Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures
The IMDb lists 16 screen credits for Kubrick, but three of them are short subjects, not worth mentioning. Of the remainder, Fear and Desire (1953) is basically not available for viewing. That leaves 12. I have seen Killer’s Kiss (1955) once, and Eyes Wide Shut (1999) once. I have seen all of the others multiple times, and would eagerly see any of them again tonight … and in fact am thinking of watching Eyes Wide Shut again, too. This documentary follows his career from beginning to end, with commentaries by some of the real directorial heavyweights, who all see him as a god: Spielberg, Scorsese, Woody Allen, people of that caliber. I thought Woody’s story about 2001: A Space Odyssey was very interesting. He says when he first saw it, he didn’t like it at all. Then he kept listening to the buzz that was growing, went back a few months later, and liked it a lot more. Then a few years later he saw it again, and only then realized it was not only a masterpiece, but something that changed the course of cinema forever. It was the first time, he says, he realized that someone had been so far ahead of him, esthetically and artistically, that he’d had no clue what was going on.
And watching this, you realize that, except for his very early stuff, almost all of Kubrick’s pictures were like that. Most of them opened to controversy of one kind or another. Lolita was banned by the Catholic Church for its sexuality. Paths of Glory was banned in France for 20 years because of the awful picture it painted of French generals. Dr. Strangelove upset a lot of military people, and plenty of others just didn’t see how you could laugh at nuclear holocaust. (How could you do anything else?) Roger Ebert and many other hated, hated, hated A Clockwork Orange for what they saw as the glamorization of violence. Kubrick was blamed for a series of incidents of violence in which cretins dressed as droogs blamed the movie for their social inadequacies. Barry Lyndon totally confounded a lot of critics, and is now seen as yet another masterpiece. On and on and on; Kubrick just wasn’t interested in doing what anyone expected him to do. He achieved that Holy Grail of directors, final cut, early in his career, and never let go of it.
He was a very private man, so I’ve never known much about him. I knew he was a killer chess player. George C. Scott, who fancied himself pretty good at it, played Stanley endless on the set of Dr. Strangelove. He’d ponder his move all day, make it, and Kubrick would glance at the board and make his move. Scott never won a game. But he didn’t do a lot of interviews and hardly came out in public except around premiere time to do a little publicity, so rumors and stupid stories abounded, very few of them true except those about him being a perfectionist. Which you can get away with, only if you deliver perfection. In which case, all is forgiven, in my opinion. But here we see Stanley as a devoted family man, married to his third wife from the late ‘50s to the end of his life.
All this is valuable, but in the end we’ll never know what made a man like that tick. Here’s what I know about Mr. K.: He was without doubt one of the two best directors who ever stood behind a camera, the only other rival being Akira Kurosawa. No one, and I mean no one, not even the best cinematographers in Hollywood, had his knowledge of light. I can see a scene in almost any of his movies, and know instantly that it was lit by Kubrick. And, after all, what is cinema but light thrown up on a screen? He did everything else fantastically well, too, but it is his light that enraptures me.