Working with Kubrick
Published: Wednesday, October 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 30, 2003 at 11:45 p.m.
Frederic Raphael, Oscar-winning screenwriter and the author of more than three dozen books, has one piece of advice for prospective writers.
If you go
"Read, look, listen," he says.
Raphael, who will be in Gainesville through Friday for a series of talks at the University of Florida and at Goerings Book Store, won an Oscar in 1965 for his screenplay "Darling," and received a nomination in 1967 for "Two for the Road."
His most recent screenwriting credit was for the 1999 Stanley Kubrick film, "Eyes Wide Shut," which was the legendary director's last work.
For that film, Raphael embarked on a two-year partnership with Kubrick to write an adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler's century-old "Traumnovelle" ("Dream Novella").
Some critics panned the film because it seemed unfinished. Raphael has his own thoughts on that.
"No artist stops working on something until he is out of time," he said. "Stanley Kubrick was indeed out of time. He died in March (1999), and `Eyes Wide Shut'' opened in July. At the peak of his powers, Kubrick would have been tinkering ceaselessly all that time. Of course he didn't think of it as finished in March. If ever anyone honored the old line `works of art are not finished - they are abandoned,' it's Kubrick. But he wouldn't have abandoned it until the projectionist tore the film from his hands."
Raphael has written a book about working with Kubrick, entitled "Eyes Wide Open." In it, he chips away at the myth surrounding the director, and shows him as a human being.
"Stanley could be a great director," Raphael said. "He was not a great man. Who is? Like many directors of talent, he was enjoyable to be around, and on the phone with, on a one-on-one basis, especially early on, when he needed me. I wrote about him as honestly as decorum allowed. If he were alive, and asked me to work with him again, I should be very flattered and a little dismayed, because I should almost certainly say yes."
Raphael was born in Chicago in 1931 to an American mother and a British father. At a young age, his family relocated - it was to be short-term - to England. Then something called World War II happened.
"We went back to London, supposedly for a year, since my father worked for Shell," he said. "The war came and I was marooned in London and in an English education. A classic of bad timing, you might say, though not necessarily of bad education."
Not a bad education indeed. He was educated at Charterhouse and St. John's College, Cambridge University. He entered Cambridge in 1950.
"It was Old England," he recalled. "Very complacent, very nice after the war, very chilly for most of the year. Cambridge was not as intellectually intense as I should somewhat have liked. It was very given to theatricals, which I did like. Peter Hall was the chief theatrical. We have been smiling acquaintances for years, but I was never `in' - I was around."
He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1964.
Asked if he considers himself American or British, Raphael hedged.
"I sound more British, and I love cricket," he said. "I carry a U.S. passport, and it is very inconvenient sometimes, but I have never seriously thought of giving up U.S. citizenship. But then, writers, in my view, don't need to wonder what they really are - they're writers."
Being primarily a novelist, he says winning an Oscar left him feeling "amused." But, he added, there are important differences between writing novels and screenplays.
"Novels are yours, and screenplays are theirs," He said. "I never yield on changes on novels - though I accept good suggestions, usually my wife's. I do not admire editors or crave their comments. If you write screenplays, and get paid, you have accepted - or have to accept - a structure in which art is subordinated to public demand, however refined, which isn't often. Novels take a long time and mine are no longer published in the U.S. Screenplays are part of my American side, I guess. I much prefer Hollywood movies to British films. If I have to spell it out, I am a novelist who writes screenplays."
Ralphael will be the keynote speaker at the UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences convocation today at 4 p.m. in the University Memorial Auditorium. Thursday, he will present a lecture, "The Benefits of Doubt" at 7:30 p.m. in the Florida Museum of Natural History, Powell Hall. The lecture is free and open to the public.
He will wrap up his visit to Gainesville with a short presentation on writing screenplays Friday at 8 p.m. at Goerings Bookstore, at 3422 W. University Ave. This presentation is sponsored by the University Writing Program, and is also free and open to the public.
"The convocation address is, as I understand it, to be kept brief, so I want to emphasise the usefulness of `useless' subjects as a way of maintaining reason as a feature of liberal societies," he said. "On `The Benefits of Doubt,' I shall argue for scepticism, or at least for the need of sceptics in societies - like all societies - disposed to intolerance and dogmatism. The screenwriting talk is a question-and-answer kind of event, I should have thought, but I'll kick off with some edifying scare-stories."
Dr. Gareth Schmeling, classics professor at the University of Florida, is responsible for bringing Raphael to Gainesville. Schmeling said he's pleased to bring a "real writer" to UF.
"Many of the people who lecture on writing are connected to the academic world," Schmeling said. "They aren't really out there writing full-time. Raphael has been earning a living from writing all of his adult life. He's actually in the public sphere."
Indeed, he's never had any other job.
"Writing for me is a way of life," Raphael said. "I never imagined any other. But then, a writer can be highbrow, journalist, screenwriter, reviewer, etc. Proteus has a good time, if he has the imagination. Success for me has been the ability to make enough money to go on being a writer."
Douglas Jordan can be reached at 374-5036 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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