Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Pondering Stanley Kubrick
On Tuesday, Warner Bros. (yes, part of the same Time Warner empire that also owns CNN) put out a Stanley Kubrick box, containing five of the last six Kubrick films -- "2001: A Space Odyssey," "A Clockwork Orange," "The Shining," "Full Metal Jacket" and "Eyes Wide Shut" -- and the documentary "Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures." ("Barry Lyndon" is not included. Sorry, Ryan O'Neal fans. The DVD is scheduled for release at a later date.) The packaging is fairly bare-bones: Though there are bonus DVDs with everything but "Jacket," there are no booklets, no notes, not even a chapter-guide flyer accompanying each film. The DVDs have restored and remastered.

I find I have mixed feelings about Kubrick nowadays. When I was a teenager immersing myself in movies, I idolized the man. I saw "2001" several times in revival houses (I know, the very concept of a "revival house" dates me) and "Clockwork Orange" was a favorite midnight movie.

"The Shining," though not as frightening as the Stephen King novel on which it's based, nevertheless contains one of the most chilling scenes I've ever seen, when Shelley Duvall stumbles across the novel Jack Nicholson has been working on for weeks and discovers (SPOILER!) that the thick manuscript contains nothing but one sentence, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," over and over. There are few more effective illustrations of a broken mind in movie history.

But "Full Metal Jacket" is only half-good, I think (the film loses its way in Vietnam) and I was bored by "Eyes Wide Shut." The nimble early filmmaker of "Paths of Glory," "Spartacus," "Lolita" and "Dr. Strangelove" had become mannered, frozen.

Still, Kubrick films always provide food for thought. I wrestle most with "Clockwork Orange," which seemed colorfully exciting to an angry teenager. Now, 25 years after I first saw it, I can't bear to watch the movie's violence. That's one of Kubrick's points, I know -- except the film appears to revel in that violence at times. (Star Malcolm McDowell offers commentary on the DVD.)

By the time he made "Full Metal Jacket," Kubrick had become an almost mythical figure: the definitive auteur, a perceived perfectionist tyrant who took forever between films. (Seven years elapsed between "The Shining" and "Jacket"; another 12 before "Eyes Wide Shut" came out.) Which makes the documentary, originally released in 2001, all the more valuable.

The documentary returns Kubrick's humanity. There's the hotshot photographer, selling photographs to Look before he was 18, and the youthful filmmaker, who made "Paths of Glory," "Spartacus" and "Dr. Strangelove" before he turned 40. He's more soft-spoken than I'd imagined -- for some reason, I'd always imagined him sounding like an Otto Preminger-like martinet -- and there are plenty of pictures of the man smiling.

Kubrick, smiling. That's worth watching right there.

If you want an instant Kubrick collection, the box will fill the bill. But if you want to pick and choose, go with "Strangelove" (released in its latest DVD edition three years ago), "2001" and "Clockwork." And, if you haven't seen it already, check out "Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures."
Clockwork Orange may seem harrowing, but is Kubrick's vision of the future that far off? Seems just as relevant today as it did 30 years ago.
zg, you are absolutely right -- which is probably another reason it makes me so uncomfortable.
What do you feel changed you opinion of Kubrick the most? Do you feel that the quality of the films declined? Do you think that the myths made him out to be greater than he was? Or, as you pointed out with ACO and how your reaction to the violence has changed, do you feel that this has happened with the other films as well?

REM, a bit of everything, I think. Certainly, nobody could live up to Kubrick's reputation -- and when you take several years to make films, expectations are sky high. As he spent more time on every detail, it seems to me some of the life went out of the later films. Some of this is in the actors he cast -- Peter Sellers and Malcolm McDowell are impossible NOT to watch, as is Vincent D'Onofrio (whose tightly wound character adds power to "Jacket"), but Modine, Cruise, Kidman and (surprisingly, to me) Nicholson seemed hemmed in by Kubrick's direction.

But as to my opinion changing ... besides "Clockwork," not really. "2001" remains one of my favorites. Its grandeur and HAL's menace never fail to get to me. (HAL's "violence" -- shutting down the hibernation pods and sending Poole into space -- is more effective than a thousand "Saws.") I still admire much of "The Shining" and "Jacket," but they've grown distant to me over the years.

All just my opinion, of course.

Thanks for some excellent questions.
your an idiot for talking down some of the most influential and amazing films in recent history.
"Clockwork Orange may seem harrowing, but is Kubrick's vision of the future that far off? Seems just as relevant today as it did 30 years ago.
zg, you are absolutely right -- which is probably another reason it makes me so uncomfortable."

Oh pish posh. Clockwork Orange depicts a socialist Britain inexplicably influenced by Soviet culture where behavioral modification is used to curtail crime. What part of this resembles anything today? What part of it resembled Britain then? I don't see anything particularly prescient in that film.

I do see a lot of misanthropy and glamorized violence (particularly against women and twice involving rape) which is why it was once so beloved to arty males in their youth and so repulsive to the better of them when they get a bit older.

I am an admirer of Kubrick but I think Clockwork is a disgusting, heartless and vapid film.
Wow... You're dead on with the assessment. I felt exactly the same way about Kubrick when I was younger and feel just as you do now. To a spooky degree. Though... I would add Lolita to your list of 3 must haves.

As for what changed me... I think it has to do with how he directed his actors. When movies loosened up after the 60s, Kubrick still maintained an almost sterile, emotionless approach to filming his actors' work. That approach worked perfectly in space (for 2001) and amazingly well in the future (for Clockwork). It even kind of worked for the stiff pedigree portrayed in Barry Lyndon.

But, when Kubrick joined the "modern" world with Shining, Full Metal and Eyes Wide Shut, his arms length approach to emotion and sensitivity (in his actors, not in his deft touch as a director) just didn't seem to fit quite right. It didn't quite ring true. It was stylish... but not very "real." And I first noticed it in the second half of Full Metal Jacket.

For me, it made me realize that Kubrick's post 60s films maintained a "style." One that worked in certain situations and not others. Unfortunately, it made me re-evaluate his past approach and I started to notice the shortcomings in movies I'd always (and still do) love.

Yeah... it's a bit nitpicky. But, that's what loving and enjoying Kubrick was always all albout... his detail. To blindly love it all (like the anonymous "idiot" who doesn't want to hear any negativity) is just fan worship... not film appreciation.

Glad to see I'm not alone in my reassessment of Stan The Man.
I can't agree that "Full Metal Jacket" is only half-good. I found the entire film to be compelling and rather creepy.

I think Kubrick did an excellent job conveying the horror, fear, and confusion of a war in which those of us who didn't have to serve in can only imagine.
Regardless of how good the films are/were, regardless of how much one idolized Kubrick, one should not forget he was as human as you or I. Let's not forget that when Kirk Douglas and Dalton Trumbo were deliberating on what to do with Trumbo's screenwriter credit for the epic SPARTACUS, (Trumbo had been blacklisted for years), it was the young, hungry Kubrick that suggested they say he wrote the damn thing. Luckily, Douglas and Trumbo turned him down on this reprehensible idea. This is not to say he wasn't capable of good things. He just had his darker side, like anyone of us. His movies mirror that. Some are better, some are worse. Personally, I never saw the point of EYES WIDE SHUT. What it was trying to say is anyone's guess.
But 2001 is unbeatable. It is the quintessential SF statement of the sixties ! In that context Kubrick can be seen as a major contributor to cinematic history.
A Clockwork Orange is an amazing film, an absolute masterpiece. It remains as powerful now as it was 35 years ago. If the violence leaves the viewer feeling uncomfortable then it is just testimony to the fact that the film is as strong now as it was upon it's release. And it is Malcolm McDowell's defining and best remembered role, whether he likes it or not.
I'm not sure Clockwork fits the definition of pornographic violence. The violence does serve to further the plotline, but I do agree that Kubrick seemed to revel in it.

If Kubrick's intention was to have the violence illustrate how violence becomes a downward spiral, he won the battle. But I have to belief a man of Kubrick's talent could have gotten the pot across with genuine terror and fright rather than with a plasic penis and a boot to the ribs.
eyes wide shut was brilliant. if not for the final 15 min of the film( which I did not love in concept) it is one the -0-best films of its type ever made!

has this writer Todd have a clue?
Not a chance, what a hack !

clockwork was MEANT to be HIGHLY DiSTURBING and make one feel fear, amazement and uncomfortable !
Two of Kubrick's three major films -- Dr Strangelove, Clockwork Orange -- should be considered satires. The third -- 2001 A Space Odyssey -- is nothing but a brilliant Sci-Fi flick; and should be noted that when the film came out (along with the NASA space missions of the time, and the rise of Cosmology during the late sixties) it had an electrifying effect on the modern film audiences. No one knew then what the future would be like -- but it would be advanced, computerized, and even sanitized. The Sci-fi films which came after, be it Soylent Green, The Andromeda Strain, Logan's Run (even Woody Allen's comedy) arose out of the influence of Kubrick.

As for Clockwork Orange -- yes the Britain at the time was a socialized Britain, but it was a Wilson gov't Britain, a mixture of socialist excess and a capitalism well hidden. The language, if you have read the novel, is a mixture of proper and proletarian english, russian phrasing, and Joycean puns. Language among the Drooges was identity, just the same as slang is used by rappers and would-be rappers: language was not the result of the imposition of socialism. You can see this clearly throughout Anthony Burgess' novels.
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