Articles | Interviews | News | Notes | Pictures | Quotes
Thom Powers | Indie Wire 8/9/06
On Saturday night, there was a screening of "A Clockwork Orange" set for 10 pm. Moore asked me to come backstage at the State Theater to finish a conversation we'd begun earlier. There was McDowell asking if he could beg off doing a Q&A afterward so that he'd be fresh for the next day's morning panel. Moore suggested they do something special beforehand, then headed on stage to make the introduction.
But instead of getting on with the show, Moore took the opportunity to solicit feedback from the audience for any suggestions they had for next year's festival. This went on for fifteen minutes while McDowell waited in the wings with Jan Harlan, director of the documentaries "O Lucky Malcolm" and "Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures." How was McDowell going to respond to being kept waiting while his 2 1/2 year old son Beckett was eager to go to bed? "You know, I've been to a lot of festivals," he said to Harlan, "and this is the very best one." Then he went out on stage and treated the lucky crowd to a live rendition of "Singing in the Rain" as a prelude to its use in "Clockwork."
Director Stanley Kubrick hailed as a genius
By Maggie Lillis
Traverse City - He died seven years ago, but Stanley Kubrick lives on in the
memories of those who admired him. Participants in a Traverse City Film Festival
panel Sunday represented the spectrum of those connected to Kubrick. They ranged
those who knew and worked under his command to admirers of the director and his
art form. Malcolm McDowell, who acted in "A Clockwork Orange"; Matthew
Modine, who was in "Full Metal Jacket"; Jan Harlan, executive producer
of many of Kubrick's films; and festival co-founder Michael Moore gathered to
pay homage to the legendary filmmaker. The two-hour discussion, titled "The
Genius of Stanley Kubrick," was the last of six panels held during the
festival. It was part of a weeklong tribute to Kubrick, commemorating the 50th
anniversary of his first film. Moore's admiration of Kubrick is detailed in the
festival's program guide. He fondly recalls sneaking into a local theater in
Flint to see "A Clockwork Orange," which he said changed his life.
"For me, this is a personal high point," Moore said during the panel. "I'd consider (Kubrick) a primary influence for me and taught me to make movies that aren't the norm." Several adjectives for Kubrick were tossed around - genius, brilliant, ground-breaking - causing the panelists to debate Kubrick's interpretation of himself.
"The genius thing is funny. If he was a genius, I wouldn't know it because I'm not one," Modine said. "The ingeniousness was the focus he had, the power of consciousness like a religious leader has."
McDowell recalled when he began working with Kubrick on "A Clockwork Orange." The director's presence was daunting, he said. "I didn't know how he wanted me to play this part, I was scared, but after the first day I was fine," he said. "You can't go walking around saying, 'I'm working with a genius.' You have to go drink your coffee and get on with it."
The group also dished about some of Kubrick's directorial habits: clearing his throat often, spending large amounts of time executing a shot and repeating takes multiple times. "He once said to me, 'I get accused of being a director that does a lot of takes, but it's not my fault - it's yours,'" Modine joked. Moore handed off moderating duties to the panelists, who offered stories about Kubrick's persona, talent and how he viewed outside attention.
"He would have hated this because he wouldn't have been in control," McDowell said. "(During his life) he had a couple of covers of Time magazine and the photo credit was 'S. Kubrick.' "
Harlan was probably best acquainted with Kubrick, since he was not only his executive producer but also his brother-in-law. He recently directed "Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures" and brought a short clip of Kubrick accepting an award. The footage is considered rare because Kubrick was known for being private and refusing interviews. "His personality, his wit and his charm shine through in that five minutes," Harlan said. "I know the man and that must have been so hard for him."
Kubrick was 70 when he died in 1999 of natural causes. Moore closed the panel by presenting an award to Harlan that marked the festival's tribute to Kubrick. "I've carried him and his voice with me all these years," Moore said. "I hope he knows that wherever he is, he's appreciated."
Film Festival Q&A... with Jan Harlan
By Tom Carr, Record-Eagle staff writer
Record-Eagle: As the producer of Stanley Kubrick's films since 1975, I assume you had to help get funding for the films?
Jan Harlan: No, the funding was easy because we worked with Warner Bros., exclusively. Warner Bros. was very interested in keeping Kubrick in the fold, since he was a very good trustee. They really loved him. He was the kind of artist where you either do the thing or you don't. It's not a committee work. He was a one-man band. In some ways, my job was to help him to take away things that had nothing to do with his artistic vision. He was a man who was very strict on himself. Very demanding on himself. But hard to be satisfied on himself in the first instance. And of course, it affected everyone else and so he was a hard task-master, but it was great fun.
RE: So you were taking care of the business end?
JH: I negotiated. That's what I did. For things and for people and whatever permissions or rights, and that's what you do.
RE: Early on, before you were working with him in that capacity, did they have trouble because of the controversial nature of his films, finding backers.
JH: Oh, no. I mean, very early in his life, when he was a young man, he had big problems. But I think Spartacus really put him on the map as a major Hollywood director and after that, he was quite clear in his mind that he would only do films on which he had the final cut. Otherwise he wouldn't do it. Enough films are being made to not add another one that you're not really happy with. That was not his style.
RE: You started with Kubrick with "Barry Lyndon" in 1975....
JH: Actually, I started with the preparation of a film that was never made, which is "Napoleon," the life of Napoleon. Napoleon was a very important figure to him, because it's a relevant figure for today. That's what interested him. He was not a guy who wanted to give a history lesson. He wanted to show why Napoleon was an enormously talented and gifted, charismatic man, who had in the end, only himself to blame for his downfall. He was almost an icon of human folly and that's what interested him and in fact, it is almost the common denominator throughout all of Kubrick's films, if you look closely.
Film Festival Q&A... with Malcolm McDowell
By Marta Hepler Drahos
Record-Eagle: How are you finding Traverse City and the Traverse City Film Festival?
Malcolm McDowell: Very pleasant. I'm here because of one reason: Michael Moore. And who wouldn't be? I'm a great admirer of his. Not only is he a brilliant filmmaker, he's made documentaries a really important film form again and I'd like to thank him for that. Although as an actor there's no chance of me being in any of them. But I'm thrilled for him because he's politically such a brave person. And what he's done takes a lot of courage and we should all back him up. And I'm not really into the Republican, Democrat bull--t, I'm just talking on a human level, as an intelligent human being and a generous one that he is. He puts his money where his mouth is. Now I learn that he's put up a lot of money for the festival. I don't know anyone else who'd do that, frankly. I hope this community gets it, loves him for it and can get past the bulls--t of "Oh, well, he's anti-president." Anti-president, my ass. He's just anti-stupidity-knee-jerk reaction, he's anti-that, like every concerned citizen should be.
RE: You're also here because of the Stanley Kubrick retrospective. Your portrayal of Alex DeLarge in "A Clockwork Orange" jump-started your screen career?
MM: Actually it didn't. Because when I'd done this (1969) film, "If," that was a very important film and that really took me to Stanley Kubrick because he saw the film and he loved it. So when he read "Clockwork Orange" - this is what I was told later - he only thought of my face as the part. I was very lucky because Stanley Kubrick was one of the great masters of film and there was a handful of truly great ones ... The amazing thing is that "Clockwork Orange" was the most popular film of the ones that Kubrick made and it's still as fresh as ever. It's still being played. I think its even more (relevant) today. The interesting thing is that when it first came out, nobody could get past the violence of it. When we made it, we made a black comedy. It was pretty black, but it was a black comedy. Now audiences just roar with laughter. So they really get it. Now we've caught up. When I saw it four years ago or the last time I saw it, I was amazed at how much the audience got in terms of comedy. It was just really nice to see.
RE: Does it bother you that 35 years later, after everything you've done, you're still known best for that role?
MM: Not really, because it was a career-defining role and how many do you get in a career? It's not that many. John Gielgud was always known for his Hamlet because he's an excellent Hamlet. But you know, roles I've played lately are very different. So I think that young people know me from (the HBO series) "Entourage," they don't even know "Clockwork Orange," so that's interesting in itself. It used to (tick) me off, but 10 years after I did it, I said, "Well, you know. I'm doing another film now; I don't give a damn about that film." But the truth is, with time, you go, "Hey, wait a minute. You should be so lucky." And that's the way I feel now. I'm so fortunate to have made it. It still is such a living thing in a way, even though a lot of the people who were connected with it are gone now. But it's still an amazing piece of work.
RE: I read that your role as the leader of the violent gang was so unforgettable that the public couldn't separate the character from the actor later.
MM: It wasn't the public, it was the people that cast films, and the directors. I think it was so indelible at the time. Which was, of course, a back-handed compliment. But I was (ticked) off because they just wanted me to play the same part, which I refused to do. And Mick Travis in "O Lucky Malcolm," which I got to do straight after, was the antithesis of Alex, he was an innocent. And then you've got idiots like (then critic) Charles Champlin of the L.A. Times saying, "Well, it's basically the same part." It isn't the same part.
RE: The role you play in O Lucky Man was inspired by your work as a coffee salesman. How did that and other jobs that are unrelated to the film industry help you with your acting career?
MM: When you're a salesman, you do tend to change your spots with whomever you're trying to sell to. I was selling coffee in Yorkshire to these landladies, and if you know England, you know that, especially in Yorkshire, they don't drink coffee, they drink tea. So I was sort of, "Oh, that young fellow," "Oh, the coffee man." And they would be asking me things like, "Can you fix the espresso machine?" And I'd say, "Fix it? No, I just sell the coffee. I don't know about that. You have to get the mechanic to do that. But I'll try." I remember once I was there eight hours trying to figure it out and completely ruined it for them. But it was a very good place. I always say it was my drama school. And the joke was, because I followed a guy who was the salesman for that area who literally sold everything but coffee - he was into selling nylons, watches, radios on the side - by doing just the minimum amount of work, I was setting records for the territory in terms of sales. And in fact, they all thought that I was some wunderkind, which was actually untrue ... I used to go places and they'd say, "That watch I bought is not working. I want (a replacement). "I'd say, 'Watch? I'm the coffee salesman.' "Well, we bought a watch from ..." And I'd say, "He's no longer here. That was illegal dealings." So it's all in the film. We used everything. And it's a beautiful film.
RE: Why do you think that there was such furor over "A Clockwork Orange," which was actually x-rated at one time?
MM: Films have to break boundaries and we're always pushing the boundaries. The thing about "Clockwork Orange" is its brilliance, if you like. It's not just a violent film. I don't think there's hardly any blood at all. The only blood actually is mine, from a nosebleed. It's all sort of "mind." It created a futuristic world which foretold, by the way, all these gangs and drugs, and that's what (novel author Anthony) Burgess and Kubrick were able to do. And so it's really brilliant from that point of view. You have this dichotomy, this central character who is really an immoral character, he's a murderer, he's a rapist, but he has redeeming qualities, one of them being he loves Beethoven. You can't be all bad if you love Beethoven. So my job was, I suppose, to make him tough and yet make sure we didn't lose the audience. So I chose to do this in his love of life. You can't hate somebody, even if they're doing the wrong thing, if they love life. And that was the way I did it. It was a conscious decision on my part to do it that way. It was hard. It was a very delicate line and at times I wasn't sure I could pull it off.
RE: What are some of your favorite memories of working with Stanley Kubrick?
MM: Actually he had a great sense of humor when you found it, very dry. Which sort of really suited me because mine is a bit the same. And I really could make him laugh. I could make him laugh so much at times that he would actually cry. And when he went, he really went. So that was very special.
RE: You've played such a wide range of roles - everything from Caligula to H.G. Wells to John Lennon to the mad scientist who killed Captain Kirk in "Star Trek: Generations." Weren't you even "a British person" in South Park? What do you look for in a role?
MM: I don't. They look for me. You can only do what you're offered. I like to think of myself as a working actor. It's not to say I would do absolute crap, if I thought it was. But if it's actually crap with a big, big payday, because I'm pragmatic - I have to pay my mortgages, you know - of course I'll do it. Because I'm a professional. And I don't censor the roles I play. If I have to play a murderer, I don't say, "Oh, dear, I've got to get into the skin of a murderer, otherwise I won't know how to do it." Because I'm a professional, of course I know how to do it. So I don't need to go into a big method thing and all that. But I have been very lucky. I recently did a film with Bob Altman playing the artistic director of the Joffrey Ballet in a beautiful film, a little vignette kind of film, called "The Company," which is a beautiful film. And to work with a master like Bob was a thrill for me because I'd known him for 40 years and I used to joke to him, "Don't ever be a friend of Bob Altman if you want to be in one of his movies." We've always had a great time together, he and I. Wherever we met and whatever city we were in, we'd get together, have dinner, and have a raucous time, great laughs, into the wee hours. And we were naughty boys, really; nothing malicious, just good-natured. And I did a wonderful film in Russia called "Evilenko" about a serial killer. It's quite an amazing film.
RE: And then there's the (1998) remake of "Fantasy Island," in which you play Mr. Roarke, and (1996-1997's) "Pearl" with Rhea Perlman. I've read some criticism that sometimes you're in some real "dogs." Should every dog have its day?
MM: Of course. The thing is this: I'm not the director of the film or the writer. I'm only the actor. I'm not an artist. I just say what they give me and try and make something interesting out of it. It's the best I can do. It's not rocket science. And I try to do it with humor and I try to do it with energy, and I try to have fun. Some of the films are absolute crap, but there you are. As I say, I'm a working actor. You learn something from everything. And I've done a lot of work, so of course you're going to get your (share) of terrible movies, but I'm always looking for that little pearl in the oyster. "Evilenko" is one of them, and there's another one called "Gangster No. 1" which is the most profane, violent film I've ever made, but it's a brilliant piece. So there have been some great parts in my life. I'll do "War and Peace" in Russia at the end of the year. And before that I'm going to do a film in Toronto, "A Pound of Flesh," which is based on a true story about an English professor at a university on the East Coast who, to help his female students pay their way through college, sets up an escort service. So basically he's an English professor-pimp. It's a lovely part and he's an adorable man.
RE: It sounds like you don't have any trouble getting parts.
MM: I've been kept pretty busy. I've been doing Entourage this year, and they wrote a very nice part for me on Law and Order. Normally they don't, it's all plot. Really, if they had a gorilla with a pipe in its mouth as one of the actors, you'd never notice. But this was a really good part, so I did it. "Monk" I did because of Tony Shalhoub, who I adore.
RE: So you're not one of those movie actors who pooh-poohs the small screen?
MM: God, no. I mean, I'll do a radio play if it's well written. I don't really care.
Malcolm has finally gotten his own documentary with the best possible person to direct it - Stanley Kubrick's brother-in-law who made the amazing documentary Stanley Kubrick a Life in Pictures. It debuted at the TCFF and will play other festivals and be released on DVD possibly in the next round of Kubrick Collection releases.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That's the mantra for the 2006 Traverse City Film Festival, opening the night of July 31 and running through Aug. 6. Among the films being shown will be a collection by Stanley Kubrick, part of a tribute marking the 50th anniversary of his first feature film, "The Killing" with Sterling Hayden. Kubrick made 11 feature films ("Spartacus," "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Lolita," "The Shining") and all will be shown. As part of the tribute, Malcolm McDowell, star of "A Clockwork Orange," and Matthew Modine, who was in "Full Metal Jacket," will be attending the Film Festival, as will members of Kubrick's family who are flying in from England. Jan Harlan, Kubrick's brother-in-law, executive producer on most of his films and producer of a documentary, "Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures," is coming, too. He'll show the documentary and participate in a Kubrick-themed panel discussion. www.traversecityfilmfestival.org
MM did a 25-or-so-minute discussion after O Lucky Malcolm! with Jan Harlan and Michael Moore. Malcolm discussed his films and performances he liked and disliked. He didn't like Caligula.
Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures 8/4/06, 1:00 pm Old Town Playhouse with Jan Harlan in attendance.
Malcolm on the
Malcolm making Jeff Daniels laugh
Malcolm with arms folded
Malcolm listening to Jeff Daniels
"I woke up at 6:30 a.m. to answer a calls from Malcolm McDowell about the chances of squeezing in a round of golf (9 holes) before a 10 a.m. panel. " Charlie Wilson
"Tom Hanks is the LAST actor anyone should have ever thought of to play the lead in the DaVinci Code. Ron Howard is SUCH a boring director, so Middle America. Want to fix the industry? We can start by not employing people like Tom Cruise for $30 million. How stupid is this business, that we pay talent that kind of money? You can make 10 movies with that much money! It's ridiculous." - Malcolm
“People say Kubrick’s films are so brilliant; each is so utterly different and unique from the other, all completely different genres. But of course this is not possible. An artist is only one person. There is a common denominator to all of Kubrick’s films, and it is this: human folly. Kubrick’s favorite work of his was “Eyes Wide Shut”; he thought it was his masterpiece. Many people did not understand that film. But it needs to be seen more than once. No artist should ever be limited to one viewing only. Regarding whether this documentary (about Kubrick’s life) is subjective — of course it is. Objectivity belongs in a chemistry lab. Only a subjective opinion is an interesting and valid opinion. And if a documentary is a lecture, and is not entertaining, it will fail.” –Jan Harlan
This page archived 2006-08 by Alex D. Thrawn for www.MalcolmMcDowell.net