never seem to learn. Most of Kubricks films had detractors,
and his final film, Eyes Wide Shut (1999), was
no different. "Its his eyes, Im afraid,"
wrote Owen Gleiberman in Entertainment Weekly, "that
seem to have been wide shut, and his movie that wears a mask."
Maybe. But critical opinion has always lagged behind when it
came to Kubrick. Look up 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
in the average movie guide. Most call it an innovative masterpiece
and forget to mention that a number of critics hated the film
when it was released. Kubricks films have often been groundbreaking,
controversial, and misunderstood. But critics who dare to question
his artistry usually have to eat their review.
Kubrick: A Life in Pictures celebrates the life and films of
one of the premier filmmakers of the last fifty years. Multiple
interviews and rare footage piece together the directors
life from his childhood in New York to the completion of Eyes
Wide Shut in March of 1999, a few days before his death.
The films are covered chronologically, beginning with Day
of the Fight (a short film about boxing made in 1950), with
insight provided by technicians, actors, and producers. Theres
also a great deal of praise from directors like Woody Allen
and Martin Scorsese, and discussion from family members and
colleagues about the myths surrounding Kubricks working
is fascinating, when reflecting upon Kubrick, how many times
he made a seminal film. Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned
to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) accurately portrays
the absurdity and the danger of the Cold War by using blistering
black humor; A Clockwork Orange (1971) paints an anarchistic
portrait of future London, complete with a despicable, though
sympathetic, hero. These films have a strange purity, dissecting
their subjects in detail, but refusing to directly comment on
them. One film defines post World War II paranoia on the international
political scene; the other, the paranoia of a sterile society
that lacks stable traditions. Both still retain the power to
shock viewers with their ambiguity and violence.
of the powerful images in Kubricks films work so well
because of his innovative use of music. A spare, haunting piano
melody follows William Harford (Tom Cruise) through the surreal
streets of New York in Eyes Wide Shut. These notes reflect
the fear that the character senses and the dark mood of world
he inhabits. The minimalist score for The Shining (1980)
perfectly mirrors the isolation of the Overlook Hotel, and deepens
the horror felt by Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and Danny Torrance
(Danny Lloyd). A Strauss waltz in 2001: A Space Odyssey
adds a poetic beauty to cold, empty space.
Kubrick: A Life in Pictures also gives insight into Kubrick
himself, offering a number of antidotes while attempting to
dispel the rumors of his more eccentric working habits. This
part of the film falters a bit, with everyone basically noting
that while Kubrick could be difficult to work with, the experience
was worth it. Maybe. But one particular sequence finds the director
shouting at Shelley Duvall on the set of The Shining, berating
her in a fashion that borders on abusive. If more footage like
this existed, it either wasnt made available or director
Jan Harlan decided not to show it. Many viewers will probably
wonder if Kubrick was really as nice as A Life in Pictures
was known to be a very private person, and now, some two years
after his death, seems like the right time to release this film.
Its also a perfect time to re-assess his art. Stanley
Kubrick: A Life in Pictures will inspire many, like myself,
to take a trip to the video store to do just that. To many,
his work stands as a signpost to the potential of film as an
imaginative medium. It also puts in place an impossible standard
for contemporary filmmakers. Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures
offers the viewer a powerful reminder of the originality
of Kubricks films, leaving one in awe of the breadth of
the his achievements.
D. Lankford, Jr.