Ok, heres a question I’d be interested to gain some feedback from.
WHY do people change their opinions of Kubrick? Almost all of his films on this discussion blog have been said to be under-appreciated, and many when discussing their favourite SK film have said their favourite has changed over time.
Almost all of his films, were panned upon their release, yet are now hailed as classics.
My question for discussion is WHY does this change in reception over time take place?
Ronnie Lankford has noted “critical opinion has always lagged behind when it came to Kubrick.”
Was it because of his highly innovative methods of film making? By not adhering to typical film making conventions, his idiosyncratic style challenged peoples filmic sensibilities, and as a result many felt he had failed as a film maker, when in fact he had paved a new path that would be followed in years to come.
Was it when other artists began imitating his innovative film making techniques, that others begin to understand SK’s influence upon the film making community?
Was it because his audiences and critics simply didn’t understand the meaning behind his films upon their release? (This is a fairly crude concept, as it infers incompetence amongst the general public and film critic community).
Is it because the issues and themes he illuminates in his films come to bear great relevance in following decades, thus highlighting the value of SK’s vision expressed in his pictures, giving it iconic status. This could be made the case with regard to 2001 & Clockwork Orange in particular.
These are merely the first reasons that came to mind and by no means the only possibilities.
There is little discourse regarding why SK’s work gained much more appreciation over time, thus, hopefully this question will bring to light audiences first hand experience and illuminate new discussion with regard to Kubrick’s work.
I’d say it a little of all the things you mentioned, to varying degrees. Some artists work just take longer to process than others, at both the individual and cultural levels.
I think there’s something to be said about the nature of art appreciation. I once heard someone say that the best way to recognize a film’s merit is by how long you keep thinking about it after it’s over. I think there’s something to be said for this approach… you can love or hate a great film, but you can’t forget it quickly.
It follows that appreciation for great films will grow over time, both in the individual and in the culture. And Stanley Kubrick is a great filmmaker, so it follows that this would happen with him frequently.
This fuels a general point I’m wondering about, though… according to this theory, it makes sense to be uncertain to a movie at first, or even hostile toward it, but to gradually come to appreciate it, even love it, after thinking about it for a while. For me, this happens with most movies… the longer I can keep thinking about them, the more I like them. However, is it possible to like a film less and less, the more you think about it? I felt like this about Avatar and Kick-Ass, where the experience itself was superficially gratifying, but as I thought more and more about the themes and subtexts, I became more and more irritated by them.
But sometimes I feel like allowing my appreciation to gradually deflate like this is a bad habit. Like, if I enjoyed a movie immediately, why shouldn’t I speak well of it later? I don’t know… anybody else have similar thoughts?
To say the least, Kubrick has made films in different genres with different feels. That fact alone explains why as someone grows older, maturer, there tastes may change. For example, at a younger age, the initial shock of A Clockwork Orange left me floored and amazed, but as time has gone by, Eyes Wide Shut has slowly become one of my favorites.
His films are subtle and are packed with a lot of depth. They do not quite fit into the art-house mold nor the Hollywood one, they are very much their own thing. It takes awhile to become accustomed to it, but once you do there is a lot waiting in store. Often times critics just didn’t know what to make of them. God knows I didn’t know what to make of him either at first. Initially the only Kubrick film I enjoyed was A Clockwork Orange and only after years of watching him have I come to appreciate his other movies.
To say his films were “panned” upon release is a gross exaggeration. Let’s not perpetuate a new and mythical rags-to-riches story about a filmmaker: Kubrick divided audiences, but he did not isolate them. He always considered the industry a part of the art form, and sought to please audiences. “The audience is the expert” he said while filming what was perhaps his least adored film, “Eyes Wide Shut”. Furthermore, while certainly innovative and unique in terms of cinematography and mise-en-scene (to over-simplify), I believe it was his storytelling that threw off audiences. Extremely interested in narrative, he sought new ways to move a plot forward, telling Spielberg that he wished to alter the basic form of the story. I think it is for this reason that critics felt he was a naive filmmaker—creating “stillborn beauties” after “2001”, as someone said. Critics like Andrew Sarris, who I’ve always regarded as something of a simple-minded analyst, would go on to say that Kubrick’s “faults” were later seen as virtues. Andrew, so invested in the cinema of Hollywood, was probably put off by non-traditional narrative arcs; perhaps even “cold” depictions of characters. What shocked them was certainly not his innovations; the beautiful images he worked so hard to create were as well appreciated as those of any other filmmaker. Perhaps to an even greater degree.
As for changing tastes from people on this website, they’re as natural as changing tastes for any other filmmaker. David Lynch in our teenage years and Ozu later (a trajectory from excess to minimalism that many seem to follow, and that this coupling kind of epitomizes). I will always love “A Clockwork Orange” but it is “Barry Lyndon” that I would take with me to the desert island. Because Kubrick so seldom finished projects he had lots of time between to find new interests and evolve; thus we are blessed with a remarkably varied oeuvre. One in which we can find ourselves at varying places of our own lives. Now that we can look at these films from a certain distance the shock is quelled to a certain degree—so many of us are warned about “Clockwork” before we see it, or about the slowness of the magnificently different follow-up, “Barry Lyndon”. Thus fewer people “don’t get” them. The positive reviews—an ocean of good reception by now—were the ones that lived on, justly.
My personal reactions to most (but not ALL) of Kubrick’s films fit the pattern described above. At first, I don’t really like them but on second viewing (or after reading in-depth analysis), I come to appreciate them more.
I don’t think that his films are any more complex than Resnais’s or Antonioni’s or dozens of other auteurs, not to mention the avant-garde, but I usually LIKE complex films. A detached directorial stance doesn’t throw me either.
So what is it? For me, that first viewing comes across as simplistic. DR. STRANGELOVE seems too obvious and moronic as an exaggerated and un-subtle black comedy; BARRY LYNDON seems like the adventures of an obvious lout; THE SHINING [especially Nicholson’s exaggerated performance] seemed so obvious as a genre film that it didn’t seem to fit Kubrick’s pattern; FULL METAL JACKET’s structure [first half in boot camp, second half “in country”] was too pat and it’s messages about war and the U.S. so obvious; and EYES WIDE SHUT also seemed obvious in Theme and its premise about a late-twentieth-century man being so upset about an imagined adultery was hard to believe.
That said, after further reflection, I saw deeper layers of Theme and Technique in all of these movies and came to appreciate and even LIKE them. In my case, then, it may be that the overtness of basic Theme (War is hell, man’s inhumanity to man, the absurdity of life, Nature vs. Civilization, etc.) and cinematic techniques (characterization, acting, colors, camera angles, editing, music, etc.) in many Kubrick films made me think that they were too obvious and too simple for my taste. Even when I’m on the alert about this “problem” I have, I still don’t like most of them on first viewing. But they ALL improve on second viewing and upon further thought and study.
For most Kubrick films I like them as much or even more on repeat viewings, except A Clockwork Orange, after my last viewing of it I decided I really don’t like that film.
-Critics like Andrew Sarris, who I’ve always regarded as something of a simple-minded analyst, would go on to say that Kubrick’s “faults” were later seen as virtues-
Sarris revised his opinion of 2001 (and of Kubrick in general) after seeing it a second time while “under the influence of a smoked substance.”
I’m pulling that fact from this interview [July 9, 2009]: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/12/movies/12powe.html
I’m not sure if he watched “2001” while high after that (though I somehow doubt it). Regardless of Sarris’ personal affection for Kubrick’s films the point stands: that elements once seen as faults are now recognised in a new light.
-I’m not sure if he watched “2001” while high-
Hey, I’m just quoting you what the man wrote.
-elements once seen as faults are now recognised in a new light-
Sure, that’s generally true of most major stylistic innovations. What Sarris actually wrote, though, is that Kubrick’s "faults have been rationalized as virtues,” which is saying something a bit different.
Full Metal Jacket became a classic after he died to my knowledge. I always remembered it being seen as ‘flawed’. ‘The Shining’ was bashed because ti’s overblown for what it is. Ditto Eyes Wide Shut. although i enjoy all hs films. He was certainly not ahead of his time after Clockwork.
I agree with Elston that his films dont’ really fit anywhere, but for different reasons. They are neither as subtle or as intellectually rigorous as the best art films, but they aren’t as shallow and simplistic as the average hollywood film either. he really straddled the line, and quite admirably too.
“This is a fairly crude concept, as it infers incompetence amongst the general public and film critic community).”
no, it’s an honest assessment ;-)
-For me, that first viewing comes across as simplistic . . . -
I’d agree with that, but isn’t that the case with a lot of great (especially modern and post-modern) art? A number of Picasso’s paintings and sculptures initially seem little more that crude sketches. Pollack’s paintings random splattering of paint. Waiting for Godot is mostly trivial. Nabokov famously called Conrad and Hemingway “writers of books for boys.” Raymond Carver at times seems barely literate. Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson don’t have a lot of apparent surface complexity. Etc., etc. The real value of a work rarely floats on its surface.
Matt Parks is, of course, right that “the real value of a work rarely floats on its surface.”
With me, though, I can usually see beyond the surface even on first viewing/reading/hearing of a film, painting, novel, play, symphony, etc.
With Kubrick, for some mysterious reason, I see beneath the surface on first viewing too BUT that first peeling of the onion only makes my eyes tear up. As an example, in 2001, on first seeing the ape toss that bone in the air only to have it turn into a space station (while the music shifted from THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA to THE BLUE DANUBE WALTZ), I noticed the brilliance of the cut, the meaning of the musical segue, and the Thematic significance of change from the bone-weapon to the spaceship-weapon and what that says about humankind’s innate propensity toward violence. And then I thought, “So what? He’s saying that humans use their knowledge to create tools for good and bad purposes throughout the ages. And he’s saying it in a very clever (albeit overt) way, with a technique that exactly fits the content. But I get all that on first viewing. What else is there?”
With Kubrick, I don’t usually “get” that something else until a second screening or additional reading (for instance, an excellent book on 2001 called THE ASTRAL FETUS). Maybe, like some of the artists Matt named, Kubrick’s work is DECEPTIVELY simple.
There are a number of interesting posts on this thread.
“WHY do people change their opinions of Kubrick? "
I’ve been around the New York art scene long enough to notice that a lot of people only seem to like things until they find out that other people like it too. Self-conscious art know it alls need to be at least two steps ahead of the game at all times. :oP
-Maybe, like some of the artists Matt named, Kubrick’s work is DECEPTIVELY simple-
I think there’s something to the idea (attributed to DaVinci, I think) that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” But also, I feel that, beyond the mere simplicity, there’s a remarkable specificity to Kubrick’s films as well (as opposed to the ambiguity of something like Antonioni’s L’avventura or Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad) . I wonder if, upon first viewing, that specificity doesn’t underscore the overtness, whereas ambiguity tends to obscure aspects of a film that might otherwise be seen as simplistic.
Thanks, Matt. Your comments above helped me clarify why I had difficulty with several Kubrick films on initial viewing. That specificity you mentioned is certainly part of why I didn’t think there was much “there there.”