Stanley Kubrick’s Jazz Photography and The Film He Almost Made About Jazz Under Nazi Rule

35mm_11169_ 009

Stan­ley Kubrick (look­ing like a creepy Rowan Atkin­son above) came of age as a chess-hus­tling pho­tog­ra­ph­er in the jazz-sat­u­rat­ed New York City of the 1940s. He began tak­ing pic­tures at the age of thir­teen, when his father bought him a Graflex cam­era. Dur­ing his teenage years, Kubrick flirt­ed with a career as a jazz drum­mer but aban­doned the pur­suit, instead join­ing Look Mag­a­zine as its youngest staff pho­tog­ra­ph­er right out of high school in 1945. His regard for jazz music and cul­ture did not abate, how­ev­er, as you can see from pho­tographs like Jazz Nights below.

Jazz nights Kubrick

Kubrick worked for Look until 1950 (when he left to begin mak­ing films); he cap­tured a wide vari­ety of New York scenes, but often returned to jazz clubs and show­girls, two favorite sub­jects. I’ve often won­dered why Kubrick’s home­town plays so small a role in his films. Unlike also NYC-bred Mar­tin Scors­ese, Kubrick seemed eager to get as far away as he could from the city of his youth, but the filmmaker’s love of for­ties-era jazz nev­er left him. Accord­ing to long­time assis­tant, Tony Frewin, “Stan­ley was a great swing-era jazz fan,” par­tic­u­lar­ly of Ben­ny Good­man.

“He had some reser­va­tions about mod­ern jazz. I think if he had to dis­ap­pear to a desert island, it’d be a lot of swing records he’d take, the music of his child­hood: Count Basie, Duke Elling­ton, Har­ry James.”

Frewin is quot­ed in this Atlantic piece about a film Kubrick almost made but didn’t: an explo­ration of jazz in Europe under the Third Reich. The project began when Kubrick encoun­tered a book in 1985, Swing Under the Nazis, writ­ten by anoth­er jazz enthu­si­ast, Mike Zwerin, who left music for jour­nal­ism and spent years col­lect­ing sto­ries of jazz preser­va­tion­ists in Ger­many and for­mer­ly occu­pied Europe. One of those stories—of Nazi offi­cer Diet­rich Schulz-Koehn—struck Kubrick as Strangelove-ian and noir-ish. Schulz-Koehn pub­lished an ille­gal under­ground newslet­ter report­ing back from var­i­ous jazz scenes in Europe under the pen name, “Dr. Jazz,” the title Kubrick chose for the film project. As Frewin claims:

“Stan­ley thought there was a kind of noir side to this mate­r­i­al…. Per­haps an approach like Dr. Mabuse would have suit­ed the sto­ry. Stan­ley said, ‘If only he were alive, we could have found a role for Peter Lorre.’ ”

Zwerin’s book—and pre­sum­ably Kubrick’s ideas for a fic­tion­al­ized take—traced clan­des­tine con­nec­tions between Nazi Ger­many, Paris, and the Unit­ed States, between black and Jew­ish musi­cians and Nazi music-lovers. We’ll have to imag­ine the odd angles and warped per­spec­tives Kubrick would have found in those sto­ries; his fas­ci­na­tion with Nazis led him to drop Dr. Jazz for a dif­fer­ent project, Aryan Papers, anoth­er unmade film with its own intrigu­ing back­sto­ry.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Napoleon: The Great­est Movie Stan­ley Kubrick Nev­er Made

Stan­ley Kubrick’s Very First Films: Three Short Doc­u­men­taries

Rare 1960s Audio: Stan­ley Kubrick’s Big Inter­view with The New York­er

Josh Jones is a writer, edi­tor, and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (3) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (3)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.