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
“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.
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 Poetry” and “Hostile Powers”). In essence, Kubrick is paying homage to Klimt paying homage to Beethoven.