Remembering a Difficult Genius

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jan Harlan didn’t make the documentary, “Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures,” to clarify any misconceptions about the visionary filmmaker who died two years ago at the age of 70.

“They were not his concern and they were not my concern,” says Harlan, Kubrick’s brother-in-law and executive producer of Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon,” “The Shining,” “Full Metal Jacket,” “Eyes Wide Shut” and the upcoming project Kubrick didn’t live to film, “A.I.,” which was directed by Kubrick’s good friend, Steven Spielberg.

“A Life in Pictures,” he says, is “really a proper goodbye” to Kubrick. “If I corrected some misconceptions, then wonderful. I didn’t need to make him holy. He didn’t need to be St. Stanley. He was good enough as he was. I didn’t have to gild him.”

The two-hour, eight-minute documentary, narrated by Tom Cruise, premieres tonight on Cinemax and is being released today as part of Warner Home Video’s new “Stanley Kubrick Collection,” which includes all-new digital transfers, restored picture and new digital audio on seven of Kubrick’s films: “Barry Lyndon,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “Full Metal Jacket,” “The Shining,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Lolita” and “Eyes Wide Shut.”

The collection is being released on both VHS and DVD formats. An eight-title gift set also features “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.”

Made with the Kubrick family’s cooperation, “A Life in Pictures” chronicles the director’s life, his love for his family, his films and his friends. Among those interviewed are Spielberg, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen.

Christiane Kubrick, Harlan’s sister and Kubrick’s wife of more than 42 years, is interviewed and supplied rare film footage and family photographs. There are early home movies of a rather pudgy Kubrick playing with his baby sister in Brooklyn and dancing and mugging for the cameras. The documentary also includes a wonderful scene in which Kubrick is filming two of his daughters, who are sitting at a piano.

Kubrick says to his daughters: “I think I’m one of the most even-tempered people you’ll ever meet.” The girls look at him and reply: “Hah!”

Harlan doesn’t sugarcoat Kubrick’s sometimes irascible nature. There’s one telling clip in which Kubrick berates Shelley Duvall during the production of “The Shining.”

Duvall recalls in the documentary: “For a person so charming and so likable--indeed, lovable--he [could] do some pretty cruel things. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Why? Because of Stanley. But I wouldn’t want to go through it again.”

Malcolm McDowell recalls the friendship that blossomed between the two during the making of “A Clockwork Orange” and how upset he was when the director ended it as soon as the film was completed. The actor never gave up hope that Kubrick would call him, “but of course, he never did.”

“He was a difficult guy,” Harlan says of Kubrick. “There is no doubt about it. But so what? So was Beethoven. It doesn’t matter. He made good films. He made films that left a mark and even if you don’t like them, they left a mark.”

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Kubrick died at his home in England just a few months before the release of his last film, “Eyes Wide Shut,” starring Cruise and Nicole Kidman. The enigmatic drama about a married couple was a critical and box-office dud in America and England. Harlan says Kubrick considered it his best work and would have been extremely hurt by the negative reaction.

“He was spared the mockery from certain newspapers,” Harlan says. “It was knocked. Somebody says ‘I don’t like this film,’ that’s fine. But he was mocked. It was completely misunderstood. It was badly received in the Anglo-Saxon world, but it was very well received in the Latin world and Japan. In Italy, it was a huge hit.”

Kubrick was not, as rumor has it, a recluse, his brother-in-law says. “He was in contact with the world, but he chose the contacts,” Harlan says. “He wasn’t going to be bullied and he didn’t talk to the press. He didn’t go on television. He didn’t talk to radio people. He had this wonderful house. He had to leave his house to make a film.

“It’s true that he did not socialize in that sense. He didn’t like to go to parties or restaurants. But he had people coming to him. He was in an enviable position.”

But Harlan acknowledges Kubrick wasn’t accessible to strangers. “He didn’t like being asked questions by people he didn’t know. He guarded his privacy very much. If you think it is a sign of being neurotic, it’s your judgment. I don’t think it has anything to do with him being neurotic. He just didn’t want to waste his time.”

Harlan opted not to include any scenes Kubrick had cut from his films, including the infamous pie fight sequence he excised from “Dr. Strangelove.”

“I have the pie fight scene, but I didn’t use it,” he says. “I didn’t want to use anything that he didn’t like. I made this film also respecting him. Part of that was not using things he wouldn’t want me to use.”

* “Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures” can be seen at 7:30 tonight on Cinemax.