In Gregory Monro’s Kubrick by Kubrick from Michel Ciment’s audiotape interview, Stanley Kubrick on why he chose Ryan O’Neal for Barry Lyndon: “Well, he had to be physically attractive, so it couldn’t be Jack Nicholson or Al Pacino.”
In the final instalment of my conversation with Kubrick By Kubrick (a Tribeca Film Festival highlight) director Gregory Monro, we discussed Michel Ciment’s audiotapes, why Stanley Kubrick noted Ryan O’Neal was the right choice for Barry Lyndon, not Jack Nicholson or Al Pacino; wanting to do Napoleon; Veit Harlan, the Aryan Papers, and Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List; James Joyce; Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut.
Gregory Monro: “Kubrick’s century is really the 18th. Because it’s a twist in his history and humanity’s history.”
Tribeca Film Festival Artistic Director Frédéric Boyer had mentioned to me Last Film Show (Spotlight Narrative opening film), in which the director, Pan Nalin, pays tribute to Kubrick. The fascination and influence of the demanding film director remains strong. Gregory Monro is also the director of the fantastic documentary on Jacques Demy’s favourite composer - Michel Legrand, Let the Music Play; James Stewart, Robert Mitchum: The Two Faces of America; Jerry Lewis, The Man Behind The Clown, and Calamity Jane: Wild West Legend.
From Paris, Gregory Monro joined me on Zoom for an in-depth conversation on Kubrick by Kubrick.
Anne-Katrin Titze: There is so much in your film that’s interesting. You have Kubrick’s wife, who is the niece of Veit Harlan. His fascination with the Nazi period and the Aryan Papers that never got anywhere. Was there anything in the interviews about Wartime Lies and his work on Aryan Papers that you didn’t include and instead jumped to Peter Sellers and the Nazi arm?
Gregory Monro: No, he doesn’t talk about Aryan Papers. He talked about Napoleon a bit. He was fascinated with Napoleon. Napoleon came back a few times. These interviews were made between 1973 or ’74 and 1987 for Full Metal Jacket, so they are very early on. When he did Barry Lyndon, he talked about Napoleon with Michel Ciment, because, of course, he did end up with Barry Lyndon because he couldn’t do Napoleon.
Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut - we hear Kubrick say that most tragic relationships are because of physical attractions.
I went to London a lot because the University of the Arts over there really holds all of Kubrick’s archives. Thousands of boxes and documents and you can see all the projects that he had. Like 20, 25 other projects throughout his life that he didn’t succeed in doing. The Aryan Papers, I’ve seen stuff on it, but as you know, Spielberg did Schindler’s List at that time.
AKT: Yes, bad timing.
GM: He was about to do Aryan Papers and when he saw that Spielberg was doing Schindler’s List, he just dropped the project. That would have been very interesting.
AKT: Yeah, it’s a shame.
GM: I bet one day someone will do it.
AKT: I love the comment about Barry Lyndon, and that it bothered him all the time that the light is so often wrong in period pieces. And that his century was really the 18th century.
GM: Yes, yes, Kubrick’s century is really the 18th. Because it’s a twist in his history and humanity’s history. The timeline somewhere in the 18th century just breaks. Humanity changes, there’s a switch there. He was very concerned about stuff there; you couldn’t reverse it.
Gregory Monro on Stanley Kubrick: “His films are really coherent and to me it’s like one masterpiece.”
AKT: Together with his embrace of accidents! As James Joyce said “Accidents are the portals to genius.” These are small gems.
GM: Not all of what you hear has been transcribed. People who read Michel Ciment’s book, not all of the interviews have been transcribed and I use a lot of those parts that never were transcribed. I think that James Joyce quote was not.
The Full Metal Jacket talk, Kubrick actually gave that interview but he sent a message to Michel Ciment afterwards that he didn’t feel like he wanted that interview to appear. We had to see the family and the trust to ask them for permission to talk about the project. Michel Ciment helped a lot. It’s a long process, like having a treasure and you have to be very careful how you manipulate the material. My choices were really logical.
AKT: Another little gem that made me laugh was his explanation why Ryan O’Neal was chosen. And Kubrick’s answer is, “Well, he had to be physically attractive, so it couldn’t be Jack Nicholson or Al Pacino.” I’m sure those two are very happy to hear that.
GM: Well, they’re actors, I think they would understand. I think he was thinking of Nicholson for Napoleon. At some time Michel Ciment asks him about Al Pacino and he said that Pacino at that time was too young also. But Ryan O’Neal, I understand, he’s great. It’s a very difficult part.
Kubrick By Kubrick poster
AKT: He is perfect, I agree. I mentioned it because there is a theme going on. Later we hear Kubrick say that most tragic relationships are because of physical attractions. It’s quite amazing what Michel Ciment got.
GM: Yes, this is amazing. That was about Traumnovelle that was adapted for Eyes Wide Shut. And he talked about it. See, he talked about the future Eyes Wide Shut between the mid-Seventies and Eighties. He already had that project, that book.
AKT: Yeah, Schnitzler, it’s great.
GM: It shows you that he had several projects at the time. It’s amazing to know that he worked for years and years on one project. A lot of people say, oh, he only did 13 movies. Yeah? It’s probably a third of what he would have liked to do, what he would have done, if he had had the opportunity to go any further with any of the other projects. He could have done 30, 35 movies. But it’s not about quantity. His films are really coherent and to me it’s like one masterpiece.
AKT: Just seeing parts of them, one after the other there in your documentary, there’s so much to contemplate. Weeks ago I had a conversation with the Italian director, Salvatore Mereu [on Assandira], who just as an aside mentioned, that yeah, that scene was inspired by Eyes Wide Shut. Kubrick is everywhere, and still has an immense impact.
Read what Gregory Monro had to say on Stanley Kubrick’s thoughts as a room and the rarity of hearing his voice in the recorded taped interviews by Michel Ciment, Malcolm McDowell’s comment on John Wayne movies, Kubrick’s longtime association with Leon Vitali, the mystery of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and The Shining.