Stanley Kubrick didn’t like giving long interviews, but he loved playing chess. So when the physicist and writer Jeremy Bernstein paid him a visit to gather material for a piece for The New Yorker about a new film project he was writing with Arthur C. Clarke, Kubrick was intrigued to learn that Bernstein was a fairly serious chess player. After Bernstein’s brief article on Kubrick and Clarke, “Beyond the Stars,” appeared in the magazine’s “Talk of the Town” section in April of 1965, Bernstein proposed doing a full-length New Yorker profile on the filmmaker and his new project. For some reason, Kubrick accepted. So later that year Bernstein flew to England, where Kubrick was getting ready to film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Bernstein stayed there for much of the filming, playing chess with Kubrick every day between takes. When the piece eventually ran in The New Yorker it was appropriately titled “How About a Little Game?”
One thing Bernstein learned about Kubrick was that he loved gadgets. He had a special fondness for tape recorders. In the profile, Bernstein quotes the filmmaker’s wife Christiane as saying, “Stanley would be happy with eight tape recorders and one pair of pants.”
So when it came time to do the interviews, Kubrick took control as director and insisted on using one of the devices. “My interviews were done before tape recorders were commonplace,” Bernstein later wrote. “I certainly didn’t have one. Kubrick did. He did all his script writing by talking into it. He said that we should use it for the interviews. Later on, when I used a quote from the tape he didn’t like, he said, ‘I know it’s on the tape, but I will deny saying it anyway.’ ”
Kubrick talked with Bernstein on a range of topics related to his early career. In the nearly 77 minutes of audio preserved in the recording above, Kubrick discusses his bad grades in high school and his good luck in landing a job as a photographer for Look magazine, his earliest film work producing newsreels, and all of his feature films up to that point, including Paths of Glory, Lolita and Dr. Strangelove. He talks about his working relationships with Clarke and Vladimir Nabokov, and his views on space exploration and the threat of nuclear war.
The exact time of the interview is difficult to pin down. Sources across the Internet give the date as November 27, 1966, but that is certainly incorrect. While it’s true that Kubrick gives the date as November 27 at the beginning of the tape, Bernstein’s profile–which includes material from the interview–was published on November 12, 1966, and Kubrick made corrections to the galley proofs as early as April, 1966. The interview was apparently conducted in multiple takes starting on November 27, 1965 and ending sometime in early 1966. Filming of 2001: A Space Odyssey commenced on December 29, 1965 (a month after the taped conversation begins), and near the end of the tape Kubrick mentions having already shot 80,000 feet, or about 14.8 hours, of film.