Will Kubrick break cover?

A LIBEL action brought by one of the world's most reclusive film- makers against a satirical magazine has raised the intriguing prospect that he will make a very public appearance at the High Court in March.

Stanley Kubrick, who made 2001: A Space Odyssey, Dr Strangelove and A Clockwork Orange, and is regarded as one of the greatest film directors of the century, has not given an interview since the early Sixties and there are even disputes as to what he looks like.

Although Mr Kubrick would not be obliged to appear in person to pursue his claim against Punch magazine, legal experts believe not to do so could hinder his chances. But the prospect of having to run the gauntlet of photographers outside the High Court is unlikely to appeal to the American director, who has lived in seclusion in Britain since 1961.

"How are you going to convince a jury that you're terribly upset if you do not go to court to tell them?" said one solicitor.

The article which offended Mr Kubrick appeared in the "Lowdown" gossip column in last August's issue of Punch. The anonymous article, about his latest film, Eyes Wide Shut, said of Mr Kubrick: "There's a thin line between being an artistic perfectionist and being a barking loon."

Schilling and Lom, his lawyers, have issued a writ, claiming the piece was "grossly defamatory". But James Steen, the editor of Punch, said yesterday: "We're not going to back down. I don't think we've done anything wrong."

A preliminary hearing is due to be heard at the beginning of March, at which both sides will endeavour to have the other's arguments struck out.

It is understood that Mr Kubrick's lawyers will argue the article suggests he is clinically insane. Punch claims it does nothing of the sort and was a light-hearted joke.

"It was tongue-in-cheek. [The legal action] is just laughable and I'm surprised it started in the first place," Mr Steen said. A magazine insider said: "Punch is not The Lancet [the medical journal]. We're not saying he's clinically insane. What it means is he's a well-meaning eccentric."

If the court decides there is any chance a jury might find for Mr Kubrick then it will go before a jury. However, sources close to the case believe if that happens, it could be the autumn before a full hearing takes place. Mr Kubrick's lawyer, Mark Thomson, did not return the Independent on Sunday's calls.

The latest projected release date for Eyes Wide Shut, which has become notorious for the length of time it has taken to be released, is "summer 1999".

A spokesman for Warner Bros, the film company backing Mr Kubrick, said it was "looking like August" in Britain and July in the US.

Kubrick dislikes flying and travel. For his film Lolita, Gerrards Cross stood in for the US, and east London became the Vietnamese city of Hue for Full Metal Jacket.