11 Movies That Influenced Stanley Kubrick’s Work
Stanley Kubrick is considered one of the most extraordinary and influential directors of all time, with a filmography of 16 motion pictures that are all considered classics, cult or otherwise, as well as a bunch of unrealized projects. He was also a passionate spectator himself – a true cinephile if you will – and elaborated his influences through all of his works.
While it’s almost impossible to narrow down what exactly inspired a director of such artistic prominence, here are a few honorable mentions that had the most direct impact on his films.
1. La Ronde (Max Ophüls, 1950)
A classic drama about a series of affairs in Vienna and one of Kubrick’s all-time favorite movies, “La Ronde” was the epitome of Max Ophüls’ success. In this adaptation of the 1897 play by Austrian author Arthur Schnitzler, a narrator tells love stories that take place in early 20th century Vienna.
Each character has an affair with a character from the previous segment of the film, and so the audience is respectively introduced to a prostitute, a soldier, a chambermaid, a rich kid, a married woman, her husband, a young girl, a poet, an actress, and a duke. This way, the narrator symbolizes the ‘round-dance of life’, hence the title.
Schnitzler also wrote “Traumnovelle”, which later became the inspiration for “Eyes Wide Shut”. Besides having a similar taste for Austrian drama, the German-French director was one of Kubrick’s earliest influences and according to the latter, taught him the importance of camera movement, particularly the long tracking shot, as seen in the 1957 anti-war drama “Paths of Glory”.
Since the shot constituted an entire scene, the actors were forced to keep going beyond the regular shooting time. This wasn’t in Kubrick’s original script, but he allegedly altered the scene in honor of Ophüls, who had died earlier that day.
Kubrick is quoted: “Highest of all I would rate Max Ophüls, who for me possessed every possible quality. He has an exceptional flair for sniffing out good subjects, and he got the most out of them. He was also a marvelous director of actors.”
2. The Human Condition (Masaki Kobayashi, 1959-1961)
“The Human Condition” is an epic film trilogy about a Japanese pacifist named Kaji trying to survive the totalitarian regime during World War II, balancing between training camps and battlefields whilst questioning every day of his life under the wings of several authoritarian figures. With a total run time of almost 10 hours, it is considered one of the longest fictional films ever made.
By comparing the trilogy and “Full Metal Jacket”, one should link the two quite easily, particularly the second film, titled “Road to Eternity” which largely takes place in a military compound, the home of the Japanese Kwantung Army.
It’s easy to notice a striking resemblance between Sergeant Hartman and the commander in chief at the Kwantung army barracks, or even between entire scenes, indicating that Kubrick obtained some of his filmmaking mojo from the self-proclaimed pacifistic filmmaker that is Kobayashi. This doesn’t come as a surprise; Kubrick was well vested in Japanese cinema, holding an extra special place for Kobayashi and Matsumoto.
To start off, perhaps the most obvious implication is the stick fighting sequence, being a well-intended reference regardless of its lack of meaning toward the general plot. It strikes as an exact replica, though preserving its context by using pugil sticks (which are commonly used by Marines in training) instead of wooden sticks shaped like long rifles as used by Kobayashi. Yet more important and prominent are the story-based analogies.
This parallel starts inside the barracks, where some of infamous dorm room scenes of “Full Metal Jacket” take place. No one can exude authority like Sergeant Hartman, unless you’ve seen “Road to Eternity”. Flamboyance and a knack for psychological torture seem to be common traits in both commanders, as well as the unwarranted physical abuse, seeing both of them favor a slap in the face over a slap on the wrist.
Both depictions of life in the army portray most soldiers as victims rather than bloodthirsty war machines, but not at the expense of male egos which control the group atmosphere between cadets. This, however, seems to be more the case in the Japanese films, whereas in “Full Metal Jacket”, there’s a larger sense of comradery.
A good example here would be the display of a soldier assembling his gun, which is seen in both films. In “Full Metal Jacket”, the one soldier is comprehensively assisting the other, but in “The Human Condition”, they simply blame him for not paying enough attention when he picks up a wrong gun part.
An identical contrast is noticeable when looking at the marching scenes: in “Full Metal Jacket” you have the sergeant shouting at a staggering Private Pyle and Private Joker supporting him, knowing Pyle is the sergeant’s fall guy. He shows a sense of empathy. Kobayashi’s marching soldiers, on the other hand, don’t even bother turning their heads when Kaji is being harassed.
Remarkable here is the trend of scapegoating, and in both stories, the protagonists seem to be the ultimate victim. Pyle is Kaji, yet they both have different ways of dealing with their emotional agony. Pyle ultimately considers killing himself and also shoots the sergeant in the process, whereas Kaji has the will to live on but dies anyway by freezing to death.
Yet again there is a parallel between the two films: a privateer named Obara also isolates himself like Pyle did and shoots himself with his rifle, but his reasons came from family troubles rather than the psychological torment of war – although the combination of the two most likely convinced him to pull the trigger. Both films eventually question the need for escape, with key characters constantly balancing between loyalism and the thought of desertion, if not in the form of suicide.
3. Funeral Parade of Roses (Toshio Matsumoto, 1969)
Sex, drugs, and violence were no uncommon themes in the Japanese New Wave of cinema; add to that a semi-documentary look at Tokyo’s underground gay scene and you have “Funeral Parade of Roses”.
Inspired by French Nouvelle Vague directors such as Godard and Resnais – using documentary footage and loosely detaching from a linear time frame, as well as often breaking the Brechtian fourth wall by showing interviews with the actors about their roles and even exposing the crew at a certain point – Matsumoto manages to tell a controversially twisted story in a frame of exquisite editing and great sense of imagination.
The plot meets a charming transvestite named Eddie, who’s opting for a better position at the gay bar, and continues to follow the character’s woes and adversities along with other transvestites.
The film’s lack of linear structure ironically contributes to a greater structure, as seen in many new wave films, through the use of (the earlier mentioned) documentary footage and several parody sequences, referencing older motion pictures.
The boss lady at the bar for instance, is often filmed in a mirror, supposedly portraying her as the queen from Snow White thus implying an analogy between the two. And just as Matsumoto displayed his influences out in the open, Kubrick has done the same with Matsumoto’s cinematic techniques in A Clockwork Orange.
The phallic ice cream scones, for instance, seen during the shopping mall scene with the long tracking shot, are an exact reference to Matsumoto’s use of said particular penis metaphor in an almost identical setting. Then there’s the frontal shot of the gang walking the streets, just as Matsumoto frontally tracks the three transvestites as they move through a crowd, still licking their white ice cream cones.
Another quite obvious analogy is the clumsy fight scene between Alex and the crazy cat lady, which some call ‘art for violence’. In “Funeral Parade of Roses”, there’s a similar sequence of a duel between Eddie and the boss lady Leda where they used several cuts to a mask from the art gallery Eddie was in, likely covering up violence that might lead to bad criticism.
In “A Clockwork Orange”, the same cutting is seen when Alex takes her on with a giant phallus sculpture, instead showing pieces of modern art in between.
In “Funeral Parade of Roses”, the scene is accelerated, and this technique is also used when two men are pictured doing business inside an office space, with synthesized versions of popular carnival-like songs setting the tone. It’s no coincidence that the sped-up threesome between Alex and the two shopping mall girls also features a soundtrack that reminds us of a happy fair in fast forward.
And last but not least, something that doesn’t prove to be replicated are Alex’s fake eyelashes on one eye which are accentuated in the opening scene. Eddie also wears a pair of them but more likely in order to be a convincing transvestite. Still, all visual parallels considered, it’s too good not to be true.
4. Vinyl (Andy Warhol, 1965)
Andy Warhol was actually the first director to adapt the book “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess, turning it into a disturbing series of violent images merged into a tale of morality and disorder, but rather in his typical slow (and disputably boring) style, starring actors not unknown in The Factory.
The film starts with a close-up of Victor (also known as Alexander DeLarge, portrayed by Factory regular Gerard Malanga) and goes on into what appears to be three long takes short of editing, inclining toward a raw and experimental 66-minute low budget film common to Warhol’s underground oeuvre.
Nonetheless, Kubrick, known for always undertaking meticulous research prior to filming, had definitely looked at Warhol’s work when making his own adaptation of the dystopian novel. He begins with a similar opening scene, confronting the audience with DeLarge for the first time through a sinister close-up also known as the Kubrick Stare, but turns the story into an entirely different piece of chaos.
Malcolm McDowell’s noisy and mischievous take on DeLarge certainly highlights his flair as an actor, whereas Malanga’s unprofessional acting skills left “Vinyl” to be forgotten after Kubrick’s release. And even though both adaptations were subject to controversy, given their original story, Kubrick’s version seemed more prone to the unfortunate misinterpretation of his film as a cheer of approval toward gang violence and teenage misbehavior, leading to several death threats towards Kubrick’s family and the eventual removal of the film from theaters.
Despite their differences in reception, however, “Vinyl” regained its popularity as one of Warhol’s classics, and is included in the book “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”.
5. Last Year at Marienbad (Resnais, 1961)
Alain Resnais has been one of the key figures in the French Nouvelle Vague with a career that lasted more than six decades, and left a legacy of non-conventional filmmaking that inspired many directors to this day.
“Last Year at Marienbad” is one prime art house example of his works’ impact, leaving audiences either amazed by its elegantly composed black-and-white cinematography, or frustrated due to its ambiguous narrative. In Kubrick’s case, however, it was an encouragement to start experimenting with puzzling storylines and intimidating camera movements, as seen in “The Shining”.
As is common in French New Wave films, it generally lacks the core fundamentals of a typical movie. The entire film takes place in a Baroque-style castle that was turned into a luxurious hotel for the upper class, and opens with a long tracking movement of the camera, scanning the hotel’s hallways and salons with the protagonist nostalgically describing them in the background.
Later, at some social event in the hotel, he meets a woman who he claims to have met the year before, and that they promised to reunite the following year – but the woman keeps insisting he’s mistaken. Her changing attitude, however, seems to suggest a romantic uprising between the two.
Another man is introduced who may be the woman’s husband, and it is not clear if he knows about or even believes their affair. He is portrayed as an intimidating figure who repeatedly asserts his dominance over the protagonist by beating him in mathematical games.
The story disorients the audience by use of obscure flashbacks and lacks any logical sense of continuity or meaning, contributing to its dreamlike nature and leaving room for the viewer to fill in the details. Moreso, all the characters are left nameless, being referred to as respectively X, A and M in the published screenplay.
There seems to be a remarkable parallel between this hotel and the Overlook Hotel in “The Shining”; both are on isolated estates where a significant event occurred that haunts the central characters, and both are pictured as endless labyrinths. Also, the narrating voice talking about the hotel is implemented in “The Shining”.
The films share an ambiguity in space and time, and Resnais’ tracking movement with the camera also appears to have inspired the Steadicam movement through the mazy hallways of the Overlook Hotel.
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