Monday Books: Putting the knife into Stanley

EYES WIDE OPEN BY FREDERIC RAPHAEL, ORION, pounds 12.99 DREAM STORY BY ARTHUR SCHNITZLER, TRANS J M Q DAVIES, PENGUIN, pounds 5.99

FREDERIC RAPHAEL has already received flack for the New Yorker article which prompted this short, but hardly sweet, monograph of his working relationship with Stanley Kubrick. In 1994, Raphael was hired by Kubrick to work on Eyes Wide Shut, under conditions of paranoid secrecy. Kubrick would fax him pages of Arthur Schnitzler's Dream Story, with the author and title snipped away in case word got out that the director was pressing forward on his old project - an updating of the decadent fin- de-siecle tale by the Viennese-Jewish doctor who was a contemporary of Freud.

Raphael's characteristically waspish comments on Kubrick's anti-Jewish Jewishness have already brought howls of protest from certain quarters in the United States. Raphael naturally holds up his own Jewishness as permission to say what he likes. "With pitiless self-knowledge," he writes in this book, "Arthur Schnitzler once remarked `the eternal truth is that no Jew has any real respect for his fellow Jew, ever'."

In truth, Eyes Wide Open is more about that elusive feeling of "respect" than anything else - in fact, it's quite an elaborate and sophisticated meditation on the whole notion. Raphael feels that, although he respected Kubrick, this may not have been reciprocated. He was not, for example, invited on set when Eyes Wide Shut was made. Kubrick had completely dispensed with his services by that point.

Kubrick had his reasons. I don't get the impression - after reading Raphael's insightful but not brilliant comments on Kubrick's oeuvre, or his wrong- headed dismissal of films Kubrick liked, such as The Red Squirrel and Kieslowski's Dekalog - that Raphael is actually very good on cinema, despite a talent for scintillating dialogue. Perhaps Kubrick sensed this. And the way he harps on about himself as a classicist (with a scholarship to Cambridge) reminds me that a classicist will always misunderstand the Gothic. Despite a mathematical bent, there was much of the gothicist about Kubrick.

The fact is that Kubrick used Raphael simply to provide material. He was never remotely interested in the idea of a collaboration, a realisation that continuously rankles with the writer. Raphael is a proud man who often uses sharp-tongued invective to cover his morbid sensitivity. "I have the whore's consolation," he writes with an acid, languid worldliness that would have made Schnitzler giggle. "Whatever I am, he chose me."

But far from despising Raphael for laying his humiliations bare, as some have, I think he has done something brave and admirable. This is a well- written, slightly bonkers, but certainly lively book. Raphael gives precious insights into what it was like to work with Kubrick, with all its disorientating intensity. I grew fond of Kubrick despite his nebbish craziness, and even grew to see how his craziness made sense.

Raphael's liberal use of a mock-screenplay style to recall the Kubrick encounters is both witty and apposite, since it avoids a journalistic take on the experiences and gives a brisk real-time sheen to the exchanges. Kubrick's ability to talk only in questions, and never answer anything, grows slowly more exasperating as we proceed. One can see why Raphael grew so frustrated without really understanding why.

Kubrick was hiring Raphael like a plumber. He wasn't interested in him as a person. He slave-drove him into producing a hugely polished script which was then eviscerated and roughed-up for the final version.

All of which must be immensely galling to a man who once won an Oscar - unlike Kubrick himself. Darling, written by Raphael and directed by John Schlesinger, was one of the great British films of the Sixties (and recently championed by Camille Paglia in her season for the NFT). It won him an Academy Award: for one brief moment three decades ago Raphael was, to all intents and purposes, a peer of Kubrick's.

How things change.

Raphael's introduction to the new paperback of Dream Story is stripped of all residual peevishness, though it does remain coolly obsessed with middle-European Jewry. "Schnitzler neither denied his Jewishness nor asserted it," he writes. "Denial was demeaning; assertion led to self-deluding vanity." He could as well have been talking about Kubrick: his ambiguity about his Jewishness is more visceral, more American and less chatty than Raphael's endlessly reflexive European discourse. I think what Raphael really can't work out is whether he was being hired as a Jew - as a Jew, by a closet Jew, to de-Jew a Jewish novel.

Raphael may still think that maybe Kubrick failed to respect him, but I think he did, in his own very private and peculiar way. And I think that one day Raphael will realise it and learn to forgive him, and will realise that he did something of soaring worth. He got Kubrick to make one final film.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup