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Film

Inside Kirk Douglas’ feud with Stanley Kubrick: “He was a bastard”

Stanley Kubrick was never considered the easiest director to work for. Even Gary Oldman, a legendary star who never actually worked with him, could tell you that. As he once revealed in an industry tale, uttered in the behind-the-scenes circles of Hollywood: “Originally Harvey Keitel was in Eyes Wide Shut,” Oldman began.

Continuing: “He was playing Sydney [Pollack’s role]. He was doing the scene and they were just walking through a door and after the 68th take of this, just walking through a door, Harvey Keitel just said ‘I’m out of here, you’re fucking crazy’. He just said, ‘you’re fucking out of your mind’, and left.”

Such extreme focus and such little communication, however, evidently tested some actor’s patience. Oldman’s story gives a gleaning insight into the pressures that performers faced in front of Kubrick’s lens. “He would just say do it again,” he continued. “I don’t know whether he was looking for something very specific and he wasn’t going to tell you? I mean I love Kubrick’s films, but I don’t know how I would’ve worked with that.”

As for Kirk Douglas, the late Hollywood stalwart simply doesn’t know how he did work with that. The pair worked together on both Spartacus and Paths of Glory, but their relationship was a tempestuous one, to say the least. “He was a bastard!” Douglas opined on his 100th birthday, clearly with his wits still about him. “But he was a talented, talented guy.”

“Difficult? [Kubrick] invented the word,” Douglas comically continued. “But he was talented. So, we had lots of fights, but I always appreciated his talent.” However, it is a mark of the artistic defiance of both men that from the very start of their collaboration they were at it like cat and dog, but knew they were only clashing while striving for the same thing. 

The results showed that they did finally get on the same page. However, even that came with a wild twist. The definitive moment that Douglas yells “I am Spartacus!” may well be the most memorable moment in their decorated collaboration, but Kubrick was reportedly never fond of the iconic line. 

These high, lows and artistic mysteries tested both cinema heroes to their limits. In fact, even when the pair were firm friends, they were so evidently at the end of their tethers that Douglas’ wife even suggested they attend therapy together. Kubrick indeed did go to therapy where he was told to read Traumnovelle

He would eventually transpose that into the film Eyes Wide Shut. And the final denouement of this funny Hollywood tale is Douglas’ final appraisal of that picture: “It was the lousiest picture.”

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