Editor’s note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2012.
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 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 more than 25 years ago, “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 later as an iPad app, 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 said: “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, Modine said, offers “people all over the world the chance to look at, and now listen to, the book in a very unique way. 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.’ “