Philip & Stanley
An Interview with Kubrick's Poster Designer , Philip Castle
Kubrick very professional, we only talked about business, I don’t think we would chit-chat about the state of the world.
This interview arose by chance out of my involvement in a research project called 'NAM: Media, Popular Culture and the Vietnam War', a project promoted by the 'Masters in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography' course at London College of Communication, to submit research papers for an on-going website and database surrounding the subject. Using the resources of The Stanley Kubrick Archive in the University of the Arts London Archives and Special Collections Centre, researchers were asked to make links between images, popular culture, writing and film amongst other material, to attempt an understanding of Vietnam in the context of the modern media battlefield. I did not have any real interest in the wider area of conflict photography, this is not to say that I do not admire the images of Don McCullin and Phillip Jones Griffiths, amongst others; but I foresaw no valuable contribution by merely adding to the wealth of papers already written about these two iconic figures of war photography. My dilemma led me to look at other areas of media related to the Vietnam War and so I turned away from the 'Photographic' and towards the 'Graphic'. In the early 1990’s I was involved in work as a graphic designer, mainly executing logo design and branding for burgeoning companies. On viewing the poster for 'Full Metal Jacket' I felt I might usefully write on how the imagery used on posters for war films is heavily influenced by the 'war photograph' itself. So, links between Vietnam, Film Posters and Kubrick (Archives) led naturally to the film 'Full Metal Jacket' and secondly to 'Clockwork Orange'
I made three visits to the Stanley Kubrick Archive and it became clear that it was necessary to formulate my arguments via a possible talk with Philip Castle who worked closely with Stanley Kubrick. This would potentially provide the Archive with some interesting new material, potentially filling in some gaps and extend research possibilities for other students, film researchers and visitors.
Philip Castle is a British illustrator, most widely known for his creations of the iconic posters for Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Clockwork Orange’ and ‘Full Metal Jacket’ but also Ken Russell’s ‘The Boyfriend”, Tim Burton’s ‘Mars Attacks’ and Jack Nicholson’s “Goin’ South”. He has also created artwork for album covers: David Bowie’s ‘Aladdin Sane’, Pulp’s ‘His ‘N’ Hers’, Metronomy’s ‘Night’s Out’, the ‘Rolling Stones’ ‘Its only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It) and Paul McCartney’s ‘Wings’ tour, amongst countless posters for advertising campaigns, book covers and illustrations. I made contact and visited Philip at his home. Philip, a sprightly and softly-spoken man, was generous with his time and, quite unexpectedly for me; his fantastic archive of work from over four decades was made available for me to photograph. He made a pot of tea and we started by talking about how Kubrick contacted him for the design of ‘Full Metal Jacket’
Part One: Meeting Kubrick and designing for “Full Metal Jacket”
Steve Mepsted: I am here to talk with Philip about his life and work, but before we go back into history, I gather you have some work to do for gallery exhibitions coming up in the near future Philip?
Philip Castle: Two galleries are interested and both have approached me. I feel both will come off. I think the show related to ‘Clockwork Orange’ will be this year and the other show will be the end of next year. So if there is any more work to be done, it will be for the second one. The first one will be my archive material of ‘Clockwork Orange’, plus some prints which are to sell. There will be a fuller, greatest hits style exhibition, which will be dotted around and will fill out more about me than just ‘Clockwork Orange’.
Steve Mepsted: That’s fantastic news
Philip was approached by Stanley Kubrick to work on the poster for ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and more about that later, but I began by asking him about how he was contacted for work on ‘Full Metal Jacket’
SM: It must have been a thrill to get that first phone call from Stanley Kubrick?
PC: Well my two favourite films at the time were 2001 A Space Odyssey and Dr. Strangelove. Dr. Strangelove is possibly one of my favourite, top-ten films. Just to hear that Stanley Kubrick was interested in me doing film posters, well…there was no question that would be the case obviously!
PC: He rang me and said do I know anyone who could do a painting like Ben Shahn? I think its Ben Shahn? Stanley had this idea for a poster for ‘Full Metal Jacket’ and would like to see this helmet done in the style of Ben Shahn.
Jennifer, Philip's wife, e-mailed me a day after the interview and said that Philip had a brainstorm; and of course it wasn’t Ben Shahn but Saul Bass, a Graphic Artist who worked on film posters such as Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’. It was Saul Bass whom Kubrick had in mind when he rang Philip - which Jennifer thought was a bit of a cheek! This was Philip's response to the phone call…
PC: I said I didn’t actually know anyone who could do that, but I’m an Illustrator and why don’t you let me have a go?
His first concern was it had to work in black and white. He said anybody could make things look good in colour but its got to be one column in the Evening Standard and its got to really hit you. So I did it (the helmet) as though it had just been left on a desk, flat, and I don’t know who had the idea, but just tilting it made a whole difference – put life into it.
SM: Like on a head?
PC: Yes, exactly.
PC: Have you seen this image before? (Above)
PC: So there’s no reproduction in the Archive? (The Stanley Kubrick Archive, based at London College of Communication)
SM: No, I’ve never seen that. It’s wonderful to discover because the helmet is the iconic image for ‘Full Metal Jacket’ it’s very unusual to see something like that.
PC: I think that some of us had in mind that for certain regions the helmet might be too provocative.
SM: I don’t think many people would have seen this will they?
PC: No hardly anyone, Jennifer, my wife, last night said, “I’ve never seen this before, when did you do that?” Now…I’ve got another box of Kubrick stuff, just hang on a minute.
Philip goes off somewhere in the house and returns with a battered cardboard box, putting it on the table. I am very surprised and excited to see a G.I. helmet sitting in the box.
SM: Wow, is this..? So we’re seeing “The Helmet”?
PC: Yes, of course it didn’t have “Born to Kill” written on it
SM: No, but there is something on it…Ah, do you know whose helmet that is? It’s ‘Animal Mother’s'.
In ‘Full Metal Jacket’ The character of ‘Animal Mother’ is played by Adam Baldwin and the slogan on his helmet is “I Am Become Death” a quotation from the ‘Bhagavad Gita’
SM: Yes this is a helmet worn by one of the other characters in the film. It’s not the one worn by ‘Joker’ (Matthew Modine’s character) At this point I pick up the helmet and comment on its weight, saying, “It weighs a ton!”
PC: Yes, you wouldn’t want to go to war in that thing would you? Imagine all of it. They’ve got all the guns and knives and bayonets, and more shells, and then they’ve got armour-plated vests and then they’re expected to run six miles or something! So no wonder they were 'Born to Kill'! You’d feel like it wouldn’t you?
SM: And Stanley sent this helmet to you?
PC: Yes, on one of my visits he would hand it over and I just brought it back.
SM: And you’ve still got it!
PC: Yes, but I see the peace badge has gone, I think I took it off for another job and never replaced it. It’s in the house somewhere.
PC: I very much worked one to one with Stanley, I would go over there, talk about the project and he would say what he thought and what needed doing, there was very little adjustment really. He knew he wanted the helmet, and once he saw the painting in colour he liked it, It came alive in colour. The black one (initial painting for Stanley seen above) is a bit of a dead thing, I did several of them, this is an original (he gestures to the black and white airbrushed helmet painting on the table) and I would have made much more of the metal and the bullets. But, I don’t think they were ever used - the black and whites. Once we had established exactly what we wanted they just used the one image. It was flat and then it became vastly superior through tilting
SM: Yes, just that little tilt makes a massive difference. Was that your suggestion or Stanley’s?
PC: I’m not sure, I can’t remember.
SM: Of course there were faxes in the eighties but I love the access you describe: ‘right…I’ll just drive round and show you the stuff...’
PC: Yes that’s right, I would call and say I’ve got something to show you or he would have said well come back next Tuesday and I’d bring this or that.
SM: So he was quite a free and easy person to work with?
PC: Yes, he was very professional, we only talked about business, I don’t think we would chit-chat about the state of the world.
SM: Now this! (Referring to a cinema lobby board without any text on it) I love this, it’s so impactful.
SM: That’s the image I have when I think of the movie…it’s just the helmet. Frankly the typeface under it is OK but I personally don’t like the strap line (“In Vietnam the Wind Doesn’t Blow – It Sucks”)
PC: No me neither – I never really got it.
SM: Yes, to me that’s the strap line (indicating “Born to Kill” written on the helmet)
PC: But, the finish on the bullets…I wanted to get them much more realistic than they are. I’m not really happy with them.
SM: Yes (referring to the cinema lobby board) this is muted and in the finished poster they are much more brassy.
Philip holds up a reproduction single-sheet poster for ‘Full metal Jacket’ to compare it with the cinema lobby board
PC: I painted onto canvas and pressed it on here to give this effect (of the helmet’s canvas surface)
Of course, because that would be very hard to airbrush!
PC: Yes I would have had to do it by hand and it would have been hopeless.
SM: Did you like the film?
PC: I did, yes. It was beautifully shot, as it would be if Stanley had done it, but I’m not a fan of G.I war movies. They put four buddies in a foxhole and make a whole movie out of it. Then planes and shells go overhead, with sweat and drama – I don’t get much from that to be honest. I like war films, but I like them with aeroplanes, as you can imagine. I thought it was interesting how it was built up. He made the action scenes look gorgeous. And the boot camp! It was excellent. I’ve got it in all forms: Video, DVD and of course it’s on the TV a lot. I’ve seen it one time and I don’t think I’ve seen the whole thing more than once. But I may go back and have a look at it.
SM: How did it make you feel when you saw that helmet in the film?
PC: Well, I was kind of interested, to see if my helmet would appear. It does attach you to the action.
SM: Well yes, I should imagine so! your design is on the heroes’ head! No other members of the audience for that film are saying: ‘I did the poster for that helmet!’
Part Two: "A Clockwork Orange"
SM: Looking through this box, there seems to be some early sketches for ‘Clockwork Orange’? (Philip shows me an old ‘Basildon Bond’ notepad with ‘A Clockwork Orange’ written on it’s front)
Yes, Here’s the hand for “A Clockwork Orange”. That’s the only original artwork that exists, that’s not been shown. This notebook is what I took into the first showing of the movie. I went up to his house, called “The Chantry” I remember, and he had a viewing theatre, it was a rough cut, I don’t think there was any sound, maybe some sound, but there were no titles or anything, and I had this on my knee and I sketched things in here pertaining to the film. So these are my first ideas as to how it might come out. And these were done in the dark of course! I was obviously struck by the rude bits! So I would sketch these things and then go home and draw on top of the sketch and develop it.
SM: But didn’t you have copyright? (for the design)
PC: Bill Gold was in charge of the studios where they did the posters and the credits and the titling. Well, they altered my lettering and this rankled me at the time. But I had no power, I know.
SM: Often that’s a way of getting around copyright, to slightly readjust or alter a design.
PC: Well, this is it. They put dots where I put something else. This was my one – their one was different. (We compare Philips original design against the altered design, paying close attention to the lettering) The ‘E’ at the end of this sentence has been made different and the ‘S’ is slightly fatter than my original. And that would have been Bill Gold’s entry into the process. It’s fair enough. But, they only used this for the American and English posters. All the others were mine, which I roughed out myself. You can see my ‘E’ is very distinct
SM: You’ve flattened off (the bottom) of the “R’ and the “N” and they have made them into a sans serif.
PC: I’d been doing that sort of blocking-in lettering and if anything it was based on Milton Glazer, not that I would consciously copy! But it was easy to do it (the lettering) and when I did this poster I put it in the album and it stuck! But I have never thought of myself as a letterer.
SM: Didn’t you enjoy the lettering?
PC: Well its meticulous isn’t it. This lettering is ‘out of this world’, its futuristic, its not beautifully finished type. It’s got a certain drawn quality to it, even though it’s cleaned up. It just fits the movie I think.
PC: Here’s one of Stanley’s notes to me. (Philip shows me a piece of paper with some handwritten notes in brown ink from Kubrick)
Handwritten Notes to Philip from Kubrick
SM: 'Nutty Ideas'...Is that what he’s saying?
PC: Yes. With Clockwork Orange he wanted the bowler hat right, so that’s why they sent me the hat – to get that curve correct. And that was the only thing that they had an objection to, once they’d agreed he and Mike Kaplin, and Julian Senior from Warner Bros. went for it. Stanley would have had the last word obviously. I just did it then, and it worked. I’d done all these sketches in this drawing pad and it just worked out. Naturally, I am immensely proud of these two key Kubrick posters: 'Clockwork Orange' and 'Full Metal Jacket', but I’ve never thought they were my best work.
Part Two: "Barry Lyndon" and Other Work
Philip was given a commission to design a poster for “Barry Lyndon”. However the job didn’t come off in the end. There are two main poster for “Barry Lyndon” – one designed by the French poster designer Jouineau Bourduge with its Saul Bass inspired illustration and American artist and illustrator Charles Gehm had created a highly detailed alternative poster, which is a monumental work in its intricacy.
This part of our discussion is included as it is revealing about Castle’s design methods and Kubrick’s need for a concept which he could latch onto quickly, and feel confident in representing his vision.
PC: For Barry Lyndon I was still in the ideas stage. We hadn’t established a hard finished thing which I would have worked up and made a decent shot of. It never actually reached that stage, he (Kubrick) was not content with what I’d produced and I think he’d got someone else working on it and I think they just went with the other people. I’ve seen several different ones and I don’t know which was the main image for it…a sort of floral…?
SM: I think it was a garden scene with arches
PC: Yes, he gave me the job but there was no film, he hadn’t done any shooting. Because he was thinking about Napoleon I think he had a lot of that period stuff around and he knew what was what. But there was nothing to show me, so he said go and get the book (“Barry Lyndon” was written as “The Luck of Barry Lyndon” in (1844 by English novelist William Makepeace Thackeray [1811-1863]. It was first published in serial form and reissued under the title The Memoires of Barry Lyndon, Esq.)
PC: So I went to the library and they didn’t have it in stock; they had to go to the vaults to find it. Well, I read the book and it was smashing, it was super funny. It’s funny in the same way Clockwork Orange is funny. It’s got jokes in it and is written with an Irish humour. He’s very much a lad on the make. But somehow that doesn’t come across in the movie. The film is beautiful; each scene is like a master painting.
SM: So your reading of the book gave you ideas; you imagined the characters completely?
PC: Yes, but I got a note (from Kubrick) saying ‘Philip I’ve been thinking that you have not put enough time into these (sketches), it looks as though you did them half an hour before you arrived’. Which actually was the truth! But the point about it was that I didn’t do finished work; because I did suggestions and because I could talk about it with the client and say this is what will happen, this is what I want to do, and then I’ll take it a stage further. But he was jumping the gun, they often get other glossy overlaid design from a studio, as that’s how they produced them to make them look fantastic, but I trust that the person I am talking to – and he (Kubrick) in particular would know what I’m capable of and know that things will come together. I have got that note somewhere.
SM: But he did have faith in you?
PC: Oh yes. I don’t know why he would have written that note to me because he would know that it would come right in the end.
SM: But ironically what he said was true! You had done them half an hour before you met.
PC: Well it was something near that! But as I said: I had several ideas but would not develop them too far, just to set him off, to get him thinking in a certain way, that’s how I work, that’s how I would get the ideas over.
SM: Did you experience his particular brand of ‘obsessive-ness’, which is so talked about, other than what you have just described to me.
PC: No, I wouldn’t say he was an unreasonable man.
Part Four: ‘Bits and Pieces’: ‘Album Covers, Air Shows and Photoshop’
SM: You designed for a David Bowie album didn’t you?
PC: I did a little bit on the ‘Alladin Sane’ album. I did a teardrop in his (Bowie's) clavicle.
PC: ‘Pulp’ used this for an album cover
Philip shows me a small black and white photograph of Jack Nicholson.
SM: Did you take that? Is that your shot?
PC: Yes: l did a poster for ‘Goin’ South’ (a Jack Nicholson Directed film, 1978) it was taken during the filming for ‘The Shining’ so that’s why he’s in that shirt, the one he wears in the film.
SM: He’s got that look! The eyebrows!
PC: Yes, that was the point – I needed to get that look for the poster
SM: Was he gracious?
PC: He’s very nice. He’s just exactly as you see him in the movies. There’s no acting involved to be honest, he just comes on and is himself!
Philip loves aeroplanes and this is evident in his designs for the RAF’s ‘Air Tattoo’ shows. He shows me a design on a banner hung in his home.
PC: This is one of my RAF posters done in 2008. I did three, I did ’07 ‘08 and '09. 2007 was a big success!
I’m heartened to hear that people still want to hire Illustrators, because there’s so much photographic work out there being used as the main image.
PC: Yes, it’s hard; it’s very hard now. I think you have to be quirky because what I do has more or less been taken over by anybody who has Photoshop. You just put some photographs together and put some crazy writing on it and you’re away.
PC: Here’s my “Mars Attacks” (1996 film by Tim Burton)
SM: What piece of work do you feel most proud of?
PC: Naturally, I am immensely proud of these two key Kubrick posters 'Clockwork Orange' and 'Full Metal Jacket', but I’ve never thought they were my best work. I think one of my Air Show posters the first one I did in ’67 I liked very much , that was something I really put my heart and soul into. And I did an Elvis, I don’t know if your’e familiar with it but it’s a ‘half man-half jukebox’ design and it was very early on in my career.
SM: Did you go to Art College or were you self-taught?
PC: I went first to Huddersfield School of Art and then I went to the Royal College of Art. I was at the RCA from ’64 to ‘67
SM: Do you use computers in your work?
PC: I have a Mac and I have used Photoshop – I absolutely love it, I adore it! But it has put me out of work. The only difference (between using a computer and his airbrush work) would be my eye and my design sense and its own requirements. As my equipment is not very sophisticated; its getting a bit old now, I’m not making any money on computer graphics. I’m just not fluent enough in producing works on a computer. Nowadays you can see aeroplane pictures, which are just mind-blowing. They’re just fantastic, they’re dead accurate, they’re well-constructed graphically and I’m so impressed I almost sit down and say ‘well - forget it’. I would love to be in that position where I was doing a job and would get models and I could certainly work on it and make an exciting picture, I know I could do it, but I haven’t done it and until you have an example you can only claim you can do it. I just cant get myself together enough to learn the ropes, there seem to be so many ropes involved.
SM: Well, there’s still time.
PC: Well, I guess so yeah! The people who are hiring now are getting their own age group; they’re not inserted in an old fart! I work by hand and they would think I was so expensive they wouldn’t be interested. You’ve got to put yourself up and say I’m available and I should get myself together and do that, I know, I realize that, but I am enjoying not doing things.
SM: Do you have an agent?
PC: No, I’ve had loads of agents, I went along time without an agent and then when things got a bit more difficult I did have (one) but I find that they get you work for maybe a couple of jobs and then they lose interest because they cant point you in a certain direction. You know, they just don’t seem to stick.
SM: Well. All I can say is that I think your achievements are manifest in those posters and album covers, you’ve done work that a lot of other Graphic Designers and Illustrators admire; up and coming designers and young people interested in illustrating know about your work and appreciate it. I would certainly say that you’ve got a bit of a legacy going on.
PC: Yeah, people keep saying well you know you should have a website, they say, ‘we’d like to do a website and put it all together for you’, and that would be great, but like a lot of things, they just fade away.
SM: Do you have anything else you would like to add before we close?
PC: Well I’ve enjoyed these terrific exciting projects to work on and I was very pleased to get any film work The Kubrick legacy greets me wherever I go and so I’m eternally grateful. It’s fantastic because its opened a lot of doors, people treat me with respect. I’ve had recent goes at film posters for Warner’s but its difficult. I knew how to talk to people like Julian Senior and Stanley and Mike Kaplan but things have moved on in thirty years. I did 'Mars Attacks' and that worked out, I did production work on two other films, one was ‘Analyse This’ and the other film was a film about a hairdresser, a wonderful English film and it was completely thrown away, it has been on television and it’s really funny and a great film, I had real hopes for it and I cant remember what the title was. Oh! “The Big Tease” it was called. I would supply these drawings and they couldn’t understand them and were not interested in them so it died, but I can recommend the film itself. “Analyse This” is funny – its not a bad film at all! But I didn't do the poster for it, I got as far as producing ideas.
SM: Yes, because I remember the poster for that being a photograph or a still from the film.
PC: Well a lot of them are photographs now and it makes a lot of sense to me. It’s a shame though – some great film posters have been illustrations by hand but when it’s a photograph the results are, well...photographic; people can recognise the star. Now with Photoshop they can do fantastic things to enhance pictures. I think there's been some really super posters come out – often for lousy or poor films – but with lovely posters! There’s so many, I mean there must be half a dozen a week, at least, when you think at the end of the year how many that gleans. Over ten or twenty years that’s a fantastic amount of material, a fantastic amount of designs.
PC: A rotten film is “Gone in 60 Seconds” but the poster is super! When you went to the pictures you’d pick up what used to be the ABC film review, it’s now some sort of glossy thing but it has all these posters in it and I thought, that’s beautiful! And then you go and see the film and it’s a flat thing and it’s gross. Not always, but you know.
SM: I’ve got “Gone in 60 Seconds in my head and it is a good poster.
PC: Yes its beautiful – its really great, I was really ‘moved’ by it (laughing) But the film itself is tedious.
SM: Yes, I agree. Nicholas Cage paying off his debts!
PC: Yes that’s right.
SM: Well, Philip. I cant thank you enough, its been absolutely fascinating talking with you and I never expected to see some original art work. Thanks so much – it’s been an absolute joy for me.
PC: You’re welcome.
People and Films referred to in this transcript can be further researched here
Interview Text and All Pictures © Steve Mepsted 2011
An edited version of this interview is published in Blueprint Magazine, December 2013 (Issue 331)
'Stanley Kubrick’: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000532/
and I recommend the book ‘Stanley Kubrick’ by Vincent LoBrutto Paperback edition (1999) from Da Capo Press
‘A Clockwork Orange’: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0066921/
‘Full Metal Jacket’: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093058/
‘The Boyfriend’: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0066858/
‘Mars Attacks’: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116996/
‘Goin’ South’: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0077621/
‘Alladin Sane’: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aladdin_Sane
‘His ‘n’ Hers – Pulp’: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/His_'n'_Hers
‘Nights Out – Metronomy’: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nights_Out
‘Paul McCartney’s Wings Tour’: http://www.rockpopmem.com/Paul-McCartney--Wings-Wings-Over-The-World-Tour-Poster/63977.htm
‘Mike Kaplan’: Producer at Warner brothers. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0438332/
‘Julian Senior’: head of European Regional Advertising and Publicity at Warner Bros Pictures for thirty years and worked closely with Kubrick. A good interview with him can be found here http://www.visual-memory.co.uk/amk/doc/0083.html
‘Ben Shahn’: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Shahn
‘Saul Bass’: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saul_Bass
‘Malcolm McDowell’: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000532/
‘Bhagavad Gita’: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhagavad_Gita
‘Bill Gold’: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Gold
‘Barry Lyndon’: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0072684/
‘Brian Duffy’: (15 June 1933 – 31 May 2010) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Duffy_(photographer)
‘Jack Nicholson’: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000197/
‘The Shining’: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0081505/
‘2001: A Space Odyssey’: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0062622/
‘Dr. Strangelove’: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0057012/
‘Analyse This’: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0122933/
‘The Big Tease’: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0156639/
“Gone in 60 Seconds”: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0187078/
‘Nicholas Cage’: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000115/