The previous installment of the Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) retrospective discusses “Lolita.”
After “Eyes Wide Shut” there would never be another Stanley Kubrick film. There would be no more controversy, no more staring madmen, and no more elegant long takes. The man who made “Dr Strangelove”, “2001”, and “Barry Lyndon” died just after the completion of his 13th feature film and his first since 1987’s “Full Metal Jacket.”
“The heir to no one and, unlike his contemporaries Bergman, Antonioni, or Godard, has no direct inheritor” was how Michel Ciment described Kubrick. The director’s reputation had grown to mythic proportions during his 12-year absence from our cinema screens. Countless stories, rumours and intrigues about Kubrick and his next project surfaced during this period. Even a conman, Alan Conway, could pose as the director without remotely looking like him because of Kubrick’s long hiatus from the media glare.
Toss in the A-List hand grenade of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, then Hollywood’s golden couple, a three-year shoot, and the promise of erotic subject matter – “Eyes Wide Shut” was never going to survive such intense critical scrutiny and come out of it completely intact. But we quickly forget how Kubrick always divided both audiences and critics alike. Ciment and Alexander Walker were largely biased in his favour but David Thomson called the film, “A travesty” and Kubrick a “ ’Master’ who always knew too much about film and too little about life.”
The previous installment in the Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) retrospective discusses “Spartacus.”
James Mason’s slippery disintegration from debonair paedophile to desperate murderer is the key to Kubrick’s adaptation of Vladamir Nabokov’s Lolita. Mason plays on his Gainsborough Studio anti-heroes from “The Man In Grey” and “The Wicked Lady” and twists them into the snivelling coward Humbert Humbert. The resulting performance, intelligently crafted, allows “Lolita’s” more unfilmable material to be suggested with innuendo and comedy.
Like Jack Torrance in “The Shining,” Humbert is the worst kind of academic, achingly superior and dreadfully pretentious. Any shred of written talent revealed by his spiteful narration is so thoroughly warped that we are left in little doubt with what kind of self-congratulatory intellect we are dealing with.
Humbert swans into Ramsdale, New England looking for digs before he begins his professorship at Beardsley College. Gently horrified at the vulgarity of the widow Charlotte Haze, Humbert is ready to turn her lodging down flat before he spies her daughter Lolita sunbathing in a monstrous sombrero. When asked by the dreadfully eager Mrs Haze what sealed the deal Humbert’s reply is as dry as the Sahara, “Your cherry pie.”
The previous installment of the Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) retrospective discusses “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Betrayed by pirates and trapped between three Roman armies Spartacus has little choice but to march on Rome itself. At 31, Stanley Kubrick was in a similarly tricky position. Hired to replace director Anthony Mann on “Spartacus,” he found himself cornered by a script he didn’t like, a jealous Kirk Douglas and a power struggle between Laurence Olivier and Charles Laughton. After conquering all three, he would abandon the eternal city of Hollywood forever and make films on his own terms.
Kirk Douglas used Spartacus as the ultimate vanity project. Seething at missing out on the part of Ben-Hur to Charlton Heston a couple of years before, Douglas wanted his sword and sandal saga to eclipse the success of William Wyler’s movie. “Spartacus” appealed to the rebel in Douglas who had broken his studio contract to gain control over his projects early in his career to form Bryna Productions, though casting off the comfortable shackles of Hollywood tyranny could hardly be comparable to the hardships faced by Roman slaves.
The previous installment of the Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) retrospective discusses “Dr. Strangelove.”
The screen is at first an impenetrable dark. “Real country dark” as Alex DaLarge might say. Slowly, quietly, alien sounds emit from deep within the blackness. We expect images but we get none to guide us. Instead we must retreat inwards, away from the inscrutable void and into our own consciousness, reaching into our soul for answers.
We don’t know it yet but we are already watching the Monolith. Kubrick has buried it in the cinema just as it was buried on the moon. It has forced us to make the leap from narrative cinema to the avant garde. Some will be astonished, some will loathe it, but like Dave Bowman, the audience will be transformed by the experience forever.
The previous installment of the Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) retrospective discusses “The Killing.”
Released in the same year as “Goldfinger,” Kubrick’s satire on nuclear Armageddon could be a Bond film minus 007. With the super spy out of the equation and no one to save the world in the nick of time, we are obliged to watch the comings and goings of Bond’s supporting characters: the generals, presidents, and ambassadors who are usually on the periphery of his heroics.
By revealing the absurdities behind the logic of a nuclear deterrent, Kubrick also debunks the myth behind Bond and our fascination with the ultimate action hero. How could one man, no matter how well trained, ever hope to defeat the detached creatures who came up the theory of mutually assured destruction? Fighting super villains like Auric Goldfinger is one thing, taking on hoards of bureaucrats and their military advisers with absolute belief in their system, even when it fails, is another altogether.
The previous installment of the Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) retrospective discusses “Killer’s Kiss.”
You get the impression that Sterling Hayden’s two-time loser Johnny Clay never read much Steinbeck in prison. If he had at least thumbed through Of Mice and Men, he would never have agreed to work with misfits and animals. Johnny may speak like George Milton, but his look is all Lennie Small.
Kubrick’s heist movie, “The Killing,” trades in a pup for a racehorse but the result is largely the same: small men and women crushed by their own shortcomings in pursuit of the American dream. Purgatory for Clay is no longer a ranch, but the cesspool of Los Angeles, full of glistening, false promise.
Like every other hood Clay has the perfect caper: a $2 million dollar racetrack heist planned to the exact minute. The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry and with Clay’s dysfunctional insiders they are bound to fail spectacularly. Johnny is a classic fantasist and sweeps everyone up with his staccato professionalism, himself included.
The previous installment of the Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) retrospective discusses “Paths of Glory.”
“While Fear and Desire [Kubrick’s debut] had been a serious effort, ineptly done, Killer’s Kiss…proved I think, to be a frivolous effort done with conceivably more expertise.”
Kubrick’s own critique of his second feature reveals the director’s future marriage of lofty philosophical themes with nuts-and-bolts genre movies. “Killer’s Kiss” is a stepping-stone to grandeur, a youthful nod and wink to the peerless older genius that is waiting later through the stargate of “2001″ and beyond.
The previous installment of the Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) retrospective discusses “Barry Lyndon.”
“Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”
Kirk Douglas’ Colonel Dax recites Samuel Johnson’s famous quote in response to General Mireau’s suicidal orders for his regiment. Mireau, on the other hand, doesn’t even know who Johnson is, let alone grasp the callous way in which he describes the percentages of dead required to take the Ant Hill.
Later, Mireau, seeing his impossible attack falter, spits, “If those little sweethearts won’t face German bullets, they’ll face French ones!”
“Paths of Glory’s” generals are not just scoundrels; they are full blown mass-murderers.
The previous installment of the Stanley Kubrick (1928 – 1999) retrospective discusses “Full Metal Jacket.”
Is “Barry Lyndon” Kubrick’s forgotten film, and his most underrated? It has none of the notoriety of “A Clockwork Orange,” it doesn’t boast groundbreaking special effects like “2001,” and it can’t rely on a manic turn from Jack Nicholson in “The Shining” to keep it in the public consciousness.
Instead of exploring Jupiter and beyond, or walking the devastated streets of Hue City, we embark on a journey to somewhere vaguely familiar but equally alien – the 18th Century. Continue reading
The previous installment of the Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) retrospective discusses “A Clockwork Orange.”
“Full Metal Jacket” was Stanley Kubrick’s penultimate film. It came out seven years after “The Shining” did – a considerable break. By now, the steadicam rules supreme and the rigid doctrine of the military proves to be the perfect subject matter for such a freewheeling device.
Like the national sport of Kubrick’s adopted country, “Full Metal Jacket” is a game of two halves. His gliding lens, probes, follows, and reports the life of Private Joker as he trains in The Parris Island boot camp and then sees combat in Vietnam as a reporter for Stars and Stripes.
Gunnery Sgt Hartmann, a human machine gun armed to the teeth with insults, abuse, and four letter words, dominates Parris Island. His job is simple – smash Joker and the other recruits to nothing, and then to steadily rebuild them into killing machines.
The episodic structure of basic training and the relentless way Kubrick edits it together presents Hartmann as a force of nature. He never jams, never tires, and never falters in his task. He dominates every frame as Kubrick places him centre stage in his heavily stylized mise-en-scene. His staccato delivery, as deadly as armour piercing bullets, ricochets as the audience tries to take make sense of his beautifully belligerent tirades. Continue reading