Director Talk – Stanley Kubrick
Ian: Welcome back to Director Talk everyone. Today the Talk is centered around one of the most uniquely successful directors there has ever been really; Stanley Kubrick. Fogs, Cooper and myself are all here, and I’m going to start things off by throwing this question out there: do you remember what the first Kubrick film you saw was, and what were your initial impressions of it?
Cooper: The first Kubirck film I saw was 2001. My initial reaction was, “What the f*** did I just watch!????!” Mind you, I was fourteen, and my perspective has matured quite a bit since then. I remember that I really enjoyed the parts with HAL, but found the beginning and ending sections really boring.
Fogs: Mine was “The Shining”, too young for it. So above all else, I was really scared. That movie really frightened me.
Cooper: That movie’s scary at any age. But I can see how watching it as a kid would be pretty traumatic.
Fogs: Messed me up, man. LOL
Ian: Like Cooper, mine was 2001, and I remember thinking how unorthodox it was. But in a good way. It was so different I just latched onto it, even though most are turned off by it. It immediately made me want to seek out Kubrick’s other films, since he clearly had the guts to do things which were wildly different.
Cooper: If I saw 2001 for the first time today, that’s probably what I’d think, but at fourteen, I wasn’t ready.
Fogs: I’ll back you up on that PG, I’m pretty sure I saw it for the first time right around that age, too, and it “Bored” me. Too slow and too weird… I only liked the computer that killed people. But once I got to college and checked it out again, of course, I saw so much more in it. It’s a mind blowing movie. Incredibly influential, too.
Cooper: I still owe it a re-watch, but I like it a lot more now than I did three years ago, that’s for sure.
Ian: Its a pretty unique movie to be sure. Let me ask you this. What film-maker qualities do you associate with Kubrick the most?
Cooper: Strict attention to detail, planned out and tactical cinematography, use of classical music, use of light music during extremely dark moments, and certain shots that are seen throughout his filmography. Also, there’s the type of performances he gets out of his actors. A lot of his movies have at least one larger than life character. Dr. Strangelove has Dr. Strangelove (sounds so redundant, lol), A Clockwork Orange has Alex Delarge, The Shining has Jack Torrance, and Full Metal Jacket has Sergeant Hartman. All of these characters have big personalities that demand your attention. Then again, Kubrick also creates characters who are more quiet, and keep their emotions more internal. Examples include Kirk Douglas’ work in Paths of Glory and Spartacus, the HAL 9000 in 2001, and Redmond Barry in Barry Lyndon. Also, I haven’t seen Eyes Wide Shut, but I hear that both Cruise and Kidman play very repressed characters, so that might be an example as well.
I’ve probably rambled long enough, but there’s one other Kubrick detail I want to make note of; his humour. A lot of Kubrick films have very funny moments, even though his work is very dark. Strangelove is the obvious example, but this humour is also present in A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket, and to a certain extent, The Shining and Spartacus. The fact that Kubrick can make the most disturbing moments funny is a testament to his craft.
Ian: Good call on the larger than life characters. In fact, he actually got George C. Scott to do an extra take during his Strangelove scenes where he just goes over the top, and those are the scenes he actually used in the film.
Cooper: I know! That story makes me love Dr. Strangelove even more!
Fogs: I like what PG said about the strict attention to detail. When I think of Kubrick I always think of what I’ve heard about his style (that he was a demanding perfectionist), and how that translates onto the screen. The shot compositions are always flawless, and the performances he gets out of his actors are incredible.
That kind of reputation also lends itself REALLY well to over analytical geeks like me who want to pick movies apart for symbolism, etc. due to the fact that you honestly feel when watching a Kubrick film that NOTHING is on screen by accident. Every tiny bit of minutae has a purpose and a meaning. It’s a wonderful gift to cerebral audiences who wish to “delve” for meaning, it really is.
Ian: Great point Fogs. Its really nice watching films like that, because you CAN analyze it and know that somethings there simply because he didn’t pu much thought into it.
I always seem to associate Kubrick with movie that are slightly off-kilter. They’re always more unorthodox, but unorthodox for a reason. Of course 2001 is unlike any other movie out there, but Dr. Strangelove has an unsettling humour, Clockwork Orange is really out there with its characters and design ( a milk bar!), etc. Even his more conventional pictures have something which challenges norms. Spartacus had a lot of homosexual innuendos, Paths of Glory is very anti-authority, and so on.
Fogs: Good point, yourself! Eyes Wide Shut was practically a sub culture world… the Overlook Hotel was Hellish and Labyrinthian…
Oh yeah, this is going to be a good “Director’s Talk” I can tell.
Cooper: Well said. That’s another great thing about Kubrick. Even his genre pictures are unlike anything else.
Ian: So he’s done horror, comedy, epic, war, sci-fi…. Any genres you guys would have liked to have seen him try out?
Cooper: Romantic comedies, I think that would have been spectacular. Actually, in all seriousness, I’m curious what a Stanley Kubrick superhero film would be like.
Fogs: Huh, yeah, that would have been interesting… seeing him do a superhero movie.
As we all know, he was working on a fairy tale movie at the time of his death in AI, which Spielberg wound up directing. I’ve always wondered how that movie would have fared – and its still a great movie, I really love that one – but how it would have fared with Kubrick at the helm.
Ian: Well, since you bring up A.I., I actually thought Speilberg did a pretty good job of tapping into the Kubrick style, with the slight aloofness of the characters and the way they’re always held off from us a little. Many people blame Speilberg for changing the ending to make it somewhat happy, but from what I hear that was actually the ending Kubrick wanted. And that makes sense, because its a rather unsettling ending when you really think about it.
Fogs: Oh, I agree. That ending is bittersweet at best. I’m really a big fan of that movie… it’s just slightly off kilter. It would be easy to dismiss it as just a futuristic Pinocchio, but there’s a lot going on there, I think.
Cooper: I loved A.I. when I first saw it. Of course, I was about seven when I saw it, and having not seen A.I. since, my memory is a little hazy.
Ian: You know, he really has tapped into a lot of genres. He was sort of a predecessor to Danny Boyle in that regard. Its hard to pigeon-hole Kubrick.
So considering he has so many genres over a rather limited filmography, considering the time span its over, what are your favourite Kubrick films? Which work best for you? We can keep it to a top 3 like usual.
Cooper: I really like his war films. Paths of Glory and Full Metal Jacket are great, and you can even consider Dr. Strangelove and Spartacus as war films as well. Though I’ve enjoyed all of Kubrick’s films that I’ve seen, the only one I’m not the biggest fan of is Barry Lyndon, mostly because I found the protagonist to be very uninteresting. But, given that it’s a Kubrick film, it is possible that in time I’ll come to love the film. As for my top three:
1. A Clockwork Orange
2. Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
3. Full Metal Jacket
Fogs: My top three are definitely
The Shining, Full Metal Jacket and 2001: A Space Odyssey… but it hurts not to list Dr Strangelove and A Clockwork Orange there. He’s got a really short filmography, so I think I’ll be able to say I’ve seen all of his films soon… I just scratched the Killing off of my “To See” list, just a couple more to go now!
Ian: It should hurt not to include Strangelove. Man, do I love that movie. one of my top ten of all time. My top 3 would be:
1. Dr. Strangelove
3. Paths of Glory
Cooper: Thrilled to see the excellent and under-appreciated Paths of Glory make your list, even if it didn’t make mine. The truth is, all Kubrick’s films are so good that making a favourites list can be fairly difficult.
Ian: And yet… there are some I can’t get behind fully. Mostly Full Metal Jacket and The Shining, which I think are slightly over-rated. FMJ’s dualism with the two halfs of the movie always bugged me, especially since the second half in Vietnam really makes no connection for me.
Cooper: Private Ian, you had best sound off that you love Full Metal Jacket or I will gouge out your eyeballs and skull **** you!
Fogs: Ian. Darling. Light of my Life… Did you just badmouth the Shining?
PG… it’s like he does this to us intentionally once per conversation, isn’t it? LOL
Cooper: It’s because he hates us
Ian: You’re on to me! And I didn’t “badmouth” the Shining, it just didn’t win me over. But I admit that it is masterfully crafted and Kubrick is really able to build the right atmosphere with it.
Cooper: I can see that.
Ian: Alright, alright. So those are our favourite Kubrick films. But what is his signature film? What movie defines him as a filmmaker? Which is he most known for?
I think its gotta be 2001. Am I wrong?
Cooper: Tough to say. All of his films are so different in so many ways that claiming one film captures his essence feels almost limiting. I’m going to go with Dr. Strangelove. I think it captures his comedy as well as his dark sensibilities the best of any of his films, not to mention the film has become very iconic in pop culture. 2001 is a good choice too, but I’m sticking with Strangelove.
Fogs: I have to say 2001. That movie is straight up art, and people recognize it as such. It’s brilliant. Is it my favorite? No, not necessarily… but I DO think it’s the movie that’s most strongly associated with him.
2001 is the movie that is synonymous with Kubrick… more so than any of his others.
Cooper: Maybe, but I’m sticking with Strangelove.
Ian: Alright, any last words on Kubrick or any of his movies?
Fogs: He’s going to be remembered as one of the greatest artist ever who worked with the medium of film. His movies challenged the form of the genre, they have layer upon layer of meaning and depth, they’re culturally significant and occasionally resonant even in “pop” culture. He is a rare, rare individual in the directorial landscape and I doubt there will ever be another quite like him.
Cooper: Ditto to everything Fogs has said. He’s easily one of the all time great directors. Also, not that it really matters, but yesterday was Stanley Kubrick’s birthday. He would have been 84. Happy belated birthday, Stanley.
Ian: I agree, and… Fogs, have you been typing from the bathroom the whole time? (Sorry, just had to get the classic Kubrick bathroom scene in here).
That’s all for Director’s Talk today. It was great to talk about one of cinema’s most stylized and most versatile filmmakers. What are your thoughts?