Full Metal Jacket 30 Years Later: An Interview with Matthew Modine

Thirty years ago, Stanley Kubrick created a Vietnam War masterpiece, Full Metal Jacket. Wherever great art is created, we are eager to understand the process, but Kubrick was a notoriously private man. Fortunately, the film’s star, Matthew Modine, had the foresight to keep written and pictorial diaries of the making of the film. The Full Metal Jacket Diary, published in 2005, has been given new life as an “appumentary” for the iPad. We sat down with Mr. Modine to discuss the creation of this iconic film and his stunning app.

I think the most surprising thing for your readers to learn is that Kubrick was a very simple man. That is not to say that he was not very complex. No question about that. What I learn as I get older is how difficult simple is to accomplish.

Matthew Modine Full Metal Jacket 3

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Full Metal Jacket has achieved Godfather status in the sense there is a quote from the film for every occasion. My father-in-Law (a military man himself) was always fond of Hartman’s, “I want that head so sanitary that the Virgin Mary herself would be proud to go in there and take a dump.” Do you have a favorite quote, perhaps a quote that has haunted you over the years, and does that quote have any meaning outside the context of the film?

“I am in a world of shit.” Perhaps I respond strongly to this line because I am an environmentalist. I worry about the life of all the delicate species and the preciousness of the land and sea. Every day I take steps to change the course of the ever present environmental degradation taking place everywhere. We are in a world of shit I fear. Made by our own greed, ignorance, and hubris.

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Matthew Modine Full Metal Jacket 4

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I have always been fascinated by how much “regular life” goes on during the making of a film. Your Full Metal Jacket Diary captures this well. Did you set out to juxtapose your life against the film? Do you keep a journal on every film?

I was portraying a journalist. So I thought it would be good to write. I was already keeping a personal diary, so it was quite natural to begin doing so on the film set. As you say, the juxtaposition of the home life vs. the set life creates a striking difference. The bonus was that I was also allowed to take photographs on set. This added element makes the diary that much richer an experience for the FMJ Diary reader.

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Full Mental JAckey Stanley Kubrick

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We are big fans of Mr. Kubrick here at the Dignified Devil; he is one of the great directors. After all the rumors, hearsay, and speculation, did anything strike you about him that would surprise most people, even after all we have heard about him in the years after his death?

I think the most surprising thing for your readers to learn is that Kubrick was a very simple man. That is not to say that he was not very complex. No question about that. What I learn as I get older is how difficult simple is to accomplish. One element of the genius of FMJ is simplicity. And it took nearly two years of filming to achieve it. And a lifetime of Stanley living and making films to arrive there.

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Matthew Modine Full Metal Jacket 7

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In a world where every Blu-ray and Digital Download has hours and hours of extra features, this diary gets in front of all that and it tells a different story about the actor inside the film-making process. At what point did you know you had something worth publishing?

It began with the photos. I wanted to publish a book with photos. Once the deal was made, the publisher told me I would have to tell a story about the photos. I told him about my diaries and he asked me to transcribe them and see what we could pull. Once I transcribed them we realized there was a much much bigger story than we imagined.

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Matthew Modine Full Metal Jacket 8

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Kubrick was famous for taking his time. Full Metal Jacket was no exception. You allude in the Diary that you think stopping and taking stock of his surroundings was the possible secret, or at least an ingredient to his brilliance. Now after having 25+ years to think about it, do you think you were right, or do you have other insights after all this time?

I think stopping was very much a part of his process. A tactic. You see, S.K. was a chess player. Kubrick played and mastered his chess game in Washington Square Park (a few steps from my home). They play with “move timers” in the park. Each time you make a move, you stop the clock and your opponents begins ticking. Sometimes it’s called “lightening” or “blitz” or “bullet chess.” It is a game for fast thinkers and great strategists. It’s also a perfect place for a young filmmaker to learn the pressure of time. It is often said that time is the enemy of a filmmaker. Trying to create art under the pressure of a schedule and a budget is not for the weak hearted. The best filmmakers find a way to stop that clock, or at least to slow down time.

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Mathew Modine Full Metal Jacket 9

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How long has it been since you’ve seen Full Metal Jacket? What was the first thing that came back to you? Any thoughts or feelings resurface?

I saw the film a few years ago. Leon Vitali, who worked with Kubrick for 30 years, wanted to watch the film with me. We had never seen the film together and there was a screening where they wanted us to do a Q and A afterward. It was very weird to see the film after so much time away from it. It made me feel proud and fortunate to have been a part of such a popular and historic film.

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Matthew Modine Full Metal Jacket 10

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The Full Metal Jacket Diary was published as a limited edition book in October of 2005; whose idea was the iPad app? How did you decide to go with kickstarter.com over more traditional means for publishing and funding?

I was asked by Adam Rackoff, a former employee of Apple Computer, if I would be interested in my book becoming an app. He explained how he appreciated that there was only 20,000 of the metal covered books and how I wasn’t planning to make any more or to have a paperback edition. He said he wanted to maintain the exclusivity of the book. Making the app would be a different experience. A much more immersive experience with added images, letters, music, and sound effects. The book has been turned into what we are calling an “app-umentary.” He used Kickstarter to measure the interest in the app. He was happy to learn that there was so much and an excitement from Backers to see the app created.

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Matthew Modine Full Metal Jacket 6

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You were given a gift before shooting the film by a friend, a Roleiflex camera. According to the diary, the gift was meant to impress Kubrick as he shot with one for Look magazine in New York. Was he impressed? Did he give you any photographic advice?

He thought my camera was a dinosaur. He encouraged me to purchase a new Minolta camera and a group of different lenses. I didn’t like the new camera and fell in love with the Roleiflex camera.

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Matthew modine Full Metal Jacket 5

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You took hundreds of photographs during the filming of Full Metal Jacket. If you had to pick a favorite what photograph would it be and why?

The photo of Stanley smiling. He had a wonderful smile and a great sense of humor. The photo I have of him smiling shows that.

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Matthew Modine Full Metal Jacket 12

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In your diary you had a lot of feelings about the final scene with the sniper. Does that scene still affect you?

Yes. The scene is very personal. And at the same time, so much bigger than any ONE person’s design. Pope John Paul said, “War is the work of man. War is the destruction of human life. War is death.” When Joker stands over that young girl, who is begging Pvt. Joker to end her life, I (he) am every soldier who, from the start of time, has been faced with such a horrible decision. The real horror of war is not being killed. It’s having been in the violent situations that war puts young men and women in and then having to LIVE. Having to spend the rest or their lives with those painful experiences in their hearts and minds.

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You can Learn more about the Full Metal Jacket app on the website and download it from iTunes. You can also follow Matthew Modine on Twitter.

  • July 29, 2016
  • Cory Skaaren
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