5 Things You Might Not Know About Stanley Kubrick's 'Full Metal Jacket'

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by Oliver Lyttelton
August 7, 2012 11:22 AM
5 Comments
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Stanley Kubrick was never the most prolific of filmmakers, but his productivity slowed right down in the last couple of decades of his life; while there were several projects he worked on that never got made, including "Napoleon" and "A.I.," the director only made three films in the last twenty years of his career. And sandwiched between 1980's "The Shining" and 1999's posthumously-released "Eyes Wide Shut" was his Vietnam war epic "Full Metal Jacket."

Profane, profound and endlessly influential on war movies to come (it features an early use of the shutter-speed effect that Steven Spielberg would later make popular with "Saving Private Ryan"), the film, quite unlike anything else that Kubrick ever made, follows a group of aspiring U.S. Marines as they are pushed through basic training by their sadistic drill sergeant, and shipped out to Vietnam. Full of unforgettable sequences and typically pitch-perfect filmmaking, it's somehow less talked about than some of Kubrick's pictures, but certainly remains one of his most powerful and brilliant films.

Released 25 years ago, today sees the arrival of a new anniversary Blu-Ray of the film. But that's not all for Kubrickphiles, as Matthew Modine, the film's star, put out a new iPad app today that sees the actor narrate the photos and journals he kept, at Kubrick's encouragement, throughout the making of the movie. To commemorate both, as well as the release of the film 25-and-a-bit years ago, we've gathered up five things you might not know about Kubrick's Vietnam classic. Read on for more.

1) The film began from the seeds of a Holocaust movie that Kubrick wanted to make.

Kubrick had already made one of the all-time great war movies with "Paths Of Glory," and indeed, when he first started thinking about a new project after "The Shining," the director wasn't intending to make a film in the same genre as his earlier Kirk Douglas-starrer. As far back as 1976, Kubrick was starting to think about a Holocaust film, attempting to get Nobel Prize-wining Jewish-American author Isaac Bashevis Singer ("Enemies: A Love Story") to write a script for him. It was in this context, shortly before the release of "The Shining," that Kubrick contacted Michael Herr, who'd been the war correspondent for Esquire magazine in Vietnam, and written the acclaimed memoir of his time there, 1977's "Dispatches." Kubrick wanted Herr's opinion on whether an adaptation of historian Raul Hilberg's seminal "The Destruction Of The European Jews" could work, but talk soon turned to Vietnam. The pair came across Gustav Hasford's novel "The Short-Timers," and decided to adapt that instead, with Hasford working on the screenplay along with them. After "Full Metal Jacket," however, the Holocaust still lingered in Kubrick's mind, and in the early 1990s the director came very close to making "Aryan Papers," an adaptation of Louis Begley's "Wartime Lies," about a young Polish Jewish woman and her nephew who take up identities as Catholics to avoid persecution by the Nazis. Kubrick cast "Jurassic Park" actor Joseph Mazello as the boy, with Dutch actress Johanna ter Steege ("The Vanishing") as the aunt, but scrapped the project after the release of Steven Speilberg's "Schindler's List."

2) Co-writer Gustav Hasford didn't attend the Oscars, partly because he'd fallen out with Kubrick, and partly because he was being prosecuted for stealing library books.

Like Herr, Gustav Hasford had been a reporter in Vietnam, although one attached to the Marine Corp. After returning, Hasford moved in science fiction-writing circles, publishing stories and even sharing an apartment with Harlan Ellison at one point, before writing his Vietnam novel "The Short Timers." It became a bestseller, and was optioned by Kubrick; the two would talk on the phone for hours at a time, and Hasford was ultimately asked to help write the screenplay. They'd never met in person, however, his fearsome reputation having preceded him (Herr described him as "scary"), and when the three writers finally had dinner, it went badly -- Herr would later relate in his memoir, "Kubrick," that the director passed him a note saying "I can't deal with this man." After that, he was frozen out by the director (at one point, Hasford snuck onto the set disguised as an extra, only to be mistaken for Herr), and had to sue in order to receive credit on the screenplay. As such, it was unlikely he would have attended the Oscars when the film was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay (its only nod) in the first place, but it can't have helped that not long before the ceremony in 1988, Hasford was arrested and charged with having stolen 10,000 library books from around the world, which had been found by campus police in a storage locker at California Polytechnic State University. Hasford eventually plead no contest, and was sentenced to six months, serving three. The following year, he published his sequel to "The Short-Timers," entitled "The Phantom Bloomer," which sees Joker captured by the Viet Cong and fighting alongside them. A third entry was planned, but Hanford died of heart failure in Greece in January 1993.
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5 Comments

  • Mitchell | August 15, 2012 5:23 PMReply

    The correct title of Hasford's sequel to 'The Short-Timers' is 'The Phantom Blooper.'

  • Art | August 8, 2012 11:07 AMReply

    Lots of Kubrick info I'd never heard. Thanks!

  • Joe | August 7, 2012 1:15 PMReply

    Full Metal Jacket's second half may be one of the most misunderstood pieces of cinema ever. Kubrick made arguably the three greatest war films of all time (this, Paths of Glory and Dr. Strangelove) and FMJ is his most critical, brutal, symbolic and difficult one... which may be the reason for this. Which is a shame.

  • rotch | August 7, 2012 12:56 PMReply

    My problem with Full Metal Jacket is that once Ermey and D'Onofrio exit the film, it looses all its steam.

  • Rodrigo | August 7, 2012 1:10 PM

    This has also been one of my issues with it too. It's 2 movies. Training and Vietnam and I've always liked training. Thought the paranoia of the sniper shoot out in Vietnam is great.

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