For Kubrick Fans Only

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by ErichH, Jun 2, 2002.

  1. ErichH

    ErichH Screenwriter

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    Stumbled on this by mistake, and thought a few Kubrick fans would love the read. It's obvious that it
    was published before AI.
    Enjoy......
    Eric

    LITTLE ROBOT LOST
    by Joshua Rothkopf
    Speculations on the best film Kubrick never made.
    The final scene of the final film of Stanley Kubrick’s career takes place in a toy store: a married couple go Christmas shopping with their young daughter. Given the two-and-a-half hours of Eyes Wide Shut we’ve seen up to this point—psychosexual anxieties thrashed out on a fuzzy terrain that only barely resembles Greenwich Village—it’s comfortingly banal to hear a dopey version of “Jingle Bells” as the family wanders distractedly past all the shiny things to buy. (Would Freud call this a primal scene?) The little girl spots something desirable and runs off. A moment later she’s back, hoisting a giant stuffed teddy bear. Mommy looks at the price tag under the bear’s ear. “We’ll see,” she says, or words to that effect.
    Too tidy a conclusion, it might be said—and rightly so. After a torrid night of infidelities both dreamed and pursued, husband and wife are reunited with child in tow, doing the thing that young marrieds do best. Go deeper and there’s an echo of the long-distance phone call from 2001: A Space Odyssey: Daddy, orbiting on a space station, asks his daughter what she wants most for her birthday. “A bush baby,” she squeals. (The daughter happens to be Kubrick’s own, Vivian.) “We’ll see,” he says, or words to that effect.
    What that teddy bear really is, though, is a clue. It happens to be the most enigmatic stuffed animal in the whole of cinema—a hint of things to come had Kubrick not suddenly died—and now, the only remaining vestige of what will forever be a mystery. An early, unpublished version of the Eyes Wide Shut script dated 4 August 1996 has no mention of this teddy bear, no toy store at all. But Kubrick put them there for a reason. Here’s why.
    Reviewing a film that was never actually made has its advantages: obsessions lurking on the periphery of a director’s work can be seen to mysteriously fulminate and become statements (that is, without having been stated). And, to borrow a bit of dialogue from a movie that did get made, the legend is far more printworthy than the facts—that small fact about the film not existing, for example. Who cares? It seems obvious to me that Kubrick’s highly strategized but finally unrealized sci-fi project, AI (provisional title, short for Artificial Intelligence), would have been the masterly consummation so many critics wanted Eyes Wide Shut to be. The story of AI comes to light only in the wake of its absence; voices emerge from contractual secrecy to speak of the revolution that never happened.
    In 1974, Kubrick came into contact with British sci-fi author Brian Aldiss, who in returning a compliment, sent the director a collection of his short works. One story Kubrick found particularly promising was “Supertoys Last All Summer Long.” It takes place in a overpopulated future when parents must await official approval to have children; in the interim they buy robot children who aren’t given knowledge of their manufactured origin. “Supertoys” follows the story of one such child, David, who yearns in vain for his mother’s love; she can’t feel for him what she would for a real son.
    Throughout, David seeks the advice of his talking stuffed teddy bear. Here’s a representative exchange:
    “Teddy, I can’t think of what to say!” Climbing off the bed, the bear walked stiffly over to cling to the boy’s leg. David lifted him and set him on the desk. “What have you said so far?” “I’ve said—“ He picked up his letter and stared hard at it. “I’ve said, Dear Mummy, I hope you’re well just now. I love you...’” There was a long silence, until the bear said, “That sounds fine. Go downstairs and give it to her.” Another long silence. “It isn’t quite right. She won’t understand.” Inside the bear, a small computer worked through its program of possibilities. “Why not do it again in crayon?”
    “Supertoys,” by all informed accounts, was the touchstone for Kubrick’s AI, particularly in its empathetic view of an artificial lifeform advanced enough to need love. Had the film been made, it would have cast an entirely different light on 2001’s HAL, no longer the murderous automaton but retrospectively imbued with our sympathies: “Stop, Dave—I can feel it.” AI’s talking teddy bear would have also struck emotional resonance with the shopping scene that closes Eyes Wide Shut, adding a dimension of insecurity to the underwritten part of the daughter who may already have started to look for company elsewhere. (Her parents are either dreaming of naval officers or crashing elaborate orgies.) Similarly, there may be a subtle reference to AI—the film that never was—in The Shining: when Danny first describes his imaginary friend “Tony” to a concerned psychologist, he leans back against a pillow in bed. The pillow is a teddy bear.
    Work on The Shining interrupted Kubrick’s collaboration with Aldiss but in 1982 he bought the rights to “Supertoys” and resumed development along more mythical lines. It’s possible that none of the chronology detailed here would have become public knowledge were it not for Kubrick’s untimely death. Like many others, Aldiss has gone on record reminiscing about Kubrick; this summer he told the New York Times that Kubrick was very impressed with Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extraterrestrial. The Pinocchio myth came up in their discussions for AI. Another writer attached to the project in later years, Sara Maitland, told The Independent that Kubrick always referred to his gestating film as “Pinocchio.”
    If a film of AI had come to light, comparisons with Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon would have been instantly apparent along this vein of a son’s dangerous quest for regaining a parent’s love. In that film, Barry is the interloper between the recently widowed Lady Lyndon and her devoted but disapproving son, Lord Bullingdon, who eventually returns home to confront his stepfather in a duel. Bullingdon is not the focus of Barry Lyndon but AI might have suggested a fantasia on Thackeray’s story, freed from its period moorings in the eighteenth century and flung in the far future. At it stands, Barry Lyndon remains—sadly, to my mind—one of Kubrick’s least discussed films, appreciated mainly by cultists but largely dismissed as a minor work.
    Increasingly then, it appears AI would have been much more than another fascinating entry in a filmography. Aldiss and Kubrick continued revising by expanding their story’s timeline: now, after an initial exposition much like “Supertoys,” David would be found thousands of years later by other impossibly advanced robots who would recharge him in an attempt to better understand their extinct human heritage—long since disappeared from the planet.
    One wonders how Kubrick would have made that transition over such a vastness of time. Would it have mirrored his famous edit in 2001--that trajectory of white bone flung into blue sky, suddenly becoming a drifting space laser? Kubrick had already connected his vision to a time before recorded history; AI would have telescoped to the opposite bookend.
    Al was once again put on hold as Kubrick entered into preproduction on Full Metal Jacket but was revived soon after that film’s release—and at this point, one really must wonder if Kubrick himself recognized AI as a summation work worth saving for the very end. In 1990, another sci-fi novelist, Ian Watson, contracted with Kubrick as the principal screenwriter and together they developed aspects of AI’s psychology. David, the robot boy, would be haunted by memories of his mother (now dead for millennia); the later part of the film would feature recreations of their strained domesticity as David’s damaged memory is downloaded and rebuilt. Sara Maitland, the other contract writer on AI, turned the mother into an alcoholic and contributed a scene where David mixes a Bloody Mary for her virtual ghost.
    So AI would have featured something of an inversion of Lloyd, the bartender from The Shining, who makes drinks for the dead. And the preoccupations of AI’s sad 5-year old protagonist, trapped in his endlessly looping dream memory, would have revealed Eyes Wide Shut to be a transitional film at best, its grainy black-and-white images of sexual jealousy maturing into desperate apparitions of nostalgia and loss.
    AI would have been visually stunning—a new 2001 for 2001. There are rumors of cities flooded by global warming; digital test footage was solicited by Kubrick after he saw Jurassic Park and became emboldened. A robot laboratory was set up at Kubrick’s ultra-private English estate to explore possibilities. One special effects technician is said to have labored on a working model of David’s head for over a year.
    And judging from the evidence of this tenacious 25-year history, AI (unlike its creator) would have survived the final interruption of Eyes Wide Shut; studio executives had already been contacted, huge budgets were secured. But we’ll never see the epic that might have been, even if Spielberg assumes control of the project as it’s been whispered. (A final irony that: when technical consultant becomes artistic executor.) There will never be “another Kubrick” but his unfinished legacy invites us into creative speculation—the state of mind he occupied for so long.
    As we can infer now from that last scene in Eyes Wide Shut, Christmas wishes often go unfulfilled. Joshua Rothkopf’s robot makes a damn fine martini.
     
  2. Coressel

    Coressel Supporting Actor

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    Wow, thanks for posting that.
    Makes me want to watch EWS and AI back to back now...
    And The Shining... and 2001... and... [​IMG]
     
  3. ErichH

    ErichH Screenwriter

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    You're welcome,
    After posting I noticed another Kubrick discussion below. Oh well.

    It easy to see how this guy would draw the films together. After all, it Kubrick!
    You could cary it much further. What a great gift we've been given with his work.
    E
     
  4. Seth Paxton

    Seth Paxton Lead Actor

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    BTW, if you watch the Kubrick documentary you will see storyboards for AI by Kubrick that depict a lot of what is in that film to a tee. I believe even the "Speilberg" ending which was, in fact, exactly the ending Kubrick actually had in mind and not some SS add-on to be cute.
     
  5. Patrick Larkin

    Patrick Larkin Screenwriter

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  6. ErichH

    ErichH Screenwriter

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    Seth, I agree but think Kubrick's treatment would never be so soft/gentle.
    I think this is an area that bothered many. That said, I'm glad we have the film.
    e
     
  7. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Not so sure if I am. A.I., as delivered, does not taste much like Stanley Kubrick--though some of the aftertastes remind one of the great director's work.
     
  8. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Producer

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    So much has been written and argued about "a.i.", but I don't think anyone ever "got it" better on the first go-round than Jonathan Rosenbaum. Not too surprising, I suppose: he is our best critic.
    Since his reviews are no longer easily attainable, I've kept the link and I'll post it here since I think it's extraordinarily pertinent to this thread:
    http://www.chireader.com/movies/arch...07/010713.html
    "If the best movies are often those that change the rules, Steven Spielberg's sincere, cockeyed, serious, and sometimes masterful realization of Stanley Kubrick's ambitious late project deserves to be a contender. All of Kubrick's best films fall into one vexing category - they're strange, semi-identified objects that we're never quite prepared for. They're also the precise opposite of Spielberg's films, which ooze cozy familiarity before we've figured out what they are or what they're doing to us. If "A.I. Artificial Intelligence", a film whose split personality is apparent even in its two-part title, is as much a Kubrick movie as a Spielberg one, this is in large part because it defamiliarizes Spielberg, makes him strange. Yet it also defamiliarizes Kubrick, with equally ambiguous results, making his unfamiliarity familiar. Both filmmakers should be credited for the results - Kubrick for proposing that Spielberg direct the project and Spielberg for doing his utmost to respect Kubrick's intentions while making it a profoundly personal work..."
     
  9. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Interesting, Rich. Thanks for the link and the excerpt. I sort of agree with Mr. Rosenbaum.
     
  10. ErichH

    ErichH Screenwriter

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    Rosenbaum's statment `Shotgun Wedding' refering to the detached collabration between Kubrick/Speilberg seemed to make the point of the artical for me. I definatly keep interest in the film because of SK's portion and put up with SS's part. I keep waiting for the film to grab me the way every Kubrick film has on 2 to 3rd viewing.
    I admit only seeing AI 2 times so far, and the DVD sits in my drawer like a book that's difficult reading with rewards available if you're in the mood.

    Eric
     
  11. Seth Paxton

    Seth Paxton Lead Actor

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    Keep in mind that Kubrick wanted the happier ending that he put on "Paths of Glory". Originally he wasn't even happy about the soldiers being killed apparently but was pressured to go that way. So in order to still keep the ending lighter we have that last scene with his (soon to be) wife singing to the soldiers.

    So while I 100% agree that Kubrick showed a great deal of cool distance in his films, primarily from 2001 on, he had at least at one time a warmer cinematic tone to him.


    But primarily my intent was just to say that I think the story goes exactly where Kubrick wanted it to go. Musically, visually perhaps not. But then again since Kubrick had already approached him as being the guy he envisioned as the director, I think the outcome of AI project is probably a lot like Kubrick pictured it. Not a Kubrick directed film, but a mix of his ideas with Spielberg's style.

    Remember that he dug what SS did with ET, so it's quite possible that he saw his own limitations in style when considering the making of AI. Perhaps he wanted to avoid his cold and distant style for that film.
     
  12. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Lolita is hardly "cold and distant." Nor is Strangelove, when you think about it. Pre-2001, of course.

    But, then, how would Barry Lyndon be considered "cold and distant"? Or Full Metal Jacket, for that matter?

    I see what people mean when they call his work that, but, upon close examination, the charge falls apart.
     
  13. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Producer

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    Kubrick "the misanthropic hermit" is a media creation, and the easy shorthand employed by so-called critics passing along yet another piece of false conventional wisdom.

    Spielberg is similarly, though conversely simplified by the same chorus-line of dunces, even on those occasions when his work is rejected by the mainstream audience and the popular press, championed only be a handful of serious critics and snooty artforum types.

    E.g., a.i.
     
  14. ErichH

    ErichH Screenwriter

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    Well, after last night's viewing of AI, I'm about to give up on it.
    Eyes Wide Shut just bored me to death in the theater, but after viewing the DVD for
    a second and third time, I love it. Just like the Shining(for me) I needed another pass.
    Full Metal needed no 2nd pass and for it's time, Clockwork hit you over the head.
    Barry Lindon creaps up on you and takes you in like no other period film does.

    I'm looking at my Kubrick Box set and thinking, OK that's It. AI doesn't belong.

    My Kubrick Collection is 1 of the jewels of my collection, and I had hopes of Paths and maby
    AI as bookends. Looks like I'll be 1 short soon.

    ps - The Shining is the most viewed in the set here. Pure Jack

    Eric
     

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