Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Few Words on Stanley Kubrick

Over the past few weeks, I've inundated myself with the films of Stanley Kubrick, from Paths of Glory to A Clockwork Orange to repeated viewings of 2001. I've watched documentaries on Kubrick himself, and on specific films.

Now, there's a lot on my mind that I can discuss here: Kubrick's approach to violence in Clockwork, or perhaps the ideas involving corruption and dubious leadership in Paths of Glory. For the sake of brevity, I only wish to share some overall reactions I had on Kubrick holistically, not an examination of individual works (that could literally take years).

Watching all these movies in a short span of time made one thing highly apparent: Kubrick never made the same film twice. Sure, there is a Kubrick style, one that's as distinctive as it is recognizable. But Kubrick's range of themes and approach to each film is astonishing. Thinking of contemporary filmmakers, this is a quality I also admire in Danny Boyle--from Trainspotting to to Millions to Sunshine, Boyle has challenged himself as a creator every time out. Conversely, you have someone like Wes Anderson--who I think is an adequate director--who has gotten increasing stale with each passing film. As I watched Anderson's latest, The Darjeeling Limited, I couldn't help but feel that I'd seen it before. Thinking about, I had; the film shared the same characteristics of every other Anderson film (detached characters, emotional bankruptcy, child-like wonderment, etc.). The closest Kubrick came to duplication is in Paths of Glory and Full Metal Jacket--two war films that, thematically, couldn't be any further apart.

Kubrick was a creator--calling him a director, as honorable a title that is, seems to short a man of such obvious genius--of no ego. He was an artist who immersed himself in his subject, his themes, his craft. Never did Kubrick create a film out of the impetus to deliver his 'message,' a trait that is sorely lacking in too many filmmakers this day and age. So many creators allow their art to genuflect to their cause, which mainly take the form of vague left-/right-wing politics. This is why Spielberg's interpretation of a Kubrick concept (A.I.) failed so badly--Spielberg obviously had an agenda in making the film: the ethics of technology, playing god is wrong, etc.

This isn't to say that Kubrick's films are without a point, or without meaning. What they lack, though, is a discernible agenda. Imagine if A Clockwork Orange was made in the past five years, or if a different filmmaker had interpreted Burgess's novel. What you'd get is a film that spoke clearly to society's woes, maybe even a meditation on the urges to do right or wrong. You would be told how to feel about Alex, about society, about violent behavior. I watch Clockwork, and I think/feel something different every time.

There are still Kubrick films I need to see--Barry Lyndon, which is playing at the Music Box in May, tops that list. Yet regardless of how often I watch his films, there always seems to be something new to explore. Everything he did was so precise, his composition drawing your focus to the exact details he wanted to have recognized. I can go on ad infinitum--there's so much I love and admire, so much that has influenced my own work. But I'm getting tired. My mind is going...

3 comments:

Paul Brazill said...

The killing and Lolita are MY Kubricks. Both gems.

Michael Bobby said...

Got to agree with Paul, The Killing and Lolita are two masterpieces of film. Kubrick transcends film itself, as you noted in your comment of Kubrick as creator, not just a director. As Clockwork can never be remade, 2001 also can never be remade. The audacity of its creation still amazes me. Hollywood execs would run away screaming if you told them you were going to create a film that will have over 30 minutes of silence, examining the nature of man, from our being sabertooth lunch meat to the first Cain v. Abel- like killing to our exploration of space, to a new evolution, into death and rebirth as Starman. Let alone, the recurrent themes ("Birthdays", the possibility of celestial-inspired evolution, tools as our salvation, & many more) would ring hollow in the hands of most directors, then or now. The fact that he also got the science of space right in that there's only silence (if not Johann Strauss) and not the X-Wing & Death Star explosions in Star Wars. Wow, you're right, you can go on and on talking about Kubrick's genius until your head spins. He left us too soon. I need to spend a few weeks with him, too, and next time also try to be as brief as Paul.

Mike Moreci said...

I love The Killing, so existential, so drenched in dread. I also enjoy Lolita--very few understand that Nabokov's novel is more about America's barbaric manners, solipsism and cruelty, and less about love. Kubrick nailed much of that.

Last week, Bobby, I was thinking along the lines of you're comment--Hollywood execs would squash any attempt for a director to do as Kubrick did. Their heads would explode. "A little bit of the in/out"? Rebirth as a Starbaby? "Mein F├╝hrer! I can walk!" The idea of capturing this onscreen in contemporary cinema in inconceivable.