Frederic Raphael on Stanley Kubrick in Eyes Wide Open ~
“I have had three more long and exhausting telephone conversations with S.K. To begin with, I was as deferential and thin-voiced as any hireling. I have become less inhibited. Cinematically, I have no doubt that he is a master. However, I have little fear that he is intellectually beyond my reach; I am not even sure how bright he is.”
This is the same problem reported by John Fowles in his dealings with William Wyler. The novelists know they are supposed to respect the directors, but they can’t see the evidence of genius. I think it’s a different KIND of intelligence from what they’re looking for.
Sometimes the difference is more extreme. Here’s Ridley Scott interviewed in The Guardian two weeks ago:
“Our evolution, from the bang, to the earliest forms of life is so organically unlikely that it’s actually impossible. There would have to have been a billion decisions made by accident for that to have occurred, so one has to wonder, who is in charge?”
Great. The director of BLADE RUNNER comes out for Intelligent Design, and shows that he has no understanding of the basic concept of Darwinian evolution. He also thinks we started evolving at the time of the Big Bang. This isn’t really the forum for a chat about evolution, but let me share with you what I figured out for myself at school: it’s not accidental. The initial mutation that gives one animal a longer neck is an accident, but given the random genetic variation we see all around us, within our own species, for instance, it’s the kind of accident that’s bound to happen. If the longer neck proves an advantage, the animal is more likely to flourish and provide more offspring, some of which will inherit the advantageous attribute. And so after generations, we get the giraffe.
Scott MIGHT be talking about the initial appearance of life (it’s not quite clear what he means by “organically unlikely”) but he expresses himself so poorly it’s not too clear. I always thought of him as a great eye with not much behind it. He couldn’t even read the (quite short) Philip K Dick novel BLADE RUNNER is based on. The screenwriter Henry Bean said “You could talk about abstract concepts with Ridley Scott and…it was okay. If you got him onto visual ideas then his intelligence showed.” By contrast, Bean thought that Tony Scott was “a very smart guy”. Not every screenwriter has agreed.
I don’t have any problem labelling Ridley Scott as visually talented but dumb. William Wyler was no intellectual (hated to read a book) but had an incredible instinctive grasp of dramatic values. Stanley Kubrick was “a genius”, but perhaps not of the kind Freddie Raphael was expecting to meet. Kubrick’s working methods sometimes seem like those of a computer playing chess, weighing up every single possible move, however seemingly dumb, wasting masses of time and effort on unpromising byways in order to arrive at the perfect choice, but in fact there’s an inner perversity to Kubrick’s approach that prevents his work becoming mechanical or predictable or even straightforwardly effective. There’s always some weird spasm of the purely personal, some scent of the mysterious, some failure to achieve the obvious, leading to a stunning success in hitting some obscure, uncharted response. Maybe he was a genius in spite of his methods. Reading his interviews, he’s clearly a thinking man, but not necessarily smarter than some of his interviewers. What happens in his work genuinely comes from a place beyond intellection.