August 20, 2009

Greatest Directors: Stanley Kubrick (1928-Forever)

Best Rated Works
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): Arguably the greatest sci-fi film ever made, it had no dialogues for about two-thirds of its running time. A film experience that goes beyond comprehension, it was a precursor to the great sci-fi era to follow. Spielberg called it the ‘Big Bang’ of his generation.
  • Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964): Regarded by many as the greatest satirical film ever made, this cult classic defines dark-comedy in cinema. A big highlight being Peter Sellers playing three different characters so well that audience could hardly realize.
  • Barry Lyndon (1975): A period costume-drama with an epic storytelling. Special lenses were used to shoot some of the indoor scenes that were lit only with candlelight, creating two-dimensional diffused-light images reminiscent of 18th-century paintings.
  • A Clockwork Orange (1971): An extremely controversial futuristic film with explicit depiction of teenage crime. I personally was deeply affected by its language. It was removed from circulation in the UK after Kubrick received death threats and was not available until his death in 1999. In one scene, Kubrick threw the camera off a rooftop to achieve the effect he desired.
  • The Shining (1980): It was received unfavourably by critics in the beginning, but eventually has earned the reputation of one of the best-made horror films. However, this film earned Kubrick the reputation of a megalomaniac perfectionist; he demanded, reportedly, hundreds of takes of certain scenes. This film was one of the pioneers of the Steadicam, and the first to use it in the improvised low mode position, extremely close to the ground.
What makes him a genius?
  • From film noir to sci-fi, period drama, war, horror, crime, mystery and satire, the versatility that he exhibited as a storyteller is unparalleled. He made thirteen feature films and at least eleven of them are considered as among the greatest. I daresay, no other filmmaker in cinema history can boast of such a record.
  • His ‘The Killing’ (1956) is perhaps the first popular film with parallel tracks, an innovation used in ‘Mystery Train’, ‘Pulp Fiction’, ‘Amores Perros’ etc. Add to this the huge transitions in storyline, as in ‘2001: A Space Oyssey’ and ‘Full Metal Jacket’ (1987), parts of the same story working as chapters, and various other significant technical innovations and perfectionism make Kubrick a complete school of cinema by himself.
  • Extreme varied opinions about many of his films like ‘Lolita’ (1962), ‘A Clockwork Orange’, ‘Full Metal Jacket’ and ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ (1999) can be attributed to his own take on morality and ethics. His non-sentimental, non-judgmental and hence controversial view-point made him a ruthless storyteller. I remember how while watching ‘Full Metal Jacket’ my opinion kept changing whether it is an anti-war film or pro-war film. In fact, it was none. It just stated things as they were.
  • He is one of those finest of filmmakers whose ‘open narrative’ style combined surrealism and expressionism and left things for audience’s interpretation. When I finished watching ‘2001’, I didn’t care a bit about what it meant; the sheer experience was mind-blowing. In his own words, “A film is - or should be - more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what's behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later.”

Facts that add to his legacy
  • Almost all of his films were adapted from literary works and many used a voice-over narration, sometimes taken verbatim from the source.
  • Some of his other trademarks include: using pre-recorded classical music rather than an original score, the (in)famous ‘Kubrick stare’, a scene in or just outside a bathroom in all his movies, and extensive use of point-of view shots, wide angle shots, character tracking shots, zoom shots and shots down tall parallel walls.
  • He was one of those great English-language filmmakers who never received due recognition from the Academy. The only Oscar he won was for supervising the special effects of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’
  • His last three films were made over a period of decades – ‘The Shining’ (1980). ‘Full Metal Jacket’ (1987) and ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ (1999). Four days after screening the final cut of ‘Eyes Wide Shut’, a 70-year old Stanley Kubrick died of a heart attack in his sleep.

I realized his merit as late as March 2009. But I can not explain what joy it was to discover such unparalleled body of work. Today, Stanley Kubrick is one of my most favourite directors, right up there with Krzysztof Kieslowski.

“If it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed.” – Stanley Kubrick