Newton’s Rings

Jeremy Bernstein

Stanley Kubrick’s second film, an RKO short that he made when he was 23, was called Flying Padre. It was about the Rev. Fred Stadtmueller, who flew around New Mexico tending his parishioners. Kubrick had taken flying lessons himself. I am not sure when it happened, but by the mid-Sixties he had decided never to fly in anything again. He told me that he considered it too dangerous. This meant he didn’t do much travelling and all the long-distance journeys he made – such as relocating his family to England in 1965 – he made by boat. He explained to me that the best way to transport your possessions in this kind of move was in Boy Scout foot lockers – small trunks. For his move to England he had purchased 140. Not flying posed a problem during the Cuban missile crisis. Kubrick had decided that there was a considerable chance of a nuclear exchange between the Soviet Union and the United States and that his prospects would be better if he went to the Southern hemisphere. Australia seemed like a good choice so he booked a passage on a boat with his family. However, before leaving he learned that he and his wife would have to share a bathroom with a neighbouring cabin. He cancelled his booking and decided to take his chances with the atomic bomb. Not long afterwards he began working on Dr Strangelove.

I met Kubrick soon after Dr Strangelove opened in 1964. I had just started writing for the New Yorker when its editor William Shawn asked me if I would consider a piece about science fiction. I never much liked science fiction, but I said I would look into it. My friend and colleague Gerald Feinberg, a physics professor at Columbia and a great science fiction fan, recommended Arthur C. Clarke. Clarke was not very well-known then, but I set about reading everything he had written and found that I liked it a great deal. I wrote an enthusiastic article, and soon after it appeared I got a note from Clarke saying he was coming to New York from Ceylon (as it then was), where he lived, and would like to have lunch. In the course of lunch I asked him what he was doing. He said that he was working with Kubrick on ‘a son of Strangelove’. I had no idea what he was talking about, but he said he would introduce me to Kubrick. So we went to Kubrick’s large apartment on Central Park West. I had never met a film director and had no idea what to expect. When I first saw Kubrick and the apartment I said to myself: ‘He is one of ours.’ What I meant was that he looked and acted like almost every eccentric physicist I have ever known. The apartment was in chaos. Children and dogs were running all over the place. Papers hid most of the furniture. He said that he and Clarke were doing a science fiction film, an odyssey, a space odyssey. It didn’t then have a title.

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