Term Paper: Stanley Kubrick

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Stanley Kubrick

The Madness of Stanley Kubrick: An Avante Garde Analysis

In every enterprise, someone has to be first and in the case of modern science fiction motion pictures, the "first" is widely acclaimed to be Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. While this movie is perhaps Kubrick's most well-known production, he has a number of other documentary works that date back to the 1950s and several global hits such as the Full Metal Jacket and a Clockwork Orange to his credit as well. This paper provides an avante garde analysis of Stanley Kubrick that includes some of his most important works, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and a Clockwork Orange. To this end, a biographical assessment of Kubrick is followed by a description of the man himself, his style, and the themes expressed in his films. A summary of the research and salient findings are presented in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

The encyclopedic entry for Stanley Kubrick provides a useful starting point for a biographical analysis. Kubrick was an American film director, writer and producer who was born in New York City in 1928 and died in 1999. This source enthuses, "His visually stunning, thematically daring, boldly idiosyncratic, and darkly compelling films generally portray a deeply flawed humanity" (Stanley Kubrick, 2004, p. 26,732). According to one of his many biographers, "On March 7, 1999, Stanley Kubrick died at his home outside of London after nearly completing the editing of his final film, Eyes Wide Shut. He was seventy years old and had lived a rather reclusive existence in England since 1974" (Mcdougal, 2003, p. 1).

According to Nowell-Smith (1997), "Son of a doctor in the Bronx, New York, Stanley Kubrick left school early to indulge his passion for chess, photography, and cinema" (p. 458). Kubrick's career began as a staff photographer for Look magazine when he was just 17 years old (Mcdougal, 2003). This career path was dictated in large part "because of an indifferent high school record" and "Kubrick chose not to attend college. But it was a high school English teacher - Aaron Traister, whom he immortalized in a Look magazine photo spread in April 1946 - who ignited his interest in literature and drama. An immersion in films at the Museum of Modern Art inspired Kubrick to shift his focus from still photography to moving pictures" (Mcdougal, 2003, p. 2).

This shift in focus from strict photography to the motion picture format was not without its rocky spots, though. During the course of his prolific career, Kubrick made a number of low-budget features that were financed by his family (Mcdouglas, 2003) as well as several documentary shorts in the 1950s (Stanley Kubrick, 2004). According to Falsetto (2001), "The Kubrick filmography consists of three short films and 13 features, the first two of which he considered apprentice works. Kubrick's reputation rests essentially on eleven feature films beginning with the Killing (1956) and ending with Eyes Wide Shut" (p. xiv). In this regard, Nowell-Smith (1997) reports that, "After four years working as photographer/reporter for Look magazine and devoting his leisure hours to watching films at the Museum of Modern Art, he made a short documentary about a boxer, Day of the Fight (1951), whose 'film noir' lighting and interest in isolation, obsession, and violence already prefigured his later work" (p. 458). Kubrick managed to sell his first movie, Day of the Fight, to RKO-Pathe which later commissioned another feature called Flying Padre (1951); yet another short, the Seafarers (1953), in color, was followed by Kubrick's first attempt at a feature film, Fear and Desire (Nowell-Smith, 1997).

Kubrick's interest in film noir resulted in productions such as his first feature film effort, Fear and Desire (1953), as well as Killer's Kiss (1955), and the Killing (1956) (Stanley Kubrick, 2004). According to Nowell-Smith (1997), "Dissatisfied with Fear and Desire, [Kubrick] nevertheless persevered and in 1955 made Killer's Kiss, an extraordinary film noir set in the world of boxing" (p. 458).

Later, Kubrick's first mainstream hit was the antiwar drama, Paths of Glory (1957) (Stanley Kubrick, 2004). According to Booker (1999), Paths of Glory contained some of the same themes as his later Full Metal Jacket: "A commercial flop that received relatively little attention when it was first released (except to be banned in France), Paths of Glory has, over the years, come to be regarded as a classic cinematic statement against the brutality and absurdity of war" (p. 203). As Nowell-Smith (1997) notes, Paths of Glory was an anti-war film starring Kirk Douglas that.".. was distinguished by the rigorous geometry of its camera movements and mise-en-scene. [Despite some constraints], Kubrick was nevertheless able to develop some of the stylistic and thematic elements of Paths of Glory and above all to master the techniques of large-scale production and demonstrate his ability to tailor his intellectual ambitions to the needs of the industry" (p. 458).

Like the mood of Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, Kubrick's Paths of Glory vividly communicated what it might have been like to have suffered the travails of life in a World War I trench:

The film captures much of the horror and senselessness of World War I trench warfare, in which thousands of men were killed and maimed in pointless efforts to capture a few yards of worthless ground, yards that would in any case likely be lost in a future counteroffensive. It also captures the stupidity of a military bureaucracy that can command men to make such useless sacrifices in the name of empty platitudes such as glory, duty, and patriotism. (Booker, 1999, p. 203)

In sharp contrast to the polished aspects of his later works, Kubrick's first efforts were simply some false starts from which he apparently learned a great deal. According to Sperb (2004), "Allegorical in structure, Fear and Desire is the story of four soldiers trapped behind enemy lines in a nameless war. When it finally resurfaced in 1991 at the Telluride Film Festival, Fear and Desire was understandably highly anticipated; the film, however, disappointed many devoted Kubrick followers and film cineastes" (p. 23). Because the public was more accustomed to his more recent - and better - motion pictures, this reaction was not necessarily surprising and Kubrick even anticipated it. Preparatory to its re-release in 1991, Kubrick provided the motion picture studio with the following Kubrick considers [the film] nothing more than a 'bumbling, amateur film exercise,' written by a failed poet, crewed by a few friends, and 'a completely inept oddity, boring and pretentious'" (quoted in Sperb, 2004 at p. 24). Notwithstanding these self-deprecations and the numerous criticisms directed at some of Kubrick's earlier (and a few of his later) works, Kubrick quickly became expert in his new medium and the results are well-known. For example, following the completion of the Roman epic feature, Spartacus (1960), Kubrick departed Hollywood (1961) for a life in England where he quickly produced a series of films that have become world-famous and are noted for their quality and production values. For instance, as Sharrett (1999) notes, "After making his bones with intriguing noir-style thrillers like Killer's Kiss (1955) and the Killing (1956), Kubrick was rapidly perceived as an industrious and inventive director who could take on -- even salvage -- major productions. The historical epic Spartacus (1960) doesn't look much like a Kubrick work, but it contains many earmarks of the director and is a significant breakthrough" (p. 61). Likewise, as McDouglas points out, Kubrick was responsible for, "The sexualized, sad, and uproariously comic Lolita (1962), the apocalyptic black comedy Dr. Strangelove (1964), the science-fiction classic 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and the violently futuristic a Clockwork Orange (1971).

In his book, the Oxford History of World Cinema, Nowell-Smith (1997) reports that the production of Lolita in particular carried with it some profound challenges and experiences that would later influence Kubrick's career:

Censorship problems at home led the director to transfer his base of operations to Borehamwood studios in England, where he has been-based ever since. The resulting film was widely criticized for its 'betrayal' of Nabokov's novel (if only because of the need to make Lolita into a fully fledged teenager rather than the pubescent 'nymphet' of the original). But it shares with his next film Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1963) an uncanny ability to mix drama and the grotesque, as well as a sharp satire on the pathology of sexual frustration. (p. 458)

In fact, despite the criticisms directed at Lolita, the motion pictured served as a learning experience for Kubrick that he obviously took to heart. In this regard, Sharrett (1999) reports that, "Lolita contains Kubrick's caustic humor, but it is an oddly alienating work that lacks the eroticism one would expect given the subject matter of its source in Vladimir Nabokov's novel. Yet, the very aridity of Lolita offered a strong hint of the worldview Kubrick was in the process of developing. His next effort, the Cold… [END OF PREVIEW]

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