11 May 2024

The Magic Eye:
The Cinema of Stanley Kubrick

The Magic Eye

Banned by Stanley Kubrick! Finally released after more than fifty years! In this case, the hyperbole is true: Kubrick blocked the publication of Neil Hornick’s The Magic Eye: The Cinema of Stanley Kubrick in 1969, and it was published for the first time last month.

Hornick was commissioned by Peter Cowie’s Tantivy Press to write the first book on Kubrick’s films, and Kubrick agreed to cooperate, though he drew up a prohibitive contract giving him the right to veto anything in the manuscript that he disliked. Famously, Kubrick was a control freak, and he was demanding final cut on Hornick’s book.

Cowie had planned to release a series of books on major filmmakers, modelled on A Ribbon of Dreams, his own monograph on Orson Welles. He would eventually commission and publish works on a handful of (mostly European) directors, though Kubrick would not be among them.

Once Hornick had finished his manuscript and submitted it to Kubrick, he received a lawyer’s letter informing him that the director “does not approve” of its contents. Months went by, with Kubrick declining to clarify his objections, and refusing to return the manuscript. As Cowie was bound by the contract, Hornick was forced to abandon the project.

At the same time that Kubrick was stalling over Hornick’s manuscript, film critic Alexander Walker was also writing a book about the director. Unlike Hornick’s, Walker’s work—Stanley Kubrick Directs—was just the puff piece Kubrick was looking for, and he cooperated extensively with Walker. Stanley Kubrick Directs was published with Kubrick’s endorsement, while The Magic Eye was shelved until this year.

Kubrick’s decision to abruptly turn his back on one author (Hornick) and switch his attention to a rival (Walker) would be repeated years later during the preproduction for AI. Kubrick worked with several collaborators on the AI script, one after the other, cutting off contact with each in turn. Ian Watson, Brian Aldiss, and Sara Maitland have all subsequently revealed how Kubrick summarily dispensed with their services once he had found a replacement writer.

The Magic Eye now includes a timeline of the protracted legal case, and a foreword by Filippo Ulivieri, author of 2001 Between Kubrick and Clarke (2001 tra Kubrick e Clarke) and Stanley Kubrick and Me (Stanley Kubrick e me). Ulivieri notes that Kubrick’s delaying tactics were similar to his treatment of Arthur C. Clarke: he refused to approve the manuscript for Clarke’s novel 2001 until after the film was released, keeping Clarke and his publisher in limbo.