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revealing Kubrick’s colossal capacity for research…


The journey to the Kubrick house starts normally. You drive through rural Hertfordshire, passing ordinary-sized postwar houses and opticians and vets. Then you turn right at an electric gate with a “Do Not Trespass” sign. Drive through that, and through some woods, and past a long, white fence with the paint peeling off, and then another electric gate, and then another electric gate, and then another electric gate, and you’re in the middle of an estate full of boxes.

There are boxes everywhere – shelves of boxes in the stable block, rooms full of boxes in the main house. In the fields, where racehorses once stood and grazed, are half a dozen portable cabins, each packed with boxes. These are the boxes that contain the legendary Kubrick archive. I notice that many of the boxes are sealed. Some have, in fact, remained unopened for decades.

Tony Frewin started working as an office boy for Kubrick in 1965, when he was 17. One day, apropos of nothing, Kubrick said to him, “You have that office outside my office if I need you.” That was 36 years ago and Tony is still here, two years after Kubrick died and was buried in the grounds behind the house. There may be no more Kubrick movies to make, but there are DVDs to remaster and reissue in special editions. There are box sets and retrospective books to oversee. There is paperwork.

Tony gives me a guided tour of the house. We walk past boxes and more boxes and filing cabinets and past a grand staircase. Childwick was once home to a family of horse-breeders called the Joels. Back then there were, presumably, busts or floral displays on either side at the bottom of this staircase. Here, instead, is a photocopier on one side and another photocopier on the other.

Tony takes me into a large room painted blue and filled with books. “This used to be the cinema,” he says. “Is it the library now?” I ask. “Look closer at the books,” says Tony. I do. “Bloody hell,” I say. “Every book in this room is about Napoleon!” “Look in the drawers,” says Tony. I do. “It’s all about Napoleon, too!” I say. “Everything in here is about Napoleon!”

This room full of Napoleon stuff seems to bear out that comparison. “Somewhere else in this house,” Tony says, “is a cabinet full of 25,000 library cards, three inches by five inches. If you want to know what Napoleon, or Josephine, or anyone within Napoleon’s inner circle was doing on the afternoon of July 23 17-whatever, you go to that card and it’ll tell you.” “Who made up the cards?” I ask. “Stanley,” says Tony. “With some assistants.” “How long did it take?” I ask. “Years,” says Tony. “The late 1960s.”

Kubrick never made his film about Napoleon. During the years it took him to compile this research, a Rod Steiger movie called Waterloo was written, produced and released. It was a box-office failure, so MGM abandoned Napoleon and Kubrick made A Clockwork Orange instead.

“Did you do this kind of massive research for all the movies?” I ask Tony. “More or less,” he says. “OK,” I say. “I understand how you might do this for Napoleon, but what about, say, The Shining?” “Somewhere here,” says Tony, “is just about every ghost book ever written, and there’ll be a box containing photographs of the exteriors of maybe every mountain hotel in the world.” There is a silence. “Tony,” I say, “can I look through the boxes?”

I’ve been coming to the Kubrick house a couple of times a month ever since.

I start, chronologically, in a portable cabin behind the stable block, with a box marked Lolita. I open it, noting the ease with which the lid comes off. “These are excellent, well-designed boxes,” I think to myself. I flick through the paperwork inside, pausing randomly at a letter that reads as if it has come straight from a Jane Austen novel:

Dear Mr Kubrick,  

Just a line to express to you and to Mrs Kubrick my husband’s and my own deep appreciation of your kindness in arranging for Dimitri’s introduction to your uncle, Mr Günther Rennert.  

Sincerely, Mrs Vladimir Nabokov

I later learn that Dimitri was a budding opera singer and Rennert was a famous opera director, in charge of the Munich Opera House. This letter was written in 1962, back in the days when Kubrick was still producing a film every year or so. This box is full of fascinating correspondence between Kubrick and the Nabokovs but – unlike the fabulously otherworldly Napoleon room, which was accrued six years later – it is the kind of stuff you would probably find in any director’s archive.

The unusual stuff – the stuff that elucidates the ever-lengthening gaps between productions – can be found in the boxes that were compiled from 1968 onwards. In a box next to the Lolita box in the cabin, I find an unusually terse letter, written by Kubrick to someone called Pat, on January 10 1968: “Dear Pat, Although you are apparently too busy to personally return my phone calls, perhaps you will find time in the near future to reply to this letter?”

(Later, when I show Tony this letter, he says he’s surprised by the brusqueness. Kubrick must have been at the end of his tether, he says, because on a number of occasions he said to Tony, “Before you send an angry letter, imagine how it would look if it got into the hands of Time Out.”) The reason for Kubrick’s annoyance in this particular letter was because he’d heard that the Beatles were going to use a landscape shot from Dr Strangelove in one of their movies: “The Beatle film will be very widely seen,” Kubrick writes, “and it will make it appear that the material in Dr Strangelove is stock footage. I feel this harms the film.”

There is a similar batch of telexes from 1975: “It would appear,” Kubrick writes in one, “that Space 1999 may very well become a long-running and important television series. There seems nothing left now but to seek the highest possible damages … The deliberate choice of a date only two years away from 2001 is not accidental and harms us.” This telex was written seven years after the release of 2001.

But you can see why Kubrick sometimes felt compelled to wage war to protect the honor of his work. A 1975 telex, from a picture publicity man at Warner Bros called Mark Kauffman, regards publicity stills for Kubrick’s sombre reworking of Thackeray’s Barry Lyndon. It reads: “Received additional material. Is there any material with humor or zaniness that you could send?”

Kubrick replies, clearly through gritted teeth: “The style of the picture is reflected by the stills you have already received. The film is based on William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel which, though it has irony and wit, could not be well described as zany.”

I take a break from the boxes to wander over to Tony’s office. As I walk in, I notice something pinned to his letterbox. “POSTMAN,” it reads. “Please put all mail in the white box under the colonnade across the courtyard to your right.”

It is not a remarkable note except for one thing. The typeface Tony used to print it is exactly the same typeface Kubrick used for the posters and title sequences of Eyes Wide Shut and 2001. “It’s Futura Extra Bold,” explains Tony. “It was Stanley’s favourite typeface. It’s sans serif. He liked Helvetica and Univers, too. Clean and elegant.” “Is this the kind of thing you and Kubrick used to discuss?” I ask. “God, yes,” says Tony. “Sometimes late into the night. I was always trying to persuade him to turn away from them. But he was wedded to his sans serifs.”

Tony goes to his bookshelf and brings down a number of volumes full of examples of typefaces, the kind of volumes he and Kubrick used to study, and he shows them to me. “I did once get him to admit the beauty of Bembo,” he adds, “a serif.” “So is that note to the postman a sort of private tribute from you to Kubrick?” I ask. “Yeah,” says Tony. He smiles to himself. “Yeah, yeah.”

But this attention to detail becomes so amazingly evident and seemingly all-consuming in the later boxes, I begin to wonder whether it was worth it. In one portable cabin, for example, there are hundreds and hundreds of boxes related to Eyes Wide Shut, marked EWS – Portman Square, EWS – Kensington & Chelsea, etc, etc. I choose the one marked EWS – Islington because that’s where I live. Inside are hundreds of photographs of doorways. The doorway of my local video shop, Century Video, is here, as is the doorway of my dry cleaner’s, Spots Suede Services on Upper Street. Then, as I continue to flick through the photographs, I find, to my astonishment, pictures of the doorways of the houses in my own street. Handwritten at the top of these photographs are the words, “Hooker doorway?”

“Huh,” I think. So somebody within the Kubrick organization (it was, in fact, his nephew) once walked up my street, on Kubrick’s orders, hoping to find a suitable doorway for a hooker in Eyes Wide Shut. It is both an extremely interesting find and a bit of a kick in the teeth.

It is not, though, as incredible a coincidence as it may at first seem. Judging by the writing on the boxes, probably just about every doorway in London has been captured and placed inside this cabin. This solves one mystery for me – the one about why Kubrick, a native of the Bronx, chose the St Albans countryside, of all places, for his home. I realize now that it didn’t matter. It could have been anywhere. It is as if the whole world is to be found somewhere within this estate.

the article continues

(THE GUARDIAN  3.27.04)

“STANLEY KUBRICK’S BOXES” 2008 directed by Jon Ronson

watch the trailer here


Ian MacKaye’s take on the night Belushi got FEAR on network television


Nardwuar: When Fear played on “Saturday Night Live” Ian (1981), did you go down to “Saturday Night Live” and check it out in New York with Rollins and the gang?
Ian MacKaye: Rollins was not there. I’ll tell you the story if you’d like to hear the story about that. At eight in the morning, some point in October, I got a call. I was driving a newspaper truck for The Washington Post at the time, so eight in the morning was brutal. It was (Dick Ebersol)’s office, (Dick Ebersol) being the producer of “Saturday Night Live,” and I get this woman, “(Dick Ebersol)’s office, please hold.” I was completely delirious. (Dick Ebersol) gets on the phone, “Hi, Ian, it’s (Dick Ebersol) of ‘Saturday Night Live,’ I’m calling you because I got your number from John Belushi. He says that you might be able to get some dancers up here ‘cause we want to have Fear on the show.” I was completely baffled by this. “Pardon me?” “Hold on a second.” John Belushi gets on the phone and he says, “This is John Belushi. I’m a big fan of Fear’s. I made a deal with ‘Saturday Night Live’ that I would make a cameo appearance on the show if they’d let Fear play. I got your number from Penelope Spheeris, who did ‘Decline of Western Civilization’ and she said that you guys, Washington DC punk rock kids, know how to dance. I want to get you guys to come up to the show.” It was worked out that we could all arrive at the Rockefeller Center where “Saturday Night Live” was being filmed. The password to get in was “Ian MacKaye.” We went up the day before. The Misfits played with The Necros at the Ukrainian hall, I think, so all of the Detroit people were there, like Tesco Vee and Cory Rusk from the Necros and all the Touch and Go people and a bunch of DC people – 15 to 20 of us came up from DC. Henry was gone. He was living in LA at this point. So we went to the show. During the dress rehearsal, a camera got knocked over. We were dancing and they were very angry with us and said that they were going to not let us do it then Belushi really put his foot down and insisted on it. So, during the actual set itself, they let us come out again. If you watch the show – have you seen it?

N: Yes I have.
IM: If you watch it – during the show – before they go to commercial, they always go to this jack-o-lantern. This carved pumpkin. If you watched it during the song, you’ll see one of our guys, this guy named Bill MacKenzie, coming out holding the pumpkin above his head because he’s just getting ready to smash it. And that’s when they cut it off. They kicked us out and locked us out for two hours. We were locked in a room because they were so angry with us about the behavior. I didn’t think it was that big of deal.

N: They locked you in a room?
IM: Yeah, we were locked in a room. They said they were going to sue us and have us arrested for damages. There was so much hype about that. The New York Post reported half a million dollars worth of damages. It was nothing. It was a plastic clip that got broken. It was a very interesting experience and I realized how completely unnatural it is for a band to be on a television show – particularly a punk band – that kind of has a momentum to suddenly be expected to immediately jump into a song in that type of setting. It was very weird. Largely unpleasant. Made me realize that’s not something I’m interested in doing.

(NARDWUAR.COM  7.7.01)

watch the show here — rough at first but smooths out after (2:00) Beef Baloney…


ART IN CINEMA part 2: Walther Ruttmann and the medium of the future…


The term “Absolute Film” was coined by analogy with the expression “Absolute Music,” referring to music like Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos which had no reference to a story, poetry, dance, ceremony or any other thing besides the essential elements – harmonies, rhythms, melodies, counterpoints, etc. – of music itself. Cinema even more than music seems dominated by documentary and fiction functions, both of which relied on film recording human activities which had their primary existence and meaning outside the film theatre. Absolute Film, by contrast, would present things which could be expressed uniquely with cinematic means. Other terms for this film genre sprouted everywhere: “Pure Cinema” (which was purely cinematic), “Integral Cinema” (Germaine Dulac’s phrase, using “Integral” in the French sense of “Wholly and completely”) and finally the two socio-political terms “Avant-Garde” and “Experimental,” the first of which unfortunately implies military scouts invading enemy territory and the second of which sadly implies the filmmaker groping for some unclear result.

The most unique thing that cinema could do is present a visual spectacle comparable to auditory music, with fluid, dynamic imagery rhythmically paced by editing, dissolving, superimposition, segmented screen, contrasts of positive and negative, color ambiance and other cinematic devices. Already in the 1910s, the Italian Futurists Arnaldo Ginna and Bruno Corra made at least nine films, painting directly on the filmstrip not only non-objective pieces (the gradual takeover of the all-green screen by a red star, playing with afterimage) but also taking a divisionist painting by Segantini (a girl lying in a field of flowers) and re-painting it on frame after frame of the film to allow the colored dots to vibrate even more brilliantly than on the canvas. Unfortunately these films are all lost, as is the German Hans Stoltenberg’s film painted directly on the filmstrip about the same time. Other artists made plans for abstract films that were never realized: Leopold Survage (Parisian-based friend of Picasso and Modigliani) painted several hundred sequential images, Colored Rhythm, in full color on paper, with the hope that they could be filmed, but he was unable to find an adequate color process before World War I put an end to his project. Likewise the Polish artist Mieczyslaw Szczuka drew numerous sequential images on scrolls of paper, and published two fascinating samples in 1924, just a couple of years before his death, but was apparently not able to get them filmed.

Walther Ruttmann was the first filmmaker to finish an Absolute Film and distribute it in public cinemas. A painter and musician by training, Ruttmann renounced his abstract oil painting in 1919, declaring film to be the art-medium of the future. He mastered the techniques of filmmaking, and prepared his first film Movie Opus I with single-framed painting on glass and animated cutouts. The film was colored by three methods – toning, hand-tinting, and tinting of whole strips – so there was no single negative, and each print had to be assembled scene by scene after the complex coloring had been done. An old college buddy Max Buttingcomposed a musical score for the finished film, and Ruttmann himself played the cello in the string quintet that performed live with each screening at several German cities in the Spring of 1921. Ruttmann made three more Opus films, but used simpler tinting and did not prepare special music so that the films could be more easily and widely screened.

On May 3, 1925 the UFA Theatre on Kurfurstendamm in Berlin hosted an historic matinee screening, The Absolute Film, which included a live performance of three Color Sonatinas by Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack of the Bauhaus, using a “color-organ” instrument he had constructed called the Reflectorial ColorPlay. Viking Eggeling’s Diagonal Symphony received its public premiere (Eggeling was unfortunately in the hospital, unable to attend). Walther Ruttmann screened his Opus 3 and Opus 4. (Hans Richter‘s 30-second Film is Rhythm had been listed on the program, but when Richter realized the scope and complexity of Ruttmann and Eggeling’s films, he withdrew his little test). Rene Clair’s film Intermission had been shot as an intermission feature for the Dada ballet No Performance Today designed by painter Francis Picabia with music by Eric Satie (both also appear in the film, along with Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp, and the lead dancers from the Swedish Ballet, who had given No Performance Today its premiere in Paris in the fall of 1924). Rene Clair used every sort of cinematic device to give Intermission a zany Surrealist improbable logic, and it certainly qualifies as absolutely a film – something that could only be done by cinematic means. Similarly the film Mechanical Ballet used imagery in non-realistic fashion as rhythmic and satirical collisions of ideas. It also passed through a number of different hands before it was finished, also in the fall of 1924.

Two Americans began it: Man Ray had produced the superb Return to Reason (a witty collage of all things “movie”) which screened at a Dada happening, “An Evening with the Bearded Heart”. Dudley Murphy, who had filmed about 10 “Visual Symphony” live-action shorts synchronized with music, as well as a comedy feature and an animation film, saw Man Ray’s film and proposed that they collaborate on a larger work. The title came from a Francis Picabia satirical artwork published in his magazine 391 while Picabia was living in New York in 1917 – in an issue which also contained artwork and a poem by his friend Man Ray. Dudley Murphy and Man Ray set out to gather footage in the streets of Paris, animated stocking-model legs to do the Charleston, made scenes of Murphy’s lovely wife Katherine posed in greeting-card banalities, and set up scenes in a studio room where they filmed Man Ray’s mistress Kiki (and various other things) through special beveled lenses that Murphy had developed, which gave an automatic “cubist” quality to the image. They also shot footage of kitchen goods and plunging machine parts which were meant for an ironic intercutting with pornographic footage. Then they ran out of money. The painter Fernand Leger offered to finance the completion, but Man Ray dropped out and asked that his name not be used on the film. It is unclear what if any of the footage Leger had a part in filming (the Charlie Chaplin puppet is a Leger sculpture, though he would not know how to animate it), but the editing was accomplished by Murphy, since Leger had no actual filmmaking skills.

The first surviving abstract film, Walther Ruttmann’s Light-Play Opus Nr. 1, was shot in 1919 and 1920, had a musical score composed for it and premiered in April 1921. It makes brilliant use of color. Ruttmann had been a painter and his last abstract canvases were characterized by many delicate nuances of painterly brushstrokes and fine gradations of unmixed colors. In moving to film, Ruttmann tried to capture some of the same variety and dynamics by using three coloring techniques: tinting, toning and hand-tinting, that is, coloring the emulsion so dark areas have a hue, dying the film strip so the light areas have another color, and adding touches of other colors to specific shapes by painting directly on each film frame. This meant that each individual scene had to be printed separately (from black-and-white negative pieces), and each projection print of the film had to be assembled from a hundred fragments. The surviving copy of Opus 1 was somewhat incomplete, but one can reconstruct the film quite accurately because Ruttmann drew color pictures in the musical score (with precise indications of repeats and changes of color) so that the musicians could synchronize exactly. Ruttmann limited the imagery to a confrontation between hard-edged geometric shapes and softer pliant forms, and allowed the colors not only to characterize certain figures, but also to establish mood, as in the long blue “nocturne” of the second movement. When Ruttmann followed this with subsequent abstract Opus films, he avoided the complex color effects of his first film. He gave general orange and green tints to scenes in Opus 2 and Opus 3, but the all hard-edged, optically-vibrating Opus 4 remained black-and-white for maximum contrast.

read the entire article here


for more ART IN CINEMA see part 1


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