Stanley Kubrick, old and mottled, wakes late at night, alone. He envisions a film about Venice, its beginning, its middle, its end. Compelled, he begins.
The year is 2093 and the real Venice is gone. It is the Atlantis of that time.
In April, Kubrick starts scripting. He plasters his study with photos, archival documents, letters from famous Venetians. He reads extensively. Interviews various subjects. The film will be about an artist who cannot find inspiration. His name will be Julian; he will wear mostly tangerine.
Soon though, Kubrick abandons this idea. It must be a woman. She must be tall, with cropped hair, and deeply in love.
Construction on Kubrick’s New Venice commences on the 4th of May 2094. By now, the study does not have an inch of free wall or floor. A hand drawn map dominates the ceiling.
Kubrick’s wife frets. She wants him to eat better. Sometimes, she wonders why she married this queer man – so neat, so professional in his work. Yet: his watch is forever incorrect; ketchup stains appear on his trousers before breakfast; recently purchased white shirts are dashed with pen marks within the day.
She watches him from the study doorway. Sometimes, she kisses his forehead and though he does not pause, does not look up from his work, her heart swoons like first love, a teenage crush she indulges daily.
He elects David Gilmour to be his lead musician. Due to scheduling commitments, and David’s ailing heart condition, filming is delayed by 14 months. Kubrick waits.
The locals cannot believe the beauty of New Venice. They are simple folk. Their lives revolve with prompt and shocking regularity around the weekend. Sometimes they see Kubrick strolling New Venice’s cream streets. He is ancient – 168 years old – and cannot move without a cane, cannot see without heavy spectacles. He is somewhat of a marvel to them.
Cars arrive, bounteously, at Kubrick’s manor – they bear actresses and actors, they bear film crew and set dressers, they bear secretaries, runners and researchers. He interviews them all in the aviary in the squall of squawking birds. For the lead, he interviews over fifty girls. Many come back again. None are right.
At night, Kubrick, impatient with his stalling project, fearful he will leave it incomplete, thinks of death. He is overdue death now. Liver spots decorate his paunch, the flab of his thighs, his chins. He can pinch this and roll that between thumb and forefinger. His belly has accreted folds and wrinkles, like some great sagging ballsack. His arse is lumpen like a stamped upon cushion. There is mottled flesh at the tops of his thighs – green welts. Daily he decays.
Samson, the biblical hero, is central to the film. Kubrick has the art department replicate his image on walls and ceilings. He designs intricate frescoes. When the work is complete, he feels closer somehow.
At home, he kisses his wife and their kisses become embraces. They tumble over a rug and roll across the study floor. Photographs stick to her back; Kubrick’s foot shatters a vase.
They come crashingly together and the whole world caves in. Like they had slipped for a moment into death, and then returned, like light, to the universe.
The following morning, they breakfast on the patio and Kubrick, who has been in love with her for so long, cries from happiness. New Venice lingers on the horizon, perched on the lake, forgotten.
They find a girl, by accident. A tall Catalan waitress. Kubrick converts the script to Spanish. He tells the producers – the backers – that this is necessary. People swear he is half-mad. Now New Venice towers. The New Doge Palace pierces the horizon. When the set dressers, the painters, the film execs, the actors and even Kubrick himself pace the place, they all say the same thing: it is both Venice and not.
Shooting begins and goes well. Then, disaster: a portion of the set, built upon unsure foundations, collapses into the lake. The engineer hangs himself from the rafters of the New Venice cathedral. Kubrick allows a day of mourning before shooting resumes, and new engineers, better engineers arrive to take his place.
One night – and it is a very dark night – Kubrick’s wife passes. He finds her days after, in a room he rarely visits. He sits on the chair opposite her bed. He takes her hand. He kisses her forehead. He watches, through many-paned windows, as day becomes night. Finally, he cries.
Nightly, Kubrick walks the streets of New Venice. The film is no longer about love; it is about death. Then he realises that all love stories are about death. Then he realises that all stories are about love and death. And that creation exists between the two of them. This is not a revelation for Kubrick, merely a remembering.
There is a shot which Kubrick cannot get right. In his head, it is a moment of sublimity, a pivot in his character’s life.
It is simple: the artist sees her first love in a café. He is well-dressed, clearly richer, with a tangerine neck scarf hiding his scars. He is being served tortelli di zucca – pumpkin ravioli –and sits opposite his mother. Or perhaps his wife. It is not clear.
In this moment, the artist realises her world has changed. That the love she felt has died with the thing she loved. That the person who loved (her former self) has died as well. That death comes again and again in tiny increments.
After four days on set, fifty takes, and many a storm-out, Kubrick finally nods. This is the shot; this is the angle. All of that, that revelation, exists now within a single image.
Kubrick holds his wife’s funeral on the docks, amongst cranes and lilting vessels. Kubrick wears all white and carries a single red rose, plucked free of thorns. She is cast out, upon a buoyant coffin thick with flowers, and when she is out far enough, the pyrotechnics alight and her coffin burns in the bay. Fireworks clatter overhead. A shy sun sets. Kubrick sheds copious tears. He wipes them from his eyes with a handkerchief, its edges embroidered with red thread.
He says something but it is nothing important, nothing of note.
When the film is finished, everybody is exhausted. The crew return to their families and sleep for days. Divorces happen. Affairs are outed. One woman severs a finger and displays it in an art museum. She calls it the trigger finger. It was the finger which held the recording device.
Kubrick retires to his attic, ascending daily through the aviary and working till dark. The house feels semi-haunted now that she is gone. He does not dress. He shawls himself in a crimson kimono, slips on slippers. Mostly though, he is naked.
He dreams of her padding feet on the bare floorboards. He glimpses her ghost, once, in the Venice room, crying over photographs. Then again, from the road, this time at the third story window, staring out at the lake, at the shadows of New Venice.
The film is missing some vital piece, he realises. That night, he returns to New Venice and walks its streets. He sees a cat, teetering across a windowsill and knows, suddenly, what he must do.
In the attic, he works for an hour.
The pieces cohere and fall.
It is done.
Critics fawn; family send congratulatory letters; awards are suspected.
If Kubrick had six pairs of tape recorders and one set of pants, he’d be happy.
On the evening of the premiere, an old friend arrives to celebrate with Kubrick. They drink wine. His friend asks:
“What did it feel like when you were filming?”
But Kubrick never felt like he was filming. He was just a father to it, a medium.
He has grown sad. They wander the garden in silence. Crickets cricket. There is an owl, probably. Stars. The friend has become drunk on wine. He points to the town – golden against the hills and valleys. Kubrick does not want to go. They look at New Venice’s white stone carcass. Its maze of dark streets.
That night, Kubrick dreams of flying. In the morning, he gets up, puts on his suit, and heads for the ferry to New Venice. There is no ferry. There’s nothing. He returns home. Thick silence. He tries to eat. He lies in bed. He knows he should start something. He sleeps.
They dismantle New Venice over a period of weeks. Kubrick sees trucks and vans ferrying away pieces of it, the painted ceilings, the tower of the Doge Palace. Eventually, all that remains are the streets themselves, a vast and undressed stage.
On the final day, crowds gather. They stand on the shore, holding hands, laying out towels.
When it happens, there is not much to see. There is a muffled boom and then the whole thing teeters and sinks into the lake. He thinks of the labour which had been put into those cobbled paths. He thinks of the times spent wandering the streets. He lights a cigarette, smokes it. The crowd cheers when New Venice comes down. They clap.
Two years later, a royalty cheque arrives, among the bills and fan correspondence. It is folded inside a red envelope. The studio, quite naturally, have a touch for the dramatic.
Kubrick buys a pair of sturdy shoes and a parrot. He names the bird Julian.
He has not thought about New Venice for a time, but, later that day, while moving between rooms, Kubrick feels something pass through him, a sense of something, a quickening. He sees all of it, rushing past like a dream, and feels, for a mere nothing, that he has been there before, as a different person, living a different life – a pair of eyes looking in – and then, like that, the feeling departs. And he is alone again.
Daniel Laing is a Staffordshire-based writer. He recently completed a Creative Writing MA at Keele University, despite advice to the contrary. He is currently working on a short story collection. He hopes, desperately, to find love and contentment.