On March 7, 1999, the cinema lost one of its greatest and most infamous filmmakers. He was accredited with being one of the first independent filmmakers, his career spanning more than 50 years and 13 films, every one of them memorable. These films would give rise to some of the most notorious characters the industry has ever seen. What Kubrick did as a director has yet to be duplicated.
He’s known far and wide to this day as an example of relentless vision and eccentric behavior, famous for torturing his actors with countless takes and refusing to leave England. Often referred to as a recluse and a misanthrope, the latter being the product of the former, as only in his work could most of us claim knowing anything about him at all. However, while a recluse, there were a few people that penetrated the solitude that Kubrick embraced with his wife, among them director Sydney Pollack.
Pollack himself is no stranger to the film industry. For decades he has been involved in directing, producing and acting. From starting out directing shows for “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” to his feature film hit “Tootsie” to starring in Kubrick’s last film, “Eyes Wide Shut,” as the adulterous party-throwing Victor, Pollack is active to this date. With last month marking the four-year anniversary of Kubick’s death, The Hatchet sat down with Pollack for an exclusive interview to discuss the notorious style and title of his infamous friend and colleague, Stanley Kubrick.
I knew Stanley for 30 years but never met him until “Eyes Wide Shut.” I had talked to him all my life, and he didn’t believe that we’d never met. I had never even seen his face. I had no idea what he looked like. I got acquainted with him when I was working on “Jeremiah Johnson”… It had very archaic language and I was terribly worried about how it was going to be subtitled or dubbed. I worried that it would lose a lot of its flavor. The head of the studio was a guy named John Calvin. He was head of Warner Brothers at the time. I told him that I was worried about this and he said, “Well, talk to Kubrick, ’cause he knows everything about everything.” I told him that I didn’t even know Kubrick and he was like, “No, no, you guys will get along great.” So he set up this phone call and I didn’t get off the phone with Stanley for the next 25 years. He was big into faxing things. He kept up with the world through faxes and phone calls. He never left England; never, not once. Wouldn’t get on a boat, wouldn’t get on a plane, wouldn’t do any of that. So he would call a lot just to check out what was out there. He’d ask, “What good writers are out there? What should I be seeing? What should I be reading?” I remember once we got into a discussion over there being too many words in English dialogue. So he started taping NesCafe commercials. At the time in France there were these NesCafe commercials that were basically mini-dramas. So Stanley would send me these little NesCafe commercials … and he would edit them! Then he would say, “Now, there were 93 words in this and I took 17 of them out.” He’d do stuff like this. He was a guy who was always interested in what you were doing. He’d talk for hours about a film I’d be working on over the telephone, suggesting, “What about this? What about that?” He was a very generous guy.
A crushed idealist
His films are usually fairly dark; they always examine evil of some sort or another. I think Stanley is a sort of crushed idealist. I think he’s a guy who was looking for some possibility of hope in a world he thought was pretty bleak and evil. However, I don’t know how much of that was attained through experiences he had or from the natural impulses of his mind.
His movies are not realistic in any way; they’re operas. Stanley never had realism as an ultimate goal. When he was filming “Full Metal Jacket,” Matthew Modene (Joker) finished a take and said, “That felt pretty real.” Stanley looked at Matthew and said, “Real is good. Interesting is better.” And he worked from that basis; one that wasn’t too interested in reality, it was something more stylized. He was creating something much larger than life. It wouldn’t be reality but would relate more vividly to reality.
He did do one semi-realist film called “The Killing,” but everything after that, from “Paths of Glory” on, was very stylistic.
He was a technician, always his own cameraman, his own lighting director. By the time Stanley died he owned all his own equipment. As a result of this he could shoot in a year and a half on what it would cost one of us to shoot in four months. And that’s how he got away with it. We spent a year and two months shooting “Eyes Wide Shut” and spent the same amount of money that any other director would have had to spend just on Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. After all, that’s where a lot of the money goes … He’s only made a handful of films. He didn’t work very often – he worked every six or seven years and took a lot of time in between pictures. But his pictures always attained a sort of cult status at the very least, and were always revered in Europe.
When “A Clockwork Orange” first opened up, people were scandalized and furious. The same happened with “Full Metal Jacket,” “The Shining” and certainly with “Eyes Wide Shut” … No matter what, though, his films have always gained in stature over time ”
Stanley’s had a career that’s been singular in a certain way. There’s no director’s career that’s been like his in the sense that he was a kind of independent filmmaker before there were independent filmmakers. It wasn’t a mantle he was given, he just assumed it. He behaved that way his whole life. And his reputation supported it. No matter what happened with the introduction of his films, they all subsequently would end up being taught at schools.
The method and the madness
He was a chess player, a chess hustler, really, and on top of that was a great photographer. He would combine these two in his filmmaking in the way of examining every conceivable route. He had a chess player’s mind … That’s why it was so maddening to work with him as an actor, because it was not at all uncommon to do a hundred takes. You would wonder, “Why in God’s name is he doing this? How can he find something different after take 60 or 65?” The actors found it tortuous, but you know it produced something in terms of behavior that just doesn’t get produced otherwise. I would be there and watch take 60, take 70, take 80, and things would change. You would cry sometimes, just weep – something would happen! He was maddening in his thoroughness, obsessive; it would push the performance out to the other end … I don’t know what he was looking for, but it worked for him.