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His list of favorite directors included at various times Federico Fellini, David Lean, Ingmar Bergman, Vittorio De Sica, Francois Truffaut, Max Ophuls, and Elia Kazan.
As of 1963 Stanley's favorite films were, in order: Vitelloni, I (1953), Smultronstllet (1957) (Wild Strawberries), Citizen Kane (1941), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), City Lights (1931), _Chronicle History or King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France, The (1944)_ (Henry V), Cette nuit-l (1958), The Bank Dick (1940), Roxie Hart (1942) and Hell's Angels (1930).
*Warning*: Do NOT read the summaries below, if you have not seen the films yet. Plot points and endings are given away in them!EYES WIDE SHUT (1999)
Present-time New York: Medical doctor Bill Harford and his wife Alice attend the Christmas party of his rich client Victor Ziegler. After that Bill learns from his wife that at one time she was ready to leave her family for a love affair with a naval officer. Bill is shocked and that night goes on an odyssey that first leads him to a deceased patient, next to a prostitute, and then to musician Nick Nightingale in a bar. Nick tells him about a strictly secret gathering for which a password, costume, and mask are needed. Bill secretly attends the gathering, which turns out to be a ritual orgy, but then he is exposed as an intruder and threatened. Afterwards some other guests of the ball meet with trouble and Bill starts to investigate but Victor Ziegler calls him and tries to calm him. Bill returns home and there finds the mask on his pillow. He breaks down crying and confesses to his wife all that has happened. They make up and declare their – real or imaginary – escapades to be over.FULL METAL JACKET (1987)
In a training camp for US-Marines at the time of the Vietnam War: cruel Sergeant Hartman is training a new unit. He insults and degrades the recruits and especially abuses overweight Private Pyle. When Hartman punishes the entire unit for Private Pyle's failure the latter becomes the victim of a collective act of revenge. Even Private 'Joker', who has advanced to unit leader and has been helping Pyle until then, takes part in it. Now Pyle turns a killer and one night shortly before the end of their training he first shoots Sergeant Hartman and then himself in the bathroom. Change of scene: After taking their oath the unit is sent to Vietnam. Joker becomes war correspondent for Stars and Stripes. During the Tet-offensive he is sent, along with photographer Rafterman, to the frontlines in the city of Hué, which is under heavy attack. There they join the unit of Private 'Cowboy' whom Joker knows from boot camp. While on their mission they are ambushed by a sniper – who, as it turns out, is a young Vietnamese woman. When they overpower her Joker shows mercy and, against the will of the others, relieves the badly wounded girl by giving her the coup de grâce.THE SHINING (1980)
Struggling writer Jack Torrance applies for a job as caretaker at the Overlook Hotel, which is closed for the winter season. The hotel is located in the remote mountains of Colorado and the writer is hoping to work here in peace. In the job interview he is told about the former caretaker Grady who killed his wife and two daughters. When Jack arrives with his wife Wendy and their son Danny they are shown around the hotel by the cook Dick Hallorann who notices that Danny, like himself, has the 'shining', a capacity for supernatural perception. He warns him of room 237. Soon Jack reacts increasingly aggressive to his family. In the ballroom he encounters an imaginary barkeeper whom he recognizes to be his predecessor Grady. He tells Jack to 'teach his wife a lesson'. Jack attacks Wendy and Danny with an axe and kills Hallorann who, prompted by dark presentiments, had returned to the Overlook to help. The writer then chases his son in the maze in front of the hotel but Danny and Wendy manage to escape while Jack freezes to death in the maze. The final scene shows a photo of Jack at a formal ball in the Overlook – in the year 1921.BARRY LYNDON (1975)
The middle of the 18th century: Young Irishman Redmond Barry is in love with his cousin. After having shot a rival in a manipulated duel he flees and joins the British army that is fighting the Seven Years’ War on the side of Prussia. Eventually he deserts but is captured by the Prussian Captain Potzdorf. Gradually Barry wins Potzdorf's trust and after the war he is hired to spy on the gambler Chevalier de Balibari. Yet Barry does not want to betray his Irish kinsman and enters into his services instead. While gambling he meets his future wife, rich Baroness Lyndon. But the marriage of upstart Barry is unhappy. He makes an effort to rise to nobility but only acquires large debts. When he disciplines Lord Bullingdon, Lady Lyndon's son from her first marriage, in front of the assembled nobility, he looses the respect of all friends of the house. Finally, his own son dies after a riding accident and Lady Lyndon suffers from depression. Bullingdon challenges Barry to a duel where the latter looses a leg. He is offered a pension on condition that he leave England. Barry agrees and returns to Ireland. The last image is the final bill being drawn out to him – dated 1798.A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)
Alex is the leader of the Droogs, a brutal youth gang in 21st century London. They get high on drug cocktails in the Korova milk bar and from there start their nightly tours of violence. One evening they break into the house of writer Alexander and rape his wife. Next they assault the 'Cat Lady' and Alex kills her with a phallic sculpture. He is arrested and in prison he is selected to participate in the 'Ludovico-Program' introduced by the new Home Secretary. This program conditions him to feel nauseous at the thought of violence and even at the sounds of his beloved Beethoven. After his release from prison he is unable to defend himself and – as if in a mirroring of the first half of the film – all his former victims now take their revenge on him. By chance he gets to the house of Mr. Alexander who recognizes his tormentor and drives him to attempt suicide. Thereupon, public opinion about the 'Ludovico-Program' turns around and Alex's personality change is reversed at the hospital. The Home Secretary offers him a job thereby having the state sanction Alex's reclaimed capacity for violence.2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)
In the Prologue titled 'The Dawn of Man' after the mysterious appearance of a monolith a clan of apes learns how to use bones as weapons. Millions of years later near the American moonbase Clavius another monolith is being discovered. Scientist Dr. Floyd is called to the place where it was found in order to examine it. After he touches it there is a piercing sound. Change of scenes: The spaceship Discovery is on its way to Jupiter. On board are the astronauts Bowman and Poole and three scientists in a hibernaculum as well as HAL, an allegedly infallible computer. After HAL gives a wrong prognosis, Bowman and Poole consider turning him off. Upon this HAL kills the crew and locks Bowman out of the spaceship. Bowman however manages to survive in the emergency airlock of the ship and to pull out HAL's memory blocks. When Discovery is approaching Jupiter the monolith re-appears and Bowman is sucked into a tunnel of light until at last he finds himself in a brightly lit rococo chamber. Going through several metamorphoses he ages and eventually looks back on Earth as a newly born Starchild.DR. STRANGELOVE (1964)
At the peak of the Cold War mentally disturbed General Jack D. Ripper locks himself up at his air force base and gives orders to implement „Plan R“. A bomber squadron starts for targets in the USSR. At an emergency session in the War Room of the Pentagon General Turgidson tries to persuade US-President Muffley to agree to a major offensive. Muffley however invites Russian ambassador De Sadesky and on the telephone even offers the Russian President to help shoot down the B-52 planes. But then they find out that the Russians have developed a “Doomsday Machine” that will be activated automatically in case of an attack; therefore all is lost. Yet even while the English exchange officer Mandrake manages to crack the recall code for the bombers Major Kong drops his missile riding on it down to earth. In the meantime the German born scientist Dr. Strangelove envisions fascistic theories for the time after the nuclear destruction, which is visualized at the end by exploding bombs 'dancing' to the tune 'We'll Meet Again'.LOLITA (1962)
The British professor of literature Humbert Humbert rents a room from the widow Charlotte Haze and even accepts her proposal of marriage—only because he has fallen in love with her adolescent daughter Dolores (called Lolita) and wants to stay near her. When Charlotte finds out his real motives she runs out of the house in despair and is hit and killed by a car. Humbert picks up Lolita from the summer camp her mother had sent her to but initially does not tell her about her mother’s death. They spend the night at a hotel where Lolita seduces Humbert. Together they move to Beardsley where Humbert appears as her stepfather. After several scenes of jealousy Humbert asks her to go traveling with him. On the way she catches the flu and he takes her to a hospital. When he comes to visit he finds her gone. After two years he sees her again: by now she is married and pregnant. She tells him that even in Beardsley she already had a love affair with the writer Quilty whom Humbert had met on several earlier occasions without being aware of it. In desperation Humbert finds Quilty and shoots him dead.SPARTACUS (1960)
Spartacus, a rebellious slave, is being trained at a gladiator school and falls in love with the slave Varinia. When she is bought by patrician Senator Crassus, Spartacus starts a revolt in which the gladiators win their freedom. They free many other slaves and defeat an army lead by Crassus’ minion Glabrus. After this they withdraw to the seaport of Brundisium in order to leave by pirate ships and return to their native countries. Crassus, trying to appear as the savior of Rome, leads the Roman Senate to vote to put down the revolt. Against the warnings of Senator Gracchus he is voted commander in chief and first consul. Now the slaves are badly defeated by the overwhelming Roman forces. All survivors are crucified for not having betrayed their leader. Meanwhile Crassus attempts in vain to win Varinia’s heart and she escapes with the help of Gracchus. Once more she sees Spartacus, now hanging on the cross, and she shows him his son whom she has given birth to and who, she says, will live as a free man.PATHS OF GLORY (1957)
In 1916, along the trenches of the WWI front line between the German and French troops: Commanding General Broulard orders General Mireau to take over a position held by the Germans. Colonel Dax is cautious and greatly worried about this but bows to the pressure from his superior. The operation ends in a fiasco because the first wave of attack entirely misses the German barrage. In order to chase the soldiers from the trenches for the second attack Mireau orders fire on his own troops. The commander of the artillery refuses to obey. After the battle is lost Mireau, as a deterrent, has three soldiers court-martialed. Dax takes over the hopeless defense of these men. They are sentenced to death and executed for cowardice. After Broulard finds out about Mireau’s order to shoot at their own troops, he offers Dax Mireau’s post, but Dax declines. Because of this Mireau sends him and his men back to the frontline. In the final scene, a captive German woman sings in front of the soldiers, who first hoot and then sadly join in, the song about the faithful hussar (Es war einmal ein treuer Husar).THE KILLING (1956)
After having just been released from prison gangster Johnny Clay is already planning his next crime. He wants to rob the racetrack ticket office – with the help of four accomplices, among them the horse-race cashier George Patty, who hopes to be able to please his greedy wife Sherry. Clay also hires catcher Maurice and sniper Nikki Arrane who are supposed to distract attention from the robbery by staging two incidents. Initially everything works according to plan but then Nikki is killed by the police. Moreover, Sherry who knew the details of the robbery from her husband tells her lover Val Cannon all about it. The latter wants to keep the money for himself and starts a shooting in which almost all of the robbers are killed. Clay wants to escape with the booty and meets his girlfriend Fay at the airport. But because of a ridiculous accident everything turns out differently: The baggage cart swerves so as to avoid hitting a small dog. Clay's suitcase falls to the ground and opens. The bills of money fly in the propeller wind of a starting airplane.KILLER'S KISS (1955)
Through the rear window of his New York apartment boxer Davy Gordon is watching his neighbor Gloria Price who works in the dancing bar Pleasureland. Davy is facing his most important fight yet that evening but he is defeated. To cheer him up his uncle by telephone invites him to his ranch near Seattle. That night Gordon wakes from a nightmare when he hears screams and hurries to help Gloria who is being molested by her boss Rapallo. Gordon and Gloria spend the next day together and decide to both leave for Seattle. Jealous Rapallo hires two killers to get rid of Gordon but by mistake they kill his manager Albert instead. They abduct Gloria. When Gordon finds her there follows a chase across the roofs of New York and a final confrontation in a warehouse for shop window mannequins. Gordon kills Rapallo. He is shown waiting for the train by himself but at the last minute Gloria joins him and they start their new life together.FEAR AND DESIRE (1953)
In a fictitious war, the four soldiers Lieutenant Corby, Mac, Fletcher, and Sidney find themselves behind enemy lines after their plane has crashed. They make their way through a forest to a river where they build a raft hoping to escape the danger zone. On their way they take a young woman hostage. Sidney whose nerves are slowly failing since the plane crash is supposed to watch her. When he attempts to rape her she tries to escape and Sidney shoots and kills her. He panics and disappears into the forest. The other three use the raft to cross the river and on the other side sneak up to the camp of an enemy general. Mac talks Corby and Fletcher into launching an attack: they kill the general and his attendant but these two suddenly appear as mirror images of Corby and Fletcher. They make their escape by plane while Mac, who was wounded in the attack, picks up the now insane Sidney and travels downstream with him on the raft.
THE SEAFARERS (1953)
Kubrick was commissioned by Seafarers International Union (SIU) to shoot this 30-minute promotional film on the lives of sailors. He documented the workdays of men aboard ships and on the docks emphasizing the importance of union membership in view of the restlessness of their job.FLYING PADRE (1951)
Padre Fred Stadtmueller is only able to visit the members of his widespread parish in New Mexico with his small plane. Kubrick accompanied him for two days documenting, among other things, the funeral of a farmhand as well as the lifesaving transfer of a mother and her sick child to a doctor.DAY OF THE FIGHT (1951)
In his first documentary short film, Kubrick focuses on middleweight champion Walter Cartier whom he had already portrayed in a photo series for Look magazine. Kubrick shows him on the day of the fight ritually preparing himself with the help of his twin brother and manager Vince and finally defeating his opponent by knockout.
Lionel White (Clean Break), Humphrey Cobb (Paths of Glory), Howard Fast (Spartacus), Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita), Peter George (Red Alert), Arthur C. Clarke (The Sentinel), Anthony Burgess (A Clockwork Orange), William Makepeace Thackeray (The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, Esq.), Stephen King (The Shining), Gustav Hasford (The Short Timers), Arthur Schnitzler (Traumnovelle)
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Through a 48 year career Stanley Kubrick made only 13 feature films, yet their consistently cold and sterile expression -- showing the dark side of human nature -- have brought him a strong and dedicated following. All his films share a common theme of dehumanization, he always constructs three-way conflicts, he uses extreme close-ups of intensely emotional faces, and symmetric image composition (long "zooming out" and/or "zooming in" sequences). An intensely personal and intellectual man, Kubrick is quoted as saying "I would not think of quarreling with your interpretation nor offering any other, as I have found it always the best policy to allow the film to speak for itself."
"I don't think that writers or painters or filmmakers function because they have something they particularly want to say. They have something that they feel."
[The following introductory essay was written by Keith Uhlich in May 2002 for Senses of Cinema]
It may not be entirely correct to call Kubrick a child prodigy. Nonetheless one can picture the confidence and strength of the young artist when, at 16 years old, he managed to sell an unsolicited picture to the highly influential publication, Look. He’d been experimenting in the family darkroom for several years at the suggestion of his parents, and early home movies reveal the seeds of their encouragement. In these movies the young Kubrick is obviously take-charge, as aware of his high stature in family and in life as his placement within the camera frame. Conscious of it or not, Kubrick is directing the action and, judging by his smile, he’s having a grand old time doing it.
It’s no surprise then that Kubrick could so easily spot those moments of time worth capturing in still frame. That unsolicited photograph sold to Look shows a newsvendor mourning the death of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt next to a newspaper headline relating it. It’s fascinating for the insight that it provides into Kubrick’s style – the image feels both spontaneous and posed, balancing as it does the personal act of mourning against the impersonal coldness of newsprint. Seen together these juxtaposed objects, both animate and inanimate, raise several questions. Is the vendor reacting to the news next to him, or to something or someone else? Is this an image of a man grieving for real, or is he aware of the photographer and ‘acting’ in a way he feels is appropriate? By that rationale, what control does the young Kubrick have over the scene? How spontaneous is it?
Rare is the artist who can suffuse his work with so much ambiguity and still intrigue. From this point onwards, the known career of Stanley Kubrick encompasses an acknowledged 13 movie features, one withdrawn movie feature, several short documentaries, and a myriad number of photo spreads. Controversy surrounded many of these projects. On a surface level, Kubrick seemed willing to alienate the audience for his desired effects. Yet the constant control and manipulation of all things surrounding his work also freed it up to interpretation. One knows, for the most part, that one is watching a Kubrick movie – its authorship is clear. Easy speculation and interpretation follow suit, but it is more of a challenge to dig beneath the popular veneer and debate the actual man and his deeper meanings. Our speculation is encouraged by Kubrick’s secrecy surrounding both his life and his film projects – a state of control that remains fairly unparalleled among most popular artists. His is a career shrouded in myth and frustrating mystery. Yet we must persevere and try to understand what little we can of this particular artist’s story, even though it may demand a precision and incisiveness that no single writing can attain.
Kubrick’s first sold photograph led to a career at Look magazine. His numerous photo spreads ranged from profiles of actors like Montgomery Clift to documentations of the New York jazz scene. Comparing the former category with the latter one reveals the opposite extremes of Kubrick’s artistry. The actor profiles show Kubrick’s liking for what I’ll call the ‘pose.’ That’s basically a blanket euphemism for the control Kubrick places on the image. In these photos, setting and subject bend to the artist’s will and the sense of manipulation is readily apparent. This is especially of interest in the Clift profile: the actor was a manipulator in his own right, and there’s a strong sense of a meeting of two very distinct and individual minds that adds a tension to the image. As much as Clift exudes his own sort of confidence, it’s also evident that Kubrick has an equal control. It foreshadows Kubrick’s later, conflicted dealings with high profile actors such as Kirk Douglas and Sterling Hayden, and may partly explain why he cast blander and more easily controlled leading men in many of his later films.
The jazz photos show a side of Kubrick that is less discussed, the spontaneous, musical side. Here Kubrick seems to succumb to the setting and subjects, capturing events as they happen with a dynamic sense of space. A photo of a trumpet player feels three-dimensional, as if the instrument and its master reach beyond the lens and into the very lives of the viewer. You can hear the music and feel the movement in this still frame, and the sense of life being lived (as opposed to the sense of life having been lived in the ‘pose’ photographs) is extraordinary. This image, and the many others like it, presuppose the musical interludes in Kubrick’s films that recreate these feelings of presence. It is in these moments of musicality, of the physical and psychological dance of characters and setting, where Kubrick’s movies come most alive.
I don’t mean to suggest a preference for one or the other method here. In Kubrick’s cinema I find it is often the alternation of these methods that provides the most satisfying experience. Skipping over the short documentaries and his withdrawn first feature Fear and Desire (1953), none of which I’ve located, these practices are first seen as early as Kubrick’s second feature Killer’s Kiss (1955).
In Killer’s Kiss there is certainly a sense of control, but it is a much looser film than Kubrick’s later work. It’s a pulpy story – a love triangle between a down-and-out boxer, the prostitute he falls in love with, and her psychotic john – done in an arresting and unexpected style. At times, Kubrick seems to succumb to the New York setting – the actual location, no less – and it feels like he’s making it up as he goes along, surprising to those who think of Kubrick solely as a meticulous control freak. The movie is much like a jazz riff that threatens to topple over into incoherence, yet the pounding jazz score of drums and trumpets is an able foundation that holds upright any shakiness of story. Kubrick’s experiments in Killer’s Kiss feed into his subsequent films more so than most acknowledge. The climatic sequence where the boxer and the john fight to the death in a mannequin factory is an essential sequence in Kubrick’s career, balancing as it does between spontaneous movement and the ‘pose.’ At first the men use the stray mannequins, standing around as impassive spectators, for weapons. Then they move onto more masculine and phallic weaponry (in the form of an axe and a spear). Interesting to note that the mannequins are all female, and their use in the fight sequence is emblematic of the multiple readings that apply to the best Kubrick sequences. What the passive femininity and active masculinity on display means may be obvious to some and muddled to others. Yet Kubrick encourages us in this sequence, and in much of his work to follow, to look beyond one side or the other of the interpretive spectrum and into that much larger area known as the in-between in our search for answers and understanding.
The Killing (1956) was Kubrick’s next project and, though more widely acknowledged, it is of lesser interest. Its fractured narrative works well, though dates radically when looked at in hindsight. And while boasting wonderful performances across the board, this is the first example of Kubrick and an actor negating each other. Sterling Hayden has such a strong presence as Johnny Clay, the ringleader of a gang of thieves, that Kubrick’s manipulations of plot, character, and setting – mimicking, perhaps, his own love of chess – feel contrived and the film packs less punch because of it. Thus, The Killing seems more of a calling card to a Hollywood career than anything else. "Look what I can do," says Kubrick and they’ll come-a-knockin’.
Indeed, the next few Kubrick movies, until Lolita (1962), mark a degradation of Kubrick’s individuality, until his artistry becomes invisible in Spartacus (1960), and the label of ‘hack’ threatens to apply. Kirk Douglas is the negating actor/executive producer here and it’s disheartening to see how plain, how middling, how dull this epic is. Nonetheless, the film in-between The Killing and Spartacus, Paths of Glory (1957), is one of the greats. Perhaps its story of bureaucratic France executing three of its soldiers on charges of cowardice doesn’t need a full-fledged auteur. As is, it merely exists in its own space, and its universality of theme comes across all the more strongly for it.
Upon Kubrick’s self-exile to England, his cinema becomes more and more hermetic, and also draws clear distinctions between its spontaneous and ‘posed’ parts. Lolita, based on Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, remains most interesting for its fluency of style. The camera glides through this recreated suburbia with a purpose that Kubrick’s earlier, rougher films do not have. Swooning and swaying with the Nelson Riddle score, and with the grand performances of James Mason and Shelley Winters, Kubrick’s imagery conveys the danger and allure of lust with equal measure – the two major Mason-Winters pas de deuxs are perfectly choreographed to this end. And Kubrick finds the Dietrich to his Von Sternberg in Peter Sellers whose Clare Quilty is unsettling for the many human contradictions related on the surface and the emptiness at his core. This actor works from the outside in, and it complements Kubrick’s own mise en scène, which stresses surface style as the key to human beings’ inner space. If I have neglected Sue Lyon as Lolita it is because she fulfills the requirements of the role but does not distinguish herself, which is as it should be in this adaptation. Like the passive mannequins in Killer’s Kiss, she watches, obliviously, as the people around her crumble at her feet, and damned if this aloof nymphet knows or cares why.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) is another Sellers tour-de-force, though his trio of characters lacks the fullness of his psychotic Quilty. Nonetheless the film seems to adapt to the times. At certain points in recent history this doomsday comedy seemed hysterical, at other times downright frightening in its prescience. The final song "We’ll Meet Again" is a perfect musical bridge to Kubrick’s next film.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is Kubrick’s masterwork. Crazy, yet exacting, in its ambition to address the full story of mankind from birth to death to transcendence, the film alternates Kubrick’s obsessions with ‘posing’ and musicality, most notably in its soundscape. The sequences supported by The Blue Danube or the otherworldly compositions of György Ligeti or Thus Spake Zarathustra convey all sorts of emotions and mindsets. These are most often applied to all the non-human characters so, in essence, the machines are the most recognizable to a viewer.
The lilting, hypnotic, musical voice of HAL (Douglas Rain) makes his disconnecting/death scene touching in ways that the bland monotones of Gary Lockwood and Keir Dullea’s do not when their time comes. "Damn this Kubrick," say some, "for making us feel for a machine." But that’s the point. As we evolve past machines, might we not, in the end, seem more mechanical to them than they are to themselves? One of many questions Kubrick leaves us to ponder as the hybrid Star Child stares out at us triumphantly.
The antithesis to 2001 is A Clockwork Orange (1971). Visually stunning, and incisive in many ways about human behavior, yet the deck is stacked against us from the beginning. As Alex the delinquent (Malcolm McDowell) is a bastard psychotic, so are those of the bourgeoisie who ultimately take revenge on him, and it leaves a sour taste in one’s mouth. Kubrick also expressed some reservations when copycat incidents in England forced the film’s banning. Perhaps hindsight is always 20/20 and A Clockwork Orange does remain Kubrick’s most immoral film. Then again, where is it written that the cinema be moral for always and ever?
By Barry Lyndon (1975) a pattern in Kubrick’s later work emerges: his leading men are either blank slates or over-the-top psychotics. For Barry Lyndon Ryan O’Neal’s blandness works perfectly as Kubrick shows the rise and fall of Thackeray’s Irish rogue always from a distance, making Barry and the people around him as insignificant as the plush furniture – a sentiment the omniscient narrator expresses. The compositions have the beauty of period paintings, yet Kubrick uses this vast sense of space to simulate the claustrophobia and superficiality of the society. It’s as if these paintings come to life are coffins out of which the characters cannot escape, and this distance from his subjects makes most of Barry Lyndon a cold experience. Yet the cumulative effect is moving and powerful. The final sequence brings me to tears each time I watch it – the final, silent tableau of the Lady Lyndon (Marisa Berenson) remembering Barry for a brief instant is the one moment when true emotion seems to come out and it is a welcome relief from what has come before. But Kubrick denies that this society and this movie will allow true emotion. The ‘pose’ must be maintained, and so the emotion is quickly stunted by properness. The quick juxtaposition of these two feelings sums up the feelings that have remained, for three hours, in subtext only and it is heartbreaking. Sadly, this is one of Kubrick’s least known efforts. It’s something that should be remedied by all in interest.
Kubrick made three movies after Barry Lyndon before his death in 1999. The first of these, The Shining (1980), is notable for its hypnotic use of Steadicam following the three inhabitants (Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, and Danny Lloyd) through the snowed-in Overlook Hotel.
It’s an adaptation of a Stephen King bestseller, but it shows how Kubrick was more than willing to change an author’s ideas around for adaptation to the screen. Here Jack Torrance, the tortured father and writer, has no metaphorical boiler bubbling beneath the hotel waiting to explode. He’s pretty much ready to go insane from the beginning, and the hotel is the stimulus. In a sense, because he’s experiencing writer’s block, the Overlook Hotel and its ghostly inhabitants act as his inspiration to murder. If you can’t create one way, create another. Perhaps this is Kubrick commenting on the pain inherent in the creative process, and how it can disconnect one from reality to the point of insanity. Overall, this is Kubrick doing a genre piece, but in a style wholly his own. It’s a far cry from the anonymity of Spartacus and manages to solidify, at this point, his career as an individual auteur.
Full Metal Jacket (1987) has always gotten a bum rap for its clearly divided two sections. Most tend to prefer the showier first half, which details the training of Vietnam recruits at Parris Island by a crazed drill sergeant (R. Lee Ermey), as opposed to the second half, which is a more meditative reflection on Vietnam and the soul-smashing corruption of the film’s narrator Private Joker (Matthew Modine). It’s understandable in a sense. The first half’s Private Gomer Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio) is a much more rounded character – his girth and clumsiness are easily recognisable as traits easily singled out in a group setting – yet Modine’s character, again a blank slate, makes for the perfect audience surrogate because Kubrick appears to want multiple interpretations to apply. In war, which from a mass viewpoint predicates success on the acknowledgement of dichotomies and sides, there can be no one answer. Kubrick brings individuality back to cinema viewers by destroying it onscreen. The final march, comprised of faceless silhouettes, is as democratic a gesture as an artist can give us. In that moment we are one and we are all.
Fitting that Kubrick ends his career with a dream. Eyes Wide Shut (1999) completes a circle of sorts. As Killer’s Kiss took place in the New York City of reality, Eyes Wide Shut takes place in a false one. Kubrick recreated whole streets and stores and props, down to the graffiti on a Village Voice mailbox. Here the hermetic quality of his later films reaches a state of brimming. Kubrick has recreated his birth home far from the actual one, and the sense of an artist making his dreams real is unprecedented. Kubrick’s hero is Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) who embarks on an odyssey of voyeurism after learning his wife (Nicole Kidman) once thought of cheating on him. How powerful are thoughts and dreams in Kubrick’s world, acting as stressors to murder, self-discovery, transcendence, etc. In the course of Eyes Wide Shut, Bill does not do anything physical. He watches sexual and violent events in which he does not participate and it still drives him into a temporary state of madness. The denial here of what the characters most want – sexual satisfaction – is also implicitly what the audience desires. Playing on the iconography of Cruise and Kidman’s personas, Kubrick refuses to give us, the star-struck obsessives, what we expect. Thus, the last spoken line of dialogue (as the characters stand in a toy store!) is a perverse joke, a cry of pain, and a fitting multifaceted coda to Kubrick’s career: Kidman says, "But you know, there’s one thing we need to do as soon as possible." Cruise replies, "What’s that?" After a long pause she says, as if dying, "Fuck."
And then he’s gone. Kubrick himself died just a few weeks after ‘finishing’ Eyes Wide Shut. A controversy revolving around the film’s orgy sequence and the insertion of digital figures to block certain sexual thrusts for American audiences kept his essence in the spotlight. And upon the film’s release, the voices of dissent and support raised themselves in full chorus, proving that, even from beyond the grave, an artist can challenge and rile the masses. Nor did the other moviemakers he influenced forget Kubrick. Steven Spielberg adapted a long-in-development Kubrick project called A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001), which, true to the master, defied easy interpretation. And Kubrick’s other unfinished projects (from a biopic of Napoleon to a WWII drama called The Aryan Papers) remain out there in some form, either to tantalise with their possibilities or to be finished by those who may dare to try. The legacy of Stanley Kubrick remains, as do the many stories surrounding his projects and his life, frustrating all attempts at complete synopsis.
© Keith Uhlich, May 2002
Stanley Kubrick's (1928-1999) work has influenced film as an art form of the 20th century. His career commenced in New York in the 1940s. Jazz, chess and photography were his main interests. As a 17-year old Kubrick became a staff photographer for Look magazine. He taught himself the art of filming.
Kubrick later rejected FEAR AND DESIRE, his first feature film and witheld further screenings. With KILLER'S KISS and THE KILLING he remodeled the film noir and demonstrated his talent to narrative and filmic composition. The anti-war film, PATHS OF GLORY, starring Kirk Douglas, is regarded as an early masterpiece. SPARTACUS, the wide screen epic on the slave revolt in ancient Rome, earned him worldwide acclaim and gave him the independence he had always sought.
Since LOLITA, based on the then scandalous novel by Vladimir Nabokov, all of Stanley Kubrick's films were produced in England. With the war satire, DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB, Kubrick finally established himself as the most idiosyncratic major director of modern cinema. In 1968 he finished the most ambitious project of his career - 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. For the lavish Special Visual Effects the film was awarded an Oscar in the same year.
Stanley Kubrick's uncompromising way of working and his passion for detail also characterize each of the following films: A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, THE SHINING and FULL METAL JACKET. The film director died on 7 March, 1999 shortly after completing EYES WIDE SHUT.
'He created more than movies. He gave us complete environmental experiences that got more, not less, intense the more you watched them.'
From: Christiane Kubrick. Stanley Kubrick - A Life in Pictures. London, 2002
Mini Bio from IMDB.com
Stanley Kubrick was born in New York, and was considered intelligent despite poor grades at school. Hoping that a change of scenery would produce better academic performance, Kubrick's father Jack (a physician) sent him in 1940 to Pasadena, California, to stay with his uncle Martin Perveler. Returning to the Bronx in 1941 for his last year of grammar school, there seemed to be little change in his attitude or his results. Hoping to find something to interest his son, Jack introduced Stanley to chess, with the desired result. Kubrick took to the game passionately, and quickly became a skilled player. Chess would become an important device for Kubrick in later years, often as tool for for dealing with recalcitrant actors, but also as an artistic motif in his films.
Jack Kubrick's decision to give his son a camera for his thirteenth birthday would be an even wiser move: Kubrick became an avid photographer, and would often make trips around New York taking photographs which he would develop in a friend's darkroom. After selling an unsolicited photograph to Look Magazine, Kubrick began to associate with their staff photographers, and at the age of seventeen was offered a job as an apprentice photographer.
In the next few years, Kubrick had regular assignments for "Look", and would become a voracious movie-goer. Together with friend Alexander Singer, Kubrick planned a move into film, and in 1950 sank his savings into making the documentary Day of the Fight (1951). This was followed by several short commissioned documentaries (Flying Padre (1951), and _Seafarers, The (1952)_ ), but by attracting investors and hustling chess games in Central Park, Kubrick was able to make Fear and Desire (1953) in California.
Filming this movie was not a happy experience; Kubrick's marriage to high school sweetheart Toba Metz did not survive the shooting. Despite mixed reviews for the film itself, Kubrick received good notices for his obvious directorial talents. Kubrick's next two films Killer's Kiss (1955) and The Killing (1956) brought him to the attention of Hollywood, and in 1957 directed Kirk Douglas in Paths of Glory (1957). Douglas later called upon Kubrick to take over the production of Spartacus (1960), by some accounts hoping that Kubrick would be daunted by the scale of the project and would thus be accommodating. This was not the case, however: Kubrick took charge of the project, imposing his ideas and standards on the film. Many crewmembers were upset by his style: cinematographer Russell Metty complained to producers that Kubrick was taking over his job. Kubrick's response was to tell him to sit there and do nothing. Metty complied, and ironically was awarded the Academy Award for his cinematography.
Kubrick's next project was to direct Marlon Brando in One-Eyed Jacks (1961), but negotiations broke down and Brando himself ended up directing the film himself. Disenchanted with Hollywood and after another failed marriage, Kubrick moved permanently to England, from where he would make all of his subsequent films. Despite having obtained a pilot's license, Kubrick is rumored to be afraid of flying.
Kubrick's first UK film was Lolita (1962), which was carefully constructed and guided so as to not offend the censorship boards which at the time had the power to severely damage the commercial success of a film. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) was a big risk for Kubrick; before this, "nuclear" was not considered a subject for comedy. Originally written as a drama, Kubrick decided that too many of the ideas he had written were just too funny to be taken seriously. The film's critical and commercial success allowed Kubrick the financial and artistic freedom to work on any project he desired. Around this time, Kubrick's focus diversified and he would always have several projects in various stages of development: "Blue Moon" (a story about Hollywood's first pornographic feature film), "Napoleon" (an epic historical biography, abandoned after studio losses on similar projects), "Wartime Lies" (based on the novel by Louis Begley), and "Rhapsody" (a psycho-sexual thriller).
The next film he completed was a collaboration with sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is hailed by many as the best ever made; an instant cult favorite, it has set the standard and tone for many science fiction films that followed. Kubrick followed this with A Clockwork Orange (1971), which rivaled Lolita (1962) for the controversy it generated - this time not for only for its portrayal of sex, but also of violence. Barry Lyndon (1975) would prove a turning point in both his professional and private lives. His unrelenting demands of commitment and perfection of cast and crew had by now become legendary. Actors would be required to perform dozens of takes with no breaks. Filming a story in Ireland involving military, Kubrick received reports that the IRA had declared him a possible target. Production was promptly moved out of the country, and Kubrick's desire for privacy and security have resulted in him being considered a recluse ever since.
Having turned down directing a sequel to The Exorcist (1973), Kubrick made his own horror film: The Shining (1980). Again, rumors circulated of demands made upon actors and crew. Stephen King (whose novel the film was based upon) reportedly didn't like Kubrick's adaptation (indeed, he would later write his own screenplay which was filmed as "The Shining" (1997) (mini).
Kubrick's subsequent work has been well spaced: it was seven years before Full Metal Jacket (1987) was released. By this time, Kubrick was married with children and had extensively remodeled his house. Seen by one critic as the dark side to the humanist story of Platoon (1986), Full Metal Jacket (1987) continued Kubrick's legacy of solid critical acclaim, and profit at the box office.
In the 1990s, Kubrick began an on-again/off-again collaboration with Brian Aldiss on a new science fiction film called "Artificial Intelligence (AI)", but progress was very slow, and was backgrounded until special effects technology was up to the standard the Kubrick wanted.
Kubrick returned to his in-development projects, but encountered a number of problems: "Napoleon" was completely dead, and "Wartime Lies" (now called "The Aryan Papers") was abandoned when Steven Spielberg announced he would direct Schindler's List (1993), which covered much of the same material.
While pre-production work on "AI" crawled along, Kubrick combined "Rhapsody" and "Blue Movie" and officially announced his next project as Eyes Wide Shut (1999), starring the then-married Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. After two years of production under unprecedented security and privacy, the film was released to a typically polarized critical and public reception; Kubrick claimed it was his best film to date.
Special effects technology had matured rapidly in the meantime, and Kubrick immediately begain active work on Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001), but tragically suffered a fatal heart attack in his sleep on March 7th, 1999.
After Kubrick's death, Spielberg revealed that the two of them were friends that frequently communicated discretely about the art of filmmaking; both had a large degree of mutual respect for each other's work. "AI" was frequently discussed; Kubrick even suggested that Spielberg should direct it as it was more his type of project. Based on this relationship, Spielberg took over as the film's director and completed the last Kubrick project.
How much of Kubrick's vision remains in the finished project -- and what he would think of the film as eventually released -- will be the final great unanswerable mysteries in the life of this talented and private filmmaker.
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- Status: Married
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- Education: High school
- Occupation: film director