Film Reviews

Blue movies

Terry Southern and Stanley Kubrick had a star-crossed relationship -- like two planets dancing in orbit with each other, achieving perfect alignment, then veering off into remote areas of the universe. They met in 1962, when they needed each other most: Stanley was preparing to make a movie about the annihilation of the planet, Dr. Strangelove, and needed a miracle to make it funny. Terry -- who published his first novel, Candy, in 1958, though it would be years before it was released in this country -- needed a break from the 'Quality-Lit' scene he was getting bored of teasing. They found each other through Peter Sellers, who, at Christmastime, bought 100 copies of his favorite novel, Terry's 1959 book The Magic Christian, and gave them to friends -- friends like Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick saw in the novel a talent that could be orchestrated -- a writer of dialogue who could be cut loose like Charlie Parker.

Before Stanley read The Magic Christian, Esquire sent the Dallas-raised Terry to do an interview with the relatively unknown director who had just finished filming his adaptation of Lolita. Upon meeting the Bronx-born Kubrick in England, Terry's New Journalism investigations were bursting out across the pond in Esquire, including "Twirling at Ole Miss," which Tom Wolfe cites as the story that birthed New Journalism and Gonzo. Upon Strangelove's release, with Terry so popular and with the previously contraband Candy making its debut as a controversial best seller in the U.S., the press turned Terry into the "author" of the film. It was a trespass Kubrick never completely forgave.

The following interview, which was never published, was conducted in the New York offices of Harris-Kubrick Productions. At the time, Kubrick was only 33 years old and had made six features (including 1957's Paths of Glory, a World War I drama starring Kirk Douglas, and Spartacus in 1960) and two documentaries. It's appropriate that this interview surfaces after all these years. After all, some of it deals with Kubrick's views on eroticism in film -- timely then, with the release of Lolita, and timely now, with Eyes Wide Shut out this week.

But just as important is the fact that Southern was on the Strangelove set the day someone came by with some porn footage. As Terry recounted myriad times before his death on October 29, 1995, Stanley watched the film unspool and said, "Wouldn't it be interesting if one day someone who was an artist would do that -- using really beautiful actors and good equipment."

Shortly after that, Terry wrote a book about just such a thing: 1970's Blue Movie (which is dedicated to "the great Stanley K.") told the story of an Oscar-winning director who sets out to make the most extravagant X-rated movie of all time, The Faces of Love. Kubrick later referred to a scene from the novel as "the definitive blowjob." Perhaps one day, people will say the same of Kubrick's own Eyes Wide Shut.

Nile Southern

Terry Southern: What was it mainly that appealed to you in the novel Lolita?

Stanley Kubrick: Well, it's certainly one of the great love stories, isn't it? I think Lionel Trilling's piece in Encounter is very much to the point when he speaks of it as "the first great love story of the 20th century." And he uses as his criteria the total shock and estrangement which the lovers in all the great love stories of the past have produced on the people around them. If you consider Romeo and Juliet, Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, The Red and the Black, they all had this one thing in common -- this element of the illicit, or at least what was considered illicit at the time, and in each case it caused their complete alienation from society.

But then in the 20th century, with the disintegration of moral and spiritual values, it became increasingly difficult, and finally impossible, for an author to credibly create that kind of situation, to conceive of a relationship which would produce his shock and estrangement -- so that what was resorted to to achieve the shock value was erotic description. Whereas Trilling felt that Lolita somehow did succeed, in the classic tradition, having all the stormy passion and tenderness of the great love story as well as this element of the lovers being estranged from everyone around them. And, of course, Nabokov was brilliant in withholding any indication of the author's approval of the relationship.

TS: I want to ask you some questions more about the actual filming of Lolita, but first I'd like to go back for a moment -- to the time when you were 21, working as a Look photographer -- and ask you how you got started as a filmmaker.

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Terry Southern