7. Kubrick, the recluse
Kubrick was well known and available to those who needed him. He was never, ever, any kind of hermit. True, he did not grant too many interviews over the years but, while he was making a movie, he was consumed and quite busy. Since his shoots and post-production normally last years, that’s a lot of time away from the public eye.
In fact, other than shooting on location or at a studio, all pre- and post-production was performed at his estate. He rarely left it unless shooting. His vast armies of production assistants scoured the world and took thousands of pictures and collated mountains of data and historical research.
Kubrick’s main tool of communication was the phone and fax. He was on the phone constantly with experts, filmmakers, production experts, his producers, who would receive calls at all hours of the evening at all times of the year.
The truth is, he preferred being surrounded by and encapsulated within his large, English country estate adorned by his family, friends, working associates, and many, many animals. He was especially fond of cats and it gave him peace. The lack of travel time to and from a ‘normal’ office meant more time thinking and making films.
Kubrick, discussing his work habits: “As much as there are hours in the day, and days in the week. I think about a film almost continuously. I try to visualize it and I try to work out every conceivable variation of ideas which might exist with respect to the various scenes, but I have found that when you come down to the day the scene is going to be shot and you arrive on the location with the actors, having had the experience of already seeing some of the scenes shot, somehow it’s always different.
You find out that you have not really explored the scene to it’ fullest extent. You may have been thinking about it incorrectly, or you may simply not have discovered one of the variations which now in context with everything else that you have shot is simply better than anything you had previously thought of.
The reality of the final moment, just before shooting, is so powerful that all previous analysis must yield before the impressions you receive under these circumstances, and unless you use this feedback to your positive advantage, unless adjust to it, adapt to it and accept the times terrifying weaknesses it can expose, you can never realize the most out of your film.”
Michael Herr: “He was in fact a complete failure as a recluse, unless you believe that a recluse is someone who seldom leaves his house… he was one of the most gregarious men I ever knew, and it didn’t change anything that most of this conviviality went on over the phone.”
Hardly the recluse. Always working. Always questioning. Always looking for answers.
8. Stanley “everything in Room 237 is true” Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick never said that line – and wouldn’t – even if he could.
But, O, imagine the possibilities! Imagine he looked at the film Room 237 and said, ‘for once, someone got it right!’
“Room 237” is a must-see film for the simple reason to see how monumentally, spectacularly, gloriously wrong some people can be when it comes to film analysis.
Please don’t misunderstand me – all analysis and investigation is merited, and “Room 237” wins the award for reaching the highest and farthest I’ve ever witnessed. No one can deny the film or the interviewee’s enthusiasm for their beloved subject matter and the film often surprises in unexpected ways.
Again, I enjoyed the film immensely, and I would encourage any fan to watch. There are a number of other features in the documentary that really round out the picture. There is a two-disk BluRay version for the geekiest of geeks (which I happen to own!)
The major theories proposed in Room 237:
A. The Shining is about the genocide of Native Americans, because there is imagery throughout the film associated with the American West.
B. The Shining reveals, once and for all, that Stanley Kubrick had directed and produced the footage for NASA to publicize the Apollo 11 moon landing
C. The Overlook’s labyrinth connects The Shining to the mythic story of the Minotaur
D. The Shining is a feature-film-length metaphor for the Holocaust
E. There is a long section that features The Shining run forward and backward and superimposed, which brings different juxtapositions into play.
I’ve already addressed the issue of the Apollo moon-landing elsewhere in this article. As for the other suppositions in Room 237, Leon Vitali, actor in several Kubrick films and assistant to Kubrick for over 20 years, and present on set during the entire 15-month shoot of The Shining, refutes each and every point the film makes, in a good-natured way, of course. Most of the time, he iterates, the versatile, shifting, ever-dynamic process of making a movie dictated what was used or said.
Like the serendipitous moment when McDowell improvised the song Singing in the Rain in A Clockwork Orange, The Shining had its share too. Many lines were improvised on set or hastily written and rehearsed moments before shooting, such as the Big Bad Wolf recitation – not because Kubrick wanted to draw attention to the Holocaust.
Calumet baking soda was used because all, if not most, hotels in American use the product and can be seen in every hotel pantry – not because Kubrick was trying to draw attention to the plight of the American Indian. As for the Minotaur allusions, Leon has this to say: “That astonished me…I stood staring at all that stuff for weeks while we were shooting in that room. It’s a downhill skier. It’s a downhill skier! It’s not a Minotaur.”
The eeriest theory – and coolest – superimposes the film on top of each other – one strip running forward, the other strip running backwards. Some extremely prophetic and powerful visual juxtapositions ensue – in true homage to Sergei Eisenstein, one of Kubrick’s cinematic heroes, whose name is curiously absent from the narrator’s discussion. So perfect are some of the overlaps that for a moment – just for a moment – one almost believes the structure was intentional and premeditated.
The Shining, more than any other Kubrick film outside 2001, perhaps, sparked an astonishing cottage industry of close readings and abstract analysis. Having seen or read a great deal of it, I would say most of this analysis is extreme over-reach. They fail to take into account the vagaries film production, especially continuity errors, and reality.
Speaking of the issue of making films, he once said: “I think it was Joyce who observed that accidents are the portals to discovery. Well, that’s certainly true in making films. And perhaps in much the same way, there is an aspect of filmmaking which can be compared to a sporting contest. You can start with a game plan but depending on where the ball bounces and where the other side happens to be, opportunities and problems arise which can only be effectively dealt with at that very moment.”
9. Stanley’s first film: or how I learned to stop worrying and loved Fear and Desire
Calling his first film a “bumbling amateur film exercise,” Kubrick attempted to buy back or retrieve every single copy of Fear and Desire he could lay his hands on. That part is very much true. The early behavior would set precedent and manifest into much larger efforts to control his product later in his directorial life. He was quite successful in pulling A Clockwork Orange from distribution in the UK, and efforts to re-edit The Shining are well documented.
Clearly he was an artist always in flux, always thinking, always wanting to better his “brand.” And yes, Kubrick is a “brand” as sure as Coca-Cola or Andy Warhol or Hitchcock are brands… and brands need protection from outside influences. The larger issue is when is enough enough? When do you reach the point of diminishing returns? The fact that he was able to achieve his goal and exert this power makes him one of the true elite film directors both as an artist and businessman.
Whether his edits changed anything or not from the public point of view is not really the issue. And questions like “If Eyes Wide Shut was 20-minutes shorter would more people have considered it a better film?” or more importantly, “…would more people have seen it?” are moot. The exertion of Artistic Power – whether is makes sense or not – is the point. Artists do because they can.
As far as Fear and Desire is concerned, thankfully he fell short of his goal. The Museum of Modern Art, for instance, held on to several 16mm & 35mm prints that could be seen privately at any time with the right credentials. Now, 62 years later, the film can be seen on Apple iTunes and DVDs popularly circulate in a wide release and a new 4K master. What would Kubrick think?
Personally, I think the film deserves its resurrection.
We reveal a lot of ourselves in our first films because the Hollywood mantra has always been, “write what you know” – and most people ‘know’ themselves, or their interior thoughts and longings, best. Director’s first films are the big reveal to a great career, or at least to great ideas. (In Hollywood, it’s the second film that really counts – sustainability is key – and if you could pull off the double your career is assured.)
Few ‘first films’ survive from that directorial era, believe it or not. Kubrick did not go to film school so his first effort was a 1-hr featurette financed by his uncle, written quickly, on subjects and interests he could reel off without thinking too much, shot in way to minimize costs with long, expository scenes of dialog; little but explosive action; and an ironic, detached ending. Clearly, his films changed very little!
Spielberg and Lucas’ first films survive and are quite famous. Lucas’ film – THX-1138 (1971) – was quickly picked up and expanded into a full-length feature film and promptly became a masterpiece, hot on the heels of A Clockwork Orange, also released that same year. Orson Welles’ first film looks almost experimental, his identifying self-deprecating humor an essential aspect to his oeuvre even at a young age.
But Kubrick’s effort was deeply psychological and serious. Its dialog humorless but imaginative and intellectually probing. Its cinematography striking. His second film and first full-length feature – Killer’s Kiss – was even more accomplished.
But Fear and Desire started it all and shot for next to nothing with migrant workers as crew and Kubrick doing most everything else (as most student film directors do!) It revealed a budding talent aching to break out into the real world. The fledgling effort got noticed. Variety called it “a literate, unhackneyed war drama, outstanding for its fresh camera treatment and poetic dialog.”
By today’s standards, the existential drama is a bit ‘on the nose’ (an industry term meaning ‘obvious and lacking subtext) but distinguishing in many other ways.
It’s was scary how the film mimicked the style of the rest of his career. What was also clear is one of Look’s greatest still photographers now had a new career.
10. Kubrick – learn to say it right!
It’s pronounced Cue-brick, not Koo-brick.
So, how did a Porsche-driving, football-helmet-wearing hermitgeniuscontrolfreak, who wouldn’t fly and wouldn’t allow his chauffer drive over 30-mile-per-hour, who barely finished high school, who loved cats and all sorts of other four-leggeds and was surrounded by women at home, ever become the greatest filmmaker to have ever lived?
Good question. Shakespeare had a word or two to say about greatness:
Malvolio, Twelfth Night (II, v, 156-159)
Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and
some have greatness thrust upon ‘em.
Macbeth, Macbeth Act 1, scene 7. 25–28
I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself,
And falls on th’other. . . .
The fact is, a rumor repeated 12 times develops a life of it own. They ticky personal myths are small truths grown into much larger fiction on steroids. They didn’t happen – or at least not the way most of us would like to remember or relate. We all like a good story. Truth is incidental.
John Ford, one of the great American filmmakers, knew this too. In fact, he crafted an entire film around mythology and truth. The film is The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. In it, a newspaper editor says:“This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” And so it is with Kubrick.
Author Bio: Mark Krasselt is a writer, designer, and all-around creative who reads too much and has seen too many movies. He has been fascinated with Stanley Kubrick since his first saw 2001: a space odyssey at age 8, and this fascination has never abated. He has even written a long thesis on the famous director, titled “Stanley Kubrick: lessons of a Sentient,” which he hopes to expand into an even longer book.