Resident Bohemians: The Futurist, Stanley Kubrick

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Soon after finishing Dr. Strangelove in 1964, Stanley Kubrick became fascinated with alien life forms and decided that he wanted to make a sci-fi movie. Not knowing much about it, he needed a co-writer, or rather, a co-creator. He knew roughly what he wanted to do, but he needed scientific expertise. Someone suggested Arthur C. Clarke, but Kubrick had heard he was a recluse, and a crazy one at that. Nonetheless, he sent a telegram to Ceylon—where Clarke was writing at the time. He got an enthusiastic reply. Soon Clarke was in New York and they were sketching out ideas. They decided to use Clarke’s short story “The Sentinel”—in which a monolith is discovered on the moon—as the seed for what they were jokingly calling How the Solar System Was Won. The plan was to expand on that plot and create an episodic book and film, and they wanted to

write the novel and screenplay versions of 2001: A Space Odyssey at the same time, with Clarke doing the bulk of the work on the novel and Kubrick doing the same for the script.

Kubrick initially set Clarke up in the office of his production company, on the Upper West Side. But after just one day, Clarke realized that he wouldn’t be able to work with Kubrick hovering around, so he snuck out and took a room at the Chelsea Hotel. He reportedly lived on tea, crackers, and pate, and kept room 1008 sparsely decorated, which runs perfectly contrary to the frenzied working conditions Kubrick kept. For every film he made, he made extensive notes and collected as much technical and historical data as he could. He was a perfectionist. A restless one. For their partnership to work, Clarke had to steal himself away to more writer-friendly confines. To borrow an image from another film, you can imagine Barton Fink carrying on his “life of the mind” in a dimly lit, smoky room, punching an old typewriter.

Despite Kubrick’s best efforts, news of the project leaked, and people who wanted to be involved began showing up at his offices, claiming expertise in this or that field. There was one man who was so dogged that he began camping out on a park bench across the street from the building, which frightened Kubrick to the point that he began carrying a hunting knife in his briefcase, stuffing it in with his stacks of paper. I can easily envision him rushing from his office down to Chelsea, casting furtive glances and making sure the knife is within reach at all times.

Kubrick loved Clarke’s first draft. Simply loved it. He took it and used it to secure funding for the film’s production, while Clarke went back to Ceylon to rewrite the novel. And this is officially where the film’s connection to the Chelsea Hotel comes to an end. However, there is something vaguely reminiscent of the hotel in one of the film’s final scenes (see below), after Dave has passed through the Star Gate. He ends up in a posh but anachronistic room, where the monolith watches over him and the EVA pod waits to be used again. The aesthetic of the room’s structure is classic sci-fi white and sleek, but the furniture is Louis XVI, and the combination creates a perfectly eerie mood. Perhaps a result of all of those trips Kubrick made up and down the hallways of the Chelsea Hotel.


Tom Roberge is an editor at Penguin Books and at Triple Canopy. He is also a book reviewer and devoted cinephile. More from this author →