Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (2002)

kubrick boxStanley Kubrick directed just 13 films during his near-fifty year career.

Ridley Scott has directed 21 films.

Steven Spielberg has directed 27 films (not counting his tv-movies).

I’m not sure what the above figures demonstrate. Are Kubrick’s films inherently better than those of Scott or Spielberg because he took so long crafting them? Does simply a fewer number equate to a better quality? Are Scott or Spielberg actually better directors because they get on with the job and produce so many good (some great, some poor, admittedly) films in their career? Would Scott or Spielberg’s films actually be improved if they had spent so long making them as Kubrick did? Is it more professional of them to actually do the work creating so many varied films, was Kubrick less of a professional because he took so long on projects? Or is Kubrick the finer director because he crafted his films meticulously like perfected works of art? Is that body of work more impressive for the high quality of those films than it might have been had he made more films, albeit with some of lesser quality? Was Kubrick the last of his kind working in cinema? Will we ever see his like again? Was Kubrick truly that great, or was he just the critics darlng and his films over-rated?

It figures that my first film of 2014 would turn out to be a documentary. On New Years Eve the 7-movie boxset Stanley Kubrick: Visionalry Filmmaker Collection arrived. I owned quite a few Kubrick film’s on Blu-ray already, but Amazon had a lightning deal on during Christmas week, selling it for £15 which was too tempting to turn down for a copy of Barry Lyndon (unavailable seperately here in the UK) or Lolita, A Clockwork Orange and Full Metal Jacket. Turns out The Shining is a dfferent cut compared to my other Blu-ray for whatever thats worth, so thats not too bad a deal at all. But anyway, I decided to give the bonus disc (itself originally from the A Clockwork Orange release, I think) a spin first and watch the A Life in Pictures doc. Itself near two hours and thirty minutes long, its a considerable piece of work, and while even at that length it may not be as in-depth and rich as it could have been, or viewers would like, it is a fine overview of Kubrick’s life and work and an excellent addition to this box set.

Watching it I had the distinctly reinforced impression that Kubrick was an enigma, a flawed genius. What made his films so great, their sense of perfection, their finely crafted style (he often shot 30, 40 takes of individual shots, proving something of  nightmare for some actors), was also something that made them curiously flawed (very often there is a coldness, a sense of distance from what is happening, when watching one of his pictures, not helped by an often glacial pace). I have to admit that I admire Kubrick’s films but don’t really love them. But they are endlessly fascinating and reward multiple viewings in a way that few other films do. I have the impression that, over the years, rewatching Kubrick films is like watching them for the first time, you often get something new out of them. There is just something weird about them.

A Life in Pictures is fascinating. I was amazed to discover that, for all his notoriety for preparing his films in huge detail to the nth degree with incredible amounts of research, when on-set he often didn’t seem to have a clue how to shoot the scenes, often letting the actors do their own thing and working out the shots over so many, many takes until he got what he wanted. Wheras, say, Hitchcock also planned his films meticulously, but on-set always had a storyboard at hand or in his head, knowing how he was going to shoot everything. Kubrick oddly seems to have had more in common with someone like, say, Terrence Malick, which I didn’t expect- almost creating everything on-set ad hoc. Curious indeed.  Two immediate questions came to mind; how Kubrick would be able to function today the way the industry works now, were he still alive, and  related to that, what the hell would he have come up with, having access to a toolset such as the cg technology we now have?

Very interesting documentary. And I’ll get to watch Barry Lyndon in HD soon!

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2 thoughts on “Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (2002)

  1. I wonder if Kubrick would be like David FIncher, were he working today. The comparison has already been made because of Fincher’s penchant for requesting equally crazy numbers of takes — indeed digital cameras, with their ability to shoot for longer and simply delete unwanted footage ($0 in hard drive space vs. whatever the cost of wasted film stock is), are more suited to that style of working than celluloid ever was.

    But how might Kubrick use computer tools is an interesting question. Perhaps not CGI per se, but to combine multiple takes in a single shot? Would that be verboten, or a way to perfect perfectionism? I don’t know how many filmmakers do that (Fincher definitely, Lucas did as early as Episode I — is it so standard that it’s not widely discussed? Or so rare?), but surely it’s perfect for someone who strives so relentlessly for (their concept of) perfection.

  2. I met someone years ago who met Kubrick during the filming of A Clockwork Orange. It was in a pub near the Thames, during a break from filming. He said Kubrick was one of the most gracious men he had ever met.

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