Interview by Anonymous.
Early in 1968, Playboy magazine contacted me about the possibility of interviewing Stanley Kubrick. It was an offer I eagerly accepted. 2001: A Space Odyssey had just opened, and critics, whether they loved the film or hated it, were united on one point: nothing like it had ever been seen on a movie screen before.
But were they right?
In 1965, with little or no fanfare, a movie containing many of the same elements as 2001 had been released. I was in complete ignorance of this film, but by the end of my interview with “Mr. Kubrick,” I would learn more about it and the film’s director, Bernard Knowles, than I ever cared to know.
For reasons that will soon become apparent, the interview was never published. One editor at Playboy explained the situation to me this way: “The god damned interview isn’t even with Stanley Kubrick! And, oh yeah, if we publish it, he’s going to fucking sue us!”
It’s been many years since the interview took place, and, sadly, Mr. Kubrick is no longer with us. The time seems right, however, to finally share this bit of cinematic history with the general public. If nothing else, the interview might help explain Mr. Kubrick’s reclusive habits in later years.
Flap. Flap. Flap. Flap. Flap.
In the darkness, there was the sound of tail leader on a 16mm take-up reel spinning around and around. I rose from my chair and flipped on the light switch — revealing Stanley Kubrick seated next to a portable 16mm projector on my desk.
KUBRICK: Quite an eye-opener, isn’t it?
I didn’t respond immediately, and in the silence, Mr. Kubrick tugged self-consciously at his beard — causing it to shift position on his face. Anyway, that’s what I believed I saw. I rubbed my eyes and, after a moment or two, was uncertain whether the beard had actually moved or not.
My lack of enthusiasm for the film seemed to catch Mr. Kubrick by surprise.
KUBRICK: Of course, the whole thing plays differently in a theater on a big screen.
PLAYBOY: I’m sure it does.
Our initial meeting had been cordial enough and the interview progressed in a satisfactory, if not particularly remarkable, manner … that is, until I questioned Mr. Kubrick about his influences.
PLAYBOY: Eisenstein. Lang. Max Ophuls. In the past, you’ve mentioned these filmmakers as being an influence on your work. Would you add any others?
KUBRICK: Bernard Knowles.
If I had taken a drink of water at that moment, I might have done a spit-take.
That was when Mr. Kubrick directed me to turn off the lights. The 16mm projector he had brought with him was threaded and ready to go. For the next sixty-two minutes, it’s possible that I stared at the screen with my jaw hanging open.
In the darkness, the shaft of light from the projector must have revealed my expression.
KUBRICK: Amazing, isn’t it?
PLAYBOY: That’s one way of putting it.
I was watching something called Spaceflight IC-1: An Adventure in Space. It was directed by Bernard Knowles, a filmmaker Mr. Kubrick seemed to rank alongside Lang and Ophuls. Unfortunately, to make some sense of what follows, a brief description of the movie is required.
It is the year 2015, and the earth’s resources have been severely depleted by overpopulation, allowing an Orwellian government (apparently lacking any sense of irony, having named itself RULE) to take control in the ensuing chaos. With earth facing an uncertain future, the decision is made to send spaceship IC-1 (“IC” for intergalactic colony) to the nearest inhabitable planet in hopes of reestablishing the human race.
The crew consists of four men, four women, three children (two boys, one girl), and a head. The “head” is Dr. Garth, the first “closed-circuit man.” He feels nothing (emotionally or physically) and has a machine for a body. In appearance, Dr. Garth can best be described as a head inside of an upside-down fishbowl set on top of a filing cabinet that has the drawers turned to face the wall. The remainder of the crew is in suspended animation, having been placed on the spaceship in cryogenic hibernation.
The mid-section of spaceship IC-1 is a huge Ferris wheel like structure, a centrifuge that creates gravity by continually rotating. Unaccountably, interior shots of the ship reveal a single hallway (the floor flat, not curved as might be expected), with two doors on the left wall, and another door at the end of the hallway. There is also a stairway that leads to … well, it isn’t exactly clear where it leads.
One year into a twenty-five year journey, the captain of spaceship IC-1 is informed that he is no longer able to conceive children. The captain’s guilt and frustration at this turn of events (the mission of IC-1, after all, is procreation and re-population) drives him to act like a sort of Captain Queeg in outer space.
Eventually, a mutiny takes place, and for reasons too tedious to recount, a crew member is revived from suspended animation. The untested process transforms the crew member into a rampaging maniac who (conveniently for the mutineers) murders the captain, before he (even more conveniently) dies.
No longer subject to RULE’s overbearing dictates or the captain’s arbitrary, tyrannical authority, spaceship IC-1 continues on its journey to Earth 2, where, one can only hope, a free and democratic society will be established.
Flap. Flap. Flap. Flap. Flap.
KUBRICK: (agitated) Do you know what this film is?
PLAYBOY: Really bad?
KUBRICK: It’s a confession – at twenty-four frames per second!
Confession? I had no idea what Mr. Kubrick was talking about. Besides, wasn’t the quote, “Truth at twenty-four frames per second”? And how did Godard get mixed up in the interview?
KUBRICK: The living quarters inside the centrifuge. The crew members in hibernation. The god damn title, for that matter. Adventure in Space. A Space Odyssey. Where do you think I got it all?
I hesitated before answering.
PLAYBOY: Spaceflight IC-1?
KUBRICK: Of course! Bernard Knowles. I tell you, the man’s a genius! And I’m nothing but a fraud! Hal 9000. The “closed-circuit man.” They’re one in the same. Except Knowles captured the dichotomy of a dualistic future perfectly in a single, startling image. Intellect vs. emotion. A being who is half human …
PLAYBOY: … half filing cabinet?
Mr. Kubrick stood up, planted a hand on either side of my desk, and leaned forward.
KUBRICK: My film is nothing but a sterile rip-off, hiding behind a huge budget, pretending to be something it isn’t — original! Knowles’ film is alive with human tension, primal urges, and …
PLAYBOY: … soap opera melodramatics?
KUBRICK: Are you being intentionally obtuse?
Practically nose to nose with Mr. Kubrick, I couldn’t help but have serious doubts about the authenticity of his beard.
Then, as if on cue, the door to my office swung open — revealing a second Stanley Kubrick!
KUBRICK #2: Sorry I’m late. There was a scheduling mix-up with the secretary …
Without warning, Kubrick #1 lunged forward. I reached out to stop him but only came away with a handful of fake beard.
KUBRICK #2: (grappling with Kubrick #1) Let go of me, you crazy bastard!
The two Kubricks stumbled around my office, swinging wildly at one another, knocking over furniture, bouncing off the walls.
Abruptly, Kubrick #1 executed some sort of wrestling maneuver and, before I knew what was happening, had Kubrick #2 in a headlock.
KUBRICK #1: Admit it! Admit you stole my movie!
KUBRICK #2: Ow! Let go of my hair! Who is this idiot? Ooph!
In a blind panic, Kubrick #2 violently threw himself backward, pulling free, leaving Kubrick #1 holding his jacket. Kubrick #2 didn’t hesitate and bolted for the door.
Kubrick #1: One way or another, people will know. 2001 is really my movie!
He looked straight at me.
KUBRICK #1: If you won’t accept the truth from me, you’ll accept it from him!
With that, Kubrick #1 dropped the jacket, grabbed the beard from my hand, and was out the door.
End of interview.
Later that day, I received a phone call from the police station. The two Kubricks had been picked up fighting in the street and charged with assault and disturbing the peace. Kubrick #2 either had lost his wallet, or what seems more likely, had it “lifted” during the altercation. With both men claiming to be Stanley Kubrick, the desk sergeant asked me to come down and identify the authentic Kubrick.
Unfortunately, I only succeeded in making matters worse. Faced with a line-up of bearded men, I misidentified Kubrick #1 (who it now seems clear was Bernard Knowles) as Stanley Kubrick, resulting in the real Kubrick spending the night in jail.
A week later, after tempers had cooled and apologies been offered, Mr. Kubrick agreed to a second interview, but only on the condition the first interview was never published and that someone other than myself conduct the new interview. It’s probably just as well my initial interview never saw publication since actual quotes from the real Kubrick would have amounted to little more than: “Ooph!” “Ouch!” and “Ugggh.”
Kubrick #1 was never seen again, and Bernard Knowles never acknowledged that he was the man impersonating Stanley Kubrick and delivering a fraudulent confession. To be honest, I have no solid evidence it was actually him, but just the same, it seems the most likely explanation.
I have to admit, that after all these years, I’m still not sure how I feel about Bernard Knowles. Lunatic hack? Or a visionary without any storytelling sense?
Besides the similarities to 2001, IC-1 also anticipated a number of other science fictions films. At one point in IC-1, a funeral is held aboard the spaceship, and it is strikingly similar to a scene 18 years later at the end of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. There is also the use of holographic images, predating similar effects in the Star Wars movies. Finally, the children on board IC-1 have psychic abilities, long before any number of such “gifted” children turn up in the books and films of Stephen King.
I still have in my possession the 16mm projector and reel of film left behind by Kubrick #1. Every now and then I set up the projector, turn off the lights, and watch Spaceflight IC-1. Watching the film, I can’t help but wonder if more than coincidence is behind the similarities to 2001, and yet …
And yet, long before the mutiny takes place, I always start to nod off and then it’s only a matter of time before I’m sound asleep.