First out of the docu traps following his death in March, “The Last Movie: Stanley Kubrick & ‘Eyes Wide Shut'” will be a major turn-on for buffs obsessed with the legendary helmer’s secrecy, but prove of limited interest to the uninitiated. Despite its title, the program is neither a making-of nor a bio-critical examination of Kubrick’s movies. Instead, it’s more a portrait of Kubrick the man, as told by his family and a bunch of recent collaborators, some anxious to dispel the personal myths, and others reinforcing his eccentricities on the job.The project has the family’s fingerprints all over it, with unparalleled access to Kubrick’s rural retreat, family members, and heavyweights like Steven Spielberg, Sydney Pollack, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman and former WB co-CEO Terry Semel. Though there are excerpts from her docu on “The Shining,” Kubrick’s third daughter, Vivian, is notably absent (she’s reportedly involved with a more extensive BBC docu to be aired next year). There isn’t a film critic in sight, nor any sign of writers Michael Herr or Frederick Raphael, both of whom have already gone public with their own incisive portraits of the director.
Film is bookended by Kubrick’s widow, Christiane, first seen in an extract from “Paths of Glory” (in which she was billed as Susanne Christian) and then talking to the camera in the garden of their capacious English manse. When they met through the movie, she says, they had both been in the throes of divorce; he wanted to settle in England, and she fell in love with the place.
Any Kubrick-phile will get a charge out of the docu’s early minutes, as the camera is welcomed at St. Albans station, northwest of London, by Kubrick’s longtime factotum, Emilio D’Alessandro, driven to the manse, and led through the long corridors of the house. In his recent book, “Eyes Wide Open,” Raphael describes an identical experience, but these visuals — craftily intercut with similar traveling shots from Kubrick’s pix, especially “The Shining” — paint a very different picture: renovated, light and clean, this is hardly the shadowy, crumbling realm of a paranoid recluse.
Everyone, from daughters Anya and Katharina (seen, like the home, for the first time) to Steven Spielberg (a friend for 18 years), are at pains to stress that Kubrick may have been “unusual, highly eccentric,” but was not “weird.” He just didn’t talk to the press.The docu isfar from being an apologia by Friends of Stanley. There’s more a sense of relief at being able to pull the drapes open on his life, especially by Anya and Katharina, who describe their “anonymous” childhood as daughters of someone who was a living legend but who could still go shopping in a local store, unrecognized in his scruffy clothes and scraggly beard. They recall a loving, open-minded father, who was always there when they needed him.
Christiane talks frankly about Kubrick being “a total gadget freak; it had to be the latest, the newest,” and Pollack, most tellingly, notes that the director , despite almost 40 years in England, “was a Brooklyn street kid. Period.” Movingly, docu shows Kubrick’s grave — just a pile of stonesin a tiny grove across the lawn from his home on the 10-acre grounds in England.
As far as his work habits are concerned, the assembled witnesses shore up published accounts of Kubrick’s methods, with amusing anecdotes. British novelist Ian Watson, a collaborator on the unfilmed “A.I.,” says working with the director was “like starting to write a complete new story every day and tearing it up in the evening.” Another “A.I.” recruit, Sara Maitland, says “writers were like plumbers to him,” fixers rather than individual creators, all in service to his unfocused, groping vision.
Of interest more to U.K. auds are Semel and Christiane Kubrick’s statements on the withdrawal of “A Clockwork Orange” from British screens, following death threats to the family. “It never really was a contractual thing,” Semel says. “It was kind of, ‘If you want to keep me safe and healthy and comfortable, don’t (re-release) it (during my lifetime).’ ”
Though sometimes resorting to trickery with use of multiscreen, the widescreen docu is simply but professionally produced and well-lit, with no commentary and limited clips from the movies themselves (usually to shore up a point under discussion).
Airing on Channel 4 coincided with the British release of “Eyes Wide Shut.” A version with slightly longer interviews showed subsequently on FilmFour, C4’s digital movie channel.