From: The Observer - 14 March 1999
Stanley's car used to deliver me to Castle Kubrick at about 10 o'clock in the morning when Stanley was just up and dressed. We would greet each other, and then he would generally say, 'How about a breath of fresh air?'
He would open a door on to his rolling acres and light a cigarette. He would go forward about 10 paces, inhale deeply and turn, 'That's enough,' he said. It was always funny Stanley Kubrick was a master of the movies; he was also King of the Great Indoors.
It was that sense of humour which kept us going through difficult times. Times were always difficult when one worked with Stanley. Difficult for him, too. We had a minor character in the story, who had to be provided with a job. Stanley's question, uttered plaintively, was, 'Brian, what do people do who don't make movies or write science fiction?'
I looked blank. 'Write real novels?' I asked.
Considering Stanley's authoritarian attitudes, and my hatred of authoritarianism, we got on well, or pretty well, for something like 17 years. I admired that ferocious and capacious mind.
Stanley first called me one day in 1974. He had bought my history of science fiction, Billion Year Spree, which had already got me into enough trouble. There he discovered a line which stated that, because of Dr Strangelove, 2001 and A Clockwork Orange (which 'may well come to be regarded as one of the masterpieces of the cinema'),'Kubrick should perhaps be acknowledged as the great SF writer of the age.'
Cross my heart, this was never intended as bait; its innocent intention was to bait those egotists within the SF fold who regarded themselves as 'the great writers of the age'.
Anyhow, Stanley and I met for lunch in Boreham Woods. He bore a great resemblance to Che Guevara. Bearded, with unkempt dark hair partially trapped under a beret, he also wore a jungle-green uniform. That just-back-from-Bolivia style was maintained for some while, but we became chummier as the meal and the wine progressed. We talked about movies, science fiction, and the decline of everything.
Later, I received a note, asking me to send him one or two of my books. It is an indication of my naivety that I sent him the novel just published, The Malacia Tapestry, and a collection of short stories. In that collection was a short story that had appeared originally in Harper's Bazaar entitled Supertoys Last All Summer Long. Whatever this story did for the readers of Harper's, it seemed to go deep into the Kubrickian psyche. It's a vignette of a childless woman who adopts an android resembling a five-year-old boy; the android is programmed not to know he is not a boy, while the mother cannot find it in her heart to love him. Why I wrote this brief tale, why it appealed to Stanley, is a question future students can answer.
Over in Hollywood, meanwhile, George Lucas was slowly but surely laying his plans against us. Twentieth Century Fox released Star Wars on a suspecting public in 1977. Stanley and I met again, and Stanley asked me to help him evolve a story that would gross as much as Star Wars, while enabling him to retain his reputation for social responsibility. Over lunch, we constructed an archetypal story about a youth of poor family who goes out to overcome a great evil. During his adventures, he meets with a mixed band of adventurers. They go forth together. Together, conquering the great evil, our young hero wins the hand of a princess.
'Oh, shit,' we said. 'We've reinvented Star Wars!' (Later on, similar remarks were to take me to a law court in California - but that's another story ...)
Kubrick bought Supertoys in 1982. Arthur C. Clarke recently sent me a letter reporting an exchange at the time. Kubrick: 'I would not pay as much money to any other writer.' Aldiss: 'I would not sell my story to any other director.' Now you can read it for free on the Internet.
Then the trouble started. I signed a contract that contained a fatal clause. If a card showed in the completed movie, saying 'Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Brian Aldiss', all well and good - then I got two million dollars. However, if that card also said, 'Additional dialog by Terry Southern' (or whoever), then I got nothing. Would it not be all too easy to find someone to insert a half-dozen extra lines? Any fool could see that.
So I signed. I wanted to work with Kubrick.
We had various preliminary chats. I told him that my vignette would not expand. He reminded me that that was what he had done with Arthur C. Clarke's story, The Sentinel, to make 2001. He could expand it. Unfortunately, in this one case, I was proved right. Stanley has never made Supertoys (later Al), and now is never likely to.
One morning, at home over breakfast, I said to my wife, 'My God, I've seen how you could do it!' 'Come over,' said Stanley. I went, all aglow, and explained. Stanley shook his head. 'Forget it. It won't do.'
Nevertheless, I went over to St Albans to work with him. To enter an ogre's castle is always something more energising than feeding a cat. He had an Italian jack of all trades - a very decent man, but humble, called Giovanni, I think. He served Kubrick every day and made his bed. One Christmas, he had to work and I remember Stanley asking him to come in on Christmas Day as usual. 'But I have my family,' he said. Stanley, in his most wheedling and yet authoritarian fashion, replied 'just a couple of hours'. He knew how to get his own way.
Margaret and I lunched a couple of times with the Kubricks. I found the day was lost when I got no smile from charming Mrs Kubrick, the painter. For the rest of the day, we worked and sweated. Then I would return home every evening, to work and sweat. I was haunted by the spectre of Stanley roaming his immense technology-cluttered rooms, waiting till his friends in California were rousing and phoneable. I felt compassion for a man trapped within the conch of his own genius - as I was then also trapped within it. I had grown out of having a boss long ago.
It was hell. But fun. Trouble was, Stanley did not want to fake. He wanted a real five-year-old android boy. Stanley could call in an ever-faithful assistant and say - I use an apocryphal example - 'Get me Mitsubishi.' 'Who do you want to speak to at Mitsubishi, Stanley?' 'Mr Mitsubishi. Mr Mitsubishi would come on the phone. 'Oh, Mr Stanley Kubrick! How can I help you?'
Everyone on the planet knew Stanley. Don't tell me that doesn't egg you on to behave antisocially on occasion. Particularly when you have produced a quota of varied and astonishing films. You can even name one shot that proves Kubrick's imaginative genius. The shot in 2001 where the ape man, having discovered a tool, a weapon, flings a femur into the air in triumph. Up, up it goes, into the sky, transforming into the Moon shuttle ... Brilliant! Undeniable! Beauty laden with human and scientific understanding!
How greatly Stanley cared about the story is shown when later he phoned Arthur Clarke and offered him 'all the money in the world' to work with him on the screenplay. I liked Arthur's response: 'There isn't that much money ...' Later, Arthur relented slightly and sent Stanley a screenplay following on from my Supertoys. Stanley did not like that either. So our two stories lie together, awaiting a publisher who wants the script of one of the world's great unfilmed films.
Stanley never got his little android. I never got my movie (or those $2 million that would have so corrupted me and the family). We could not agree on a storyline. I wrote part of four different novels for him instead. He phased me out.
Many different people have grudges against Kubrick. Peter George, whom I knew, wrote the novel Red Alert, which Kubrick transformed into his marvellous black comedy, Dr Strangelove. Suffering fear and pain about the threat of nuclear war, George no doubt was sorry to see it turned about. He killed himself shortly afterwards.
People have made capital out of this fact. But George was a victim of the Demon Alcohol. He would start with a sip of whisky and wake up a fortnight later in a Glaswegian gutter, poor guy. Many of the complaints against Kubrick spring from jealousy. No wonder he remained indoors, hermit-like!
I was not the first person to lose his favour. It was the end of friendship. Stanley lit a cigarette, turned his back on me, walked away. Shit, I thought, and then was happy and free.
OK, so to be a genius is not to be a saint. Powers of imagination do not necessarily encompass the social niceties. To hell with social niceties - let's just be grateful that Eyes Wide Shut is still to come.