To the Editor:
In my book, which is 328 pages long, Frederic Raphael is mentioned a mere 12 times. Despite the fact that the book covers the years 1928–1999, and Mr. Raphael collaborated with Stanley Kubrick only from the mid-1990s, in his review he still managed to distill its entire content into being about him (“By a Captain, He’s No Captain,” October). And, lo, he becomes, in his own words “the sole villain of the piece.”
Had Mr. Raphael read my book more closely, rather than focusing on the bits that mentioned his name, he’d know that I argue that where Kubrick departed from the seriousness of the New York Intellectuals was in his playfulness.
I do not, as Mr. Raphael claims, affect “to unlock what Stanley was ‘really’ dealing with, in all his movies.” In fact, quite the opposite. I emphasize the films’ multivocality and diversity, but simply wish to add a further voice to the cacophony, one that Mr. Raphael raised in his own book about working with Kubrick, Eyes Wide Open, namely, Kubrick’s Jewishness. And, yes, while Geoffrey Cocks has tilled this ground before, his research led to very different conclusions from mine: that Stanley always wanted to make a film about the Holocaust, and the film he ended up making about it was The Shining (1980). Fair play to Mr. Raphael, though, for he did read the Lolita and Barry Lyndon chapters, it seems.
I did not have a “scheme” per se, but I did have a word limit and unfortunately what Mr. Raphael calls “mundane biographical facts” had to be limited to what was relevant. Please find me a publisher that will let me write a 500-page tome!
Yes, I did call Mr. Raphael’s memoir “self-serving.” Unsurprisingly, Stanley emerges as the sole villain of Mr. Raphael’s piece. It also says much that Mr. Raphael published his memoir a mere four months after Stanley died—cashing in?—never giving him the chance for a rebuttal.
And I did call it “unreliable.” Parts of his memoir recollecting his conversations with Stanley indeed read as if constructed like a screenplay, so how are we to know that he wasn’t applying his singular talents in the art form of fictional screenwriting to his memoir? How else are we to treat evidence without any independent verification? When I say that Mr. Raphael “claims” something, it is not to doubt his veracity but simply to admit I don’t have any proof that what he says is true. Mr. Raphael was repeatedly unavailable, though I tried contacting him without success several times.
The actual role that Mr. Raphael played in the final screenplay, as all writers working on Kubrick screenplays found, is debatable. And the disgruntled and embittered screenwriter is long a theme of the movies, let alone Stanley’s films. Dalton Trumbo had some very harsh words to say about his experience of working with Stanley on Spartacus. As did Kirk Douglas, who certainly tried his hand at writing some of that film and the one that preceded it, Paths of Glory. He described Kubrick as a “talented shit.”
It is hard for Mr. Raphael, to use his own words, to deny (but convenient to omit) that maybe it took Stanley, and not the writer, some 30 years to “crack” how to do Arthur Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle. But, of course, in Mr. Raphael’s scheme, he is the sole hero of the piece.
The reason Mr. Raphael doesn’t like that I called “S.K.” an “intellectual” is that I am not sufficiently deferential to his own credentials as an intellectual. It has always struck me that bright, educated individuals with a huge array of honors seem to need to shout the loudest about how brilliant they are.
Another correction: I do not refer back to Peter Arno, the New Yorker cartoonist whom Kubrick photographed in 1949, but rather suggest that Kubrick’s interest in the subject matter that formed Lolita might have had its roots sometime earlier. Yes, Kubrick might well have not written the caption, but I am sure he read it!
And in what sense is Christiane K. my “benefactress”? I have received no funding from the Kubrick Estate other than access to the archive that is available at the University of the Arts London. Nor did the bibliography “shun” anything: It was trimmed, again, for reasons for length.
I do, though, agree entirely with Mr. Raphael. Rather than waste time on his words, “it would be cheaper, and wiser, to look again, and then again, at Kubrick’s masterpieces.”
Frederic Raphael writes:
Nathan Abrams wheels out the trite charge, so often addressed to disobliging critics, that I have not read his book. My five pages of typescript notes prove that, alas, I trudged through it from cover to cover. I should be glad to send a copy to the professor, but I will not bore your readers with the tabulated evidence of his affectations of rare insight. Mr. Abrams cannot even get his clichés right: For witless example, Peter Sellers is said to have been given “free reign [sic]” as Quilty in Kubrick’s Lolita.
To say that Stanley Kubrick “emerges as the sole villain” of my memoir is ridiculous. There is no villain, but a hero as seen by his valet, so to say. Having worked with Stanley during two or three years, I commemorated him with affection tinged with amusement, which only the pious will take for blasphemy. The last words of the book are “immortals also die.” Those who knew Stanley well, and did not have Stanley’s wife’s and her brother’s interest in effacing my contribution to Eyes Wide Shut, found my memoir both convincing and affectionate. I was glad of the work and proud of my selection, but adaptations of existent material are not central to what Mr. Abrams would certainly be quick to call the vanity of a man who has written more than 40 books of fiction and nonfiction.
The allegation that what I reported was unreliable, i.e. false, because there were no witnesses to our exchanges, is as fatuous as it is insulting. As it happens, I have a good memory for conversations and locations and I also have the habit of writing, copiously, in my notebooks, of which there are now some 40 manuscript cahiers (thick exercise books), soon after events that excited my interest. I may edit; I do not fabricate. Seven volumes have been published; not once has anyone mentioned in their pages, however unsparingly, complained of being misrepresented.
Mr. Abrams is quick to accuse me of “claiming” this or that, with the clear suggestion that I am a liar, and then has the nerve to claim that he tried to get in touch with me when writing his book. He says that I was “repeatedly unavailable.” That is a straight lie. I have always made myself available to researchers on Kubrick, as Michel Ciment, Laurent Vachaud, and others will confirm. Since I did not know how bad a writer Mr. Abrams was, at the time he says he so frequently sought contact with me, I should certainly have agreed to see or talk to him, had he ever actually asked.
As for being “disgruntled and disagreeable,” Mr. Abrams will be familiar with the old playground retort, “Look who’s talking.” In truth, I greatly enjoyed working with Stanley, however taxing and even exasperating it sometimes was, and I look back on it with pride and amusement. Collaboration with him was a game and a challenge, as one might expect when faced with what Mr. Abrams, with his instant access to the obvious, calls a “consummate chess player.” Jeremy Bernstein, who played chess frequently with Stanley, reports that he reached no better standard than that of a good club player. As for the idea that I “cashed in” on my experience, I will say only that I am a writer and will write about anything that takes my fancy. If someone chooses to publish it and pay me, so much the better. Did James Boswell “cash in” on his acquaintance with Dr. Johnson? If you say so.
In his determination to be offensive, Mr. Abrams says that I “didn’t like” him calling S.K. an “intellectual”, because he, Abrams, was “not sufficiently deferential” to my “credentials as an intellectual.” I neither thought nor implied any such thing. It requires no high level of intellectual attainment to recognise Mr. Abrams as a cultural busker (for instance, he says that Camus was an “existentialist,” which that author expressly denied). To label Kubrick a “New York Intellectual” may help to sell a book, but it is a false billing, as Jeremy Bernstein confirmed to me in a recent letter. As for S.K. “auditing” lectures at Columbia, what he actually did was gate-crash, occasionally, after failing to qualify scholastically for formal entry to the college. He was a self-made genius. Nice work if you can get it. And that is quite enough of that.