30 April 2008

Directors List Favorite Kubrick Films

TimeOut Magazine in London recently asked twelve directors to talk about the Stanley Kubrick film they admired most. Their replies are listed below.

Mike Kaplan (director of ‘Never Apologise: A Personal Visit with Lindsay Anderson’ and Kubrick’s head of marketing from 1968-1973) on ‘Killer’s Kiss’ (1955)(Moody B-thriller set in the back alleys, nightclubs and warehouses of 1950s New York): ‘I love the tactile feel of New York in the movie. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but movies that leave an impression on me often do so through their feel and sense of place, and this one certainly did. The scene I remember best is where Irene Kane and Frank Silvera walk through Times Square and eventually come down that long flight of stairs: the look and feel are just perfect. One of the hallmarks of Stanley’s films is that they all have a visceral impact: even back in 1955 it was there. You also have the constant police sirens in the background, which is really the sound of New York. There’s no doubt that after “Fear and Desire”, which Stanley wouldn’t let people see, “Killer’s Kiss” is the film that established his reputation and set his career rolling.

Neil Hunter (‘Lawless Heart’ and ‘Sparkle’) on ‘The Killing’ (1956)(Sterling Hayden leads a gang of petty criminals to rob a racetrack): ‘I think of “The Killing” as the film where Kubrick hit his stride. It has that fascination with constructing a perfect mechanism, in this case a racecourse heist, that he returned to later in “2001” and “Dr Strangelove”. He gives us that principle of order, the perfect crime committed by professionals, then throws in the opposite: chaos, anarchy – which is to say, humanity – embodied by the girlfriend of one of the gang, the racecourse teller. It doesn’t have the grand philosophy he would later lay claim to, though it does have the pessimism. It also doesn’t have the stylistic boldness and formal clarity of his later work: it’s looser. Yet it may be his most purely enjoyable film. It’s a true genre film, and a very powerful one, rather than an attempt to transcend genre or create a new form. His later films would employ a startling range of different sounds, and use music very deliberately and unpredictably. Here, it’s used in a more conventional way – the jazz, for example, telegraphing the unreliability of the teller’s girlfriend (as if her performance wasn’t doing the job!). But above all there’s the excitement of a great filmmaker saying, “Look what can be done. Look how easy it is.” There’s a speed and ruthlessness to the filmmaking which echoes the heist, the killing itself.’

Nick Broomfield (‘Kurt and Courtney’, ‘Battle for Haditha’) on ‘Paths of Glory’ (1957)(Bleak moral drama set during World War I): ‘This harrowingly describes an incident when three innocent men are executed. We are introduced to a bare-chested Kirk Douglas and are reminded of his later appearance in Kubrick’s “Spartacus”. Douglas stars in the film as a colonel seeking justice for his men. The film shows how the army chain of command promotes ruthless ambition and corruption of the worst kind at the expense of everything else, including military efficiency. It is shot in long takes either with the actors moving around the frame or in long tracking shots. This is particularly effective when we see Douglas walking along the trenches past his men. It is a contrast to the fast-cutting action sequences of contemporary cinema. It reminds one that the army – rather like the free market economy and privatised industry of the day – is a system which serves the rich and powerful, and everyone else is just cannon fodder to be sacrificed.’

Andrew K├Âtting (‘Gallivant’, ‘This Filthy Earth’) on ‘Spartacus’ (1960)(Critical and commercial smash about a slave revolt in Ancient Rome): ‘The last time I saw it was as a kid. The main thing I remember about the film is what a fantastic physique Kirk Douglas had. There’s that wonderful frisson between him and Tony Curtis. The gay subtext of the film is something that, even at an early age, I was aware of and, in a strange way, moved by. I always thought if Kirk had just had a really good session with Tony the whole thing would have been resolved a lot easier, don’t you think? Slavery and all that. It’s kind of sad that my only memories of the film are crass ones. There’s the “I am Spartacus” thing too, it’s become something of a gag now: I used to say it all the time when I was in trouble. If I’d done something wrong I’d always put my hand up and confess to it as Spartacus. And people would often join me.’

Peter Whitehead (‘Charlie is My Darling’, ‘The Fall’) on ‘Lolita’ (1962)(James Mason is nymphet-obsessed Humbert in Kubrick’s adaptation of Nabokov’s novel): ‘I was pretty angry when I first saw this in 1962 – and I’ve seen it since and my opinion hasn’t changed. Kubrick’s version of Nabokov’s 1955 novel is not at all satisfactory. It’s very obviously watered down, tame and was merely exploiting or building on the reputation of the novel. Kubrick set himself an impossible task because the novel is so literary and interior and dark. We were in forbidden territory with the book – and Kubrick’s film is not forbidden on any level. The novel was very psychologically exact about certain aspects of the relationship between old age and teenagehood. The film was trying to be provocative – but it didn’t go far enough. The girl (Sue Lyon) was obviously far too old. It was a rape of the novel. Perhaps Kubrick was just too young and nobody would have let him make it another way anyway. John Huston would have been perfect as a director. The later version of “Lolita” [Adrian Lyne’s 1997 film with Jeremy Irons] was much better. At least the girl was the right age.’

Mike Nichols (‘The Graduate’, ‘Charle Wilson’s War’) on ‘Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’ (1964) (Kubrick’s third film about war – this time, the Cold War – is a masterpiece of black humour): ‘He was a friend and I loved and revered him. I think that my favourite moment is Peter Bull as the Soviet ambassador and the fight with Peter Sellers as Dr Strangelove. It was that improvised, half-assed, completely brilliant aspect of Stanley that I loved the most. Then, later, he became the opposite: he had to have total control over everything, doing 500 takes just to get it right. It was another kind of genius, but it would never have permitted those moments of improvised mastery that were in “Strangelove”. In the end, I think he began to have trouble, because if you can’t leave home, you lose track of reality, and I think that happened to him. Still, he made great movies and he was a completely gifted director. If you look at “2001: A Space Odyssey”, you suddenly realise: My God, there’s nobody in this movie! There are those two guys who you can’t quite tell apart as they have no real characteristics, and the rest is just… Well, what is it?!’



Shekhar Kapur (‘Elizabeth’) on ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968)(Sci-fi epic loved by stoners and intellectuals alike): ‘Forty years on and we are still trying to comprehend its visual and poetic philosophy – what more can you ask from a film? Just for sheer achievement in the art and technology of cinema, “2001” remains a defining movie for me. It is certainly the film that made me fall in love with cinema and want to become a director. Visually, it was one of the most compelling of its time, setting standards in visual effects that have yet to be bettered. Most people now associate “The Blue Danube” waltz with that amazing cut from the broken bone defying gravity as it sails up in slow motion to the space ship floating in space: a cut that not only leaves the audience to imagine the entire history of human development, but also is one of the best uses of classical music in film that I have ever seen. It still takes my breath away.’

Nicolas Roeg (‘Performance’, ‘Don’t Look Now’) on ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (1971) (Colourful study of psychological conditioning with rape, violence and Beethoven): ‘I never met Kubrick. We came very close at one point, and then drifted away again. It was around the time of “A Clockwork Orange”. Si Litvinoff owned the rights to the book and we had planned to do it together. I’d been working on a treatment and I’d even met with Anthony Burgess. We talked about it and decided to take a completely lateral look at the piece. I received a call from Si who said the producer and studio executive John Calley had phoned him from the US and told him he was coming to England to see Stanley. So I said, “Stanley who?” and he said “Stanley Kubrick”. He knew we owned the rights to the book and d he was interested in getting them for Stanley. ‘Kubrick, obviously, wanted total control, and the studio finally did a deal with him. I must say I did like his attitude towards film and the fact that he was an artist and complete unto himself. He wasn’t under corporate censorship, and he was never trying to make a film that you’d be able to pigeonhole in any particular genre. I think that was the case with all his films. One day, some time later, after they’d done the deal, Si said that he’d offered the book to Stanley when he first picked up the rights. Kubrick later said to him, “Oh yeah, I remember you sent it to me but I didn’t read it. I didn’t like the cover!” ’

Stuart Cooper (‘Overlord’) on ‘Barry Lyndon’ (1975) (Lavish Thackeray adaptation often deemed Kubrick’s most underrated work): ‘My link with Kubrick is that we both shared the same director of photography, the great Johnnie Alcott. “Barry Lyndon” alone is probably enough to hang your hat on. I remember at the time there was some mild criticism saying it was a beautiful film, but perhaps lacking in substance. It was probably his softest picture, though without question one of the most exquisite movies ever made. Alcott brought an enormous amount to the film, which was reflected in his Oscar. Johnnie was the master of natural light. My recollection was that there was a very special zoom lens they used which was given to them by Nasa. It was what they used to get all those landscape shots that look like Renaissance paintings.’

Edgar Wright (‘Shaun of the Dead’, ‘Hot Fuzz’) ‘The Shining’ (1980)(Stephen King adaptation with Jack Nicholson in one of his most extrovert roles): ‘My most profound epiphany in cinema is the moment in “2001: A Space Odyssey” when the planets align with the monolith in some galactic equation. The sense of cosmic order floors me every time. But just as Kubrick inspires awe with his harmonic compositions, he can equally instil terror. The most chilling aspect of “The Shining” is the blunt symmetry of endless corridors and patterned carpets. A shot of an empty hall and a lone, red door disturbs you even before the blood starts to flow. ‘It is these graphic images that keep me coming back. I was underwhelmed when I first saw “The Shining”. Perhaps I wanted the detail and the closure of the novel. But its eccentricity and ambiguity gnawed at me and forced me to re-watch. Its shattering images haunt me to this day.’

Guillermo del Toro (‘Hellboy’, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’) on ‘Full Metal Jacket’ (1987) (Critique of the Vietnam war, filmed in London): ‘I admire Kubrick greatly. He is often accused of being a prodigious technician and rigid intellectual, which people say makes his films very cold. I don’t agree. I think that "Barry Lyndon" or "A Clockwork Orange" are the most perfect marriages of personality and subject. But in fact, "Full Metal Jacket" is even more so. It looked at rigidity and brutality with an almost clinical eye. It is, for me, a singular film about the military, about war and its consequences. The famous scenes like the induction with R Lee Ermey where he renames the soldiers and reshapes them into sub-human maggots had a particular impact on me. Also the suicide scene with Vincent D’Onofrio in the bathroom. And the sniper set-piece at the end. Those are absolutely virtuoso pieces of filmmaking.’

Barbet Schroeder (‘Reversal of Fortune’, ‘Terror’s Advocate’) on ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ (1999) (Kubrick’s last film was an erotic psychodrama starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman): ‘It was a strange phenomenon with his movies: they were never completely understood when they were released. Then, once you let a few years pass, they are suddenly deemed masterpieces and no one really discusses them. It even happened with his last movie, “Eyes Wide Shut”. When it came out, people were floating. In my opinion they didn’t really “get it”. There is so much substance and so much craft, it’s visually quite staggering. The right amount of time hasn’t quite passed for it to be reconsidered. It always takes a few years. It’s very strange. The reason for this, I think, is that each of his films is so different, there’s no precedent for any of them. Every movie stands on its own. And that’s what I like.’
Interesting how envy does not seem to affect most of these directors in their assessment of Kubrick as much as admiration for his technique.

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