‘Full Metal Jacket’ is an indisputable classic that simply has to be part of any filmmaker’s education

At the same time devastating and inspiring, war has always been a popular theme for filmmakers to exploit. Through the course of cinematic history, there have been plenty of accomplished works that dealt with this subject, and we’ve probably seen most of them. None, however, had the immediate and profound impact on us as the great Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. The reason this film struck a particular chord in our system, a chord reserved exclusively for the greatest works of art, is definitely the way it approached the subject. Instead of giving us bloodshed and gore for the sake of astonishment and short-term fascination of the audience, Kubrick luckily decided on a far more intimate, personal path, choosing to portray the story of a handful of recruits and the impact the war machine has on their psyche and personality to make the crucial point about the pointlessness and insensitivity of war, exquisitely criticising the way it turns humans into heartless machines, sucking out sympathy and emotion out of their pledged lives. Written by Michael Herr, Gustav Hasford and Kubrick himself, led by nothing short of magnificent performances of our long time favourite Matthew Modine, Vincent d’Onofrio, Adam Baldwin and especially stirring R. Lee Ermey, Full Metal Jacket is an indisputable classic that simply has to be part of any filmmaker’s education.

A monumentally important screenplay. Screenwriter must-read: Stanley Kubrick & Michael Herr’s screenplay for Full Metal Jacket [PDF]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers. Absolutely our highest recommendation.

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The first step toward what would become the screenplay of Full Metal Jacket: Stanley Kubrick’s treatment. Having based his treatment on Gustav Hasford’s 1979 novel, The Short-Timers, Kubrick then met with Michael Herr—Vietnam war correspondent and author of Dispatches (1977)—to break the treatment down onto index cards, before Herr wrote the first draft of the screenplay. Michael Herr wrote the narration for Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), then co-wrote Full Metal Jacket (1987) with Stanley Kubrick, which contained elements of Dispatches. Kubrick, Herr, and Hasford would all receive a screenplay credit in the end. [Bonhams]

Stanley Kubrick was a friend of mine, insofar as people like Stanley have friends, and as if there are any people like Stanley now. Famously reclusive, as I’m sure you’ve heard, he was in fact a complete failure as a recluse, unless you believe that a recluse is simply someone who seldom leaves his house. Stanley saw a lot of people. Sometimes he even went out to see people, but not often, very rarely, hardly ever. Still he was one of the most gregarious men I ever knew, and it didn’t change anything that most of this conviviality went on over the phone. He viewed the telephone the way Mao viewed warfare, as the instrument of a protracted offensive where control of the ground was critical and timing crucial, while time itself was meaningless, except as something to be kept on your side. An hour was nothing, mere overture, or opening move, a gambit, a small taste of his virtuosity. The writer Gustav Hasford claimed that he and Stanley were once on the phone for seven hours, and I went over three with him many times. I’ve been hearing about all the people who say they talked to Stanley on the last day of his life, and however many of them there were, I believe all of them. —Kubrick by Michael Herr, Grove Press, 2000

Kubrick’s casting note in his draft of the Full Metal Jacket script, courtesy of Will McCrabb. To cast the film, Kubrick and Warner Bros. placed ads throughout the US for young aspiring actors, asking them to send in videotapes of themselves performing a scene about Vietnam. He received over 3,000 videotapes. His staff screened all of the tapes and eliminated the unacceptable ones. This left 800 tapes for Kubrick to personally review. “Initially, Kubrick envisioned Anthony Michael Hall as Joker. According to Hall, negotiations between the director and the Breakfast Club Brat Packer went on for eight months before ultimately falling through. Instead, Vision Quest star Matthew Modine landed the role.” Kubrick obviously made a compromise, he (Modine) was 25 years old.

And here’s the cover of Kubrick’s draft of Full Metal Jacket and additional page of the script with Kubrick’s handwritten notes.

Kubrick’s daughter Vivian—who appears uncredited as a news-camera operator at the mass grave—shadowed the filming of Full Metal Jacket and shot eighteen hours of behind-the-scenes footage for a potential ‘making-of’ documentary similar to her earlier film documentary on Kubrick’s The Shining; however, in this case, her work did not come to fruition. Snippets of her work can be seen in the 2008 documentary Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes.

Matthew Modine, star of Full Metal Jacket, has published a digital recreation of his limited edition (now out of print) book. Full Metal Jacket Diary iPad app includes over 400 high-res photos from the set, five chapters from Modine’s book, and a four-hour audio experience that takes you through the production, beginning to end. Needless to say, it’s a must-have on your iPad!

Stanley was the first director I worked with that found a way around perhaps the greatest obstacle a filmmaker faces; time. How does an artist create an environment for creativity—in an art form that demands a filmmaker to work like a factory worker on an assembly line? For Stanley, it meant living in and working in a place where he could stop, or at least slow down, the clock. I can’t speak for the size of productions he had on his other films, but on FMJ we had a crew smaller than many small budget independents I have worked on. He also owned much of the camera equipment we used on the film. We worked in locations that were very affordable, thus alleviating high production costs and allowing him more time to film in them. Because he was Stanley Kubrick, crew members and actors would work for reduced salaries for the chance to work with a master filmmaker. Each of these things have the effect of giving a filmmaker more time. Time allows the filmmaker to discover his film and the story he is telling. It allows them not to compromise. Arliss Howard, who played Cowboy told me a story a few years ago. On the final day of filming Stanley said to Arliss, ‘you’re going to miss me.’ ‘Yeah. Of course I’ll miss you’ said Arliss. ‘No. You’re going to miss me on every film you make after this one’ said Stanley. ‘You’re going to be working on a film and the director is going to say, ‘Cut! We got it. Lets move on’ and you’re going to miss me. You’re going to miss me because you’re going to know that he didn’t get it as good as it could be. And you’re going to miss me.’ Arliss said he hadn’t worked on a film since then where he didn’t miss Stanley for the reason he stated. Stanley created an environment where he could create a film, not shoot a schedule. Which is a massive achievement. —Matthew Modine on Kubrick and His Full Metal Jacket App

One of the longest dolly tracks in the history of movies for the Mickey Mouse March in Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, courtesy of Will McCrabb.

Through interviews with Kubrick’s collaborators and cast members, including Vincent D’Onofrio, Lee Ermey and Adam Baldwin, this documentary reveals how Kubrick’s brilliant visual sense, astute knowledge of human nature, and unique perspective on the duality of man came together to make Full Metal Jacket an unforgettable cinematic experience, taking its place in his “war trilogy” alongside cinematic landmarks Fear and Desire and Paths of Glory.

September 1987 issue of American Cinematographer, detailing the making of Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket.

A Pinewood Dialogue with Matthew Modine offers rare insight into Kubrick’s techniques in directing his actors.

Photographed by Matthew Modine © Natant, Stanley Kubrick Productions, Warner Bros. Intended for editorial use only. All material for educational and noncommercial purposes only.

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