I spent the afternoon at The Maltings Art Theatre celebrating the life and films of Stanley Kubrick. The two screenings at this location for the afternoon were Staircases to Nowhere and Stanley Kubrick – A Life in Pictures.
The documentary, Staircases to Nowhere is a series of interviews and previously unheard stories from behind the scenes of Stanley Kubrick’s Tehe Shining (based on the novel by Stephen King) collected as part of ‘The Elstree Project’. The Elstree Project is a collaboration between Elstree Screen Heritage and the University of Hertfordshire. It is hoped that to celebrate the centenary of Elstree Studios, the Elstree Project will have collected 50 interviews in total.
Howard Berry, who directed the Staircases to Nowhere film, introduced not only the documentary, but also explained a bit more about the Elstree Project itself (see http://theelstreeproject.org/). He spoke of how there is often misconceptions about the nearby ‘Elstree Studios’, where huge films such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones were filmed. Elstree Studios actually refers to a collective of six studios, most of which are no longer in existence . Eastenders and Holby City are filmed at a remaining Elstree Studio.
Staircases to Nowhere gets its name from a quote from Julian Senior who disagreed with Kubrick over the ending. In one of the interviews Julian explains that at first he didn’t get the end of the film and didn’t know “if Jack frozen in the snow was a great ending”. It was only after a while that he realised that it’s the hotel that is alive (I kind of remember having this same issue with the end of the film myself when I first watched it, quite a few years ago) and found somethere eerie about the set and its staircase to nowhere. Julian also speaks of having to make phonecalls at 5am and sending someone to the theatre to cut the film reel (post-screening) when Kubrick infamously decided to change the ending (shortening it by 2 minutes) after the film had been release to the cinema.
I found the documentary’s details about the technical side of creating The Shining particularly interesting. Hearing Kubrick described as a “frustrated technician” helps to piece together the story of the way that a new type of camera, mounted on a trolley, was able to film the boy’s tricycle continuously round the set.
Staircases to Nowhere is available to watch in full here:
The closing film of the festival, Stanley Kubrick – A Life in Pictures, ran back-to-back against the Elstree Project documentary, looking at his life and career as a whole. The film was directed by Jan Harlan, Christiane’s brother and one of Kubrick’s producers on Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut.
Speaking about the significance of the St Albans Film Festival, Jan says: “This lovely city of St Albans is anaemic when it comes to film culture – and this is the city where Stanley Kubrick lived for 20 years. I applaud the efforts of Leoni and her team of organisers and will certainly take full advantage of the rich offering.”
I was surprised to hear that in the beginning of his career, Kubrick lived off of 30 dollars a week unemployment cheque. There was a brilliant moment in the film where an actress speaks of working with Stanley and, after he continually gave her lifts home, she once asked him: “why are you always so nice to people?” He answered: “honey, the only person who is going get anything out of this movie is me”.
Tom Cruise narrates the journey of Kubrick’s career, looking at pictures, film clips and comments from his c0lleagues, including an interview with his producer partner, James B. Harris. Kubrick is, at one point, described as “smart, and incredible chess player, with not much education.”
It was good to have such a strong focus on Stanley Kubrick to close the film festival events, not least because of the local element, but it also rounded up the festival activities nicely, after the way that Christiane Kubrick, the wife of the late, iconic filmmaker had officially launched the festival. It brought the whole event full circle.
Christiane said, at opening party in the city centre, that Kubrick foresaw the way the Internet would change filmmaking and viewing.
“He knew it would all change and that people would make and view films in a completely different way,” she said. “You have to ‘find the film’ nowadays, and that’s why these festivals are such a good thing for filmmakers.”Leoni Kibbey, Film Festival Director said: “I [was] thrilled to be welcoming Christiane Kubrick to open our festival, especially on International Woman’s Day. The Kubrick name is legendary in the world of film, and to have the family’s support of this Festival is amazing.”
Stanley and Christiane got married in 1958 after they met on the set of the Paths of Glory, which Stanley directed. They moved to England in the early 1960s finally settling in Childwickbury Manor, just outside St Albans.
Christiane trained as an actress before pursuing a career in painting, going on to become an highly accomplished artist. Her work was featured in two of Stanley Kubrick films, A Clockwork Orange and Eyes Wide Shut.
Stanley created some of his most famous work in the St Albans area. His house, Childwickbury Manor, was used as a nerve centre for his film productions: The Shining was finished there, and Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut were started and completed there.