One of Stanley Kubrick’s many thematic obsessions was the topic of war, including the human urge to commit it and the moral outrage of such brutal affairs. Such a theme ran through 1957s Paths of Glory, 1964 satire Dr. Strangelove, and the director’s take on the horrors of the Vietnam war in Full Metal Jacket in 1987. Whilst the latter of the three films is perhaps the most sprawling in terms of quality, it is the one film that delves into the mind of a soldier and not the authoritative figures that control the individual.
Kubrick began his research on the film in 1983, watching archival footage and studying Vietnam newspapers and hundreds of photographs from the era in the Library of Congress. Working with co-writer and Vietnam war correspondent Michael Herr, the journalist was initially disinterested in revisiting the torment of his experiences of Vietnam, with Kubrick spending three years to persuade him to participate. Herr described the period of time as “a single phone call lasting three years, with interruptions”.
Thankfully, Herr eventually gave in to Kubrick’s incessant demands and joined the project. Due to the director’s major fear of flying, Full Metal Jacket was shot in England from 1985 to 1986 under particularly extraordinary circumstances. Using a number of eclectic locations, including the Norfolk Broads, former Beckton Gas Works, as well as the Isle of Dogs, Kubrick attempted to recreate the ruin of Vietnam on home soil and, ultimately, didn’t replicate its scale.
Scenes of Vietnam’s open country were filmed across the River Thames, supplemented by 200 imported Spanish palm trees and 100,000 tropical plants from Hong Kong. Unbelievably, the director also had a plastic replica jungle flown in from California, only for him to turn round and say, “I don’t like it. Get rid of it”.
Like many of Stanley Kubrick’s films, Full Metal Jacket had a fascinating production process with 18 hours of footage shot by Stanley’s daughter Vivian currently in storage. Five minutes of that fascinating footage has been released and provides some incredible insight into the working process of the iconic director whilst shining light on his more sensitive side.
It all starts with a fruitless conversation about tea breaks, in which Kubrick states: “If you had a tea-break at four, you don’t have to break for a tea-break. This must just be a complimentary tea-break,” he confusingly announces, before adding: “If you broke for tea at four you don’t have to break for tea at six, then break for a meal at 7:30, figure it out”.
Towards the end of the clip, the narrator details, “It was around the time of the release of Full Metal Jacket that rumours of Kubrick’s apparent eccentric reclusive behaviour began appearing in the papers”. Producer Rick Senat elaborates on this, referring to an article from the time published by Punch Magazine, “There’s a thin line between being an artistic perfectionist and being a barking loon, Stanley has clearly crossed that line and then some,” he states.
Listing some of the accusations against the director, Senat stops and addresses the camera, saying, “Stanley was not clinically insane as Punch suggests. He was not insane, he was one of the smartest men who ever lived”.
Quite right too.