The films Kubrick never made
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.