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Eyes Wide Shut – not the best of films


Stanley Kubrick’s modus operandi
Frederic Raphael Writer
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It was a very protracted process and he did have a habit of saying... his assistant would say, Stanley's going to call you tomorrow. And then he would not call tomorrow. Then he would call the next day and not... not ever be sorry that he'd wasted your entire day. And the answer was: get over it. Which I did. And eventually – I guess it was a year or two later by the time I had finished the draft after that one and do a few little bits and pieces and all the rest of it – I said... he said, 'Well, what're... what're you going to do this summer?' So I said, well, I don't know, I... I'm going to probably write a novel and then I'll... I'll probably go... we'll go to Greece, I expect. And he said, 'Okay'. I said what are you going to do? 'I don't know. I guess I better try and get this picture made'. So I said, well, what do you do? 'Well', he said, 'I'm going to, you know, take a look at the script and then I... I call the people in LA – you know, Samuel and the other guy – and I say, “Better get over here, okay?”' Yes. And they... these are the head of the studio, the head of Warner Brothers, this was. And do... and do they come? 'What do you mean?' So, will... will... because you want them to come, will they...? 'Oh yeah... oh yeah'. What happens, I said. 'Well, what I do is I... you know, I fly them over the... you know, get them to come to London. And then I put them up in the hotel – you know, the Savoy or wherever it is – and then I just leave them for 24... 24 hours and don't... don't call them'. I said, well, why do you do that? 'What do you mean?' Why don't you call them? 'Well, you know, I want them to feel, kind of, you know, uncomfortable. So then I call them and I make a date for them to come out to see... see the... see me and then... you know, I sit them down and give them the script to read. I mean, what are they going to do? I mean, how are they not going to do it? I mean, they've flown all the way from LA. You know, they wasted their time in London. I mean, you know, they got to do the script, okay?' Oh, fine. So that is more of less what happened and all the rest of it.

Now, he then... I can't remember the exact order but I know the order in terms of A, B and then C. Eventually, at some point, he called me up when I was again back in England and said, 'Alright, now I've done this kind of, you know, shooting script, kind of... kind of thing, you know. Would... would you come out and read it?' So I said, yes, of course. 'Alright, I'll send a car, yeah. When do...when do you want to come?' So, well, yes, early in the morning. 'Okay, I'll send a car at noon'. So I went out and Stanley said, 'Well, I've... you know, I've done some work, you know. I mean, I've done some work on the script, okay?' So I said, fine. It's your... it's your script, Stanley. You're... you're the filmmaker. It's fine. 'Okay. So would you take a look at it?' So I said, yes, of course. So he said, 'Okay, alright. Listen, you sit in here...'

I remember there were newspapers all over the floor – German newspapers. So I said, oh, what are you doing? You... you got a new floor? 'What... what do you mean? Well, I mean, all the, you know, newspapers – that just been retiled or something? So he said, 'No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Those... those are German newspapers. Excuse me. If you look closely, you'll see they've got ads for my... my last movie in it, you know? And I've been measuring the ads'. Measuring the ads? Why are you... why are you measuring the ads? 'Because, you know, in the contract it says what size they have to be, you know. Some of them are, like, two, three millimetres short, you know. So, I mean, I get them to do it again'. Right.  'So listen, you read the script and, you know, when you've... when you've taken a look at it, you know, you... you just go bap-bap-bap on that, you know, and... and I'll... and I'll be in wherever I am, okay, and I... I'll come to you'.

So I sat down and... I'm a very guileless person. I want to... if it's a script, I read the script, ba-ba-ba-ba. And then I think, no. I said to myself, almost consciously – I mean, like reading myself the... the rules – I said: don't hurry and don't call him when you've finished. So I read the script and I made a lot of marks on it. It was actually, in many ways, a disappointment. Not particularly because he'd changed things. He'd changed some things, he'd left others. But because, in particular at the beginning of the film which... the pages he had liked so much, but a long time ago, I had had the two – the married couple – excited into revelations and... and sex by what had happened at the party. He seemed to find it necessary in 19 whatever it was... '95, '6... to have them smoke pot and kind of use artificial stimuli before beginning to... whether to reproach each other, excite each other, whatever. And I thought that was a big mistake and I still do, because he did actually do that. The real excitement that comes out of a sexual situation should not be generated by artificial aids, I think.

Anyway, that's what he did. And a lot of the chat was not all that good and he'd changed things unnecessarily. And I wrote... made a lot of marks on the page. And then I sat and read a book for 20 minutes. And eventually I rang the thing and, you know, Kubrick arrived and in a sense we now had a kind of role reversal because he wanted to know what you think. So I said, well, this is okay and this isn't and I don't really think much of that and are you sure that's a good idea? And he said, 'Well, you know, I'm not... I'm not a writer, you know'. It's quite common for Hollywood directors and, for all I know, every director – a very strange breed of sick person becomes a director – to rewrite, even to the point of retyping in the old days, people's scripts in order, as Sydney Pollack once said to Bill Goldman, 'You know, I have to feel I own it'. Okay. You poor sap. But never mind.

Born in America in 1931, Frederic Raphael is a writer who moved to England as a boy. He was educated at Charterhouse School and was a Major Scholar in Classics at St John's College, Cambridge. His articles and book reviews appear in a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Los Angeles Times and The Sunday Times. He has published more than twenty novels, the best-known being the semi-autobiographical The Glittering Prizes (1976). In 1965 Raphael won an Oscar for the screenplay for the movie Darling, and two years later received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for Two for the Road. In 1999, he published Eyes Wide Open, a memoir of his collaboration with the director Stanley Kubrick on the screenplay of Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick's final movie. Raphael lives in France and England and became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1964.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Eyes Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick

Duration: 6 minutes, 5 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2014

Date story went live: 10 September 2014