In the two decades since his passing, Stanley Kubrick’s filmmaking vision continues to be a subject of endless curiosity. Documentarian Gregory Monro’s newest film, Kubrick by Kubrick, was selected for a premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, and is based entirely on French critic Michel Ciment’s extended interviews with the director over multiple decades. Specifically, Ciment interviewed him for A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, and Full Metal Jacket upon release.
Monro phoned us from quarantine where he talks about creating a movie about Kubrick with the sole foundation of Ciment’s interviews, how he recreated the bedroom from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick’s resistance to personal analysis from journalists, and Monro’s thoughts on Steven Spielberg’s The Shining sequence in Ready Player One.
The Film Stage: How did this project with Michel Ciment come about?
Gregory Monro: I wanted to make a movie on Stanley Kubrick for a few years. I had to find an angle for the film. And then with my producers we started talking about it and we thought about the Michel Ciment interviews with Kubrick because we knew that audiotapes were preserved and digitized. The thing is everybody has told so many things about Kubrick, wrote about him, and talked about him. The thing is I really wanted to do something new–not that I’m going to add new information, but I really wanted to give him the words. I wanted him to be our angle and person we that we have to follow. I thought that it would be good to make a movie based on his own words. Even though it’s not always analytic, because he didn’t really like that.
Michel Ciment found the idea wonderful and he of course said yes. I had a lot of conversations with Michel and I was aware that I had to respect Michel’s interviews and Kubrick’s answers. It wasn’t that easy because they only did a few hours of four major interviews. The challenge was to put some images on the interviews. I had to find a way to personify his words.
The bedroom set from 2001 that you recreated, is that a miniature?
Monro: Ah-ha! [Laughs.] No, not all miniatures. Actually, it wasn’t miniatures but we did a ⅓ smaller scale but it was still very big. For part of it, it was the real scale, because we had to with the television and the walls because I had props. So we had to match the different scale, but it was done exactly like the 2001 room. That was tremendous work from the art department. We worked with the team who worked on Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. I proposed the idea I would like to set up this mysterious room. The idea was that it personified Kubrick’s mind. There’s a kind of mystery as if he was there.
What was the decision behind presenting Kubrick’s work thematically instead of chronologically?
Monro: It’s completely an archival film. I only used archives. I haven’t done new interviews. I used audio tapes of the interviews and I had to find something to link them. I wanted to find something logical with Kubrick’s thinking. He had a real viewpoint of humanity, on the duality of man. Most of his films follow that. If I had been chronological it wouldn’t work. I think that the most important thing is to look what man can do–he basically destroys everything he does. That is basically Kubrick’s viewpoint and I tried to be logical with the evolution of the thematics, but they’re a little bit like LEGOs in piecing it together.
The film was a success in France but some people were upset my movie doesn’t focus on Lolita and doesn’t say much about Eyes Wide Shut. I’m sorry, but he didn’t talk about those movies with Michel Ciment. I had to respect what Kubrick said and the essence of it.
You show that Kubrick holds a strong view of the human condition, but he was resistant to analyzing himself in his interviews with Michel. He would rather talk about the pragmatics of doing his work instead of the meaning of his work. Why do you think he was resistant to analysis?
Monro: You can feel he tries to. It’s funny because you can hear Michel try to push him, but not all the time. I think he felt uncomfortable analyzing himself. But Michel isn’t the only one because so many people question his films. Even today, I mean people question the meaning of his films.
We mustn’t forget most of his films are based on novels. Kubrick has such a strong tendency to say he only did what was in the novel. He didn’t want to analyze the novel again in interviews, but of course he did in the films. He wanted his films to speak for himself. I don’t know if he was shy, I think he felt much more comfortable talking about general subjects like humanity and the duality of man, violence. These big themes were not a problem for him. But if you hear what he says about A Clockwork Orange, the film was accused of being pro-violence. He asked for the movie not to stay on the screen in England because he was receiving death threats because people really didn’t understand and his answer was always the same: he tried to be as close as possible to the novel.
What did you think of The Shining sequence in Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One?
I was quite astonished, actually. I found it brilliant. I think it’s a tribute to Kubrick, they were friends. I knew that they were friends so maybe I’m not very objective. If I didn’t know they were friends I don’t know if I wouldn’t like it much. I was a bit shocked, because I took my two children to see it, and that scene is scary, but well done.
Kubrick by Kubrick was selected to world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. Read our review.