Stanley Kubrick, the legendary director of absolute classics in the history of cinema, such as ‘A Clockwork Orange’, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ or ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ he gained considerable fame as a director despot and perfectionist, which required repeating the plans several times until they were perfect. One of the most popular anecdotes of his career refers to ‘The Shining’, when he forced Shelley Duvall to repeat 127 times the famous scene in which she defends herself against Jack Nicholson with a baseball bat.
Kubrick thus enters the category of tyrannical directors who demand superhuman effort from their technical and artistic teams, bordering on torture. Alfred Hitchcock, Lars Von Trier or David O. Russell are other historical dictators/directors who used scenarios almost as an escape valve. But… was there a method behind Kubrick’s seemingly arbitrary orders, or was it just a way to make it clear who was in charge of the set?
The insistent repetitions were not the only forms of extreme control of the shots that Kubrick exercised. For example, he asked George C. Scott to disproportionately hype ‘Red Telephone? Shall we fly to Moscow? telling him that what was being filmed was just a rehearsal, or he injured Malcolm McDowell’s cornea in the famous Ludovico Method scenes from ‘A Clockwork Orange’. But they take the cake In addition to the reruns of ‘The Shining’, those of ‘Full Metal Jacket’.
Repeat, repeat, repeat…
The secret, explained in this CinemaTyler video about Kubrick’s methods, lies in a statement he made to Rolling Stone about actors: “You can’t act without knowing the dialogue. in emotion. So you end up doing 30 takes of something and you can still see the concentration in their eyes; they don’t know their lines. So you just scroll and scroll and hope you get something from different parts.”
Mathew Modine remembers this similarly, comparing British and American actors. According to him, Americans start by analyzing the character, his story, his motivations, and then the dialogues are learned. British actors do the opposite: you learn the lines and that leads them to understand the character. This is what Kubrick wanted and therefore the need for the lines were enunciated in a totally intuitive waywithout thinking.
For this reason, in his later films, Kubrick planned many days for rehearsals. Already knowing what he was looking for in his actors, he knew that he would rarely get it in the first few takes, but that he would reach around thirty, as would have happened in ‘Full Metal Jacket’ (although Kubrick himself would later discover that the actors were inflating this number by interviews to honor his reputation as a perfectionist -a description he himself never agreed with-).
All this contrasts with Kubrick’s usual technique in directing actors, which was basically to let them relate, get to know each other, and then let them act. Kubrick recognized that I didn’t know how to act, so I wanted whoever knew to do it, to function as the public eye. Even if it had to be repeated thirty times.