The 10 Greatest Mythologies of Stanley Kubrick

3. Kubrick, he giveth and he taketh


Kubrick, as we all know, had final cut status. Few realize it was much more than that. Not only did he have final cut up to wide release but also anytime thereafter as well. He also had final say over marketing campaigns and release schedules and the trailer itself.

He had authority over projection ratios and projection brightness and probably how much time elapsed between showings. And if something didn’t satisfy him in any of the reports he received from his in-the-field team, someone – usually the CEO – would get a call in the middle of the night.

Three days after 2001 was released in its roadshow format – an extremely limited, Cinerama release to just a few major cities, reserve seat engagement – Kubrick started to edit. Five days later, projectionists received very detailed instructions on what to cut and where, since new prints wouldn’t be available for a few days at best.

After he was done, he had cut 20 minutes. Long thought lost for 40 years to the editorial dustbin, the missing footage was found in a converted salt mine cold storage unit in Kansas. When 2001 premiered in April 2nd, 1968, it originally ran 160 minutes (2 hours, 40 minutes).

On April 9th, 1968, the film ran just shy 2 hours, 20 minutes. Actually, Kubrick was done there. For the general release, most 70mm and all 35mm prints, Kubrick eliminated the entrance music, the intermission and intermission music, and post-credit exit music. These music cues have all been restored for the DVD release. The missing 17-minutes remains unseen by the general public.

The Shining

Even more famously, The Shining suffered a similar surgical strike even more extensive than 2001 which explicitly demonstrates what kind of power Kubrick yielded. If Kubrick thought it was going badly, he had the ability to change the paradigm. The US premiere of The Shining – this is hard to imagine now – was not very well received. 3 weeks into the US release he trimmed 2 minutes from the end – which honestly seems more obsessive-compulsive than helpful by that point.

Still receiving poor reviews, his changes for the European version were much more drastic – Kubrick cut an additional 31 minutes! And to top it off, Kubrick views the 113- minute European version, and not the 144-minute US version, as the superior cut.

Eyes Wide Shut was spared an almost certain destiny with editing scissors due to the director’s untimely death six days after its initial unveiling to studio chiefs. In a sense, it is an incomplete picture.

The studio, citing a contractual obligation to deliver an R-rated film, caved to MPAA-requested demands a re-cut to orgy sequence and, instead, inserted dark-robed digital human figures to obscure the sexually explicit nature of the acts for the US release which may or may not have been Kubrick’s desire at the time. Thankfully, a subsequent BluRay release restored the original intention.

The Kubrickian universe is fluid when it comes to changes after the fact. 2001 and The Shining are the most glaring examples. All directors tinker up until the last moment their contract allows and some even have power beyond it.

Would Eyes Wide Shut suffered similar cuts at the hand of the Master. Tradition and common sense emphatically says “yes!” There is an anecdote surfing the web that suggests Kubrick told Terry Semel, Warner Bros. studio chief at the time, that EWS was going to be 20 minutes shorter than what was screened that day. His death prevented any further tinkering, which most certainly would have tightened up a rather slow-moving, even ponderous – by Kubrick’s standards – film.

Gone, one would hope, would have been that absolutely unnecessary conversational reveal between Dr. Harford and Mr. Ziegler near the end of the film, and many other parts that seemed more ‘on-the-nose’ and expository than dramatic and insightful.

Based on history of cuts made on other Kubrick films (please search IMDb for a comprehensive list of ‘Alternate Versions’ on all of Kubrick’s films), we can see more often than not Kubrick cut the obviousness or repetitiveness out of the films in order to reemphasize the greater mystery inherent in the story.


His attention to detail (to put it mildly) contributed to several, ignominious Guinness Book of World Records entries; Eyes Wide Shut, for instance, holds the record for the longest, continuous production – an unheard of 400 days!; and The Shining holds the record for the number of takes for a given scene – 127, as Shelley Duvall swings the bat at Jack Nicholson walking backward up the grand staircase (although rumor puts the scene where Scatman explains ‘shining’ at 140).

These are Wagnerian numbers who, as an operatic composer in pursuit of his own genius 100 years prior to Kubrick, wrote the longest mainstream opera in continuous repertory – Die Meistersinger (generally, 5 ¼ hours of music, not including intermission)– as well as the longest first act – also from Die Meistersinger (clocking in on average at 2 ½ hours).

Records aside, he was equally willing to cut scenes that didn’t work to make his artistic effort cleaner and leaner. And considering how much he saved of all of his other production material, Kubrick was especially cruel to his outtakes. Jan Harlan, Kubrick’s brother-in-law recalls Kubrick burning negatives to a number of his films.

This was also confirmed by Leon Vitali, Kubrick’s long-time assistant, also stated “…we had thousands of cans of negative outtakes and print[s], which we had stored in an area at his house where we worked out of, which he personally supervised the loading of it to a truck and then I went down to a big industrial waste lot and burned it. That’s what he wanted.”



4. Stanley Kubrick’s “Nazi” uncle-in-law

Veit Harlan

Yet another fascinating story behind the story.

Kubrick became part of the Harlan family lore when he married Christiane Susanne Harlan, the café singer that closes the film Paths of Glory. Her uncle was Veit Harlan, a very prolific filmmaker who directed many films for Hitler’s Third Reich propaganda campaign. His most famous film from that period is Jud Süß (1940, ‘Suss the Jew’). He was called “the baroque fascist,” and that he “…made the Reich’s loudest, most colorful and expensive films.” (Eric Rentschler “The Ministry of Illusion,” p. 167. ISBN 0-674-57640-3).

After the war he was tried for war crimes but ultimately found innocent of charges, insisting that even as director or writer, the Nazis were ultimately in charge of the content no matter what he said or did.

Harlan’s son, who himself became a writer and filmmaker, continued to defend his family’s name in a documentary called Wundkanal, (Wound Passage) and later in a memoir, Veit. Harlan – In the Shadow of Jew Süss is a documentary film from director Felix Moeller that continues this exploration of Veit Harlan and his descendants.

Veit, like another Third Reich documentarian – Helene Bertha Amalie “Leni” Riefenstahl – whom he certainly had to know personally, struggled with their artistic independence both during and after the war. During the Third Reich’s heyday, they plied their craft as best they could, saving their skins and protecting their respective families. After the war, hounded for their alleged beliefs, they had to save their skins all over again in the court of law.

It is important to realize – especially for Americans who haven’t lived under the rule of an invading country in 200 years – one does what one must to survive – one rarely has a choice. And, while it is almost certain all Nazis were Germans, it is absolutely incorrect to assume all Germans were Nazis or even believed in Hitler or supported the war except to pay it lip service.

Most Germans were not Jew haters or anything even approaching it and saw the oncoming winds of war as the worst possible outcome at the worst possible time for their beloved country now duped and ruled by someone whose only claim to fame was he could make a good speech.

So, was Veit Harlan a member of the party? I would think if they could conclusive prove he was that would have come out at his various trials. At the height of the war, Nazi membership was 8 million from a population of 70 million – or 12% at best. It is doubtful he was a member but he may have been repeatedly ask to join because of his high exposure in the arts.

A funny anecdote: Christiane Kubrick, when asked about her past, has said when Stanley Kubrick, her Jewish-born husband, was to first meet her infamous, filmmaking uncle, he had to drink a “big glass of vodka” to calm his fear. I suspect this had more to do with the fact her uncle was also a famous director and less to do with politics.

What would I give to have been a fly on that wall! As for Kubrick, he kept his politics and Jewishness close to his chest his entire life.


5. Kubrick, the Packrat

Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes

Apparently, no one outside of his inner circle knew this. And, if they did they certainly didn’t talk about it much, if at all.

Only after his death did this fact became widely known, and the extreme American Hoarders-level extent of his collection was an absolute stunner of a reveal. Great for film historians, bad for the individuals who had to maintain and catalog it.

Jon Ronson’s 2008 documentary Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes unboxes some of the mountains of memorabilia Stanley left behind following his death and details some of his findings. For the first time, after only perhaps the barest hints and rumors, did we learn Kubrick was a packrat!

And not only a packrat but also an absolutely eccentric one at that! And not only an eccentric one, but on a scale approaching epic! What separates him from the typical hoarder was the way it was saved, quantified, and cataloged for easy cross-referencing and findable.

Everything – every production note, photograph, hate mail, prop and on and on and on was cataloged, boxed, and stored. After learning this, my heart was warmed. Kubrick was human after all, and his behavior somehow affirmed my own massive collections of books and data as being ‘normal’ and what artists do because that’s the way they work.

If Kubrick’s eccentricities are the source of his genius, what does that really say about the nature of genius? I have long believed geniuses are, by their very nature, vastly different from the rest of us and manifest their eccentricities in peculiar, often misunderstood ways. Their quirks give them leave to create, and in the creating genius is made, and in the genius worlds change.

This is a celebration of the quixotic nature of genius, how it relates to our own patterns and behaviors, and how it manifests into our art, and how myth both feeds and nurtures the subconscious of our creativity.


6. Kubrick, the NASA employee

space odyssey moon landing

As much as I’d like to believe the essence of this myth – Capricorn One is one of my favorite guilty pleasures after all – I am sorry to report that the moon landings are real and Kubrick was not the director of them or ever even a NASA employee – although he did borrow their lenses from time to time!

During its heyday in the 60s, NASA employed hundreds of thousands of individuals across thousands of separate companies both large and small on a scale similar to the mobilization of WWII to accomplish their goals. Not only did NASA go to the moon once, they went FIVE MORE TIMES! I ask anyone, if it was faked – and it’s hard enough to do it once and keep the secret – why go again, and again, and again?

The rumor that Stanley Kubrick was involved came long after the landings were completed and after the release of The Shining where some saw an alleged Apollo moon-landing apology sewn into the symbolism and semiotics of the film. The believers point to the blue sweater worn by Danny that showed a rocket with the word ‘Apollo’ on it. Of course, this is utter nonsense but I suppose that’s part of the fanboy fun of it.

Most of the movie-going public is unaware of most of the random serendipity that happens on set during principal photography. Even though the Internet has allowed the flood tide of trivia and anecdotal intrigue to proliferate, it’s important to understand that, for most of film’s history, film production was rather secretive or not terribly exciting, and scant details got out unless it (usually) concerned the star itself.

The director was an unheard-of cog, mostly. The reality is various needs from any of the designers crop up constantly and without relief until the final shot from wardrobe to set decorator to cinematographer to the director suddenly changing his mind and demanding everything new.

In this case, Kubrick wanted a sweater – a late request because the others didn’t look convincing enough or age-appropriate. Needing a sweater, Milena Canonero, the costume designer on The Shining remembered a sweater her friend had recently knitted. She showed it to Kubrick and the next day it was in the shot. There you have it! As simple as that.

shining moon landing

The Shining and the sweater was not a premeditated apology to the American people and the world that the moon landing was faked and directed by Stanley Kubrick. It was simply a random request fulfilled the day before shooting, picked from a friend’s closet.

Okay, the fact that Kubrick’s last film, Eyes Wide Shut, was released on the July 16th, 1999 – exactly 30 years to the day after Apollo 11 launched from Cape Canaveral will be a harder one to explain!