'It's Only a Movie':
An Interview with Frederic Raphael
July 22, 1999
by Dan Lybarger
Originally appeared in the July 22-28, 1999 issue of Pitch Weekly.
Novelist and screenwriter Frederic Raphael has had his share of notoriety. He wrote the
Oscar-winning script for the 1965 movie Darling and earned a nomination for
penning Stanley Donens Two for the Road. However, the most recent movie he
has worked on may be the most hyped of his career.
Eyes Wide Shut has received voluminous coverage because of the nude scenes it
offers with stars Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman and because its director Stanley Kubrick (2001:
A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange) died shortly after the movie was completed.
Despite the hype, Raphael has still not had a chance to see it. Speaking from his home in
France, he says, Ive been promised a screening, but nobody has kept that
While much has been made of the lengthy production
schedule (almost two years) and the ulcer Cruise suffered during shooting, Raphael has a
much different perspective on the making of Eyes Wide Shut. Kubrick
wasnt making a movie when I was working with him. He was preparing to make a movie,
which is something quite different. Part of the charm of working with a director like
Kubrick, if there is or was a director like him, was that during the privileged period
before he even showed (the script) to the studio, it was just between him and me. You are
sort of creating a game in the ball court of theory. There is no film being shot; there is
no budget. It was in many ways a very exciting time. Its also very fraught,
particularly for a writer, because you dont know if its going to be of any
point, he says.
When you write a book, he adds, there are the pages;
theyre your pages. If that page is no good, you can change
it. If the publisher doesnt like it, you can get another one
and bide your time. That never applies to screenwriting.
However noble and clever it might be, it is a service
rendered. It is never an autonomous act. Thats partly the
horror of it and partly the charm.
Working with the director who made nuclear war funny
(Dr. Strangelove) and made a homicidal computer
sympathetic (2001) offered unique challenges. Raphael
says, Quite a lot of directors almost want you to conduct
the orchestra and to predetermine what is on the screen.
Kubrick, for reasons which I quite understand, although
they were frustrating for me at the time, didnt want my
signature on what we did. He wanted enough material for
him to be able to conduct the music as he chose. What he
did not want were scenes which had to be shot in a certain
way if they were going to make sense the way they were
written. He didnt say, Its no good or Youre
What he did not want was to be told by the implicit nature
of what was written how it had to be directed. To ask me
to work with him was flattering. What he wanted of me
was, in a sense, deflating. But thats the game you play.
Raphael says of Kubrick, Although he was an intelligent
man, I dont think that he was a supreme intelligence. He
had a sense of having missed a university education. He
was working when he was 17. It may have been his choice
because his father was not a poor man. I would not, to say
the least, call him a frank man. He talked about a great
many things and then would occasionally reveal little
anecdotal aspects of his own life. He was not interested in
our becoming buddies. He was avid for knowledge, which
he hoped I possessed, and which I tried to give the
impression I did. I dont have any notion whatever of being
In addition to meeting the directors demands, Raphael had the challenge of moving
Arthur Schnitzlers 1926 novella from Vienna to contemporary New York. He says,
The trick was to re-imagine all the elements, not just translate bits of Germanic
elements into more American dialogue. The very air (the characters) breathed, the
furniture, the reference points, all those things had to be changed. Its like a
transplant. If the heart doesnt pump, it doesnt matter how nifty you have put
the stitches. The point is: Do the people come to life? Once youve done that,
everything else will come to life, too. Im glad to say it was a bit tough, because
otherwise somebody else could have done it easily.
Raphael chronicled his experience on the project in Eyes
Wide Open: A Memoir of Stanley Kubrick. It was in
many ways a sort of love story. Admittedly, it was not a
love story with unmitigated love or with any
consummation. In a sense, the relationship between a
writer and a director he admires has this strange mixture of fear and yearning and hope
and dread, he explains.
The author attracted some controversy when The New
York Post ran an article about the book titled, Stanley
Kubrick, Self-Hating Jew. Raphael, who like Kubrick is
Jewish, was angered by it. The New York Post behaved disgracefully. They
put that headline on, which had nothing to do with the piece. I never said that Kubrick
was a self-hating Jew. The only self-hating Jew I can think of right off is
Saint Paul, he says. Nonetheless, Raphael stands by the book. I didnt
think my book was the least bit offensive to anybody, and it was certainly not intended to
be. There is nothing on Gods earth that would make me embarrassed to tell the truth,
and people who dont tell it should be embarrassed.
In addition to the movie and the memoir, Catbird Press has recently published
Raphaels latest novel, Coast to Coast. It follows a disastrous
cross-country trip that a TV-comedy writer and his wife take in a Jaguar on the way to
their sons wedding. The two plan on splitting once the ceremony is over. Raphael
states with pride that the catastrophes in the book have little to do with his own
I dont think its wise to assume that writers are incapable of imagining
anything outside their own lives. Ive written books about Greek homosexuals.
Ive never been homosexual or Greek. I dont write comedy scripts for
television. I dont have an E-type Jaguar. The only thing that really upset me in
that book was to write about a child dying. Our children are not dead, and thats the
only bit of the book that worries me, he says.
Youre not copying from nature, but you are copying
from your sense of how people have to be, he continues.
One of the things you have to bear in mind when you
write fiction is that there are always smarter people in the
world than you. Without being foolish about it, its
probably fair to say that probably not more than one percent of the human race is
out-of-sight cleverer. If you wonder what a lawyer feels like when he is going to court,
although you may not know the fine points of the law, on the whole, youre likely to
get things right. Thats why the gypsy who tells your fortune often amazes you by her
perceptions.What she is perceiving is that youre like 99.9 percent of the human
Despite the hubbub surrounding his recent work and the
release of Eyes Wide Shut, Raphael tries to keep some
perspective. He says, I do, sort of occasionally, hear in
my dreams the voice of Hitchcock saying, Its only a
Maybe its not only a movie, he says. Kubrick was a
great filmmaker, and I hope that comes across very clearly from what I said.
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