"Thus open the gates of paradise."

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Stanley Kubrick

06 Apr 2002

Film director Stan Kubrick and I go back a long way. When I was 8 I bought my first book, You Will Go To The Moon by Mae and Ira Freeman. I have it right here as I write this. If you don't recognize the title, don't worry -- it's part of the "I Can Read It All By Myself" series published under the watchful eye of the Cat In The Hat. Nonetheless, it's a story about a boy who boards a Saturn V rocket and goes to the moon. On the journey, he sees the globe of the Earth, a wheel-like space station in orbit, the unwavering starlight in space, and zero gravity. The inside dust jacket says:

The reality of space travel is something that today's child has grown up with. He knows that men have walked on the moon, and he knows that someday he may go there himself.

In this completely revised edition... Dr. and Mrs. Freeman have drawn upon the knowledge and experience of the past dramatic decade of space exploration to give the young reader an exciting scientifically accurate picture of what it will be like.

This was written in 1971, two years after the moon landing, and three years after 2001: A Space Odyssey was released. The first edition was dated 1958, and I can only wonder what it looked like before the revisions. But the book I have here shows the Apollo-style three stage rocket, and a rotating space station that is a dead ringer for the one in 2001, right down to the airport lounge furniture and videophones. The distinctive 1960's artwork gives it a certain charm to modern eyes, I must say.

I bought my second book when I was 9. It was 2001 A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke. I have it right here. It cost a dollar less than the first book, probably because it's a paperback, while the former is in luxuriant hard cover. Also, there are fewer illustrations, and they're not in colour. Among other things, it's the story of a man who boards a spacecraft bound for the moon. Along the way, he visits a wheel-shaped space station, makes small talk in its airport lounge, and makes a call on a videophone. In the moon shuttle, he almost loses his pen in the zero gravity.

The back cover has word bites from print reviews of the film (when was the last time you saw one of those?) It says

"BRAIN-BOGGLING" -- LIFE
"BREATHTAKING" -- SATURDAY REVIEW
"IT IS STAGGERING" -- NEW YORKER
"DAZZLING... WRENCHING... EERIE, A MIND BENDER" -- TIME

It would be years and years before I would ever read it, a practice I continue to this very day (my bookcases are filled with the best literature that I have had the opportunity to acquire, much of it unsullied by reading).And yet, once I read it, I kept on reading it over and over.

When the film was re-released in 1976, I nagged my father to take me to see it at the University Theatre in Toronto (now only the building's facade remains. The rest is a parking lot.) In an enormous theatre, I sat transfixed by the wide screen Cinerama. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. It sounded great and looked wonderful. I mean that literally -- in every image there was something to look at in wonder. Dad fell asleep part way though. Since then, I've seen it a number of times and I think it's a treat every screening.

Perhaps this story I'm telling you needs some subtitles to make sense. Stanley Kubrick made the film 2001 and cowrote the screenplay with Arthur C. Clarke. The first books I read were about space travel; the first serious film I saw was Kubrick's vision of space travel. These are my influences, the measures against which I compare anything even remotely like them. Movies are either shorter or longer than 2001 (mostly shorter). They have less or more dialog, and always more unnecessary car chases and love interests. Books are more or less lyrical than 2001. And any book that doesn't have a cache of scritty black and white photos in the middle raises a faint soupir of disappointment, even now.

So. He died last month after completing Eyes Wide Shut. I was in my mother's kitchen when I heard the news on the CBC. Intellectually I know that no one lives forever, but I was hoping... What a tremendous disappointment. All the possibilities of more films are abruptly cut off. So we get one more, and that will have to be enough. I feel like a young child who begs to stay up late, and is given an extra 10 minutes. But there's so much more to do! Ten minutes isn't nearly enough! It's that or nothing. Well, if you put it that way...

I wish I could tell you some really good Kubrick stories. Instead I just have really odd ones. Like the time he made Shelly Duvall do a scene 100 times for The Shining. I've heard an audio tape of part of that where Stan is telling Duvall to stop wasting everyone's time. Way harsh. Or did you hear about the man who went around a couple years back (1996-ish), passing himself off as the reclusive director himself. This thing was, it worked! And he didn't even have a beard. But of all the people to impersonate, why him? Check out the article in Harper's Bazaar from sometime in 1996 or 97 for more.

In the end, I have to give the last word to the police and his family, as written in the Globe And Mail:

"There are no suspicious circumstances," police said. Kubrick's family announced his death and said there would be no further comment.

Stanley Kubrick died at his home in England. He was 70.

Here's a list of the feature films Kubrick made. How many have you seen?

Eyes Wide Shut (sometime in 99)
Full Metal Jacket (87)
The Shining (80)
Barry Lyndon (75)
A Clockwork Orange (71)
2001: A Space Odyssey (68)
Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (64)
Lolita (62)
Spartacus (60)
Paths of Glory (57)
The Killing (56)
Killer's Kiss (55)
Fear and Desire (53)
The Seafarers (52)
Flying Padre (51)
Day of the Fight (50)