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Riccardo Aragno

Translator of Italian versions of Kubrick's films, Aragno was Kubrick's close friend and coworker from the 1960s on. The photo at right shows the writer with an original copy of Eyes Wide Shut, the last film he translated, and a personal letter from Kubrick in which the director dismisses criticism of the Italian version of A Clockwork Orange: "Dear Riccardo, The story about the Clockwork Orange dubbing is a complete nonsense. I have always used the Italian dub as an example of how good a dubbing can be. My best to you and Mario. Stanley" (April 10, 1996, published in Ciak July 1999).

Stanley Kubrick's Italian friend

"An isolated ogre? A neurotic, distant man? He was the happiest guy I've ever met! In his private life he was always joking around."

Riccardo Aragno is moved. He was Kubrick's italian friend, a journalist and screenwriter, and he worked on all the Italian versions of Kubrick's films. Aragno is 84. His friendship with Kubrick began in 1961.

"We met in London, in Peter Sellers' house, for whom I wrote The millionairess, a movie with Sofia Loren directed by Asquith. The day after we met, he called me at home: 'It's Kubrick, we spoke yesterday at dinner. What are you doing for breakfast?' And so our friendship was born. And we've been faithful friends now for over 30 years. We spent last Christmas together, and he promised me I could translate his last film, Eyes Wide Shut. He wanted me to find an Italian title for it."

What was the basis of your friendship?
Cooking. He always wanted me to cook for him. And we were both runaways, he from America and I from Italy. He called me "the at-home philosopher". We wrote a movie together about Napoleon, but it was never made. Before 2001 we wanted to make a slightly pornographic movie, but the project was later abandoned.

Why he was such a lonely person?
He always said: "I can't waste time with people that are a waste of my time." He never tired of reading or studying. He was insatiable, almost maniacal. He maintained that one can never put too much stuff in the brain. But he wasn't alone. He had a wife, Christiane, whom he met during the making of Paths of Glory, in 1957. She is the girl that, at the end of the movie, moves the soldiers with her singing. He had three daughters. And a few friends.

What kind of jokes did he tell?
His sense of humor was scathing, sometimes crude, as in A Clockwork Orange. It could make your skin crawl. A lot of people think humor serves as a diversion, something to make you laugh. He thought it helped you think, even at the cost of bites and wounds. One has to know a bit of evil, he said, to be able to reach a high level of joy.

Did Kubrick become English? Or did he remain American?
He was American for about a 30%. The last time he went back in the United States was when he needed to show to a commission of politicians his most political film, Dr. Strangelove. He finished the cutting on the ship. The film ended with the Russian ambassador that threw a pie on the American president's face. When he was just arrived he phoned me: "They killed Kennedy, few hours ago. We have to redo the ending." Since then he never came back to his country.

Why didn't he go back?
He didn't want to be subject to the demands of the huge Hollywood production companies. He wanted protect his independence at all costs. I remember one of his sayings. When his film A Clockwork Orange was released it caused fights among critics but broke boxoffice records. He said me: "Riccardo, now the danger is to think that one needs two pairs of shoes."

Corriere della Sera, 8 Marzo 1999
Translated from Italian for ArchivioKubrick by Eleanor Paynter

Riccardo Aragno
Kubrick up close
by Claudio Masenza

The Private Life and Work of a Genius, Told by His Italian Friend and Colleague
Peter Sellers' joints at Princess Margaret's house, the dark truth about the censuring of Eyes Wide Shut, death in the editing room. Riccardo Aragno, who oversaw the Italian versions of Kubrick's last films, talks about his friend with surprising private photos.

Stanley Kubrick and Riccardo Aragno first met in '61 at Peter Sellers' house warming party in the London countryside. Sellers was making Lolita with Kubrick and had spent the previous year acting alongside Sophia Loren in Anthony Asquith's The Millionairess, which Aragno adapted from a comedy written by George Bernard Shaw. Both foreigners in England, Aragno had been a film critic for the BBC for a some years, during which time Kubrick had made a name for himself with The Killing and Paths of Glory but only Spartacus, the least personal of his films, had been a box office success. The director from the Bronx was 34 years old and fifteen years younger than the intellectual from Torino who would be in charge of the Italian translation and dubbing of his last five films.


A costume party at Kubrick's house at the end of the '80s, with balloons. On the left Jan Harlan with his arm around his wife. Next to them, Anja Kubrick and her partner. Anja was born in 1959 and is the older of the two daughters the director had with his third wife Christiane. Following in the photo are Christiane, Stanley, and Katharina K. Hobbs, the daughter that Christiane had with her first husband, Werner Bruhns.

"I was born in the age of radio and had known Sellers for years because we'd made the mythic radio program Goon Show together, which he produced. Stanley Kubrick was a big fan of Sellers because, as I later learned, he was intrigued by bizarre types. But everyone loved Peter. Even Princess Margaret, even though he often embarrassed her. Once, at dinner at her house, I had to tell him not to smoke marijuana: the house was full of police officers. That first evening Kubrick was depressed and spoke to me about the dangers of an imminent atomic war. He was certain it would begin due to a stupid error. We spoke about it at length. And he confessed to me that he wanted to by an island in the Pacific to save himself. Three years later Dr. Strangelove was released. Maybe that night, while our friendship was being born, he decided to exorcise his fears by satirizing them on screen. The next day he called me and asked me to breakfast. Our regular breakfasts continued for about thirty years. He went out all the time; he was never a recluse, but he was always poorly dressed and no one ever recognized him."

"I quickly became his confidant. In the late afternoon he would call me and invite me to dinner at his place; I always made pasta for him. He loved spaghetti alla puttanesca. Then, after A Clockwork Orange, he was given 50% of the earnings of his films. And when he understood that he would become rich he told me, 'Now the danger is wanting two pairs of shoes.' He wasn't fixed on money, but to protect himself and his family from the media, he bought a huge home in the country enclosed by a high fence. The décor reflected his passion for austerity, but the house was full of cinematographic equipment. There was even a projection room, and on Saturdays, after our regular lunch, we would go back to the house to watch new films. Distributors always sent them to him to ask his opinion. Often, mid-movie, he would propose heading to the kitchen for coffee. And his wife and our friend Milena Canonero would be watching with us and would shout towards the kitchen at us, 'Come back, its' not bad!' But to see a new Petri or Fellini he would run to the theater. He was bored, though, with Visconti's Death in Venice. Many directors wanted to meet him and in those last years he spoke often on the phone with Pollack and Spielberg. I remember, though, that once John Franhenheimer was nearby in London and asked to meet him. But no, Stanley didn't want to lose time with people he considered mediocre. He was instead become friends with Stanley Donen. It was at that time that we were assembling research for a film about Napoleon and the two Stanleys always place Battles, playing out the Battle of Waterloo. And Kubrick won. Always. We worked for two years on Napoleon. Then Metro read the screenplay and said no. It would have cost too much and they were sure that Americans didn't care at all about Napoleon."


Another nice photo taken by Aragno at the party at Kubrick's house: from left to right, Anya and her partner, Jan Harlan, Stanley, Christiane and their second daughter Vivian, born in 1960.

"He often wanted me on the sets of his films. And I was always interested in watching him at work. The beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey was filmed with the Front Projection system. They were photographs taken in the desert and projected in MGM's studio theater behind dancers playing as monkeys. And he told me how the civilization was born with the discovery of war."

"I began to translate his screenplays into Italian with A Clockwork Orange. He asked me because it was difficult to translate the language of Anthony Burgess, a modest imitator of Joyce, who had created the novel on which Stanley based his film. I worked with Mario Maldesi, who was the adaptor and director of dubbing, and Stanley, who didn't speak Italian, completely trusted us."

"A Clockwork Orange was invited to the Venice Film Festival and for the premier, Stanley sent Milena Canonero, the film's costume designer, to substitute the projection equipment there with that of his own projection room: with him nothing could be left to chance. When he was filming Barry Lyndon I worked through 50 seventeenth century operas to find one aria to use in the film. He decided that it needed a specific, romantic music, so I suggested my friend Nino Rota. They worked out a contract immediately and Rota arrived. I took him to meet Stanley and then left them alone. An hour later Rota called me in tears. Kubrick had made him listen to a piece by Schumann and said, 'I want this.' Mediation was useless and they dissolved the contract."

"He rarely told actors what he wanted. A little explanation was enough for them to find the right expression. He was sure of his eye and ready to redo a scene even sixty times. Wasting film didn"t bother him. He bought tons of it, always from the same batch. He didn't have deadlines given that he was in charge of his own work. He would wait. But not everyone could meet the standards of James Mason and Peter Sellers. He was always kind but became very nervous around actors. They irritated him, especially those who considered themselves particularly talented. But he thought that bad moods on the set didn't matter, what mattered was what came out on the negative."

"He was an atheist Jew who threw Christmas parties. But I didn't go to the last one; I was sick. He told Milena Canonero that he wanted Maldesi and me to work on the Italian version of Eyes Wide Shut. And after Christmas I received the script and a tape of the film with the sequences that could create problems blacked out. I've know now that the question of censuring has been resolved, but I can't say more. I will translate the script and Maldesi will do the dubbing. As always we recorded the auditions for the main roles so that Sanley could listen and decide. Even for Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, who had set voiceovers, we were able to work with complete freedom but this time he didn't make it in time to choose. A Roman friend called me around 5:30pm on March 7 to tell me that he had learned of Kubrick's death on the evening news. I couldn't speak until after 9:00"

"Then, in the confusion of the moment, I understood that the evening before he had gone to the garage where he had his editing room and where he worked for years, often alone, on his films. The next day the found him there, on the ground. Only now have I begun to understand what I've lost. But I prefer to think about what I had for all these years!"

Ciak, July 1999
Translated from Italian for ArchivioKubrick by Eleanor Paynter

Riccardo Aragno

copertinaAragno wrote, close to Kubrick's death, the book Kubrick: Storia di un'amicizia (published by Schena Editore in October 1999) where he describes thirty years with the director, between breakfasts, dinners in the kitchen surrounded by Stanley's labradors, discussions about the movie business, etc. On the back of the book Aragno writes:
In Hollywood films were born in studios... Stanley's idea was different: like the painter's one, the sculptor's one, the poet's one, the writer's one, the musician's one... We used an english term for this idea - a bit seriously and a bit comically - "a Cottage Industry".
The book is dedicated to Christiane.

Kubrick: a Story of Friendship [excerpts]
by Riccardo Aragno

One evening, in the long grassland of the house in Elstree, owned by Kubrick, Stanley directed the camera towards the couple of labradors that were the actual landlords.
I could see that he was interested in the joy of the dogs.
He came near to me and his wife Christiane, always focusing the camera towards the dogs. Suddenly he said: "After all, all you need are five or six intelligent shots for a movie to have a meaning. Of course, each of them has to be planned. They have to nail into the mind of the public. It is important that the frame can be a solid point for the entire scene."
The cinematographic discourse was like the logical language, except that the image is richer than the word.

After lunch or dinner [at Elstree and after at St. Albans] we used to watch movies. Stanley and me, we were the operators.
Often, if the movie was bad, Kubrick said "Coffee?", meaning "Now we go to the kitchen to have a coffee and the women watch the first reel to check if the film deserves our time because we don't have time to watch silly stuff". Sometimes an happy shout emerged: "Come back, stupid. It's ok!"

Interested in every scientific thing, Kubrick plans his films with a military strategy.
In this preparatory phase, that is very long and full of emotions and often of discoveries and remorse, everything should be planned. Everything should be foreseen and anyone, among his five or six members crew, who is late in terms of days, hours, minutes, seconds, is ready for death penalty. It is a keen stare, that painters would have used to represent Jupiter himself.
In the perfect, scientific, military kubrickian organization chaos might appear. These are moments of great pressure: electricity at 100%. The essence of Cottage Industry [a definition used by Aragno in opposition to the method used by Hollywood film studios] is to have no reserve that an assembly line would require.


Stanley photographed by Aragno in his villa garden at the end of the 1970s.

The plans that Stanley Kubrick the producer planned for Stanley Kubrick the director were extraordinary.
They reported everything, as he would have managed the budget down to a single dollar.
A chief in an office could show them to teach how to produce a film to these producers that spend their money without responsibility. [...]
Stanley Kubrick was very unbending about time and money. Not a day in addition to the necessary, not a dollar in addition to the necessary. Some of his ideas looked like the fundings of the early neorealist productions that I assisted to in the 40s.
One of the habitual outlay at the beginning of a production is to rent a number of cars, drivers included, to transport the crew.
With Stanley everything was different. He would advise all the cast to use their own car. For the crew Stanley bought four small pick ups, Volkswagen mini-van. One for the cameraman and his equipment, one for the costume department, one for the electricians, one for food and drinks. At the end of the movie, pick ups were sold to half the price to the people that used them and this was considered a kind bonus. Thus Stanley saved two thirds in opposition to a middle hollywoodian production.
As a producer Stanley Kubrick planned everything and never forgot anything. His crew was often very numerous (one hundred and two people, I think, for Barry Lyndon). This was because two more arms are often useful. But, while the engine of production began to move, life started punctually to win again.
It wasn't only the English rain that made wet a street that in the editing process would have been linked to a dry one; it wasn't only irish clouds that refused, for a month, to light a tree that was the background to a military duel. Often it was simply something more invisible: a doubt, an uncertainty, a change.
The doubt could regard an intonation, a gesture, for example Peter Sellers' arm that would spring in a Nazi salute; similar gestures takes a whole working day, in a movie. If suddenly Peter has a similar idea, you must move the camera, reset lights, change one actor's position in a different one. Often this doubt revealed itself in an intuition and an intuition is often a source of inspiration. Serious cinema is important for this: there is not any fixed situation. It's all about intuition.
The secret drama between Stanley Kubrick the producer and Stanley Kubrick the director is the duel between the producer valuing each dollar and the perfectionism of a director who had no limits. But the fighting between budget and new artistic tendencies has a usual winner, perfectionism: the "negative" side always wins, and it has a divine right to receive only the best that could be captured through the camera. The judge of this fight is a third Stanley Kubrick: the one that will take the responsibility of the movie and its effect on the audience.
At the end of the day you can ask to this Stanley Kubrick a summary of what he did and if the three or four minutes of film he managed to get will be part of the final cut or if they will go in the garbage. When you make a movie the concentration on the material you have to film is a terrible work: a work greater than the one of a writer, a painter, a composer; this was one of the main causes of Stanley Kubrick's loneliness.


Christiane in the villa garden, 1970s. Photo by Aragno.

Actors that worked with Kubrick and that knew him very scarcely, are often shocked because they are forgotten. They are used to work with directors that play for them, that give long and complex psychological explanation of the characters, or with directors that want rhetorical or theatrical performances. There are still actors with theatrical experiences that confuse a studio with a stage. [...]
I was present to a lot of scenes when, patiently, Stanley waited, according to Stanislavskij's method (never told by him), that the actor "find his tonality". He didn't want to "give it", he didn't want to teach, he wanted them to do by themselves.
In an actor that became a director, like Vittorio De Sica, there was such a complete knowledge of the stage, such an instinct and an experience that it was natural, for people who worked with him, to accept his orders. But Kubrick hadn't any experience in playing, he just had a great attention for voice's sounds, he knew what the actor could give and what the situation required. I could understand his powerful skills during the dubbing of A Clockwork Orange. Stanley phoned me very often to listen some voices in a particular part of the movie. Never he learnt a single word in italian, but from the sound he could understand each sentence. Not by words, but by sound.
Generally people thinks that vocals or consonants give the meaning to a word. But who uses three or four languages knows that they have letters, words, but sounds too. Very often we realize that two words with the same meaning have a different sound in different languages.
Cinema, who lives with dubbing, can underline this fact if you have the possibility to "listen" to a movie in various languages, especially if dubbing sessions are made by professional people.
Stanley said a lot of times that A Clockwork Orange sounded better in Italian than in English.
After the French dubbing session of Paths of Glory, Stanley shouted: "This is the true sound of the movie, not the English one that I made". Someone wrote that my dubbing of Full Metal Jacket is even better than the original one.

Once, chatting about photography with new tools that a salesman showed us, Stanley observed that cameras for movies have the same problems than cameras for photos. There are two possibilities: snap or pose. Either you plan places, lights, effects, or you take the right moment, hoping that the destiny gives you a powerful image.
On one side you have A Clockwork Orange, where camera can hardly film what happens on the set, on the other side you have Barry Lyndon, where everything is part of a picture.
The photographic style of a movie is determined by how snaps and poses alternate. Very often characters determine the choice: some actors - you understand this only when you are editing - can act revealing more than what you asked them for: these details reveal possibilities you didn't imagine.
We decided to prepare two coffees and Stanley, thoughtful, said: "This means that it's better to film a scene several times: the more you film the more you realise that an actor could give you expressions you didn't imagine. Next time, instead to try to make a movie with 30 thousand meters of film, I will buy 50 thousand. You cant' know what you can find during the cutting."
If you are part of the circle of cinema you surely know the impossible speed with which a scene is prepared, filmed and, a little later, cut away. Costumes are changed, scenes are substituted; often you can't rethink the scene you filmed yesterday, because it isn't there anymore. It is the same situation of a writer who cannot change a word, written the day before. This fleeting moment is something that obsess all the people who make a movie. [...] Stanley drank slowly his coffee and mumbled: "I want to be the only one who can decide when a scene we filmed is complete and the set can be dismounted."

We were both enthusiasts for computers, cameras, radios, recorder, amplifiers, microphones, magnetic records, vinyl records, photocopiers, phones with recorders and the possibility to communicate with three or four people simultaneously. But there were other interests too: recipes of Italian food, French cheeses, American and Chinese and Indian foods. [...] And jazz too. [...] But of course the most important interests were photography and cinema. We liked the variety of focuses, from the "50" with assorted brightness to the more complicated wide-angle lens. We used very much "135" by Nikon for portrait and we arrived with pleasure to the "180" by Angenleux on the Leica and other tools.
Regarding the cinema he needed the professional 35, but I used, for my works, my good 16 mm Beaulieu that I brought always with me. Once, when I was leaving to make a documentary for TV, Christiane lent me a "500" (the kind of camera with a couple of mirrors to keep short the focus). The night before I left the doorbell rang at half past three in the morning. They brought me a box on behalf of Stanley. Inside there was a small old 16 mm, but with an engine that could be loaded by hand. There was a note too: "If you were in the desert without batteries for your Beaulleu. Or when shops among dunes haven't batteries." Stanley liked to fancy about works' accidents that could happen to friends. He was an organizer with a great sense of humor.


The painting room of Christiane.

Until their last day together, Stanley and Christiane have been sincerely loving to each other. The intellectual and sentimental feeling of that couple was the great secret of Stanley and few people understood this. They were a combination of existences. Their thoughts were harmonized in a way that can be rarely seen in a couple.
Christiane and Stanley have spent their life together. She joined his work with love and enthusiasm. When they lived in Elstree, it wasn't unusual that Christiane spent her days on the set with Stanley. Seeing them together was an extraordinary experience. They could communicate only by gestures. By a gesture with the hand they could understand what the other thought. Christiane isn't certainly the shadow of her famous husband: she is a creative person and a good painter. Christiane worked with Stanley, but they have built and developed a family, they have organized a house, a good kitchen (even if once I saw Stanley taking a raw hamburger from the freezer and eating it calmly: to my shocked reaction, he answered: "Well, there are proteins anyway!"). They both loved classical music and Jazz, they had a huge library and a common passion for images, both cinematographic and painted.
But this situation was never static. Their two minds were always active.
Who spoke for the first time about a space journey?
Who showed the book A Clockwork Orange after that the project on Napoleone was destroyed by a phone call?
Who thought that, after all, Thackeray was still actual?
Who suggested to Stanley that Milena Canonero could have done the dresses for A Clockwork Orange?
Christiane, always. But everything happened with such a discretion that the intuitions seemed the result of Stanley's genius only.
In all these years of friendship with Stanley, it was impossible for me to distinguish the owner of an idea. This community, this union is one of the secret and fundamental aspects of the man and artist Stanley Kubrick, yet that never interested people.
I can't imagine the work, the style, the quality of Stanley's life, without Christiane. It was a true model of life within a couple, more fascinating of anything else.

Going to Kubrick's house was, every day, a show of familiar life spent sincerely. I remember Christiane painting "the green" of England, hot-colored works, essential, that show the deep and sentimental relation between man and nature. I remember Stanley solacing his daughter Vivian, sad because she saw a cat killing a bird. "This is nature, honey" said the father to the girl. "We'll have to get another bird, Vivian."
Kubrick's solitude and reservedness can suggest he was a snappish, asocial and pessimist guy. There isn't anything falser. Stanley, really, was a happy man and he was full of humor. The truth is that he had found out the value of privacy. He had understood that only preserving his own private life he could keep the relation with his beloved woman pure, or enjoy his daughter's love for him and stay with his relatives and few friends.
Always anticonformist, Stanley, with the extraordinary complicity of his wife Christiane, was able to build something our society has almost completely destroyed: a perfect model of familiar life. His greater and passional masterpiece.

Kubrick: Storia di un'Amicizia, Schena Editore, 1999
Translated from Italian for ArchivioKubrick by Eleanor Paynter

Riccardo Aragno
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