In the book It Was Kubrick, Michael Herr paints an admiring and affectionate portrait of the filmmaker.
At the end of the 20th century, the “portrayal of Kubrick by one of his writers” was on the way to becoming a literary genre in its own right. Frederic Raphael, co-author of Eyes Wide Shut , had drawn the first, in 1999, with Eyes Wide Open, two years with Kubrick , where he returned in a sometimes cowardly way on his stormy collaboration with the filmmaker. In 2000, Full Metal Jacket screenwriter Michael Herr, who hadn’t liked Raphael’s book very much, replied with the soberly titled Kubrick (or It Was Kubrick , in the translation that comes down to us today) – at the origin, an article for Vanity Fair magazine, transformed over the pen into a long exercise of admiration, superbly written.
Michael Herr, legend of the new journalism, author of the book that everyone considers the greatest ever published on the Vietnam War ( Putain de mort ) and the text of the legendary voice-over of Apocalypse Now , had met Kubrick in 1980 , during a private screening of The Shining (to which John Le Carré was also invited), then spent the next two decades conversing with him, often over endless phone calls. After the Full Metal Jacket adventure , he refused to collaborate on the script for Eyes Wide Shut , but then had some regrets.
As the great man had just died, the first Kubrickian circle, led by brother-in-law Jan Harlan, seemed to want to bury with him all the false legends that circulated about him – starting with the reputation of a misanthropic hermit he had been forged over time. Like the documentary Une vie en images , which revealed a more intimate and human face of Kubrick, Herr’s book was part of this posthumous “rehabilitation” enterprise.
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The “Stanley ” which is described there certainly hovers at intellectual heights inaccessible to ordinary mortals, it is a control freak conforming to the legend, brilliant and obsessive, but we also see it invested in more prosaic activities: good friend, very sensitive, eternal teenager, passionate about Hollywood business and the small circus of the industry, football and TV fan who was sent videotapes of the last episodes of The Simpsons (which he adored), Seinfeld and Roseanne . “America was his only topic of conversation”writes Herr, which might come as a surprise when it comes to a kid from the Bronx who once fled the United States to lock himself in an English mansion and never come out again.” He was fiercely humble. . He was demanding, he had to be, but he was not a snob. It wasn’t the United States he couldn’t stand. It was Los Angeles. “
The book is full of intimate, often surprising notations, the fruit of the writer’s long companionship with the filmmaker. And it’s sprinkled enough with sarcastic, tenderly mocking, or just plain lucid remarks not to turn into sycophancy – Herr lingering for example at length on Kubrick’s ” pathological relationship to money “. Or describing his practice of cinema as the continuation of his past as a street chess player, in the Greenwich Village of the 1940s and 1950s, where cunning, ” tricks “, love of art and ‘pure intelligence -“I am convinced (…) that a bunch of people who sat opposite him in front of a chessboard were melted, charred and disintegrated when Stanley let that icy ray come out of his eyes – that is a penetrating gaze. and a keen intelligence; they’d sat down for a nice little game of chess, and all of a sudden, Stanley was starting to think for two. “
Surprisingly, Herr hardly speaks here about Full Metal Jacket , which he doesn’t seem to adore more than that (” I never understood where he was going with the second part, with all these breaks in tone and these somewhat flat forays into the satirical register “), but reserves on the other hand a long postscript to a praise of Eyes Wide Shut . Kubrick’s ultimate film had just been released in theaters and was loomed over by US critics. Herr strives to raise the level by devoting fifteen luminous pages to the last film monolith of his friend. ” If so ,” he says, ” that people like Stanley have friends – and even that there are just people like him. “