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Q&A: Christiane Kubrick on Stanley Kubrick’s “voracious” reading habits

Stanley Kubrick and Sue Lyon on the set of Lolita, 1960. © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. (photo: Joe Pearce)

TIFF’s new exhibition, Stanley Kubrick, celebrates the master filmmaker through nearly 1,000 artifacts that provide insight into his influences, processes, and personal obsessions.

Of the 16 films Kubrick created over his 48-year career (three shorts and 13 features), 11 were adapted from literary sources. Included in the show are correspondences between the filmmaker and author Vladimir Nabokov, whose controversial novel Lolita was adapted into a film so “degenerate” the Catholic League of Decency declared viewing it a mortal sin. Also featured in the show, a 1977 edition of Stephen King’s horror novel The Shining,  annotated by Kubrick.

At the exhibition preview, Q&Q spoke to his widow, Christiane Kubrick, about the late filmmaker’s love of books.

What kind of a reader was your husband? He was voracious. And fast. I admired and envied him – he could really swallow a book in a night, and it wasn’t superficial reading, either.

Did you have a robust library? Middling. He kept losing books and lending books, and slotting lots away. He would have liked the internet so much – he would have Googled everything.

Did Stanley ever read for pleasure? He didn’t sleep very much – he had a four-hour average. Possibly, he might have lived a little longer if he slept a bit more, but he always had time for reading.

How would you describe his relationship with the authors? He liked working with authors very much. If he had time to sit there with them, he liked nothing better because it’s very lonely when you first set out with a story; just talking about it made it so much easier. In the end, he would do it by himself though, because once he had all the material and thoughts collected greedily like an octopus, then he had the time to think about it and write the script, which was really his favourite time. That, and cutting the film.

Are there connections between the books that he adapted? You can say it’s all about dissatisfaction with our brains, our mankind problems, our morals – you could connect them, but you could connect any story if you go long enough. He really tried to chose different topics so he had a new thing to play with.

Why did it take him 28 years for him to realize the adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s novella Traumnovelle into Eyes Wide Shut? He had a great many topics hovering, as you do. But all his life he was so mesmerized by the original story and never let it go. He was very glad he made the last film.

This interview has been edited for clarity.