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Kubrick: The Great Bully

We all know the stories. 80 takes, 90 takes. Well, you rewrite something that many times, it’s bound to get better, at least a little. Here’s Kubrick and Shelley Duvall somewhat going at it on the set of The Shining, from the Making of The Shining.

Does she deserve it? Is he breaking her down to fit the role of someone completely terrorized? Is it mindfuck?

This is from the making of Full Metal Jacket. A rarer clip, something about tea breaks for the crew…

Making movies is a much different enterprise than writing, given all the people involved. I have a sneaking feeling that if Kubrick didn’t behave this way the movies would not have been as good. He wanted things done the best they could possibly be accomplished. Perhaps we should aim just as high in our artistic pursuits. The twelve films he delivered became testaments and the actors, even Duvall, seem very appreciative of how they were pushed.

Do you as a writer push as hard as Kubrick would have you pushed? Is it time to go Kubrick on ourselves and press until it hurts?

8 thoughts on “Kubrick: The Great Bully

  1. The lesson I learned from Kubrick is that everything’s a tool. The take is a tool. You can physically exhaust the actors with 90 takes, after which then they’ll give physically exhausted performances that would have been impossible on take 3, or even take 50.

    …And even that tool can be used to different ends. Bresson would rehearse his actors until the performance “disappeared”—until they were just reciting the lines, and no longer acting.

    On the other end of the spectrum, Godard sometimes wouldn’t give his actors their lines—wouldn’t even write the lines!—until right before he called action. The performers would still be repeating them in their heads as the film began to roll. You can actually see them still doing this in some takes!

    And Woody Allen usually doesn’t even direct his actors! He just gives them the script, then has them show up on set (no rehearsals). He shows them their marks, then calls action. He only interrupts when he thinks they’re doing something wrong (inconsistent with his overall vision of the picture); otherwise, he’s entirely hands off.

    I’ve tried applying these and other ideas to my writing, and to how I perform that writing. Every aspect of what I do, every step, is potentially open to questioning, tinkering, innovating. One never need do anything the way it’s “supposed” to be done. (Mind you, I’m not claiming I actually succeed—but that I try to remember this.) The alternative paths might be quite difficult, but they might also be rather easy—more natural, more suited to one’s own state of being. (Allen claims he doesn’t know any other way to direct—and that this style fits his own fairly nonchalant personal style.)

    In other words, despite the legend of Kubrick’s perfectionism and megalomania (both tools), what I’ve taken from him is not so much a desire to replicate that, but more a spirit of freethinking, of free inquiry.

      1. Mega-dittos Adam. I think for him and some others, Antonioni, they need to ground themselves in the area of shooting and see how they feel, walk around, puzzle it out. I know these two directors were not big into the whole story-board deal. If I remember correctly, Antonioni had to walk around London for a while before he figured out Blow-Up.

  2. What’s amazing, too, is how Kubrick was able to inspire such versatile performances from his actors. See below:


    1. I believe this was a film-school assignment. No image-alteration allowed. One line of dialogue changed.

      Now, here’s the real trailer from April, May, June 1980:


      Bee sounds to hook in fans of the novel who would find out they happened into a film about a dysfunction family with a few British ghosts who want to remind them about America and what happened to the Indians?

        1. Lolita

          “All the best people shave twice a day.”

          The Shining

          Hotel Manager speaking of who stayed at the Overlook Hotel in the old days.

          Wendy: Royalty?

          Manager/Ullman: All the best people.

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