When I first caught the film bug in college, I got more than a little obsessive rifling through the shelves of the school library for books and magazine articles on Stanley Kubrick and his films. (If you’re a student with tendencies towards OCD, discovering Stanley was like discovering a kindred spirit made good. I shudder to think what would have happened had Taschen’s massive Stanley Kubrick Archives, published several years after Kubrick’s death had been published at the time, but I think Stanley would have loved the book himself.) I was determined to crack the mysteries of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and explore his other films as well. For 2001, Kubrick removed narration and an original score by veteran film composer Alex North to create a visceral nonlinear experience. Given the MoMA-approved film that emerged, and the hundreds of thousands of words that it generated, in a way, it illustrates — so to speak — Tom Wolfe’s dictum from The Painted Word that “Modern Art has become completely literary: the paintings and other works exist only to illustrate the text.”
If you can find a used copy, Carolyn Geduld’s Film Guide to 2001 : A Space Odyssey from 1973 does a thorough job building a roadmap to take you through “The Ultimate Trip” and back. And McLuhan acolyte Jerome Agel’s The Making of Kubrick’s 2001 from 1970 has extensive behind the scenes photos of the film, as well as being a witty (and very McLuhan-esque) non-linear time capsule of the late 1960s in its own right.
One of the best books on Kubrick, which was updated in 2003 to include chapters on Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut, his last films, was Michel Ciment’s Kubrick: The Definitive Edition. It featured exclusive interviews with Kubrick and several of his closest collaborators, including his brilliant cinematographer in the 1970s, John Alcott.
Part of Kubrick’s cult of personality was that, in an industry dominated by publicity hounds, after 2001′s release in 1968, and particularly after the controversies surrounding A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick became the Garbo of producers — which of course, only added to his mystique. Because Kubrick rarely did print interviews, and never television, I had never heard his voice before the early days of the World Wide Web, when the clip of his acceptance speech for the D.W. Griffith Award in 1997 went online, two years before Kubrick passed away at age 70. Someone has uploaded the audio of 11 and a half minutes of Ciment’s interviews with Kubrick over the years. There are plenty of “ums and you knows,” which were invariably cut out of Kubrick’s print interviews – not surprising, since many were published under quid pro quo orders that Kubrick be allowed to proof the interview before it ran and make changes and revisions to his quotes. But you can also hear Kubrick’s sharp mind and Bronx dialect (the inspiration for the voice of President Muffley, as portrayed by Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove) at work. And a twinge sadness knowing that there will never be another director like him — or a media as vibrant as its heyday when he was at his peak.