Katharina Kubrick is Stanley Kubrick's daughter. At her father's passing, she worked with her mother Christiane on Eyes Wide Shut's posters. Those are the first from Stanley Kubrick's filmography done digitally. Three concepts were rejected by Warner Bros. until they find the concept of the final poster we know. She kindly agreed to answer our questions.
In our fist messages, you told me that you’ve got involved in these posters because you felt Warner Bros. was too much focused on the erotic part. Can you give some details? Did they show some unused concept posters you could describe?
WB’s were sending us poster concepts. I’m assuming no one in their graphics dept had seen the film yet, therefore the design ideas we saw were too lascivious and therefore unsuitable. We and the WB’s publicity man here in the UK, felt that they were off the mark and that Stanley wouldn’t have liked them.
Your mother led the campaign. How did you work together ? What inspired you for these tones and the style of the poster, which were rather different from the final one?
My mother felt very strongly that she knew Stanley’s taste best of all, and she wanted to design the posters... WB’s kindly agreed. My mother is an artist and has a strong sense of colour and design. We hired someone who could help us with the computer side of things, and through discussion and trial and error learning how to use the programmes (Painter and Photoshop), we felt that MASKS were the way to go. We obtained full face photos of Tom [Cruise] and Nicole [Kidman]. It was my job to create the cut out masks so they still looked like them, and then apply the crazed surface effects of masks. Christiane [Katharina's mother and Stanley's spouse] was very involved with the colours and we chose the font very carefully.
These posters were made digitally while both of you were "traditional" artists, working with oils. You were assisted by a "computer geek" as it was more or less the first time you turned a computer on. Why did you work digitally? Was this simply a requirement from Warner Bros, or were you curious about these technologies?
Working digitally was the only way to do it. We were both complete beginners and learned on the job.
How long did you work on these posters? Do you feel it would have been longer (or quicker) if you designed it traditionally?
It was weeks of work actually. But we were under a certain amount of time pressure to produce something we felt was appropriate to the film and that Stanley and the studios would have liked. It was a sad time, we were still crying, but the mission of making beautiful posters for Stanley’s last film was important to us. It would have taken much longer if we had used traditional mediums. Neither one of us is a graphic artist or calligrapher. Those are very specialist skills.
Eyes Wide Shut is the only poster from your father’s career digitally designed for the first release. If he was curious about new technologies, do you remember him being interested by Photoshop (which was released just after Full Metal Jacket) or he simply never mentioned it from what you can recall?
Stanley was well aware of Photoshop, and I'm guessing that had he lived, whichever artists he engaged to design his posters might have used it too. Stanley would have loved the speed and the potential for endless tinkering... Personally I fell in love with the “undo” button, so much better than an eraser!
Your father was quite involved in the poster and marketing campaigns of his movies. We know he asked Philip Castle [A Clockwork Orange poster designer] and Saul Bass [Spartacus and Shining posters] to design several concepts which he then rejected (which often happens). But could you tell at which extent was he involved? Did he used to have some poster concepts in mind or references before hiring any artist?
He was utterly involved. I don’t know how he initially chose the artists, previous designs perhaps, but their willingness to work with him was important. He always said he didn’t know what he wanted but he knew what he didn’t want. And, creativity being the strange beast that it is, once he saw an idea, that would spark other ideas. Basically he explored all avenues until he found the image that worked best for him. The image/poster design had to be as effective on a large One Sheet poster [US standard size for film posters] as in a small two inch ad in a newspaper. The image had to be strong, legible, clear, recognisable and representative of the movie.
In an interview for Sight & Sound you explained that if they rejected the red posters, it's because Warner Bros. wanted to profit as best as possible from Kidman and Cruise's notoriety [note: I was mistaken, it's not exactly what's said in the interview]. Were there any other reasons?
Their reasoning was that as we had the two best looking actors in Hollywood in the movie and "why would we turn them into masks?"; they felt the public wouldn’t recognise them. I think the mask images are perfectly clear, not to mention their names were on the poster.
You’re not a painter anymore but have you ever been offered to work on any other film poster?
I still have a studio, but painting has taken a back seat for the moment. My right hand and eyes aren’t what they were. Bizarrely, working as a jeweller/metal smith now, puts less strain on my RSI... When I was working in the film industry in the Art dept, I was sometimes called upon to make a poster or two, but rarely.
From your father’s filmography, which poster do you like the most? What do you feel about the posters made for his films’ re-releases?
I still love the Clockwork Orange poster best, it does everything a good poster should do. It’s such a striking and powerful image. New poster designs and re branding are all about bringing things up to date for a younger audience I suppose... Personally I can’t see the point. But it’s marketing thing isn’t it; and, if it helps find a new audience for Dad’s films, then that’s only a very good thing.
Finally, what makes a good poster?
A film poster has a hard job to do. It needs to be striking ,elegant, informative, mysterious yet relevant, and lastly enticing enough to make the viewer want to see the film.
*Credits: Stanley Kubrick Film Archives LLC, Warner Bros. and University of the Arts London at Design Museum — Photos by Offset & Match
A huge thanks to Ms. Katharina Kubrick for her availability, her kindness, and her precise answers. Interview conducted by mail in June, 2020 by Alexis Veille.