napoleon, fulfilling every child’s fantasy in the set canteen of A Clockwork Orange by starting every meal with pudding.

via Unmade Stanley Kubrick | Empire | www.empireonline.com.


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  1. collapse expand

    Mr. Harvkey,

    What exactly are you trying to say? Kubrick was great director but you did not like any of his movies? Dr. Stranglove is not holding up and you don’t like AI, Eyes Wide Shut, Barry Lyndon, or Full Metal Jacket. Are you saying he was great director in spite of his films or are you saying that he only made a few great films and the rest were garbage or at best bits of great films mixed in otherwise mediocre movies? I cannot figure out what your point is.

  2. collapse expand

    An interesting and fun meditation on the man and his movies. And I thought it led quite nicely up to the link at the end that takes us to the article on the movies Kubrick never made, as promised. It kind of serves as an introduction to that article — and a great way to bring me to it, which was cool. My only quibble: Oh, c’mon, Nicole Kidman’s not sexy? She might be unsexy with Tom Cruise’s tongue in her mouth (point conceded) but she’s pretty smokin’ sexy on her own.

  3. collapse expand

    Okay, what’s not holding up in Dr. Strangelove? I’m adding it to the current list right now (I haven’t seen it in 10 years or so) but I’m quite curious about how it’s fading for you.

    • collapse expand

      That’s a very good question. I’d probably have to see it again right now to say for sure, but all I know is that on my last viewing I found that a lot of the humor felt kinda forced to me now. Maybe comedy does have an expiration date, after which point it starts to sour… what do you think?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Much humor is funny because it’s unexpected. We see it again and it’s funny because we remember how funny it was the first time and we like the nostalgia or being in the know about it. If we see it a few more times the humor has gone flat for us. I wouldn’t say that it sours, though, because someone seeing it for the first time might find it as hilarious as we did.

        Our local theater showed Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail on the big screen a while ago. I went with my neighbors who have a 14 year old boy who’d never seen it. I found it funnier than I had in years because I was anticipating how much he’d enjoy each new scene. I guess I’m arguing that the humor doesn’t sour, but that we do. What do you think?

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          Hey Lineagirl, sorry about the delay in getting back to you. I think you’re spot-on about humor, and time. I do think nostalgia plays a big part in how we react to something we’ve already seen. I’ve reacted myself in just the way you did in the Python screening, and I’ve witnessed that same reaction in plenty of other people. Someone here recently said that comedy “belongs” to its time (and echoed your comment about surprise). Once you take it out of that context it loses that impact. It’s all really interesting.

          In response to another comment. See in context »
  4. collapse expand


    Your post was just over 800 words but just 36 had anything to do with the film(s) that Mr. Kubrick did not make, namely Napoleon (not counting the cite passage). Further, none of the post prior to discussion of Napoleon had anything to do with movies that Mr. Kubrick thought about making and did not. The majority of the post in no way leads up to the topic of any movies that might have been, the ending is a complete non-sequitur to the begining (rather like AI).

    I say all of this because I am huge fan of exactly three of Mr. Kubrick’s movies (The Killing, Dr. Strangelove, and 2001). The rest are at best just pretty good (Paths of Glory, Spartacus) and at worst, awful (Full Metal Jacket, Eyes Wide Shut, Barry Lyndon). I would have been very interested to have read about the movies that Mr. Kubrick wanted to make but did not.

  5. collapse expand

    If you follow the link at the bottom of the post it takes you to the Empire site wherein they do exactly what you hope they do.

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    About Me

    According to my mother, I've quit more jobs than most people have ever had. In addition to "Closely Watched," I contribute film centric writing to Nylon and Nylon Guys magazines and "Inside Movies" over at Moviefone.com. Before the internet existed, I lived in Cali, dabbled in film, and rode tacos trucks. My films have been seen at Cannes, Seattle, Telluride, LA and other festivals, and are available on DVD, iTunes and select airplanes. My fiction has appeared in Zoetrope All-Story Magazine, Mississippi Review, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals. Follow me on Twitter! It's fun!


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    Closely Watched is on hiatus

    Closely Watched will be on hiatus for the summer. Thanks to everyone who’s made this page what it is. While I’m gone, all the posts will remain available and comments will be addressed (though perhaps not in a super timely fashion). See you again soon!