At Work with Curtis Tsui on Paths of Glory

I work in the editorial department here at Criterion, and I’ve recently taken it on myself to do a little poking around at the office, to find out what my colleagues have going on and share that with visitors to the Current. Producer Curtis Tsui is first. He’s really had his nose to the grindstone lately, but I couldn’t help noticing a certain aura, the kind that comes from a brush with greatness. I pinned him down over e-mail about what he’s been up to at work. —Anna Thorngate

Hey, Curtis, you have a lot on your plate right now: Paths of Glory, House, and now also Cronoswelcome news for Guillermo del Toro fans.

Yeah, my next few weeks are going to be hectic with a capital H. And I suppose I should also say that I’ll be juggling reading some packaging proofs during all that.

Right, get those proofs back to us in a timely fashion, please! So I want to hear about Paths—where are you in that process?

Wrapping up a lot of new supplements that I’ve put together. We’ve got three new video interviews, with Christiane Kubrick [she’s in the movie and is Stanley’s widow, and that’s her on both screens in the image above], producer James B. Harris, and Jan Harlan, who worked with Kubrick as a production executive for a long time.

Did you end up getting to use that audio interview you wanted?

Yeah, Kubrick talking about Paths. It’s not a long excerpt, and—no surprise here—he doesn’t exactly go into tons of detail about the film (it’s mostly him waxing euphoric about Christiane), but just hearing his voice is something of an event. I’ve been adding some images to that material, so it’ll just be a couple of fine tunings and then I’ll have everything done.

You’re a big Kubrick fan, aren’t you? And you got to go to his house! Tell me about that.

Usually, when I work on a project that involves a talent I’ve revered, the end result is simply a strengthened impression of that filmmaker or his work. In this case, I went in with a love for Kubrick’s films and abilities but also a picture in my mind of some kind of brilliant, eccentric, antisocial recluse, something in line with those generic critiques of his work—ones I’ve never agreed with but that nonetheless colored my perspective—as being too chilly or emotionally distant. Sure, the picture of the man I got by meeting his friends and loved ones is pretty subjective, but I now feel that no one who surrounded himself with such warm, kind, and generous people could have been misanthropic. The sheer joy that Christiane, James, and Jan had in remembering him and talking about him went beyond anything sycophantic and seemed to genuinely evoke the spirit of the man. It’s the first time, I think, that my opinions at the outset of a project haven’t been simply strengthened or fleshed out but also, in a way, totally transformed.

Lovely! I can’t help feeling like you’re dodging a certain question, though. The house, man, the house! What’s it like?

Big. With a big yard.

Okay, I know I’m being annoyingly coy about the experience. The thing is, I kind of felt that I was allowed to be there with the tacit understanding that I’d be respectful about it. And by “respectful,” I mean not blabbing about it. They preferred that anyone who wasn’t part of the shoot not be there.

I know that this just adds to some kind of twisted image of a family that lives a hermitlike existence, but I don’t think anyone who’s ever interacted with the Kubricks really goes out “telling all.” And what’s often been mistaken for eccentricity or reclusiveness on the part of Stanley Kubrick was actually, in my mind, a healthy separation of family life and work.

And just so you know, it’s not like Childwickbury House is a Koresh-like compound. Christiane even does an annual arts fair on the premises, so it’s hardly closed off to the public. They didn’t make me sign nondisclosure papers, send hit men after me, anything like that. I’m just doing what I personally believe they’d like me to do.

All right, uncle. Tell me about something cool you came across that’s not going to make it into the release.

In looking for the ideal Kirk Douglas interview, I stumbled across a 1957 piece conducted by Mike Wallace. Although Douglas doesn’t spend any real time talking about the movie, the interview itself is kind of mind-blowing. The types of questions that Wallace tosses out would catch almost anyone off guard (and never be allowed by a protective publicist today), and it’s really pretty stunning to see Douglas thinking on his feet and parrying those blows like a total pro. You can see why the guy became a Hollywood legend. Unfortunately, the piece was impossible to land for the disc, but hey, you can see it here.

Any other high points?

I was really thrilled to meet James B. Harris. Not only is his interview great, but I think the guy’s a really interesting filmmaker in his own right. Ever see Cop with James Woods? I still think it’s one of the best Ellroy adaptations out there. Anyway, he’s a total gentleman and has a steel-trap mind that seemed to remember every Paths of Glory–related incident that ever happened. Talking to him was a major highlight.

Thanks, Curtis. See you in the screening room.