Tag Archives: Stanley Kubrick

STANLEY KUBRICK’S THE SHINING (1980)

There is a story, possibly apocryphal, which claims that telephoned author Stephen King shortly before filming commenced on The Shining (1980). Allegedly, Kubrick asked King: “Do you believe evil exists, as an entity?” “Yes, I do,” King answered. “Well, I don’t,” Kubrick replied as he slammed down the phone. According to the anecdote, King then knew his pulp novel had been “taken away” from him. His budding 1980 fan base agreed, feigning outrage at cinematic liberties Kubrick was to take. Despite King’s fans, The Shining was largely a hit with audiences and critics, though hardly unanimous. Since then, it has developed an epic cult reputation and is considered by many to be one of the greatest horror films of all time. As per the norm with extreme opinions, both views are off-kilter.

Underrated by literary critics and overrated by housewives, Stephen King was already a household name by 1980, and a film version of his novel about a possessed hotel was inevitable. What King was not prepared for was a forceful filmmaker with his own ideas. To be certain, this is Stanley Kubrick’s Shining, not King’s, and for that we can be thankful (King later proved the point in a dreadfully faithful 1997 television remake).

In Kubrick’s The Shining, the face of evil is not the hotel. Rather, it is the bourgeoisie husband/father Jack Torrance (), with the Still from The Shining (1980)hotel standing as an obvious symbol for man’s eternal evil. That very simple decision confused the hell out of its hyper-linear 1980 audience, although contemporary viewers seem less troubled by it. Yet, there are drawbacks; Kubrick does not make good on all of his promises. There is no substantial character arc for Jack. He is most interesting in the first half before being reduced to a monotone Looney Tune archetype. In sharp contrast, his wife Wendy () emerges from her bedside banality, like a figure jumping off a Symbolist canvas, to become a torrent. Channeling modernist painters (Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Amedo Modgiglini) is a recurring Kubrick theme. Casting Duvall was shrewd. Footage from a “making of” documentary  reveals Kubrick was tyrannical when directing her. It paid off.  Unfortunately, the development of the patriarchal antagonist is not as layered. Kubrick fails to reign in Nicholson, whose character solicits identification and sympathy only from the film’s thug demographic (much in the same way that the Al Pacino’s Tony Montana does). In painting Jack two-dimensionally, Nicholson and Kubrick open wide the door of identification for simpletons. The film falters in allowing the ink to dry on Jack. The banality of evil theme is as subtle as the second half of Nicholson’s performance, but of course, Kubrick’s The Shining is not relegated to a single character.

Kubrick’s The Shining is a far more complex machine than the source Continue reading STANLEY KUBRICK’S THE SHINING (1980)

CAPSULE: EYES WIDE SHUT (1999)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , , Todd Field

PLOT: An upscale married couple struggles with the temptations of infidelity in modern Greenwich Village, leading the husband to become enmeshed in a secret sex cult.

Still from Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Aside from the creepy centerpiece involving an orgy of masked figures in cloaks, nothing weird happens. Eyes Wide Shut is a serious, deliberate psychological study with some interesting political undertones about power.

COMMENTS: Everyone loves a good sex party, especially when there are masks involved. You can role play, burn incense, and even participate in pagan rituals without worrying about being ratted out. In Eyes Wide Shut, Nicole Kidman, playing the melancholic wife Alice Harford, kicks everything off, posing to show off her pump-raised buttocks, and what follows is an odyssey about power and lust. The tragedy is that this film, Kubrick’s final—starring everyone’s favorite Scientologist and his then real life spouse—has been repeatedly reduced to some kind of vague warning about the dangers of an unchecked elite society (Illuminati, etc.), especially since the juiciest segments of the movie come from interpersonal struggle and subsequent identity distortion. These characters terminally deceive themselves and others. Cruise completely owns his role as the terribly charming but ultimately insecure professional Bill Harford, reminding us why we tolerate his wacky off-screen cult endeavors. Offering a multilayered performance with incredible range, restraint and subtlety, he provokes inquisition into his on-screen psyche. Kubrick is the master auteur he’s always been, while Kidman makes everyone horny, forming a powerful trifecta.

Judicious attention is given to high society, people with power and influence, to how they stew in immorality and the instability of their relationships. Kidman displays aggressive coquetry by teasing a suave ballroom gigolo, while at the opposite end of the party Cruise has two women swooning over him. This is a muddy affair hiding behind a façade of elegance and sophistication. We imagine all of the private lives of the patrons here have the same debased, amoral existence, rooted in treachery and egocentrism. Detachment is prevalent, indicative of wealthy people so confident in their endless supply of bailouts that there’s literally nothing they can’t get away with, nothing that can’t be covered up.

Like any good doctor, Bill Harford enjoys playing God. He’s a man with pride and confidence in his professional demeanor, infinite charm spiraling outwards from an desire to dominate others with his own compassion and experience. “Doctors are so…knowledgeable,” says a flirty party gal to Bill. When the camera closes in on Alice’s beautiful behind once again, the question remains: is it good enough Continue reading CAPSULE: EYES WIDE SHUT (1999)

A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (2001)

Once or twice a decade comes a film that polarizes audiences, particularly of the American variety. This is not surprising given that few Westerners, spoon-fed on undemanding aesthetics, even know how to watch film. Recent examples of divisive cinema include Noah and Birdman from 2014. Both appeared to be genre films of sorts.

The audiences going to Noah jumped off the church bus, expecting to see the cinematic equivalent of a Velcro bible lesson with rosy-cheeked prophet loading friendly snakes into his wooden yacht, capped off by a “Love American Style” rainbow. Instead, they were pounded by Aronofsky’s brass knuckles of mythological and theological diversity, with a Creator who actually cared about his planet. The result was widespread provocation.

Birdman was a sort of belated, near perfect follow-up to Batman Returns (1992) (never mind that it was a bird instead of a flying rodent). s Bruce Wayne was off-kilter as his alter ego, and the hyperkinetic actor was tailor made for this iconic role, revealing slivers of a manic-depressive personality as he played ringmaster in a freak show carnival. Birdman takes that development further, exposing the actor behind the actor behind the suit. Audiences, desiring more blockbuster mayhem, were treated to something far more idiosyncratic and original. By and large, they responded like a hostile bull charging to a flag of artsy-fartsy red.

Of course, both the Bible and comic books have scores of zealous adherents, particularly when it comes to cinematic treatments of the objects of their adulation. Science fictions fanatics are made of similar stuff. When ‘s Prometheus was released in 2012, the Alien fans were deeply offended by the lack of a guy in an H.R. Giger gorilla suit. In place of mugging Ritz Brothers and Bill Paxton was the beautifully enigmatic pro-choice seeker Noomi Rapace. Too original for bourgeoisie creampuffs, Prometheus stole the fiery expectations of the sci fi formula. Genre disciples screamed blasphemy and branded Scott as Judas.

Eleven years before Prometheus, there was the Steven Spielberg/ hybrid A.I., which was, perhaps, saddled with more preconceived notions and baggage than any film of the last half century.

The introductory obstacle was the Spielberg proselytizers, who hoped for heart-tugging family fare about a cute plush toy. Knowing that A.I. had been attached to the late Kubrick, Spielberg’s sycophants probably had the most misgivings.

Still from A.I.: Artificial Intelligece (2001)The second obstacle came from the church of Kubrick. Now that Stanley was dead, he was, of course, canonized. In that parish of holy auteurs, there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth among the parishioners. That populist antichrist, Spielberg, was not Continue reading A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (2001)

196. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)

“Can someone tell me what the hell this is all about?”–Rock Hudson, walking out of the premiere of 2001: A Space Odyssey early

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Stanley Kubrick

FEATURING: Keir Dullea, Douglas Rain (voice)

PLOT: On the primordial savannah, early hominids discover a strange black monolith; immediately afterwards, they learn to use simple weapons to hunt and to fight rival ape tribes for scarce resources. Millions of years later, a lunar explorer discovers an identical artifact buried on the Moon.  Following a signal being beamed out by the lunar monolith, a manned spacecraft is dispatched to Jupiter, but a malfunctioning artificial intelligence unit threatens the mission’s success.

Still from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
BACKGROUND:

  • Stanley Kubrick and science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke collaborated on the screenplay, an expansion of Clarke’s 1948 short story “The Sentinel.” Clarke’s full-length novel treatment of 2001 was written at the same time as he was working on the script.
  • The movie was released on April 2, 1968 at the height of the Space Race. One year later, Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon. Humanity has not returned to the Moon since 1972.
  • MGM wanted Alex North to supply original music; Kubrick wanted to use specific classical pieces. North dutifully composed a score, but Kubrick eventually won out. North reworked the themes which eventually appeared in Shanks, among other films.
  • More music trivia: almost everyone can hum the iconic opening melody from Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” mainly due to its prominent use in 2001 as the “monolith theme.” But when the movie was made Decca was afraid that association with 2001 would cheapen the music, and only allowed Kubrick to use Herbert von Karajan’s Vienna Philharmonic recording if the conductor and orchestra were not listed in the credits. After the movie became a massive hit, Decca re-released von Karajan’s recording with a sticker reading “as heard in 2001!” The version of “Zarathustra” appearing on the official soundtrack album was recorded by a different orchestra than the performance heard in the film.
  • The rumor that the name of the computer HAL was derived by displacing the letters of IBM by one letter persists to this day, despite both Kubrick and Clarke’s insistence the name was derived from a contraction of “Heuristic ALgorithmic Computer.”
  • 2001 won an Academy Award for Special Effects. Kurbick was nominated for Best Director (losing to Carol Reed for Best Picture winner Oliver!) and the screenplay scored the movie’s other Oscar nomination. 2001 was not nominated for Best Picture.
  • Ranked as the 6th greatest movie of all time on Sight & Sound’s 2012 poll (2nd in the director’s poll).
  • A 1984 sequel, 2010, was directed by Peter Hyams from Clarke’s novel and script. Clarke wrote two more sequels, set in 2061 and 3001.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Monolith or star child? After much internal debate we went with the star child, gazing down at earth from his celestial amniotic sac, as Kubrick’s best, most outrageous, and final bit of millennial iconography,

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: To many average moviegoers, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a plodding, baffling exercise in obfuscation. Devotees of this site, on the other hand, will find it one of the more straightforward and easily comprehensible films we cover–which is not at all to imply that this masterpiece lacks depth or mystery. 2001 is singular in its unconventional narrative structure, in its blend of arthouse reflection and big-budget spectacle, and in its use of avant-garde techniques to inform a classical allegory. It is, simply put, unique, unmissable, and necessary for anyone who loves movies, weird or otherwise.


2014 re-release trailer for 2001: A Space Odyssey

COMMENTS: Arthur C. Clarke said that Stanley Kubrick’s instructions in crafting 2001: A Space Odyssey were to create not merely a Continue reading 196. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)

CAPSULE: ROOM 237 (2012)

AKA Room 237: Being an Inquiry Into ‘The Shining’ in 9 Parts

DIRECTED BY: Rodney Ascher

FEATURING: Offscreen interviewees and archival footage of The Shining stars

PLOT: Five obsessed fans explain their intricate theories about the horror classic The Shining.

Still from Room 237 (2012)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: ‘s The Shining is a strange movie, but not half as weird as Room 237‘s obsessed fans believe it to be. This documentary is an off-the-wall must-see for dedicated fans of Kubrick’s lone horror effort, but it’s not that weird in itself; it just has some nerdy weirdo cinephiles as its subject.

COMMENTS: You shouldn’t interpret a Stanley Kubrick film the same way you would read an esoteric Alejandro Jodorowsky effort, but try telling that to Room 237‘s amateur film critics. Five obsessed fans explain their intricate gnostic theories about the horror classic, from the nearly plausible (it’s an allegory for the Holocaust) to the totally batty (it’s Stanley Kubrick’s guilt-ridden confession that he helped fake the moon landing). These commentators aren’t stupid—one of them has spent hours meticulously mapping out the impossible topography of the Overlook Hotel—but they are eager to attach abnormal importance to the movie’s most random moments. One thinks the appearance of a can of “Calumet” brand baking powder indicates that the movie is about the slaughter of American Indians; the guy who contends the movie is about the Holocaust counts 42 cars in the Overlook parking lot (Hitler began his final solution in 1942). The fact that little Danny once wears an Apollo 11 t-shirt at one point is damning evidence to the lunar landing conspiracy theorist. These people have pored over the movie frame by frame, and they are able to point out plenty of little details and continuity that the casual viewer would have missed (the way the geometric pattern on the carpet reverses itself just before Danny sees the vision of the murdered twins had to be done on purpose, to subliminally disconcert us). They are also capable of seeing things that aren’t really there: one sees a minotaur in a background poster of a man skiing, another sees Kubrick’s face airbrushed into the clouds. Sometimes they provide legitimate insights: the lone female fan uncovers legitimate labyrinth imagery suggesting connections to the story of Theseus, another ruminates about how the film evokes the eternal recurrence of evil. But they underplay these valid points in favor of the more outlandish interpretations they find more interesting. The smartest of the commentators, who seems to be some sort of historian, at least recognizes that his interpretation isn’t the only possible one, and admits it may not have been what Kubrick intended; in postmodern style, he argues that the artwork speaks for itself and its “meaning” is constructed in a dialogue between the artist and audience. This is true enough, but watching this sort of mangled thinking is disturbing, even when it’s directed at something as meaningless as the meaning of a horror movie. After all, there is nothing stopping a man who is capable of spinning out an elaborate genocidal theory based on the image on a can of baking powder in the background of a horror movie from serving on a jury where he may hold a man’s fate in his hands. Room 237′s official site includes the following strange disclaimer: “THE VIEWS AND OPINIONS EXPRESSED IN THIS DOCUMENTARY FILM ARE SOLELY THOSE OF THE COMMENTATORS IN IT AND DO NOT REFLECT THE VIEWS OF STANLEY KUBRICK OR THE SHINING FILMMAKERS.” Tell me about it.

Obviously, only those familiar with The Shining will want to tune in to Room 237. Visually, Ascher’s documentary is composed almost entirely of footage from The Shining, which is rewound, drawn upon, and altered (at one point Wendy watches herself watching herself on television in an infinite regression). Clips of other movies also illustrate the fans batty hypotheses, from just about every Kubrick movie to a peek at the minotaur from Satyricon. One of the most interesting bits is a replay of a few choice moments of synchronicity from an experimental showing of The Shining where the movie was projected backwards and forwards at the same time, superimposed on the same screen. Watching a calm Jack Nicholson interviewing for the caretaker’s job while a crazed version of his future self is hobbling through a hedge maze with an axe is an amazingly creepy sight. A British DVD release is scheduled for February 2013; no American release date has been set.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“[It has] a feel as strange as it’s subject matter.”–The Sun (contemporaneous)

30. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)

“The story functions, of course, on several levels, political, sociological, philosophical and, what’s most important, on a dreamlike psychological-symbolic level.”–Stanley Kubrick

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee

PLOT:  Alex is the leader of a small gang of violent, thrill-seeking youths in England sometime in the indefinite near future.  After a home invasion goes bad, his “droogs” betray him and his victim dies, and he is sent to prison.  The government selects him to undergo experimental Pavlovian conditioning that makes him violently ill when he becomes aggressive, then releases him onto the streets as a “reformed” criminal, only to find he is helpless to defend himself when he encounters his vengeful former victims.

Still from A Clockwork Orange (1971)

BACKGROUND:

  • A Clockwork Orange is an adaptation of the critically acclaimed 1962 novel by Anthony Burgess.  Burgess was ultimately unhappy with this treatment of his novel, because in his intended ending for the story, Alex voluntarily reformed.  This final chapter of redemption had been excluded from American prints of the novel—the version Kubrick worked worked from—at the request of the American publisher.  Kubrick’s version ends with evil triumphant.  Although Kubrick had not read the final chapter of the novel before beginning the film, he later stated in interviews that he would not have included the happy ending anyway because he thought it rang false.
  • The title—which is not explained in the movie, only glimpsed briefly as a line of text on a typewritten page—comes from an expression Burgess overheard in a bar, “as queer as a clockwork orange.”
  • Burgess created the elaborate fictional jargon Alex uses by mixing elements of Russian and Slavic languages with Cockney slang.  Much of his original dialogue found its way into the movie.
  • A Clockwork Orange was Stanley Kubrick’s next project after his previous weird masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).  It was also young star Malcolm McDowell’s first feature role after starring in a 1968 weird film, Lindsay Anderson’s If…
  • A Clockwork Orange was the first movie to use Dolby sound.
  • The movie was released in the United States with an “X” rating, and was later cut slightly and re-released in 1973 with an “R” rating.
  • The film was blamed for several copycat crimes in Britain and Europe, notably, a gang rape in which the rapists sang “Singin’ in the Rain” during the assualt.  Kubrick, an American who lived in the United Kingdom, was also reportedly stalked by some deranged fans of the film.  For these reasons, Kubrick withdrew A Clockwork Orange from distribution in Britain, both from live screenings and on video.  The self-imposed ban lasted until Kubrick’s death.

INDELIBLE IMAGEA Clockwork Orange filled with as many iconic images as any film of the last fifty years.  Scenes like the one where Alex and his costumed droogs walk cockily through a deserted city in slow motion have consciously or unconsciously been copied many times (compare the similar slo-mo shot of the uniformed gangsters emerging from their breakfast meeting in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs).  Probably the most instantly recognizable image is the opening closeup of Alex’s sneering face, wearing a huge false eyelash one one eye only.  I selected another memorable Malcolm McDowell closeup, the one of Alex as he’s undergoing the Ludovico technique, with wires and transistors attached to his head and metal clamps forcibly holding his eyes open so he cannot look away from the violent images on the screen, because it works as a perfect ironic metaphor for a film we cannot tear our eyes away from.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Although the plot is simple, and realistic in its own speculative

Original trailer for A Clockwork Orange

way, Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange is so hyper-stylized with its bizarre poetic language, sets, costumes, music, broadly exaggerated performances, and the improbable karmic symmetry of the plot that it seems to take place in a dream world or a subconscious realm.  The action, which takes the form of an ambiguous moral fable, occurs in an urban landscape that’s familiar, but fabulously twisted just beyond our expectations.

COMMENTSA Clockwork Orange did not have to be weird.  The story could have been Continue reading 30. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)

STANLEY KUBRICK, CULTURAL OMNIVORE

This guest essay is by Alfred Eaker, director of Jesus and Her Gospel of Yes!, which was voted Best Experimental Film in the 2004 New York International Film and Video Festival, and the feature W the Movie.

“We must be cultural omnivores and raid all the art forms to enhance our own art”– Pierre Boulez; Modernist French composer.

Although, the meaning of postmodernism is replete with vagaries, one prominent characteristic of the so-called movement is that it abounds in eclecticism.  Pierre Boulez’s advice for artists to mantle a mental state of being cultural omnivores seems tailor made for much that is pronounced in postmodernism.  In that light, the movement had one of it’s most well-known, brilliantly driven, unofficial spokespersons in the late Stanley Kubrick.kubrick1

Kubrick, of course, patterned his body of film work after a Beethoven aesthetic.  Each of Beethoven’s nine symphonies had an individual theme.  The Eroica was Beethoven’s initial support, later renounced, bio-portrait of Napoleon.  The 4th, according to Robert Schumann, was a Greek maiden between two Norse gods.  The immortal fifth was THE anti-war statement.  The 6th , a pastorale; the 7th, a series of  rhythmic movements; the 8th, more abstract, is a favorite among modernist conductors; and, of course, the mighty Ode to Joy.

Kubrick wanted to create a work in each of the genres and it’s unfortunate he never got to make his western (Marlon Brando foolishly took over directing One Eyed Jacks, after having Kubrick sacked).  Regardless of genre, each Kubrick film is filtered through his own unique sensibilities (i.e., the dehumanization of man), thus rendering the idea of applying something as superfluous as a genre akin to hopelessly trivial labeling.  When it comes to Kubrick, the genre/subject is almost incidental.  Kubrick defiantly stamped his personal vision onto everything he approached (as author Stephen King would discover, to his complete dismay, when Kubrick took on The Shining.  Kubrick was no assignment director).

Volumes have been written about Kubrick’s body of work with wildly varying and opposing opinions, but the almost unanimous conclusion that can be drawn is that Kubrick’s films are not designed for casual viewing.

Indeed, upon repeated absorption, Kubrick’s films reveal the degree to which Kubrick was a cultural omnivore.

Kubrick’s rep as being a “supremely controlled” artist is a misnomer.  He was just as apt for experimentation, improvisation, and utilizing ideas from actors, etc.  Hence, Kubrick’s reason for disallowing the publishing of his scripts (which he often deviated from) and ordering the destruction of all unused footage.  In it’s rough cut, Clockwork Orange was originally a four hour film.

One of Kubrick’s most compelling scenes in Clockwork Orange was, by turns, supremely controlled and experimental, yet gives compelling insight into Kubrick’s multi-hued layering and eclectic aesthetics.

Alex and the droogs appear at an ultra modernist home, which welcomes visitors with a lit sign, marked simply “Home.” Kubrick’s customary symbolic red and white design work is as heavy laden here as it is throughout the rest of the film.

Husband Patrick Magee types away at his typewrite when the doorbell rings.  The doorbell sounds of the overly familiar first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth: Fate knocking at the door.  However, those four notes sound deceptively innocuous here, almost tinkling.

The camera pans across the room revealing Magee’s redhead wife, Adrienne Corri, dressed in red pajamas, sitting comfortably in a white, plastic chair in the next room.  Husband and wife are detached from one another, echoing the barrenness of the house.  Corri answers the door to hear Alex proclaim “there has been an accident outside” and his request to use the telephone.  Corri is reluctant, but Magee instructs her to let the visitors in.  With the unlocking of door, Fate enters in like a Beethovenian storm.

The “Singing in the Rain” beating/dance was not scripted and was improvised, worked, and re-worked until Kubrick was satisfied with the flowing tone.  Adding this element was a brilliant instinct on Kubrick’s part.  Without it, the breaking-in would have felt more like a tempest than a storm.

After Magee is tied up and beaten, Alex and the droogs turn to Corri.  They take her in front of painting on the wall and begin to rape her.  The visuals in this vignette reveal a homage narrative, akin to developing patterns in an unfolding puzzle.  The design of the painting on the wall has a pronounced familiarity.  In it’s colors and forms, it is a homage to Gustav Klimt and bears striking resemblance to Klimt works like “Farmhouse with Birch Trees”.  Corri appears as a Klimt model personified.  She is Klimt’s mysterious red head, pale and thin (i.e., “Hope 1”).  She and the scene call to mind imagery from Klimt’s “The Beethoven Frieze” (especially in the sections, “The Longing for Happiness Finds Repose in Poetryand “Hostile Powers”).  In essence, Kubrick is paying homage to Klimt paying homage to Beethoven.

Continue reading STANLEY KUBRICK, CULTURAL OMNIVORE