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Stanley Kubrick.

Stanley Kubrick is one of the titans of modern cinema, a director who found his feet in the postwar studio system, yet soon grew into one of the definitive exemplars of the auteur: writing, directing and producing his films, even operating the camera - gaining renown for his control, exactitude and precision. In the opening flourish of the documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (Jan Harlan, 200l), we see a montage of newspaper articles on Kubrick, the same words popping up time and time again: 'eccentric', 'reclusive', 'obsessive', 'meticulous', 'perfectionist'.

Born in 1928, Kubrick was raised in New York City, in the Bronx. He cut his teeth as a photographer, first for his school newspaper, then, from the moment he finished high school, working for Look magazine. (1) While photographing boxing, he was inspired to switch to moving images; his first short film, Day of the Fight (1951), was a documentary. Moving into making narrative shorts on shoestring budgets, Kubrick would do everything - serving as writer, director, cinematographer, editor, sound tech - and, thus, grow used to having complete control. His first feature, Fear and Desire (1953), a film about a fictitious war, was a DIY concern, funded after Kubrick's father cashed in his life insurance; his second, Killer's Kiss (1955), a noir movie, was bankrolled by a local Bronx pharmacist. (2)

From there, Kubrick's star quickly ascended. The Killing (1956), a heist movie about a meticulously plotted racetrack robbery, is a striking work of intersecting timelines and thoughtful photography. Paths of Glory (1957), his first bigger-budget film, is a blazing antiwar movie balancing the horrors of the trenches with the politics of the military. Both of them show Kubrick's photographic invention, his love of deep focus and his vivid use of tracking shots - something inspired by his favourite filmmaker, Max Ophuls. Kubrick was already carefully mapping shots and commanding his actors to do take after take, perfectionism at play from his cinematic salad days.

On Paths of Glory, Kubrick worked with Kirk Douglas, who would invite the thirty-year-old filmmaker - after a troubled beginning to the production - to helm his sword-and-sandal epic Spartacus (1960). (3) With a huge budget, wild scope and a top-line cast (Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, Jean Simmons, Tony Curtis), the flick found Kubrick thrust to the Hollywood front lines: the production won a Golden Globe and four Oscars; became a huge box-office hit; helped end the communist witch-hunt in Hollywood (the screenplay was written by blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo); and delivered the first 'all-timer' iconic scene in Kubrick's filmography ('I'm Spartacus!').

But Kubrick bristled at just being a director-for-hire, subordinate to Douglas, who was the film's star, executive producer and driving force ('If I ever needed any convincing of the limits of persuasion a director can have on a film where someone else is the producer and he is merely the highest-paid member of the crew,' Kubrick would offer, years on, with hindsight, 'Spartacus provided proof to last a lifetime' (4)). Without final say or final cut, he felt powerless; after that, he pledged to have complete control on future pictures.

He took the clout and power he'd amassed with Spartacus and embarked on a passion project, bringing to screen an adaptation of a book thought unadaptable: Vladimir Nabokov's 1955 novel Lolita, a portrait of a middle-aged man's sexual obsession with a twelve-year-old girl. The tagline for Kubrick's 1962 film riffed on this idea, its poster famously proclaiming: 'How did they ever make a movie of Lolita?'

They made it by shifting the production to the United Kingdom, where Kubrick could exercise control over the project. (5) Though it was hugely controversial in its day - it was condemned by the Catholic Church, and Kubrick had to cut some of its more salacious material to even find distribution (6) - Lolita, in hindsight, marked a shifting point in Kubrick's career. It found him moving away from genre, realism and earnestness and towards auteurism, surrealism and satire. The move to England, too, became permanent, Kubrick spending the rest of his life there, moving further away from the public eye. (7) He was raising his family (and a gaggle of pets!) and protecting his privacy, but his reclusiveness gave rise to all manner of myth and gossip - especially towards the end of his life, when his films became fewer and farther between. In truth, he spent years working on projects that went nowhere - an epic biography on the life of Napoleon; the holocaust movie Aryan Papers; an adaptation of the short story 'Supertoys Last All Summer Long' (eventually brought to screen, by Steven Spielberg, as 2001's A.I. Artificial Intelligence) (8) - and only making those, of course, on which he'd have complete creative control.

For every film he made after Lolita, from Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) to Eyes Wide Shut (1999), Kubrick served as writer, director and producer, also occasionally still working the camera. His work in 'special photographic effects' on 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) won him an Oscar (his only one, a sure reminder of the Academy's eternal conservatism) - the film hailed, both in its day and in the fifty years since, as one of cinema's great visual landmarks.

Every Kubrick movie was an event, and every one has left a huge legacy. From the hyper-stylised 'ultraviolence' of A Clockwork Orange (1971) to the trailblazing low-light photography of Barry Lyndon (1975), the seminal surrealist horror of The Shining (1980) and the foul-mouthed boot-camp cruelty of existential war movie Full Metal Jacket (1987), Kubrick's movies are all different, singular. They have sparked conversation and controversy, inspired endless imitators and delivered scenes that've lodged in the minds of viewers and the annals of cinema history. Kubrick died in 1999, six days after first showing a final cut of Eyes Wide Shut, the director remaining exacting to the end.


Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

With the world gripped by nuclear panic in the early 1960s, Kubrick took the temperature of the Cold War. Dr. Strangelove is a high satire of Cold War paranoia, red-menace fearmongering, American egotism and the ridiculous premise of 'mutually assured destruction' - a hypothesis on which, in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the fate of the world somehow hung. Kubrick had initially intended to make a serious adaptation of Peter George's doomsday potboiler Red Alert, but the further he dug into the world of macho posturing, point-scoring politicking, nuclear stand-offs and apocalyptic male fantasy, the more he couldn't shake the absurdity.

His film, then, used Red Alert simply as a leaping-off point, going in various ridiculous directions. The comic intent is written in character handles: the craziness of pro-nuke military men conveyed in names like Jack D Ripper (Sterling Hayden) and Bat Guano (Keenan Wynn); the dick-swinging nature of military machismo - and the sexual nature of detonating bombs - embodied in the contrasting double entendre of 'Buck' Turgidson (George C Scott) and Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers, in one of three roles herein, following on from his chameleonic turn in Lolita).

But, for all Sellers' mugging - especially in the titular role, as a wheelchair-bound former Nazi scientist - Dr. Strangelove is not a farce. Instead, its satire is scalpel-sharp: slicing up ail-American warmongering, demanding the world look at its grisly, bloody interior. The comedy helped the film transcend its time, living on beyond the nuclear terror of the moment. Over half a century on, there's still political resonance: rewatching Dr. Strangelove at a time when Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un undertake their own buffoonish, boys'-club, push-of-a-button nuclear posturing, the film's satirical portrait remains riotous, trenchant and deeply troubling.

2001: A Space Odyssey

Kubrick's unalloyed masterpiece routinely sits high atop 'greatest films of all time' lists, and continues to influence new filmmakers with each passing year. It's ground zero for the sci-fi blockbuster, a groundbreaking visual-effects spectacle whose deep-space visions, astonishing sound design and philosophical tone set the tenor for future genre classics like THX 1138 (George Lucas, 1971), Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg, 1977), Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979), The Abyss (James Cameron, 1989), Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron, 2013), Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2013), Interstellar (Christopher Nolan, 2014) and Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018).

It's also one of the most parodied and riffed-on movies ever made; a whole generation who grew up on The Simpsons effectively 'know' the entire movie through manifold references therein. Kubrick employed well-known classical pieces to match the grandeur of his widescreen imagery, the whole thing feeling less like a picture show and more like a cinematic symphony, delivered replete with overture, intermission and sense of 'event'.

Like so many of Kubrick's films, 2001: A Space Odyssey was divisive upon release: older audiences, critics and studio heads ('That's the end of Stanley Kubrick,' one apocryphally said (9)) were turned off by its ponderous tone, philosophical ambition and emotional sterility. But, at a time when the counterculture was exploding, it was embraced by the younger generation. (10)

The episodic story - co-written with author Arthur C Clarke - spans millions of years. It essentially traces human evolution from ape-like hominids to space travellers to beings journeying 'beyond the infinite', with the presence of a mysterious, unexplained black monolith seemingly connected to leaps forward in human progress.

The longest narrative section of the film, 'Jupiter Mission: 18 Months Later', is just as influential and memorable as the grand visions of the planets and psychedelic acid-trip journey down the colour-saturated wormhole of the film's climactic 'Star Gate' sequence. The Jupiter Mission is ground zero for another eternal sci-fi trope: humankind's fear of artificial intelligence. Its villain, HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain), is a plain-spoken supercomputer depicted as an unblinking red 'eye', Kubrick forever staring into its lens. When HAL learns that he may be disconnected following a possible error, he turns on the crew's astronauts, one of the most iconic screen robots to have risen up against its human inventors.

A Clockwork Orange

Based on a brilliant book - written largely in a bizarre slang, 'Nadsat' - by Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange is Kubrick's most notorious movie. It's set in a near-future Britain in which gangs of youths ('droogs') roam wild and free at night, a scourge on society, delivering outbursts of ultraviolence. Burgess wrote it as a social satire, his dystopia - one in which amoral youths find cheap thrills from drugs, sex, rape, violence - a manifestation of English fears of juvenile delinquency. Those fears were being stoked, as ever, by the hysterical, conservative press: the satire expanding to media exploitation and political gamesmanship.

Beyond that, the story is a study of behaviourism, moral relativism and the old nature/nurture debate. 'The central idea of the film has to do with the question of free-will,' Kubrick said. 'Do we lose our humanity if we are deprived of the choice between good and evil?' (11)

This is dramatised in the form of aversion therapy, in which unwanted behaviour is wedded to unpleasant associations. Here, the subject of such an experiment is 'your humble narrator', Alex (Malcolm McDowell), a one-time hoodlum who, upon his incarceration, is earmarked for reformation. In the film's most memorable - and most imitated - sequence, he undergoes the Ludovico Technique: strapped to a chair with his eyelids clamped open, he's forced to watch a flickering film reel of human horrors: any future lust, be it sexual or violent, conditioned to bring on crippling nausea. Alex is turned from aggressor to victim, ultimately becoming a public-relations pawn for those on either side of the political divide.

A Clockwork Orange is, beyond its social satire, a portrait of the charismatic sociopath: Alex, in his delightful language and impish wit, a villain whom (like the title character of Shakespeare's Richard III, Kubrick said (12)) audiences must uncomfortably identify with. But Kubrick's stylish film - especially its glorious codpiece-adorned white wardrobe, which remains a perennial Halloween costume choice - evidently made the connection too strong. In the wake of its hugely successful release in England, the film was cited as the cause for a host of copycat crimes, violent attacks and antisocial behaviours. (13) The press, apparently immune to satire, outright accused Kubrick of inciting violence, and of culpability for these crimes. In response, he personally withdrew the film from circulation in the United Kingdom (14) - a show not of moral capitulation, but of his movie-biz clout.

Barry Lyndon

In response to the media storm that followed A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick retreated into the safety of the past, working, in seclusion, on a biographical picture on Napoleon. (15) When he abandoned that project, he found another one to which he could apply all his eighteenth-century research: Barry Lyndon. An adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray's 1844 novel The Luck of Barry Lyndon, it's a satirical picaresque about the rise and fall of its titular Irish commoner (Ryan O'Neal), a social climber who blags his way across Europe and into a fortune. With its sedate pace, comedy-of-manners trappings and wry narration, it's as close as Kubrick could come to making a genteel period piece. After outraging audiences with Lolita, Dr. Strangelove and A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick delivered a picture whose only provocation is its 185-minute length.

But, beyond its powdered wigs and billowing frocks, there are things that separate Barry Lyndon from your standard lavish period piece. The film lends itself to a personal interpretation; its picture of an outsider - who ends up in, and is then cast out of, English society - echoes Kubrick's own life, his feelings of rejection after the hostile response to A Clockwork Orange. Then there's Kubrick's direction: the elaborate tracking shots and long takes that allow you to sink into the mise en scene, into its vision of a time long ago.

To bring the past to life, Kubrick pushed into the technological future, innovating at the cutting edge of photography. Employing a super-fast lens used by NASA for the Moon missions, he was able to shoot in candlelight, something never before afforded to a filmmaker. (1)' Where Kubrick usually kept vast depths of field, the candlelit scenes could only be shot in ultra-shallow focus. The greater look of Barry Lyndon comes from this, the shallow focus and natural light creating an incredibly soft, almost 'glowing' effect - Kubrick using natural light to, paradoxically, move the film away from realism and into something rather resembling a dream.

The Shining

In the documentary Room 237 (Rodney Ascher, 2012), a host of unseen interlocutors lead us down the rabbit holes of their obsessions, telling us what The Shining is 'really' about. Over footage assembled from movies - chiefly The Shining, but with illustrative examples from across Kubrick's films - we listen to their words and theories. These range from thoughtful (it's about the genocide of Native Americans) to ridiculous (it's Kubrick's public apology for having helped shoot the faked footage of the Moon landing), combining for a portrait of the joys of critical theory and the perils of over-interpretation.

It takes a certain kind of film to inspire such obsession, and The Shining is one of those films. It's a horror classic, a blood-splattered portrait of cabin fever, in which an aspiring writer, Jack (Jack Nicholson); his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall); and their son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), are holed up for the winter in an empty, snowbound hotel. As time passes, the hyper-stylised hotel takes on an air of unearthly menace, and Jack slips into paranoia and delirium. Though Kubrick was working from a source text by the populist novelist Stephen King, he created a film that's deliberately uneasy, a little off - and, for many viewers, ultimately unsatisfying.

The Shining is a film about mazes. Next to its grand old hotel is a hedge maze; inside the hotel is a replica model. The hotel itself resembles a maze, its patterned carpet appearing like one in overview. The camera tours down its many winding corridors, often in long tracking shots behind the tricycle of its spooked young boy. Danny possesses the titular phenomenon, a psychic gift (or curse) that gives him telepathic abilities and haunts him with horrifying visions, but is left deliberately vague - all the better to lure in viewers, who can end up trapped, too, within the movie's Gothic nightmare.

King hated Kubrick's adaptation, the author as obsessed as any Shining fan/theorist, only in this case about all the endless changes Kubrick made to the book, with the director often rewriting scenes as he went (17) (it probably didn't help that Kubrick made public comments like: 'To be honest, the end of the book seemed a bit hackneyed to me and not very interesting' (18)). But the film is almost as iconic and influential as 2001, its catchphrases ('Here's Johnny'; All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy'), its images (the evil twins; the wave of blood from the elevator) and its horror tropes (the hotel is built on an ancient Indian burial ground!) beloved to this day. In Ready Player One (Spielberg, 2018), a film obsessed with old pop culture, The Shining's Overlook Hotel is fastidiously re-created, Kubrick's singular vision still burning bright in the middle of someone else's movie.

Full MetalJacket

'I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man, sir!' barks military recruit 'Joker' Davis (Matthew Modine), when asked by a commanding officer why he wears a peace button pinned to his vest, but has 'Born to Kill' written on his helmet. With the conversation taking place in front of a mass grave, where bodies have been covered in lye, the symbolism is obvious: this gentle soldier embodies humankind's capacity for good and evil. In turn, Full MetalJacket - based, again loosely, on a novel, Gustav Hasford's The Short-Timers - is a study in contradiction and duality. Both a war film and an anti-war film, it's essentially divided in two: showing boot camp then battle, the horrors of institutionalised cruelty then the horrors of war, the dehumanisation of military obedience then the inhumanity of systemised violence.

It takes up with a host of new recruits, lambs fed to Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R Lee Ermey), cinema's ur-depiction of the maniacally abusive drill sergeant. In a host of memorable tirades, broadsides and hurled epithets, Sergeant Hartman humiliates the young charges, taking a particular sadistic pleasure in torturing the corpulent Private 'Pyle' Leonard (Vincent D'Onofrio). It's one of cinema's grimmest depictions of systemised bullying, the routine hazing of new recruits as a troubling form of group/male bonding. This 'Side A' ends with Pyle not turned into a hardened fighting machine, but driven to a deranged act of retribution: shockingly shooting the sergeant, then himself.

On Side B, we find Joker no longer a fresh-faced recruit, but a sergeant in active service in Vietnam, albeit one mocked for his lack of battle-hardened emotional dissociation. With little prep, we're thrown into a skirmish, one whose pointlessness - our only hope, as audience, is that Joker survives - suggests a greater theme. The grey morality of America's involvement in Vietnam is represented in extended battle sequences of great technical craft but cold remove, the many explosions not camouflaging the fact that the narrative never buys into the bonhomie of military service.

Arriving in the wake of classic, critical Vietnam movies - The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978), Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979), Platoon (Oliver Stone, 1986) - Full Metal Jacket can be seen as a disappointment, bringing Kubrick's run of trailblazing, ahead-of-the-curve films to an end. But the film still met critical acclaim, was a huge box-office success and was yet another Kubrick movie that lodged itself in the pop-cultural psyche.

Eyes Wide Shut

Kubrick's thirteenth and final feature was a media sensation upon its release - or, even, before that. Eyes Wide Shut starred Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, at the peak of their relationship and celebrity. The shoot lasted for two years, was shrouded in secrecy and was rumoured to feature sexually explicit content. (19) Following the great outpouring of reverence for Kubrick in the aftermath of his death, his initial cut of Eyes Wide Shut - all 159 minutes of it - was preserved. For all the media hype and celebrity gossip, what followed was an oddball sex-comedy centred on an occultist orgy.

Bill (Cruise) and Alice (Kidman) Harford are an ultra-affluent couple living in a lavishly appointed Manhattan apartment. A Christmas party at the even more lavish house of Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack) throws the couple into crisis: after each has been lavished with the attentions of the opposite sex, jealousy arises. Alice, in a moment of defiance regarding female desire and fidelity, informs Bill that she'd previously dreamt of carrying out an affair with a naval officer they'd encountered in a hotel.

This leaves Bill reeling, haunted by imagined visions of his wife mid-adultery, his manhood both indirectly and directly - by a group of homophobic youths on the street - questioned. Taking its tenor from his mind-state, Eyes Wide Shut descends into a sustained fugue state, a lurid dreamscape filled with sexual temptations, frustrations, fantasies. Every woman Bill encounters embodies some form of feminine archetype - junkie (Julienne Davis), grieving daughter (Marie Richardson), sex worker (Vinessa Shaw), solicitous roommate (Fay Masterson), teenage temptress (Leelee Sobieski), waitress (Carmela Marner) - and is either subject or object of desire. Bill's urge to experience the illicit leads him into both danger and a dark night of the soul, when he sneaks into a secret society's masquerade ball that is equal parts occultist ritual and group orgy.

Ultimately, Eyes Wide Shut - which is loosely based on Arthur Schnitzler's 1926 novella Dream Story - keeps to that classic narrative of marital strife: a husband and wife are tested, separated then brought back together, their bond stronger than ever. It's a film about marriage, its mutual deceptions and delusions, its sacrifices and repressions. It's also about sexual mores, gender politics and the fragility of the male ego. Though its story is situated in New York, Eyes Wide Shut was shot in England, entirely on sets. The ersatz street scenes and the neon-blue light that floods through faux windows evoke Kubrick's fondness for surrealism, suggesting that the film takes place in something resembling the subconscious.


Iconic scenes and shots

Watching Kubrick's films, it's striking how many 'classic' cinematic moments he was in charge of. These come from iconic lines, striking sequences, famous shots and the matching of images to music. From when it opens, 2001: A Space Odyssey is filled with them, beginning when Moon, Earth and Sun align to the grand sounds of Richard Strauss' Thus Spake Zarathustra. From there, the moments pile up: the black monolith; the hominid discovery of tool/weapon use; the famous match cut from the thrown bone to the orbiting satellite, wherein millions of years of evolution pass in a single edit; the balletic movement of space stations; the unblinking red eye of HAL 9000; 'Open the pod-bay doors, HAL'; HAL's meltdown ('I'm afraid, Dave') and singing of 'Daisy Bell'; the birth of the bubble-enclosed 'Star Child'; and the 'Star Gate' sequence.

The last of these is one of cinema's most famous moments of free-associative psychedelia. Making use of slit-scan technology, experimental photographic techniques and the full 3D frame, Kubrick - in league with effects legend Douglas Trumbull - was the filmmaker who first minted the vision of travelling through a wormhole as a cosmic light show.

In that one movie, Kubrick staged more 'all-timer' moments than most filmmakers manage in a career, but his career comes loaded with scores more. Take the infamous Ludovico Technique sequence in A Clockwork Orange, in which the film's antihero undergoes radical aversion therapy. The same film also features the infamous scene in which Alex carries out a brutal home-invasion attack to a jauntily sung version of 'Singin' in the Rain'.

There are so many more: Spartacus delivers not just the famous 'I'm Spartacus!' scene, but also the striking vision of a Roman roadway lined with crucified men, arrayed like gruesome telephone poles. The Shining finds the creepy twin girls at the end of the hallway, the 'erotic' horrors of Room 237, an axe blow delivered to the chest, 'REDRUM', the eeriest bar in cinematic history and the torrent of blood gushing out of the elevators. Dr. Strangelove has the round table in the War Room and Major 'King' Kong (Slim Pickens) riding a dropped hydrogen bomb like a bucking bronco. All the gunnery sergeant's profane insults in Full Metal Jacket - especially in his opening 'You got a war face?' rant - are all too quotable ('What is your major malfunction?' perhaps the most quoted). Eyes Wide Shut turns a ritualistic orgy into an absurdist horror show, at once disarmingly funny and insufferably tense; and the film's images of Hollywood power couple Cruise and Kidman, half-naked and pressed together, were instantly iconic.

Even Kubrick's early films feature memorable images and sequences: a fight in a mannequin factory in Killer's Kiss; the dialogue-free walks along the trenches and the high-noon firing-squad execution of innocent soldiers in Paths of Glory; and the lingering foot of the titular temptress in Lolita, instilling the picture's simmering sexual tension in its opening image. All of these moments weren't just memorable, but seeped into the popular consciousness, being referenced, parodied and imitated countless times (especially on The Simpsons, whose classic years staged an elaborate run of Kubrick riffs), their influence passing down through generations.

Virtuoso visuals

'It's funny how the colours of the real world only seem really real when you [see] them on a screen,' says Alex, in A Clockwork Orange. This, in many ways, was Kubrick's MO: using heightened, stylised, colour-saturated surrealism to get at the dark truths of reality, and the dark side of humanity. Spielberg, his acolyte and collaborator, called Kubrick a 'conceptual illustrator of the human condition'. (20)

'The conventions of realistic fiction and drama may impose serious limitations on a story,' Kubrick said. '[The] very work that contributes to a story's realism may weaken its grip on the unconscious.' The director saw the divide thusly: 'Realism is probably the best way to dramatize argument and ideas. Fantasy may deal best with themes which lie primarily in the unconscious.' (21)

Kubrick's films - particularly 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut - are attempts to get at the unconscious. He does so through the use of pure cinema: light, colour, image and sound working, in unison, to tap into something beyond the rational mind. 2002 does this through one of the purest cinematic visions ever achieved, the film composed of circles and rotations. Everything, therein, is in orbit: planets, moons, satellites, space stations; all turning circles within circles. The images, from hatches to HAL's red eye, are all circular, and the production's grandest invention was the 'centrifugal' set: a giant, rotating wheel built to stage a zero-gravity environment.

Kubrick's camera often turned circles, as in a scene in which we spin around a waltzing Alice and Sandor (Sky du Mont) in Eyes Wide Shut. He'd press in and pull back - the glorious opening shot of A Clockwork Orange a long, slow pull-away from Alex and his droogs in the Korova milk bar, showing the hyper-stylisation of Kubrick's dystopian vision. But Kubrick's most famous moving image is the tracking shot. His camera moves around the racecourse in The Killing, travels along the trenches in Paths Of Glory, follows Bill through his house, down streets and into misadventures in Eyes Wide Shut.

Sometimes, these shots were purely for visual show, but The Shining is a veritable tracking-shot masterclass. Making use of the then-new Steadicam technology ('the Steadicam allows one man to move the camera any place he can walk - into small spaces where a dolly won't fit, and up and down staircases,' Kubrick enthused, at the time (22)), the film follows figures getting lost in figurative/literal mazes. It opens with a long, unbroken shot filmed from a helicopter, which sets the flick's visual tenor: the camera, in The Shining, feels as if it's 'floating', forever above the fray, tailing after our hapless characters like a malevolent spirit.

Classical music

Kubrick, rightly, thought little of traditional scores, seeing them as cheap emotional cudgels, compositions unable to stand on their own. From 2001: A Space Odyssey on, he largely employed pre-existing classical pieces - his juxtaposition of sound and image so vivid that he made this music forever associated with his films. This began with 200J, from which Thus Spake Zarathustra became synonymous with the dawning of life in the universe; and Johann Strauss II's The Blue Danube, an easy shorthand for the balletic wonder of space orbit.

In the 'Dawn of Man' section of the film, Kubrick used Gyorgy Ligeti's Lux Aeterna, its droning, wordless a cappella hinting at the ancient, the mystical, the ineffable. Kubrick returned to Ligeti's uncompromising compositions in Eyes Wide Shut: the maddening, discordant, two-finger repetition of 'Mesto, Rigido e Cerimoniale' from Musica Ricercata creating deep unease. Kubrick understood the subtext of works that he employed, too: Ligeti composed this piece at the dawn of communist Hungary, out to capture the dread of Stalinism, (23) just as the shrieking dissonance of Krzysztof Penderecki's Polymorphia both heightened terror and suggested theme in The Shining. Penderecki's music was used throughout The Shining, as were compositions by Bela Bartok and an eerie synth score by Wendy Carlos.

Carlos had first worked with the director on A Clockwork Orange, a him that foregrounded Kubrick's love of classical composition, adding another layer to its dystopian futurism. Often, the music is used ironically: ultraviolence set to movements from Gioachino Rossini's grandiose The Thieving Magpie; Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance marches connoting the conservative English establishment; Carlos playing Rossini's William Tell overture, on synthesiser, at ridiculous double time. But Ludwig van Beethoven serves as totem in the story: his Symphony No. 9 beloved by the film's antihero. There's irony, too, in playing 'Ode to Joy' in such a dark, violent, horrifying film. But, within, Beethoven symbolises humankind's capacity for beauty and lust for life, and this low-life's love of such high culture echoes the narrative's study of both contradictory impulses and classist prejudices.

'Puzzles, enigmas, and allegories'

'There's something in the human personality which resents things that are clear, and conversely, something which is attracted to puzzles, enigmas, and allegories,' Kubrick said. (24) This is, in many ways, the filmmaker's great storytelling conviction. Even in his most generic movies, Kubrick finds ways to leave things feeling enigmatic.

The Killing, while filled with classic noir-movie conventions, is a puzzle of intersecting chronology, its nonlinear plot endlessly circling events from different perspectives and different times. The film's downbeat ending robs its characters, and viewers, of anything approaching satisfaction or closure: its heist falling apart, its ill-gotten money lost to the scattering wind, its antihero resigning himself to failure ('What's the difference?' he shrugs, about running away from approaching cops vs heading back to prison). The final feeling is one of futility, especially in the face of things beyond your control - something The Killing shares with Full Metal Jacket, a movie wherein macho tropes also give way to existential helplessness.

The Shining is another work that turns genre into a puzzle. It's not just that its supernatural elements are never really explained, but that it takes place in nothing resembling reality: it's possible that the whole film conveys the disturbed psychological state of its chief character, filled with the phantoms of his mind. Its hotel is a space that's deliberately unreal; those obsessives who've tried to create a map of its interior find that it folds in on itself. And The Shining is filled with several striking continuity errors, which it's hard to believe Kubrick, the obsessive control freak, failed to spot - thereby suggesting he deliberately left them in to further disorient viewers.

Kubrick, famously, never detailed what his films were about, nor even explained scenes to actors. This secrecy, in his later years, fed into the myth of Kubrick as recluse; but, in truth, it spoke of his reverence for cinema as artform. 'I don't want to spell out a verbal road map for 2001 that every viewer will feel obligated to pursue or fear he's missed the point,' the director said, upon the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey. 'You're free to speculate as you wish about the philosophical and allegorical meaning of the film.' (25)

The director suggested that 2001, in particular, was a motion picture that begged repeated viewings - something seen as pretentious in cinema, but commonplace in, say, music or visual art, in which works are meant to be regarded over many listens or viewings. This process - speculation on meaning, gathered over repeat viewings - can be applied to all of Kubrick's late-period films. Each subsequent viewing reveals some added Kubrickian detail, incites some new idea on the greater themes at play or, simply, deepens one's admiration for the director, and for the potential of cinema itself.


(1) Philippe Mather, Stanley Kubrick at Look Magazine: Authorship and Genre in Photojournalism and Film, Intellect, Bristol & Chicago, 2013, p. 16.

(2) Jeremy Bernstein, 'How About a Little Game?', The New Yorker, 12 November 1966, <>, accessed 18 September 2018.

(3) Vincent LoBrutto, 'No Compromise: The Legacy of Stanley Kubrick', MovieMaker, 7 July 1999, <>, accessed 18 September 2018.

(4) Stanley Kubrick, quoted in Michel Ciment, Kubrick, trans. Gilbert Adair, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1983, p. 151.

(5) LoBrutto, op. cit.

(6) Constantine Santas, 'Lolita - from Nabokov's Novel (1955) to Kubrick's Film (1962) to Lyne's (1997)', Senses of Cinema, issue 10, November 2000, <>, accessed 18 September 2018.

(7) See Lewis Jones, 'My Stanley Was Not Paranoid', The Telegraph, 9 October 2002, <>, accessed 18 September 2018.

(8) See Kevin Jagernauth, 'The Lost & Unmade Projects of Stanley Kubrick', IndieWire, 4 March 2013, <>, accessed 18 September 2018.

(9) See Michael Cavna, '19 Things You Probably Don't Know About 2001: A Space Odyssey', The Washington Post, 3 April 2018, <>, accessed 17 September 2018.

(10) Robin McKie, 'Kubrick's 2001: The Film That Haunts Our Dreams of Space', The Observer, 15 April 2018, <>, accessed 18 September 2018.

(11) Kubrick, quoted in Ciment, op. cit., p. 149.

(12) See Bernard Weinraub, 'Kubrick Tells What Makes Clockwork Orange Tick', The New York Times, 4 January 1972, <>, accessed 17 September 2018.

(13) See Alan Travis, 'Retake on Kubrick Film Ban', The Guardian, 11 September 1999, <>, accessed 18 September 2018.

(14) ibid.

(15) Tim Robey, 'Kubrick by Candlelight: How Barry Lyndon Became a Gorgeous, Period-perfect Masterpiece', The Telegraph, 27 July 2016, <>, accessed 18 September 2018.

(16) ibid.

(17) See Christopher Lehmann-Haupt & Nathaniel Rich, 'Stephen King, the Art of Fiction No. 189', The Paris Review, issue 178, Fall 2006, excerpt available at <>, accessed 18 September 2018.

(18) Kubrick, quoted in Ciment, op. cit., p. 185.

(19) Mary K Feeney, 'Two Takes on Eyes Wide Shut', Hartford Courant, 29 September 1999, <>, accessed 18 September 2018.

(20) Steven Spielberg, quoted in Richard Sylbert, A Chance to Design a Feature Film in Town', in Richard Sylbert & Sylvia Townsend, Designing Movies: Portrait of a Hollywood Artist, Praeger, London & Westport, CT, 2006, p. 42.

(21) Kubrick, quoted in Ciment, op. cit., p. 181.

(22) ibid., p. 189.

(23) Matthew Guerrieri, 'Bagatelles in Budapest, from a Restless Ligeti', The Boston Globe, 2 November 2017, <>, accessed 18 September 2018.

(24) Stanley Kubrick, quoted in Thomas Allen Nelson, Kubrick: Inside a Film Artist's Maze, Indiana University Press, Bloomington & Indianapolis, 2000, p. 10.

(25) Stanley Kubrick, quoted in Eric Norden, 'Playboy Interview: Stanley Kubrick', Playboy, vol. 15, no. 9, September 1968, p. 92.


Anthony Carew is a Melbourne-based critic.
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Author:Carew, Anthony
Publication:Screen Education
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2018
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