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Q&A: The Stanley Kubrick Archives

An interview with editor Alison Castle and contributing writer Anthony Frewin

The front cover of The Stanley Kubrick Archives (Taschen)

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Friday, June 03, 2005

By James Hughes

In celebration of the release of The Stanley Kubrick Archives from TASCHEN, Stop Smiling spoke with the editor, Alison Castle, and a contributing writer, Anthony Frewin, about their experiences working on the book, considered to be the most comprehensive study of the filmmaker to date.

Alison Castle was born in New York and lives in Paris. She was the editor of Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot, also from TASCHEN.

Anthony Frewin was born in London and lives in Hertfordshire. For over 20 years, he was the assistant of Stanley Kubrick. He is also the author of several books, including the novels London Blues and Sixty-Three Closure (No Exit Press).

Q&A: Alison Castle, editor

Stop Smiling: Where are you from originally, and how did you ultimately make your way to Paris?

Alison Castle: I'm from Rochester, New York. I lived in New York City for eight years before moving to Paris six years ago. Leaving New York was hard, but I felt that Manhattan, where I lived, was rapidly becoming a playground for the rich. I wanted to experience living in Europe, and my husband is French, so everything clicked.

SS: How did you initially become involved in the editing of the Stanley Kubrick Archives? And how long did your work on the project last?

AC: Benedikt Taschen asked me to edit the book. I spent about two years commuting to the Kubrick estate approximately every month for one to two weeks, where I scoured the archives.

SS: By including so many lengthy correspondences, telegrams and letters, did you feel the Archives book was a challenge to the misconception that Kubrick was cut off from the thoughts and opinions of others?

AC: It was not my intention to rebuke rumors and misconceptions about Kubrick. I just wanted to faithfully represent him as he was. The result is that one can see he was not closed off from the world; it's true that he didn't like to travel, but he very cleverly figured out how not to lose touch.

SS: Could you talk a bit about your role as editor, and how that carried over into the art direction of the book? Also, if possible, could you give any insights into your selection process for the many essays, either original or reproduced, that anchor the back half of the book?

AC: You're right, editing a book like this is also like art directing because of the huge amount of visual material. From the beginning, I insisted on having two parts to the book: one that would show film stills, and the other that would have behind-the-scenes visual material and texts. The "philosophy" behind the choice of texts was simple: as much as possible from Kubrick's own mouth or pen (hence a large selection of interviews, letters, and essays by Kubrick), plus informative texts to place the making of the films in perspective.

For each film, I asked a Kubrick specialist to write an essay describing the filmmaking process from start to finish. These are not critical essays; I didn't feel it was appropriate to analyze the films in the context of a book about Kubrick's archives. Analyses are, in the end, the opinions of their writers. Kubrick always refused to explain his films because he wanted each viewer to make his/her own conclusions. I tried to follow this same idea with my choice of texts for the book.

SS: Perhaps Kubrick's greatest strength was the team of able assistants who surrounded him. I imagine you experienced this firsthand while reviewing such a meticulous collection that required the collective intelligence and spirit of a devoted team?

AC: Yes, there is much evidence that Kubrick worked very closely with his trusted assistants. He often communicated with them via notes, so I was able to see that he depended on them for all kinds of specific tasks.

SS: You were fortunate to examine the source materials and early sketches of several abandoned Kubrick films. Of these many projects, which intrigued you most?

AC: Surely "Napoleon" would have been a phenomenal film if Kubrick had been able to find the backing for the project. "A.I" would also have been amazing, if Kubrick had lived long enough to make use of the effects technology we have now. In fact, any film that he might have made would have been a Kubrick film, and thus an exceptional piece of cinema. (You might say I'm biased, but this is how I feel.)

SS: Are you aware of any developments in the release of the Napoleon screenplay?

AC: The screenplay will be published in TASCHEN's upcoming book about Kubrick's "Napoleon" project, due next spring.

SS: The promotional photographs for Lolita reveal much more than the "total lack of eroticism" that Kubrick complained of in the completed film. Were you surprised to find several more alluring images kept under wraps in the archives?

AC: Yes, I was a bit surprised to see the steamy Bert Stern photos. They were certainly not in line with the puritan image Kubrick had to show MGM and the censors, but I think they were close in spirit to the Lolita Kubrick would have liked to portray: the not-so-innocent girl who knew exactly what she was doing when she was seducing Humbert.

SS: The subjects of your two major projects with Taschen are Billy Wilder and Stanley Kubrick. As a young journalist, Wilder famously interviewed both Freud and Arthur Schnitzler, which naturally gets one thinking of Kubrick. The two filmmakers shared an Eastern European lineage and possibly more than we realize. Despite their drastically different methods, did you notice any similarities between the two?

AC: Interesting question. Well, they were both very involved in the writing of all their films (Kubrick's participation often being uncredited but nonetheless important), and they both moved from genre to genre with ease. I believe they both also shared a sharp, dry sense of humor.

SS: In the end, did you find your Rosebud?

AC: It's quite impossible to single out any one item since there were so many epiphanies during the research process! But readers can rest assured that all of the most amazing discoveries are in the book.

*****

Q&A: Anthony Frewin, writer

Stop Smiling: For someone who had such strict specifications about typography, paper stock and design, was it daunting for all involved in this book to make something that honored Stanley Kubrick's vision?

Anthony Frewin: All I can say, as an assistant to SK (and sometime book typographer), is that I would not fault the design and production of the book in any way and that it is, indeed, a volume that truly honors SK's work. It also honors Alison's determination.

SS: Despite his admirers' persistent cries for the release of deleted scenes, Kubrick let his final cut stand as the definitive statement for each of his films. That said, do you feel he would he object to the inclusion of stills and extensive script notes from cut sequences in the Archives book?

AF: The short term answer is yes, he would object. The long-term answer is that he would agree that it was inevitable and it was owed to History. Anyway, that's what I'm going to say to Stanley in the afterlife when he asks me to explain my part in this.

SS: Perhaps the most surprising bit in the book is the camera tests for the aliens in 2001: A Space Odyssey that accompany your essay. Without imposing, is it possible to give any insights into how these on-screen aliens were going to be incorporated into the film?

AF: The aliens were never going to be shown in the film. Stanley considered – but only considered – showing them. He was not happy with how they came out (remember, this was long before CGI) and that – coupled with his realization, from a dramatic point of view, that it was better not showing them – deep-sixed the idea.

SS: As the years went by, what were Kubrick's most trusted means of keeping up with daily life in New York City?

AF: I think in some ways one could say that Stanley never left New York. It was certainly his spiritual home. He kept in touch with Gotham by newspapers, television, films and, most of all, the telephone.

I always remember a few years before his death I bought him a video documentary about the New York el. He looked at the box and said, 'Tony, are you trying to make me terminally nostalgic?' A couple of weeks later, however, he said he enjoyed watching it.

In later years I sensed he came to realize that his New York might not exist any more. It was now a different city. I think he would have been reluctant to visit it.

SS: How did Kubrick approach the visual side of promoting his films?

AF: Stanley saw the artwork, the logo and so on that were part of a film's publicity as crucial as the movie itself and its title. He would spend a considerable amount of time trying out different idea and approaches until he got it right.

SS: The essays included in the Archives reveal a bit about Kubrick's selection of the film writers who covered the release of his films. What criteria did Kubrick feel his interviewers had to meet before granting them time?

AF: Very simple. The writer/interviewer had to be someone Stanley thought was smart and they had to write for something that had a reasonable circulation figure. No mystery here!

SS: The Guardian piece that you coordinated with Jon Ronson was a great peek into the archives. Now that the doors are opened and Taschen (as well as the curators of the Kubrick exhibits in Europe) have revealed so much more, do you in any way regret the diminishing sense of mystery surrounding Kubrick's archives?

AF: Well, there may have been a mystery surrounding the archives, but it's a pretty small mystery compared with the mystery that matters, and this is the mystery that surrounds any great artist, Stanley included. Who? How? Why? And so on...


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