In 1985, actor Matthew Modine was drafted into Stanley Kubrick’s army. After a five-year hiatus from filmmaking, the legendary director (“Dr. Strangelove,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “The Shining”) had turned his sights to the Vietnam War and asked Modine to star in his next film, “Full Metal Jacket.”
Modine, then 26, spent more than two years under Kubrick’s command. His head was shaved. He went through basic training. He and the other “recruits” were berated incessantly by a drill instructor with anger management issues and an endless supply of colorful and demeaning insults. The actor lived and saw the horrors of “war” firsthand. Sometimes even in slow motion. During his time, his son was born. There were multiple tours of duty, and he often felt like he was never going to go home. Modine fought in Kubrick’s war and emerged a changed man.
Luckily for fans of photography, Kubrick and the entire filmmaking process, Modine - who can currently be seen in “The Dark Knight Rises” - kept both a written and photographic diary of his experiences during the making of Kubrick’s darkly comic, tragic and ultra-violent Vietnam War masterpiece. Released 25 years ago in June, “Full Metal Jacket” is as powerful and prescient as ever.
The Bronx-born Kubrick, who had lived and worked exclusively in England since the early 1960s, remarkably transformed parts of the UK into Vietnam. Shooting at an abandoned gasworks, his production flew in about 200 palm trees from Spain to create the illusion of South Vietnam during the Tet Offensive. Emerging from boot camp, Modine’s character, Pvt. J.T. “Joker” Davis, finds himself in this surreal landscape.
Originally published in 2005 in a limited edition of 20,000 and recently as an iPad app on August 7, Modine’s “Full Metal Jacket Diary” is not your typical studio-sanctioned, whitewashed Hollywood tie-in, replete with smiley candid photos and gushing praise for everyone mentioned. Modine transcends that genre just as Kubrick transcended every genre he tackled as a filmmaker. With inspired and intimate images that detail much of the production, Modine offers astonishing insight into the working methods of one of cinema’s most brilliant and reclusive artists. (Kubrick died in 1999.)
Modine’s private life is not off-limits either. The diary is a candid and poignant examination of the sacrifices and struggles of a young actor and his family trying to come to terms with being at the mercy of a brilliant director who often went to extreme lengths to capture precisely what he wanted on film. “Full Metal Jacket Diary” is above all else, according to Modine, “a journey of a young man who goes off to work with a legendary filmmaker” and “a portrait of a young man and his journey toward becoming. …”
Modine was inspired to begin photographing on the set of “Full Metal Jacket” by a friend who gave him a Rolleiflex camera. He thought that Kubrick, who started his career as a photographer for Look magazine, would be impressed and that his camera would be an ice-breaker. That tactic worked, and Modine was allowed to do what few had done before: Take candid photographs on the set of a Kubrick film.
Modine says, “When I look at the photos or read passages from the diary today I feel that I am reading about another person. So much has happened to me since that time. I’m very happy to have kept a written record and taken photographs of those two years. ‘Full Metal Jacket’ is a remarkable film and Kubrick was a one-of-a-kind filmmaker. It’s nice to have kept an account of that time so that others can have a peek into the genius of Kubrick.”
The iPad app, available Tuesday, will “offer people all over the world the chance to look at, and now listen to, the book in a very unique way,” Modine said. “There are more than 200 additional images in the app in addition to an original music soundtrack and sound effects. The bar I set for myself with both the book and the app was that it be something Kubrick would be pleased with, that they have the integrity of a Kubrick film. It’s great that the book and now the iPad app make the images available to fans of Kubrick and ‘Full Metal Jacket.’ ”
This gallery includes some never before seen images annotated with comments by Modine exclusively for CNN.com.
- Michael Kochman, CNN
1. “This was a self-portrait/exposure test. The English weather was getting wet, nasty and cold – difficult for scenes where you need to believe we are in Vietnam. I had gloves on because the weather was in the 30s – too cold for Marine Corps issue combat fatigues. In the background, you can see one of Beckton Gas Works’ large coal bins – artistically ‘destroyed’ for Stanley’s production.”
2. “In this shot, Adam Baldwin is trying to locate the sniper while Doc Jay (John Stafford) and Eightball (Dorian Harewood) bleed to death. Notice the rolled-up rain cover on the lower right. This was placed as an ‘eyeline’ for Adam, so that Dorian and John didn't have to lie in the cold, bloody, poisoned earth of Beckton.”
3. “I don't know why I stuck it on this chunk of concrete. I thought it was funny. With Stanley's passing, the image has taken on an unexplainable significance. It is with this photo that I discovered that photographs continue to develop over time.”
4. “Stanley is amused and a bit embarrassed that Vivian Kubrick and I are both capturing his image at the same time. Vivian is filming him for what would become an uncompleted documentary about her father and the making of the film.”
5. Kubrick operates his Arriflex camera for a shot of Marines training at Bassingbourn Airfield in spring 1986.
6. “This is one of the wonderful things revealed in the production photographs. Kubrick was a master photographer and lighting perfectionist. He was also an amazing producer; keeping his production costs as low as possible. He once explained to me that there was only one source of light when you’re outside, the sun, which he actually called God in his explanation of how best to light a scene.”
7. “Arliss Howard as Pvt. Cowboy mugging for me beside a burning, overturned military vehicle.”
8. “Ermey was watching himself on video playback. He worked very hard on his performance and studying himself on the playback was very helpful.”
9. Taking more than six months to film, the boot camp scenes were physically and emotionally brutal to shoot – Kubrick was intentionally blurring the lines between art and life. “The scenes were as hard as you imagine. And the filming of boot camp was around six months. So it was a long journey from shaved heads to graduation day.”
10. Adam Baldwin, center, as Animal Mother and Douglas Milsome, left, taking an exposure reading before a scene.
11. “Marine recruits” reading in the bunks at the Barracks at Enfield in spring/summer 1986.
12. “The Lusthog Squad,” Del Anderson, Arliss Howard and Adam Baldwin at Beckton Gas Works in summer 1985.
13. “One of the local guys hired to play war with the rest of us. He asked me if I would take a picture of him preparing to take out an imaginary bad guy.”
14. “Stanley, Doug Milsome, and Phil Hobbs (producer and caterer) discuss the hundreds of moving parts on the road to Hue and the ‘mass grave’ scene. The script supervisor/continuity person, Julie Robinson, is on the left of the frame with the focus puller.”
15. “Gil Koppel does his Audie Murphy pose. The Spanish palm behind him is starting to suffer.”
16. Vincent D’Onofrio as Pvt. Pyle in the scene where the drill instructor (Ermey) is trying to “wipe the smile off his face.”
17. “I’d never seen such love from one creature to another in my life. The look – in all the photos with Cari – when she looks at her baby, take my breath away.” Modine’s son was born during the filming of “Full Metal Jacket,” and he had to plead with Kubrick to let him leave production to attend the birth.
18. The road to Hue and the "mass grave" scene in spring 1986.