A Couple on Kubrick closes out. - Can't Stop the Movies
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A Couple on Kubrick closes out.

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I'm ending this round of director analysis a bit more disappointed than the previous one's.  It has little to do with the writing I've done or the company I shared, but an overall sense that it was all too obvious all along.  I won't sit here and say Kubrick failed me as an artist in any way, his films are still among some of the best crafted I've seen.  But there's a difference between a craft born out of an urgent need to create and simply finding the appropriate calling.

Even at his most obtuse, Kubrick's legacy is as literal as his films.  What happens in his films is the exact metaphor we're supposed to pull from the images.  Text and subtext are bled into one and it feels to easy trying to analyze the films.  In The Killing, he doesn't have much of a subtext so the text is a fantastically paced heist.  The soldiers in Paths of Glory face pointless, ignoble deaths while constantly being reminded of this fact.  Then there's the contentious Full Metal Jacket, which begins with a story of soldiers losing their humanity to the military machine and ends on the same note.

None of this is typically bad (disappointment about Lolita and A Clockwork Orange, aside), and there's a loving space carved out in my cinematic heart which loves a blunt subtext.  But it isn't much fun analyzing the films because he spells out the points so blatantly.  Even Eyes Wide Shut, my absolute favorite film of his to think about (if not necessarily watch), explicitly states its point in the dialogue, "If you men only knew."  Then we watch a man pointlessly try to learn and we arrive at the same conclusion we started at, it is useless to try and learn.

Rewatching many of these films and experiencing only Lolita for the first time I now completely agree that Christopher Nolan is the heir-apparent to the Kubrick throne.  Both of them take obsessive control over their movie resulting in a seeming lack of emotional involvement and stunning technical proficiency hinting at latent sexual dysfunction and spelling out their themes in repeated visuals and dialogue.  The difference between the two is Kubrick has a few stone-cold classics under his belt in 2001, Paths of Glory, and The Shining (I love Dr. Strangelove, but it's losing its effect on me over time).  Nolan has, perhaps, Memento as his calling card to the future and not much else.

Kubrick gained prominence by utilizing the same painstaking approach to every films detail and execution, and by working in just about every genre he could think of (even fantasy, given the rougish Barry Lyndon).  What I see is a career filled with multigenre technical perfection, and very little of that obsessed love I've come to embrace with the other great directors.  No cinematic diet is complete without sampling the platter at the Overlook Hotel or grandoise darkness of Eyes Wide Shut, but it's ok to feel empty in the end.That blaring obvious style to filmmaking does lead to acceptance not only from the cineastes, but also the “general mainstream” public, aka most other people. Do I think it’s a bad way to go about filmmaking? No. Do I find it painfully boring and repetitive? In some cases, yes. I’ve heard of the idea of looking down on a movie patron for thinking Kubrick as the - above-all-end-all genius” and I have to agree with that sentiment. It is hard to give praise to a man who has decided to throw all sense of mystery and subtlety out the window (for a majority of his projects), even though the cartoonishly simple visions poisoning some of his works are so painstakingly crafted from the deepest of affections.

I do want to emphasize that I have found sheer profundity and amazement, or sublime enjoyment from the majority of Kubrick’s various movies within his canon. He has also made some of my favorite movies of all time (The Shining and Dr. Strangelove…), but I liked about 7 out of the 11 movies I’ve watched. Sure, that’s above-average in terms of most movies and most directors, but considering the fastidious nature of Kubrick, he might as well come back from the dead and violate me with a ceramic penis statue while pretending that he is pretending that the act is subtle. Nice try, zombie Kubrick. I’m not falling for that delicious trick (to you anyways).

Kubrick was a meticulous man with a complete vision for every movie he created. I did not agree with every vision, but I can definitely appreciate the work that had to go within every movie. Hundreds of takes, possible psychological trauma inflicted onto his actresses, and minute details that would not matter in the long run (e.g. The table in the war room in Dr. Strangelove has the same green felt as most poker tables, which is to signify that most of the “statesmen” could not look at the crises in the world beyond a game. The ridiculousness of this claim comes from the fact that the movie was shot in black and white. It never would have mattered) unless Kubrick found a use for it.

Kubrick is a director with a definitive cinematic purpose both visually and literarily, who does not corrupt his vision without a fight. He has painstakingly crafted iconic, dense, and fascinating pieces of cinema (not all of them enjoyable by everyone), and all I can do as an audience member is to sit back and (sometimes) enjoy the fruits of Kubrick’s (any every movie crew’s) labors in order to create something memorable and meaningful.

I cannot fault the guy (too much) for making movies I did not enjoy, but I can say that Kubrick never once decided to skimp on quality during a movie. I can appreciate that kind of dedication, even if that dedication is a pretty but slow and boring movie like Spartacus, or as obvious and obnoxious as A Clockwork Orange. It was an enjoyable experience that I am more than happy to share with you, sweetie. I am glad that you and I had a great journey through the Kubrick canon. I had a blast.

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Next week: Andrew embarks on a new project with a long-awaited surprise collaborator.

Kubrick with text

Posted by Andrew

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