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New Screenplays Show Stanley Kubrick’s Fascination With Troubled Marriages

Three never-before-seen screenplays by Stanley Kubrick lend new insight into the filmmaker’s early career – and possibly his second marriage.

The scripts, which are sketches for longer projects that never materialized, were recently found in Kubrick’s home where his widow, Christiane Kubrick, still lives. The Guardian reports that the pages were transferred to Kubrick’s archive at the University of Arts in London.

Titled “Married Man,” “The Perfect Marriage” and “Jealousy,” the marked-up rough drafts were written between 1954 and 1956 and present ideas of infidelity and marital resentment that would only enter Kubrick’s work in earnest in his final film, 1999’s “Eyes Wide Shut.”

“It tells us that he was always interested in making a film about marriage, and that it took him the best part of four decades to achieve it,” said Nathan Abrams, a professor of film studies at Bangor University in Wales and the author, with Robert Kolker, of the forthcoming “Eyes Wide Shut: Stanley Kubrick and the Making of His Final Film.”

The scripts, which were written while Kubrick was married to dancer Ruth Sobatka, his second wife, are typed with the director’s handwritten annotations. “Married Man” is the most complete of the screenplays, with 35 pages plus notes.

In it, Kubrick, in the voice of a character, did not exactly write approvingly of the institution of marriage.

“Marriage is like a long meal with dessert served at the beginning,” Kubrick wrote in the first lines of “Married Man.” “Can you imagine the horrors of living with a woman who fastens herself on you like a rubber suction cup whose entire life revolves around you morning, noon and night? … It’s like drowning in a sea of feathers. Sinking deeper and deeper into the soft, suffocating depths of habit and familiarity. If she’d only fight back. Get mad or jealous, even just once.”

There are a number of elements in the drafts that became a part of “Eyes Wide Shut,” a film he changed considerably from its source material, Arthur Schnitzler’s 1926 novella “Traumnovelle,” which Kubrick first acquired the rights to in the 1960s.

As Abrams noted in the Forward, while the characters in Schnitzler’s book were early 20th-Century Austrian Jews, Kubrick and his co-writer Frederic Raphael shifted the story’s setting to Christmas-time in contemporary America and made the protagonists WASPs.

On his draft of “The Perfect Marriage,” Kubrick scrawled: “Setting Xmas. Wife preparing for party Xmas eve that night. Fussing. Husband depressed by Xmas. Story about marriage, fidelity, cheating.” in one of the scripts there is also a character named Alice — the same name as the character played by Nicole Kidman in “Eyes Wide Shut.”

The themes explored in these pages are uncommonly humdrum for the ambitious filmography Kubrick would soon develop, which notably engaged with the callousness of the military industrial complex (“Dr. Strangelove,” “Full Metal Jacket”), the nature of creativity and freedom (“The Shining,” “Spartacus”) and the ultimate space age trajectory of the human race (“2001: A Space Odyssey). But the sketches do offer a rare glimpse into an little-researched time in the life of a famously private artist.

At the time the drafts were written, shortly before Kubrick and Sobatka’s 1957 divorce, the director was still honing his style and subject matter, making crime and noir-flavored films like 1955’s “Killer’s Kiss” and 1956’s “The Killing.” It would have been interesting to see where his career went had he pursued more intimate and original story ideas.

Whether these ideas were personal is not so easily settled. Because we know so little about Kubrick’s life at the time, we can’t say with any certainty if they reflect his relationship with Sobatka.

M.T. Genevieve, a biographer of Sobatka, commented on Abrams’s Twitter account, offering that Kubrick’s expectations for his wife might have been the cause of their marital problems.

“Ruth Sobotka’s life did not revolve around Kubrick and that was a problem for him,” Genevieve wrote. “Sobotka was a fiercely independent artist devoted to dance and design. I cannot speak for his first wife Toba Metz.”

“Whether we take this as autobiographical or not is one thing,” Abrams said, “but it certainly sheds a lot of light on his working process.”

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture fellow. He can be reached at [email protected].

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