Stanley Kubrick @ 80

Kubrick For Look

Stanley Kubrick would have been 80 today if he hadn’t died in 1999, aged 70. So today marks the 10th anniversary of his death.


The dark tower monolith scene, sound: Requiem by György Ligeti

I’ve previously mentioned[1] my disenchantment with Kubrick and “modernist film” in general (an exception needs to be made for its deviant siblings). His work is of course incontournable, as the French say, but 2001 is one of the most boring films I’ve ever seen and only comes close in tediousness to Citizen Kane.

Nevertheless, as all flawed products, 2001 has one or two redeeming elements:

2001′s soundtrack did much to introduce the modern classical composer György Ligeti to a wider public, using extracts from his Requiem (the Kyrie), Atmosphères, Lux Aeterna and (in an altered form) Aventures (though without his permission).

To conclude: a good YouTumentary the significance of 2001[4] by Collective Learning by Rob Ager

27 thoughts on “Stanley Kubrick @ 80

  1. pancime

    Oh, in reading your entry re 2001 on the main page, getting to the bottom one sees the words ‘One can’t argue with popular’ creeping up from the previous entry. I agree. 2001 was, and remains popular! With me too. I love this film. It captures a mood of expansion, the possibility of renewal that was about at that time, and uncertainties about the technological future. False dreams and worries perhaps, but dreams and worries all the same. Anyhow, at a minimum, the film, for me, is just a sensory treat – and try as I may I can’t find fault with that. Then again, I love Eno’s Evening Star (not to mention Ambient 4). I guess long, slow and sensual is just my thing…

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  3. Vedran

    Boring it is but it is also on of the most aesthetically beautiful films I have ever seen. Its cinematography is astonishing and fills my soul with feelings I had never before felt.

    It is sheer boring beauty.

  4. John Coulthart

    Kubrickophile here, so I’m biased. “Boring” is a criticism often thrown at 2001; when I hear it I usually ask people what they expect a film to be or do. Fiction in its broadest sense can be or do anything; we accept this in novels (well…some of us do) yet grow impatient with films if they don’t “tell a story” or satisfy a narrow range of narrative pleasure, invariably with a happy ending.

    Parts of 2001 approach the kind of cinematic abstraction one sees in works by abstract filmmakers and animators yet SK wasn’t working on 16mm, he got MGM to pay for an uncompromising work made for Cinemascope. As Pancime says above, it’s a sensory treat. I saw 2001 for the first time shortly before Star Wars was released in 1977. I was 15 at the time and should have found the former boring and the latter exciting; Star Wars was exciting, of course; it was also deeply juvenile and stupid in comparison to 2001 which was beautiful and astonishing and adult in the way it treated its audience. Watch it on a big screen.

    I believe you like Alain Robbe-Grillet; is Last Year at Marienbad also boring? If not, why not?

  5. jahsonic

    … I usually ask people what they expect a film to be or do

    I’m not biased here. I don’t mind plotlessness and I like to film for a sensory treat.

    I dislike Star Wars, just wanted to get that off my chest.

    I believe you like Alain Robbe-Grillet; is Last Year at Marienbad also boring? If not, why not?

    Marienbad, I’ve seen it long time ago, and should see it again, but from the clips I’ve recently scene, I find it boring too, yes (which does not mean I find it uninteresting, much like 2001). I’ve only seen his (Last Year is technically not his film) Trans-Europ-Express (1966) and La Belle captive (1983). I find Grillet’s plotlessness and coldness more erotically charged than Kubrick’s.

    It’s true, I reproach Kubrick his coldness and his unability to be emotional but I like many of his films, Barry Lyndon is probably my fave, much depends in his case on who’s written his source material. I like A Clockwork Orange (1971), but I always ascribe my liking of it to the novel rather than too Kubrick.

    Like I said in my first post on Kubrick, of SK’s contemporaries, I’ll take Nicolas Roeg and Marco Ferreri (both born in 1928) any day.

    Lastly, a film should be compared to its contemporary products. In 1968 I preferred:

    # Performance by Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg
    # If… by Lindsay Anderson
    # Night of the Living Dead by Romero
    # The Producers by Mel Brooks
    # Rosemary’s Baby by Polanski
    # Teorema by Pasolini
    # Psych-Out by Richard Rush
    # Petulia by Richard Lester
    # The Party by Blake Edwards
    # Secret Cinema by Paul Bartel
    # La Prisonnière by Henri-Georges Clouzot
    # Targets (1968) by Peter Bogdanovich

    Lastly, there was an interesting blogathon a while back on “boring art films” to which I contributed Of boredom and interestingness in which I put forward “a category of films which are boring if viewed from a to z – films which may not be worth to spend the 90 to 120 minutes to watch them – but that are all the more interesting to read about.”

    I still feel that way. Not many films are great to view from beginning to end, but they can be tremendously interesting to talk about, or see snippets of, or hear the soundtrack from, …. the redeeming elements … of flawed products.

  6. lichanos

    By coincidence, I am on a film noir kick, and I just watched Kubrick’s first feature the other day, Killer’s Kiss:

    I couldn’t disagree with you more about SK! You sound like Pauline Kael! Having said this, I must avow that I regard his final film, Eye’s Wide Shut as an embarrassing and ignominious end to a stellar career.

    Cold and emotionless? Have you seen Paths to Glory? One of the most powerful and gut-wrenching anti-war films ever made. Dr Strangelove, an unsurpassed satire, mad, insane, and hilarious – do you expect emotional involvement with characters in a black farce about nuclear annihilation? Are you too young to recall that the “fictions” of that movie were everyday facts? The whole point was the depressing estrangement of humans from the part of themselves that makes them emotional and human.

    And then, 2001, my favorite film. You’ve got me going here! Boring…! I expect more from you, Jahsonic. You who like to partake of all sorts of abstract and over-intellectual avante gardisms call this visual poem boring? Because it doesn’t have enough dialog? Not enough of a …story? Personally, it has a bit too much story for me, because I think A.C. Clarke’s contribution to it weakened it considerably. [See my post on Clarke’s death, “Cracked Baby”]. Let me enumerate the wonders of this film:

    -never before or since has a “sci-fi” movie rendered a futuristic environment so believably. Special effects today are glitz – Kubrick and his crew thought out the future and were so successful that the movie does not look dated even today, 40 years later.

    -the film is a sustained examination and creation of myth about consciousness. Clarke’s nutty ideas about the extra-terrestrial origin of intelligence became profound and stimulating in SK’s hands.

    -it is yet another installment in SK’s examination of the relationship between humans and their non-human creations. Yes, he does make movies about things, because people make things! The edit of the flying/falling bone turning into a spaceship is one of the most breathtaking sequences in film history! The film is an epic of the human journey from animal to tool maker, and a chronicle of the consequences – war, alienation, agression, DE-humanization. Watch that guy in the space shuttle to the moon – he’s asleep with a B-movie romance running on the screen in front of him. The only erotic things are the machines – frequently bathed in red, like the inside of the womb…

    -And what of that sequence when Dave confronts Hal? Can you ask for anything more elemental, epic, Romantically mythic? Man confronts his creation who has turned on him, his creation who embodies only part of his humanity, and not the best part, no knowledge of tragedy. And how does he beat him – by going outside of protocol, by risking death, by exposing his body to the vacuum of deep space, finally to find salvation in the glowing redness of the ship’s airlock. And then, floating into Hal’s center, decommissioning him. What’s going on here? It’s a visual recapitulation of Leibnitz’s famous remark:

    “Supposing that there were a machine whose
    structure produced thought, sensation, and
    perception, we could conceive of it as
    increased in size with the same proportions
    until one was able to enter into its interior,
    as he would into a mill. Now, on going into
    it he would find only pieces working upon one
    one another, but never would he find anything
    to explain Perception.”

    -the final sequence of the trip to Jupiter and the time/space warp in the bedroom is stunning, unique, and employs editing and imagery to create a suspense and prompt a different perception of space and time. Can you think of anything comparable that doesn’t fail as miserably corny?

    I think this is what 2001 is about, among other things, and it remains my favorite film of all time. Please, take another look…

  7. lichanos

    …Not many films are great to view from beginning to end, but they can be tremendously interesting to talk about, or see snippets of, or hear the soundtrack from…

    Far be it from me to tell people how they should enjoy culture – I have nothing against sampling! But there is another approach that should not be forgotten, i.e. to take the film, song, symphony, story, novel, or whatever, and respect it as an attempt to create a work of art to be absorbed in its entirety.

  8. jahsonic

    Thanks Pancime, Vedran, John, Lichanos et al,

    I guess a second viewing is necessary here, but it will probably take a “theater” viewing to overcome my short attention span.

    …You sound like Pauline Kael!

    Really?, I liked some of her writing, and esp. remember her respect for testosteron-fuelled films.

    Have you seen Paths to Glory?

    I haven’t, war films are not really my thing, but I guess I should.

    Eye’s Wide Shut as an embarrassing and ignominious

    i quite liked that film, saw it at the cinema, loved the slow pacing, could even overcome my dislike for Cruise.


  9. John Coulthart

    Yes, 1968 was a good year (Once Upon a Time in the West also released then) although strictly speaking Performance didn’t get a release until 1970. When pressed I usually rate that as my favourite film of all even though I dislike ranking artworks this way. Roeg owes a lot to Petulia and Performance, both of which he photographed and both of which prefigure his cross-cut editing. And speaking of that, Marienbad director Alain Resnais is usually credited with the invention of the flash cut forward or back which he began in Muriel ou Le temps d’un retour (1963). If you want to see another Resnais film, I recommend Providence (1977). Not boring at all, far from it in fact.

  10. lichanos

    Pauline Kael did not like Kubrick, and she criticized him for some of things you mention: coldness, misanthropy, focus on “things”, etc…

    As you can imagine, I don’t like her, or I didn’t when I occasionally read her when she was alive.

  11. pancime

    Oh, now we are on to Roeg! Well, for me not only is Performance fabulous, but Man Who Fell to Earth is just one of my favourite films ever. I don’t suppose I think it is one of the best films ever. But heck, for me it just touches on so many things. It’s a treat.
    I have always wondered about this Kubrick / cold thing. I’ve never really bothered to think it through, but Lichanos does a great job in debunking that one. Thanks!

  12. lichanos

    Thanks, pancime and jahsonic. A pleasure blogging with you.

    I saw Man Who Fell to Earth when it came out and I’ve thought of it many times. Do you remember when the alien gives his friend a camera that takes pictures you can see immediately! He and his girlfriend go wild in bed with it – how funny is that!

    I think I’ll watch it again, finally.

  13. pancime

    yes, it is a film that kind of pops up in my memory as an enjoyable reference point for lots of things. That camera scene is almost quaint now of course, but the way it is juxtaposed with kabuki(?) is so good. I could go on. I will refrain… I hope you enjoy it. Oh, it might be that in the US there are two versions. I think one version has part of the Bowie/Clark sex scene cut. It might be worth doing a moment’s research just to ensure you get the full version.

  14. jahsonic

    Pancime, Lichanos, John et al,

    I am probably mistaken here and do not know Kubrick’s story all that well. But i am under the impression that he did not write his own stories. Why was that? Why did Stanley Kubrick not write his own films? Like Woody Allen does or Almodovar?


  15. Vedran

    I don’t understand why people find boring such an insulting word. It’s a feeling that arises when something doesn’t draw your attention (anymore). It is normal especially for a film that runs 3 hours. If even 10 minutes of the film gives you a certain feeling wich you enjoy, I find it sufficient to watch the whole film. I saw a film that runs 3 hours, and 2 hours or even more of the film stirred intense feelings in me, when I got out of the theatre I was wrecked. I6t was like spending 10 hours in a museum.
    Boring happens, it’s ok.

    @Coulthart Have you seen Resnais’ Nuit et Brouillard?

  16. John Coulthart

    Vedran: no I haven’t seen Nuit et Brouillard although I certainly know its reputation as one of the first Holocaust documentaries. Resnais and Jacques Rivette always interested me far more than Godard or Truffaut yet the latter pair would receive endless screenings of their works in the UK while the former have been pretty much ingored. As a result there are a number of Resnais’s films I’ve yet to see, including Muriel.

    David Cronenberg used to use Kubrick’s fondness for adapting novels as a stick to beat him with shortly before spending the next few years himself adapting books. Kubrick answers this question in one of Michel Ciment’s interviews. I have to paraphrase but his point was that if you read a novel and it pleases you then you know that the story succeeds. Writing as well as directing doesn’t always mean you make a better film; see J-L Godard. Kubrick read widely and didn’t always choose obvious material; Barry Lyndon is a less well-known work of Thackery’s for example. Many of the books he chose were minor works which provided a thin narrative on which he could place larger concerns, as in Dr Strangelove.

    It’s also not quite true to say he didn’t write himself. If you read Arthur C Clarke’s Lost Worlds of 2001 Clarke describes the construction of the screenplay (and the subsequent novel) as a collaborative effort between writer and director. One of Clarke’s stories provided the initial idea but they both expanded that. Similarly, Full Metal Jacket is Kubrick’s conflation with Michael Herr of Herr’s own Dispatches and Gustav Hasford’s novel The Short-timers. Kubrick wanted to make a film of Herr’s book for many years but needed a story; Hasford’s book had the story (although they only use two thirds of it) into which they incorporated sequences from Herr’s book.

  17. jahsonic

    Thanks John, for your cogent answers.

    Loved this bit:

    David Cronenberg used to use Kubrick’s fondness for adapting novels as a stick to beat him with shortly before spending the next few years himself adapting books.

    Needless to say, I prefer DC endlessly to SK.

  18. lichanos


    … camera scene is almost quaint now of course, but the way it is juxtaposed with kabuki(?) is so good…

    Yes, it was kabuki. My version had the love scene with Clark – not sure if it was there when I saw it in ’76, but HOW could they cut it!! There is a Criterion Collection DVD version that is nice.

    I feel that this film is, in parts, an homage to 2001. Sometimes the music sounds the same. In the end, Newton is imprisoned in the run down villa that has ape wallpaper and mismatched rococo furniture. There is a shot of him lying out cold in bed while an aged Rip Torn looks on from the foot of the bed – 2001 in reverse…

  19. pancime

    Instead of Newton subsequently being transformed into a new being after knocking the glass off the table, the waiter says ‘I think Mr Newton’s had enough’ and Newton quietly bows out.
    Even though the film is not directly paralleling 2001, I always imagine this is the fate of the 2001 uber-baby – it doesn’t suit the ‘social ecology’ mentioned earlier in MWFTE.

  20. pancime

    I also love the way there is a gay couple but nothing is made of the fact, and also that the black guy is a powerful official, and has beautiful house, and a beautiful white wife etc. This is 1976. But the official is still questioning enough to ask ‘I wonder if we do and say the right things’ etc.
    And then there is Bowie singing at church … and its a real congregation and all.
    Sometimes when I get an elevator I clutch the rails like Bowie does, ‘cos lifts are boring and its fun to pretend your an alien, and going in an elevator is really bad news. (But only when there’s no-one else in it!)
    I could go on, and on…. I will stop now!

  21. lichanos

    I don’t recall the glass…I like your comments.

    I think the (white)wife was a former playmate. I’m not sure she was nude in the version I saw in 76 – the Criterion edition has a still with them both in swimsuits. That entire sequence is so weird, eerie. The entire film has such a mixed up sense of time.

    I like what you said about Newton being the story of the uber-baby from 2001, pretty good! Sort of reminds me of the story from The Brothers Karamazov about what would happen to Christ if he came back to earth…same deal. They’d crucify him, they’d have to…

    Who was the man watching Newton at the very beginning, first shot? (Not that it matters very much…)

  22. pancime

    Apparently Roeg is just playing with the old idea that when you are doing something bad someone will always come around the corner to see you. I can’t count the number of times that has happened to me – not that I ever do anything bad of course O:-). Sometimes it is so reliable I just end up predicting the appearance of someone at the most inappropriate moment, and there they are. OK, so I made the bad mistake of reading Synchronicity at a tender and impressionable age, but heck, I’m sure it’s real… ???

    So, Roeg’s version is a little different – his is that it doesn’t matter what you do there is always going to be someone there to see it. That guy is just the gratuitous someone. I wondered about this for years!!! I think it is mentioned on the DVD I have of MWFTE, in one of the interviews. I got the DVD a couple of years ago. (Universal / Studio Canal, 133 mins)

    Oh, and re the love scene between Candy Clark and Bowie – ie the one at the Japanese house on the lake, not the one with the gun (or the alien one) – I love it because it is actually about sensuality and making love, rather than ‘fucking’, which most sex on film veers towards (imho).

    BTW I am glad you liked the film enough to comment back and forth. Thanks!

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