I dont know whether Kubrick was a genius or not but he was a pretty mediocre film maker. Barry Lyndon is the only film he made with a spark of humanity in it. It is not enough to get the scene “right” if there is nothing moving you in the scene itself. I will take a messy film by the Dardennes brothers or JLG any day.
Most of his films are about humanity.
Eyes Wide Shut is about being faithful in spite of temptation
2001 is man’s place in the universe and our potetial for achievement in the unviverse
A Clockwork Orange is about human nature and free will vs. becoming a slave to the powers that be and thier power to inpose their own free will upon us
Dr. Strangelove is the possible dangers of technology
Full Metal Jacket and Paths of Glory are both the retelling of the age old story of mans inhumanity to man
Aside from Orson Welles, there really aren’t that many directors with the all-encompassing aptitude of technical perfection and creative genius (this isn’t an overused word in describing Kubrick because he WAS a genius in the truest sense of the word) that was Kubrick. This was a man who was literally 30 years ahead of his time. When critics and Kubrick’s peer saw 2001 the first time, many of them did not understand or like it. Then they saw it again, and liked it a little bit more, then they saw it again, and liked it even more so, then again, and realized, ’Hey, this is a pretty amazing film," then again, saying “This is a work of genius!” Kubrick was so damn perfect he had special camera lenses made with bigger apertures so he could film in a candlelit room and get that soft focus effect without the viewer having to squint to see anything. Never heard of anyone else doing this. James Cameron comes close.
I would say it is ambiguity. There are very few artists who don’t have a “tell”. Kubrick can be discussed forever because he truly leaves his topics open. I think a large part of his perfectionism was to achieve this most difficult attribute.
Symmetry in the pictures before everything. Plus, his shots (mainly with 4:3 aspect ratio) remind paintings (like in Barry Lyndon) or photographs.
Kubrick gave all his best in every thing he had done. He’s been a genius because he has been more-than-precise in his work. The fact that what remains of him is just the 10% of what he has directed is a great evidence of it.
He made one masterpiece for every genre of 20th Century cinema (probably he just left Silent movies and Western movies). That’s the final reason because he is of the most unforgettable characters of 20th Century.
Probably “2001: A Space Odyssey” could be considered a Silent movie in many parts. And “Dr. Strangelove” ’s Maj. King Kong could be considered a cow-boy as well…
I’m going to throw these guys out there, as heirs to the Kubrick legacy, you can debate them, and i’ll come back and defend if need be:
-Gus Van Sant (see his Death Trilogy)
-David Fincher (see “Zodiac” and “Seven”)
-jonathan glazer (see “Rabbit in Your Headlights” and “Birth”)
-chris cunningham (see well, everything.)
Someone put Bruno Dumont and Michael Haneke in the Kubrick tradition. Both possess a similar exacting intelligence. Both place themselves at a considerable distance from their narratives, though neither assumes the godlike vantage Kubrick prefers (except maybe for Haneke’s Seventh Continent- chillingly close to something Kubrickian). In interviews, it’s interesting to me that Dumont prefers to avoid giving the game away, while Haneke comes across as the ultimate self-aware artist, one who is prone to very exacting answers, leaving little room for any interpretation but his own, as if he sees you coming and he’s already anticipated where you might go. Both Haneke and Dumont also have a grasp of the vicious aspect of human nature. Importantly, neither has a lick of Kubrick’s famous irony and bittter humor. Another important distinction is that both are engaged in the real world in a way in which Kubrick was not, being content in the main with constructing his labyrinths in the artificial confine of a studio, needing minimal location work. Lastly, I doubt either is seriously trying to channel Kubrick, unlike certain American directors.
David Fincher enjoys the benefit of being too easily compared to Kubrick but thats mainly for his technical fussery (something I don’t give a damn about), but there is more than that to Kubrick. Kubrick was a thinker, and in this, Fincher is just not there. There’s just no point, really, in assuming the manner of Stanley Kubrick. What’s the pay off? If you’re lucky, some critic might link your name with his, and what does that get you?
Umbero: “He made one masterpiece for every genre of 20th Century cinema.” “Probably “2001: A Space Odyssey” could be considered a Silent movie in many parts. And “Dr. Strangelove” ’s Maj. King Kong could be considered a cow-boy as well…” Great stuff! I’ll go there with you – it may be a stretch, but I can imagine it for Stanley’s sake.
Details and relaibility
Well, a combination of ambition, perfectionism, calculation, control, concepts, independence, isolation, individuality, range, diversity, vision, technology, machinery, rationalism, cynicism, confounding expectations, oppositions, size, sets, satire, humankind on the brink, destiny, death, details, disguise, theatre, games, discipline, disintegration, symmetry, precision, human weakness, anxiety, pessimism, detachment..
a great film-maker no doubt, but let’s not forget there have been perfectionists who’ve made relatively few films (Tarkovsky, Malick too) and those who made lots (Mizoguchi, Hitchcock..). Is that a sign of unbending strength of purpose and integrity, or self-centred insecurity and weakness?
I guess a pretty typical Kubrick theme is the disintegration of a carefully constructed plan
I would say it was his acute attention to detail and his extraordinary confidence and assertiveness that enabled him to get his pictures made on his terms, which is why he was the feared and respected director he was, and is still considered, to this day. Kubrick embodied the essence of cinema, transcending genres and tackling anything that came his way with absolute passion, to the point of obsessiveness. He was considered by many OCD because of this, and though he had a way of driving his cast and production crew absolutely nuts, it was those characteristics that netted the end result that were his extraordinary films. Jeez, did that sound too kiss ass? Either way, it’s all true. 100 percent.
Well, i excuse Mizoguchi’s terrible and tyrannical behaviour on set (he could be a monster, was called “the demon”) by the end result too. But i feel a little guilty all the same
His attention to detail will probably never be beat. The fact that he can have that much attention to detail and still make iconic photographic scenes and focus on story and character, it’s just all pretty insane.
Well, i don’t think attention to detail on its own is enough (it can come from shrewish petty-mindedness)- though in Kubrick’s case it’s an indicator of his perfectionism, ambition, wish to be in control, and his overall vision. The qualities i think that make a great director (or artist) are vision, integrity, mastery and soul. Now the question with Kubrick may really be how big was his soul? He’s often accused of being cold, calculating and cynical, too interested in technology rather than human feelings, but of course he does cover important human issues and genuine emotion does occur. Well, i think it’s open for debate, but it could also be said it takes a pretty big soul for a film as staggering and full of wondrous possibilities as 2001. Now that really did take range and vision, and from vision technical innovations will flow. What a destiny humankind should have in store (if we don’t blow it with a Strangelove type ending first)
To me, everything takes a back seat to this distinguishing ability of Kubrick’s. His ability to perfectly combine form and content(or form AS content).
ALEXANDER WALKER: “Only a few film directors possess a conceptual talent – that is, a talent to crystallise every film they make into a cinematic concept. It transcends the need to find a good subject, an absorbing story, or an extraordinary premise to build on. Essentially, it is the talent to construct a form that will exhibit the maker’s vision in an unexpected way. It is this conceptual talent that distinguishes Stanley Kubrick.”
For example, the “duality” of “Full Metal Jacket” is highlighted by it’s jarring two part structure or Kubrick’s insistence on basing the film on two wildly different books. This notion of “duality” then permeates the entire film, such that everything is constructed around opposing notes. Hartman becomes LockHart, a militaristic first half becomes a wayward second half, Snowball becomes Eightball, Pyle becomes Animal, scenes occur in mirrored pairs etc etc. The music, dialogue, camera work, acting…basically every detail…is subjected to these rules.
Similarly, the “form” of “The Shining” is constructed around the notion of a “maze” or a “labyrinth”. The camera, characters and audience are trapped in a maze of history, locked in series of repeating patterns of horror and denial. This notion of “repetition” is infused into the film. To give you some obscure examples, characters swing baseball bats 42 times, tug on door latches 24 times, walk across rooms with 12 or 24 steps etc etc. So you have repeated patterns of 12s and 21s, 24s and 42s. These mirrored numbers become mirrored characters which become mirrored acts of violence which span across time. And what is the first shot of the film but man’s oldest and largest mirror?
Same thing with “2001”. The film may show apes developing abstract thought, Moonwatcher suddenly able to think in terms of conceptual metaphor by linking bone to weapon, but mustn’t the audience make a similar mental leap if it is to understand the film? Does HAL not make a similar leap when he read’s the astronaut’s lips?
But basically you can best see his “form as content” approach by examining the opening scenes to all his films. That’s where he tries to condense all his themes into a concrete image or sequence.
Yes, very good point- not just his overall “vision”, but more specifically ability to conceptualise, and that’s why it was so important for him to have proper control down to little details. I must admit i hadn’t noticed the recurring numbers in The Shining- and isn’t 42 the supreme number of the universe? The famous cut in 2001 does have a precedent in Powell/Pressburger’s A Canterbury Tale- a medieval bird turns into a plane in the skies of WW2
Kubrick was (rightly, i’d say) a great admirer of Max Ophuls, and the tracking camera of Paths of Glory may reflect that, though Kubrick certainly wasn’t one for pale imitation!
he’s a genius, but not the only genius
When i watch a Kubrick i never feel i am being tricked into feeling something. Somehow he is able to get emotion and feeling with settings and music. Most of his films to me are so much more than what we see on the surface.
When i first saw Eyes wide shut i hated it. But going back later and watching it again i started to FEEL it.
Each time i put in 2001 i don’t feel like i am watching it. I feel like i am experiencing it. I can’t think of another film i have that with.
I have not seen Day of the Fight, Fear and Desire or The Seafarers so can not speak to them but each of his other films I feel transported in to its world.
Dr. Strangelove sets him apart. Enough said.
>>I’m going to throw these guys out there, as heirs to the Kubrick legacy<,
I have a problem with this line of thinking.
It relegates directors to second-class status as Kubrick wannabes.
The great directors have all been originals. Yeah, they may have stolen from other directors, but they made what they stole their own. Welles often mentioned running STAGECOACH over and over in preparation for CITIZEN KANE, but would you ever mistake A Welles film for one of John Ford’s.
It also diminishes Kubrick in that it infers that whatever qualities make his work special can be easily duplicated … well, maybe not easily, but duplicated nevertheless.
you cant forget how much he has inspired other big film makers. they have openly accepted to his influence in their films…
Attention to detail so intense, that he would NEVER settle for anything. Eyes Wide Shut had a 700+ day shoot!
-Insistence on the use of natural lighting, or at least light that didn’t look artificial.
-Ability to display ideas in a (very) objective way.
-Preference to work in as many territories and areas of a film as possible, not just as a director (writer, producer, editor, cinematographer, etc.)
-Ability to always get the shot or idea that he wanted, no matter how long it took.
-Never reluctant to modify source material for an adapted screenplay, at any level. All that it meant was that he was getting a better movie out of it.
-Uses every artistic weapon in his arsenal to tell and develop a story. Dialogue was merely one of them.
-Never pampered the actors working with him, no matter how ‘big’ they were (i.e. The Shining, Eyes Wide Shut)
-Isn’t afraid to ask questions without a clear answer because the question IS more important than the answer.
-Often presents a throng of ideas both overt and subtle, hinting an almost overwhelming number of possible themes.
Stanley Kubrick was a scary visionary, and the rest are myopic.
The fact that he never did just one type of film. He always went for something that he liked and it didn’t matter what genre it was. He alway put his time in it all, giving and getting every ounce of excellence. He went for the art of film and not for the succes of a blockbuster. His films are and alway will be thought provoking. This is what set him apart from the other… even the greats. His films are his own breed.
Kubrick molds and shapes the story any way he pleases. Stephen King was furious when he first saw “The Shining,” and later replied that it was a great, albeit separate, work. I’ve heard much criticism over Kubrick’s flat and cold characters. I see it a different way. Aren’t we all flat and cold to those we don’t know? I never spill my guts to someone I just met, and it is this super-realism that sets Stanley apart from the rest.
I think it’s safe to say (as if anything’s safe to say in this forum) that few of Stanley Kubrick’s characters are breathing and three-dimensional. The stories in whcih they find themselves are all too human, but the performances he elicited are never that. They can be fun (Peter Sellers in “Strangelove”) or evocative (Cruise and Kidman in “Eyes Wide Shut”) but he was not a director who dug deeply into their psyches or behavior. That is why he doesn’t make it on my list of top directors; because of the above, I have only managed to like his films, never love them.