Chelsea Library, Chelsea College of Arts
16th April 2018 – 31st April 2018
Curated by Laura Callegaro and Carla Gimeno Jaria
Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) was a renowned filmmaker, producer and screenwriter, having made four short films and documentaries and thirteen feature films, Kubrick had a particular filmmaking style which encompassed several characteristics: the use of the music as a pivotal component of the narration, the dark humor, the accurate set design or the realism.
Apart from Fear and Desire and Killer’s Kiss, all his films are based on novels by male writers. Likewise, Kubrick had a unique way of adapting novels, usually altering their structure and narrative. Accordingly, he received mixed reviews for his work, but today Kubrick is revered for his intuition in for the transformative adaptation.
His adaptations, that include a wide range of movie genres, demonstrate his desire to go beyond the aesthetic feature of the film. The filmmaker attempted to extract the crucial points of the story and was always heavily committed to the development of the characters and the ambiance, in order to create the best version of the novel in its visual representation.
Taking the films Lolita (1962), A Clockwork Orange (1972), The Shining (1980) and Full Metal Jacket (1987) as a main focus, this exhibition aims to explore the material from The Stanley Kubrick Archive – located at London College of Communication – to present the diverse processes that Kubrick followed adapting these four novels to films. These four films frame many of the different characteristics of Kubrick’s versatile style of bringing novels to the screen and, similarly, depict his obsession for the duality of humans and the male violence.
In the case of Lolita (1962), Kubrick made significant changes from the original plot of the novel, written by Vladimir Nabokov in 1955, turning it into a love story and tragicomedy. The filmmaker on the one hand, reshaped some of the features of the two main characters, Humbert and Lolita, and on the other hand, added significant sarcasm in some of the dialogues, transforming the script into a more humorous narration.
This shift is precisely captured in the correspondence between Kubrick and the Swiss actor Peter Ustinov (SK/10/8/4), where the filmmaker explains that for him the novel depicts a romance history that portrays “a very different love than the modern ideal”, and in which Humbert is an anti-hero. Specifically, the way Kubrick twisted the tone of the film was through the characterisation of Lolita’s role. While in the novel her character is figured as an object for Humbert’s desire, in the film their relationship seems to be mutual. As can be appreciated in her photographs from the pre-production (SK/10/2/14), Kubrick wanted both to show her as a teenager and as a sexual being, appearing to be erotic and flirty but also innocent and harmless. Likewise, the filmmaker ignored the age gap between Humbert and Lolita in the novel, where she was 12-years-old, increasing her age to be closer to the age consent. Consequently, the controversial paedophilic connotation of the novel isn’t endowed in the film, showing a story where Lolita is manipulating the relationship.
Additionally, one striking alteration of the narrative is the shift in Quilty’s murder, one action that in the novel happens in the end and is not given much significance. In the film, this scene opens the story, as can be read in the second draft of the script (SK/10/1/24), provoking a mysterious beginning for the viewers, who don’t know who Quilty is until the end. This distortion of the original plot was part of Kubrick’s way of communicating to the audience, trying to hold onto the suspense throughout the film. Explicitly, this particular case study of Lolita portrays that Kubrick’s ability to adapt novels, not only the translation from the words to the visual enactment, but also to creatively interpret through research.
In a similar way to Lolita, in A Clockwork Orange (1972), based on the dystopian novel originally written by Anthony Burgess in 1962, Stanley Kubrick prompted different variations from the original to achieve a particular narration within the film language. This was the first time that the filmmaker had the sole authorship in the script, therefore during the adaptation of the novel, he followed a different process to reach what he felt was its best execution for the visual experience.
First, instead of using the British version of the novel, Kubrick wrote the script based on the American version (SK/13/1/15). This decision was personally undertaken since the American version has the last chapter missing. In this chapter, the main character, Alex, shows redemption to his violent ways. Anthony Burgess, English writer (1917-1993), explained that he tried to write a novella as “a sort of allegory of Christian free will. Man is defined by his capacity to choose courses of moral action. If he chooses good, he must have the possibility of choosing evil instead; evil is a theological necessity”. Accordingly, Kubrick wanted to work with the ambiguity of an open-ended finale, where the destiny of the character was clearly unknown, thus pushing the imagination of the viewers to foresee his fate.
Moreover, Kubrick made other alterations or omissions to the story, as can be seen in the Anthony Burgess first draft (SK/13/1/5). The filmmaker steered the film towards one of his main characteristic themes: the male violence and the duality of human, as in Full Metal Jacket. By eluding to part of the physical injuries to the victims’ bodies after the sexual assaults, explicitly described in the novel, he focused more on the fighting and the sex acts. Likewise, by being less explicit and raising the age of the main characters, those in the novel were teenagers, he made on-screen story in the screen more palatable for the public.
Kubrick’s ability to translate the desired ambience and environment described in the book to the film set is remarkable. The original story revolved around a futuristic street gang. In relation to the costumes, Kubrick contacted the production designer Luciana Arrighi (SK/13/2/6/2), who insisted that the most important thing was to define a unique style in order to project what the novel described. Accordingly, as can be seen in the different photographs, one of Kubrick’s main obsessions was finding the optimal characterisation of the main roles: from the hats to the garments, every detail was crucial. Furthermore, regarding the ambiance, Kubrick’s use of classical and synthetic music impacted directly on the tone and narration of the film. The music comprises a fundamental enhancement of Alex’s role, as it gives dramatism and intensity and draws the audience into deepen on his obscure physiological condition. As Burgess himself explains “Alex’s aggressive instincts have been stimulated by classical music, but the music is forewarning him of what he must someday become: a man who recognise the Dionysiac in, say, Beethoven, but appreciate the Apollonian as well. (…) the Beethoven spirit must be here: the spirit of the mature creative mind which can reconcile the creative and the destructive”.
The Shining (1980) was based on the homonym Stephen King’s novel of the same name (1977). As regards its screenplay, Diane Johnson, who was teaching a course on gothic novels at the University of California, became Stanley Kubrick’s ideal co-writer.
Kubrick’s research background for writing the dialogues centred on King’s novel, which in turn refers to Poe’s The Mask of the Red Death and Goya’s etching The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters. He and Johnson also investigated the Freud’s Uncanny concept, producing a screenplay and, eventually, a film which deeply linked to intellectual and literature references of authors who mainly explored the notions of alienation and isolation.
Indeed, Kubrick worked over eleven months on King’s novel in order to produce the screenplay, focusing on translating each scene’s aim into a visual outcome, where the realization of the characters was pivotal: details of roles’ behaviour made up the consistency throughout the film, hence, the film itself. For instance, working on Jack’s attitude, we can see Kubrick’s annotations: “Writing the play or not writing the play, is an obsession.” (SK/15/1/1); on King’s novel some thoughts in relation to Wendy’s character are included as well (SK/15/1/2).
Another landmark element of the film is the location: Kubrick’s initial idea was to shoot exclusively in a hotel, therefore, many hotels were taken into consideration. His team were sent to different parts of America and in Europe – Austria, Amsterdam and Switzerland were considered and documented through photographs. Because of costs and weather conditions, the final location for external shootings was the Timberline Lodge in Oregon – of which we can see some pre-production documentation exhibited (SK/15/6/2) – but, as regards the interiors of the hotel, it was decided to film on sets built at Elstree studios at Borehamwood in the United Kingdom.
Katharina Kubrick, daughter and location researcher, affirmed that many American hotels were analyzed by her in order to re-create accurate interiors and props. Interestingly, if examined closely, the architectural plan of the hotel is not geographically coherent: the crew had to build the sets like a jigsaw to make the best use of the space, therefore, once certain elements were used for shooting, they would be replaced and their location changed. Ultimately, the result of this is an opulent space, perceived aesthetically as even more alienating.
FULL METAL JACKET
Full Metal Jacket (1987) is a Kubrick’s film based on The Short-Timers (1979), a partly autobiographical novel written by the U.S. Marine Corps veteran Gustav Hasford, who fought in the Vietnam War.
The screenplay was co-written by Kubrick, Hasford and Michael Herr, generating a three-act film following the same division as within the novel: firstly, it illustrates how people are trained to be killers; secondly, a character called Joker is introduced as a journalist witnessing savage war’s dynamics in Vietnam. The last third and final act enunciates a moral discourse around how Joker becomes a killer. Overall, the process in which the film is articulated debates Joker’s loss of humanity, culminating in the act of killing a young female sniper. By being written with the contribution of three different voices, the result of the screenplay is a complex visual translation, which caused a number of debates, as we can see in the letter (SK/16/1/2/3) from Michael Herr to Gustav Hasford, in which Herr claimed Kubrick’s film to be “the real soul” of Hasford’s book.
Even though Full Metal Jacket was produced a generation after the war, in the film Kubrick highlights what reporting from the Vietnam War was like, in the end, an autoreferential conversation and an ideal representation from a US perspective – excluding any Vietnamese point of view. Through this lens, Kubrick critically integrated the American imagery of cowboys and Indians, triggered by Joker.
The cathartic process that Joker crosses in the three phases of both the novel and the film, prompts a reflection on the self-consciousness of soldiers and, above all, relates to how the reality of the war was perceived through the media, almost as a propaganda act. When the crew of cameramen arrive in the battlefield for documentation purposes, we can observe two facts: firstly, Kubrick’s choice of putting a particular song, Surfin bird song (1963), into this scene – representing an emphasis on the entertainment and euphoria for soldiers. Secondly, when interviewed, Joker says: “I wanted to meet interesting and stimulating people of an ancient culture and kill them”. This sentence was emblematically fundamental for Kubrick, as we can see from his very initial research on the novel.
In fact, a landmark point of the film is the main character’s ambivalence and their nuanced representation by Kubrick. Joker’s dual nature of killer and compassionate human being is clearly manifested in the pace button on his helmet. In a script portion of Hasford, we can see Kubrick underlining the sentence: “It was the first time I felt like that I was alive” (SK/16/1/11) in relation to the desire of feeling the death and the violent features of the war.
This recurrent dichotomy between destructiveness and empathy, between violence and humanity, is a striking ethical contrast – and an analogy at the same time, which is also exposed in A Clockwork Orange. Kubrick’s main concern is declared from the very beginning of his filmmaking process: namely, the selection of novels. For instance, Burgess himself explained his decision to use Beethoven’s music as complementary to Alex’s aggressive adolescent essence.
Finally, Joker’s final words encompass the human position towards sex and violence, the cynical view of the world, and eventually, the acceptance of all these intrinsic features which represent the human being:
My thoughts drift back to erect nipple wet dreams about Mary Jane Rottencrocht and the Great Homecoming Fuck Fantasy. I am so happy that I am alive, in one piece and short. I’m in a world of shit…yes. But I am alive. And I am not afraid.
 Burgess, A. (1987) A Clockwork Orange. A Play with Music. London: Hutchinston Ltd.
 Burgess, A. (1987) A Clockwork Orange. A Play with Music. London: Hutchinston Ltd.
 The psychoanalyst Karen Horney, J D Salinger, Carson Mc Cullers, Sherwood Anderson. Source: Ljujic, T. (2015) Stanley Kubrick: New Perspectives. London: Black Dog Publishing.
 Ljujic, T. (2015) Stanley Kubrick: New Perspectives. London: Black Dog Publishing.
 Kubrick, S. and Herr, M. and Hasford, G. (1987) Full Metal Jacket. The Screenplay. London: Martin Secker & Warburg Limited.
List of works
- SK/10/1/24, Lolita – Second Draft, Nabokov and Kubrick, September 1960, script, from the Stanley Kubrick Archive
- SK/10/8/2, ‘SK [Stanley Kubrick]-Nabokov’, Letter from Nabokov to Kubrick with corrections, 1959 – 1966, paper, from the Stanley Kubrick Archive
- SK/10/8/4, Lolita Correspondence 1959-1960, Letter from Kubrick to Peter Ustinov, 20 May 1960, paper, from the Stanley Kubrick Archive
- SK/10/2/14, Costume and make up test – Lolita, 1960, photographs, from the Stanley Kubrick Archive
A Clockwork Orange
- SK/13/1/5, Anthony Burgess first draft [photocopy], undated, paper, from the Stanley Kubrick Archive
- SK/13/8/5/12, Max L Rab, letter, 6 February 1970, paper, from the Stanley Kubrick Archive
- SK/13/1/15, “A Clockwork Orange”, American edition of the novel, 1969, book, from the Stanley Kubrick Archive
- SK/13/2/6/3, Droog Costume Research Images, 1970, photographs, from the Stanley Kubrick Archive
- SK/13/2/6/2, Costume Research Slides, Letter by the productor designer Luciana Arrighi, 1970, paper, from the Stanley Kubrick Archive
- SK/13/9/1, Photographs, Production of the film, 1970-1971, photographs, from the Stanley Kubrick Archive
- SK/15/1/2, Incomplete annotated text from Stephen King’s novel ‘The Shining’, 26 August 1977, paper, from the Stanley Kubrick Archive
- SK/15/1/1, Handwritten notes on Stephen King’s novel ‘The Shining’, 1977, paper, from the Stanley Kubrick Archive
- SK/15/6/2, Pre-production sets, Photographs of the sets, 1976-1980, from the Stanley Kubrick Archive
- SK/15/6/3, Production, Photographs of the filming, 1979-1980, from the Stanley Kubrick Archive
Full Metal Jacket
- SK/16/1/11, Script portions – unannotated, 1985, paper, SK/15/6/2, from the Stanley Kubrick Archive
- SK/16/1/2/3 ‘Hasford, Gus’, Letter from Michael Herr (producer) to Gustav Hasford (writer), 23 April 1985, paper, from the Stanley Kubrick Archive
- SK/16/2/16 Hasford notes, 24 May 1985, paper, from the Stanley Kubrick Archive
- SK/16/1/1, Photographs, in the filming set, 1985, diverse photographs, paper, from the Stanley Kubrick Archive