Cinema Station

Kubrick and Chess and the Arab Prince and Gregory Peck | August 17, 2010

Eyes Wide Open , Frederic Raphael’s account of his work with Stanley Kubrick, frustrated me; it is a contradiction, a tortured journal of insecurity written about the supposedly insecure by the insecure. It is perhaps one of the most essential books about movies I have ever picked up and I would recommend it to anyone with cinema interests.

I will say nothing more about the book but to post an excerpt.  This is more dialogue between Kubrick and Raphael.

Kubrick: Sure. I played chess pretty seriously at one point.

Raphael: What was the most serious?

Kubrick: Depends what you mean by serious. I played with some Arab prince one time. That was pretty serious. He had this ivory-handled pistol in his belt. He heard I played chess, so he challenged me to a game.

Raphael: What happened? Did you accept?

Kubrick: It was his house, there were a lot of people around, it was kinda hard not to. Yes, I did. He said he was pretty good. He had this fancy chess set in the next room he took me to.

Raphael: Good players don’t like to play with fancy pieces too much, do they?

Kubrick: Probably not. But he had this fancy set he liked to play with. He closed the door and played a game. He wasn’t bad, he wasn’t good.

Raphael: You won?

Kubrick: I won pretty quickly.

Raphael: So what happened?

Kubrick: He wanted to play again. What could I do? We played again. I figured he didn’t want to

go back in the other room too fast.

Raphael: And what happened the second time?

Kubrick: I made a mistake.

Raphael: And let him win?

Kubrick: And didn’t.

Raphael: You won again! Was that wise?

Kubrick: Probably not.  But… that’s what happened.

Raphael: What did he do?

Kubrick: He didn’t pull his gun exactly, but… He showed it to me. He… made me aware of it. And then he smiled, not too much of a smile, and he said we should go back in the other room where everyone was. He patted me on the shoulder and let me go through first. I didn’t feel too… easy about his attitude, but he was okay. When they asked him who’d won, he looked at me and then he said, “We each drew a game.” I didn’t argue. Anyone who knew anything about chess would know it was ridiculous. And anyone who didn’t, so what?

Raphael: Do you know the story about Greg Peck and Willie Wyler?

Kubrick: I don’t think so.

Raphael: Peck was producing and starring.

Kubrick: Okay.

Raphael: And the first day, Peck suggested Willie shoot a close-up of him. Stanley Donen told me this story. Willie said he didn’t need a close-up and Greg said it would be a good idea to shoot it in case. Willie said they’d pick it up when they had time. He kept putting it off, and finally Greg, as producer, threatened to close the picture down if Willie didn’t do this particular close-up. The studio people came down and begged him not to endanger the whole picture, so Willie said okay, he’d do it before the end of the shoot. Greg said, “Do I have your word? Because otherwise I’m walking right off this set.” And Willie  said, “You have my word.” They went right through the last day of shooting and they still hadn’t done this particular close-up. They did the last setup and Willie said that it was a wrap. End of shooting. Greg couldn’t believe that he still hadn’t had his close-up. Willie said it was too late. Greg said, “You promised. You gave your word. How can you do this?” Willie said, “Know something, Greg? A man holds a pistol to my head, there isn’t anything I won’t promise.”


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