Mensch, he’s no Mensch or: Eyes Wide Shut the F**k up
Following the publication of my book, Stanley Kubrick: New York Jewish Intellectual, among the many reviews I received was this one, “Captain, he’s no Captain”, in the once great Commentary Magazine no less.
It is a sign of how far it has sunk, that its editor, John Podhoretz, son of its former and erstwhile editor, Norman Podhoretz, commissioned the review from a far from disinterested party, Frederic Raphael, the screenwriter on Kubrick’s final film, Eyes Wide Shut (1999).
I wasn’t particularly moved to reply until I received an unsolicited email from its author in which he sent me the longer, unedited version of his review, coupled with the allegation that my “tendentious partiality” is because I am the “creature” of the Harlans. He signed off with the words, “On no account imagine that I look forward to hearing from you.”
Now my interest was piqued.
In my book, which is three hundred and twenty-eight pages long, Raphael is mentioned a mere twelve times. Despite the fact that the book covers the years 1928-1999, and Raphael only collaborated with Kubrick from the mid-1990s, he still managed to distil its entire content into being about him. And, lo, he becomes, in his own words “the sole villain of the piece.”
Had Raphael read my book more closely, rather than the bits which mentioned his name, I argue that where Kubrick departed from the seriousness of the New York Intellectuals was in his playfulness.
I do not, as Raphael claims, affect “to unlock what Stanley was ‘really’ dealing with, in all his movies”; in fact, quite the opposite. I emphasize the films’ multivocality and diversity, but simply wish to add a further voice to the cacophony, one which Raphael raised in his own book about working with Kubrick, Eyes Wide Open, namely, Kubrick’s Jewishness. And, yes, while Geoffrey Cocks has tilled this ground before, his research led to very different conclusions to mine: that Stanley always wanted to make a film about the Holocaust and the film he ended up making about it was The Shining (1980). Fair play to Mr. Raphael, though, for he did read the Lolita and Barry Lyndon chapters it seems.
I did not have a “scheme” per se but I did have a word limit and unfortunately what Raphael calls “mundane biographical facts” had to be limited to what was relevant. Please find me a publisher that will let me write a five-hundred-page tome!
Yes, I did call Mr. Raphael’s memoir “self-serving.” Unsurprisingly, Stanley emerges as the sole villain of Mr. Raphael’s piece. It also says much that Mr. Raphael published his memoir a mere four months after Stanley died never giving him the chance for a rebuttal.
And I did call it “unreliable.” Parts of his memoir recollecting his conversations with Stanley indeed read as if constructed like a screenplay so how are we to know that he wasn’t applying his singular talents in the artform of fictional screenwriting to his memoir? How else are we to treat evidence without any independent verification? When I say that Mr. Raphael “claims,” it is not to doubt his veracity, but simply to admit I don’t have any proof that what he says is true. Raphael was repeatedly unavailable when I tried contacting him without success several times.
The actual role Raphael played in the final screenplay, as all writers working on Kubrick screenplays found, is debatable. And the disgruntled and embittered screenwriter is long a trope of the movies, let alone Stanley’s films. Dalton Trumbo had some very harsh words to say about his experience of working with Stanley on Spartacus. As did Kirk Douglas, who certainly tried his hand at writing some of that film and the one that preceded it, Paths of Glory. He described Kubrick as a “talented shit.”
It is hard for Raphael, to use his own words, to deny (but convenient to omit) that, maybe it took Stanley some thirty years to “crack” how to do Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle, and not the writer. But, of course, in Raphael’s scheme, he is the sole hero of the piece.
Mr. Raphael doesn’t like that I called “S.K.” an “intellectual” because I am not sufficiently deferential to his own credentials as an intellectual. It has always struck me how, bright, educated individuals with a huge array of honours, seem to need to shout the loudest about how brilliant they are. Of course, the pugilistic Norman Podhoretz was a genius at this and hence it’s no surprise that Mr. Raphael’s attack on me is published in his beast: the magazine that excelled at ad hominem attacks par excellence.
Another correction: I do not refer back to Peter Arno, the New Yorker cartoonist whom Kubrick photographed in 1949, but rather look to forward to suggest that Kubrick’s interest in the subject matter that formed Lolita might have already had its roots sometime earlier. Yes, Kubrick might well have not written the caption, but I am sure he certainly he read it!
And in what sense is Christiane K. my “benefactress”? I have received no funding from the Kubrick Estate other than access to the Stanley Kubrick Archive, which is available at the University of the Arts London to anyone within reason. Nor did the bibliography “shun” anything: it was trimmed, again, for reasons of length.
I do, though, agree entirely with Mr. Raphael in one sense: Rather than waste time on his words, “It would be cheaper, and wiser, to look again, and then again, at Kubrick’s masterpieces.” And, on no account, should we look forward to hearing more from him.