[Stanely Kubrick: A Retrospective]

Sunday, 7 March 1999
Weekend Dispatch
-- Second Update --

R.I.P.: A legend is gone. Maverick director Stanley Kubrick had died at the age of 70. In tribute to his unusual cinematic genius, over the course of this week The DVD Journal will feature a retrospective of Kubrick's career, and recap which Kubrick films have arrived on DVD to date and which ones are still missing in action.

-- Ed.

Monday, 8 March 1999

boxcoverStanley Kubrick Week: In memory of Stanley Kubrick, who died last weekend at the age of 70, The DVD Journal will be featuring some of Kubrick's films on DVD all this week (and even some that aren't on disc yet). It's almost impossible to pick a "favorite" Kubrick film, but the 1964 Dr. Strangelove (or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb) ranks up there, not for the striking cinematography that defined Kubrick's later films, but simply as the blackest, bleakest comedy ever made. Starring Peter Sellers (in no less than three separate roles), Dr. Strangelove's story of a Soviet "Doomsday Machine" that will destroy the world (and the efforts of the U.S. government to find a stray B-52 that could trigger the device) may not play as sharply as it did during the height of the Cold War, but you don't need a bomb shelter in your backyard to find this film disturbingly hilarious. George C. Scott also stars in Strangelove as an American general who is more worried about making sure the Russians don't discern any U.S. secrets than saving humanity ("You can't let them in here!" he tells the President in the War Room. "They'll see everything! They'll see the Big Board!"). This disc from Columbia TriStar offers a good source print and the varying aspect ratios that Kubrick insisted on for theatrical presentation, and is worth a spot in everybody's collection.

  • Quotable: "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!"
  • Trivia: Kubrick initially planned a custard-pie fight in the War Room in which President Muffley would be hit and somebody would say "Our President has been struck down!" -- but the scene was dropped after Kubrick felt it was too slapstick and conveyed the wrong tone. The assassination of John F. Kennedy in November of 1963 didn't help matters either.

Tuesday, 9 March 1999

boxcoverStanley Kubrick Week: Science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke had already written his short story "The Sentinel," upon which Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey is based, when he and Kubrick decided to undertake a sci-fi film, but the collaboration between the two caused Clarke to expand his short piece into a novel which shares the film's name. For fans of the film, the novel is virtually required reading (at least if you'd like to get Clarke's take on things) since Kubrick was content to unfold this story of human evolution with a minimum of dialogue (a mere 40 minutes of conversation occurs during the 139-minute film). Instead, Kubrick's groundbreaking visuals have come to define the 2001 experience: the "Dawn of Man" sequence and the violent discovery of technology, the inscrutable black monolith, the red "eye" of HAL 9000, the head-trip of "Beyond the Infinite," and of course, the elaborate spacecraft that drew crowds of movie-fans when 2001 first arrived in 1968. The apparent lack of plot may have puzzled many early critics, but like most great films, this is one that only gets better with subsequent viewings -- and the DVD released last year by MGM is a great way to do just that.

  • Trivia: Kubrick originally hired composer Alex North to write a score for 2001 and planned on only using classical music during editing, but eventually decided to use the temp track instead for the final release of the film -- a decision that also had great influence on his next project, A Clockwork Orange. North's score still exists, and can be ordered from most music retailers on the Web.
  • Links: Still want to read more about 2001: A Space Odyssey? Then check out 2001: A Personal Odyssey, an intricate, well-designed website solely dedicated to the film.

Wednesday, 10 March 1999

boxcoverStanley Kubrick Week: Stanley Kubrick directed Kirk Douglas in his 1957 Paths of Glory, a powerful film about a French army mutiny during World War I. Douglas began production of Spartacus not long thereafter, but he (as producer) and director Anthony Mann had a falling out very early in the shooting schedule, causing Douglas to call on Kubrick to take on the job. Written by the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo (adapted from Howard Fast's novel), many see the epic saga of Spartacus as a response to the communist witch-hunts in Hollywood that preceded it, but even if we leave the social commentary aside, Spartacus still contains a lot of cinematic power, although it never ranked high with Kubrick himself, who struggled to create his own film out of a pre-fabricated production overseen by Douglas. Cut by censors for its 1960 release, it was restored in 1991 to reincorporate a bath scene between nobleman Laurence Olivier and slave Tony Curtis that had vaguely bisexual overtones, and it is this restored version -- along with a great transfer -- can be found on Universal's DVD release.

  • Trivia: During the 1991 restoration, the soundtrack of the bath scene between Olivier and Curtis was found to be damaged. Olivier had since died, so Anthony Hopkins was recruited to do his best Sir Laurence impression -- a mimic so good you wouldn't know it if someone hadn't told you.
  • Master and Slave: More than one pundit has noted that actors loved to work for Kubrick, but only once. Kirk Douglas is an exception (1957's Paths of Glory and 1960's Spartacus) -- although it's probably fair to ask who worked for whom during these two films.
  • Quotable: After Spartacus, Kubrick succinctly explained his idea of directorial control: "It's a simple matter if it's in your contract -- a great deal of trouble if it's not." After Spartacus, Kubrick refused to direct a film without total command of the production.

Thursday, 11 March 1999

boxcoverMissing in Action Kubrick Flick: Based on the novel by Anthony Burgess, Stanley Kubrick's 1971 A Clockwork Orange tells the story of Alex (Malcolm McDowell), the leader of a band of young "droogs" who seek out rape, theft, and gang rumbles for fun. It is only when Alex is arrested for murder that he is brought under control, but not via a crisis of conscience. Instead, he unwittingly volunteers as a subject for an experimental therapy that denies him the ability to act out his emotions of violence and lust. But the question remains unresolved: Who is the more monstrous, the criminal or the authorities who re-program him? Clockwork is easily Kubrick's most controversial movie, primarily because of the "ultra-violence" that has caused many viewers to incorrectly interpret it as a film that glorifies brutality. To be certain, the violence is explicit, but it is also meant to be repulsive, if only to emphasize the horror of this quasi-socialist near future and the fears that lead the authorities to artificially modify criminal behavior. The fact that some viewers are attracted to this film because of its violence is not only a complete misreading of Kubrick's intent, but it's also kind of pathetic and sad. A Clockwork Orange is not a cheap thrill -- it's one of the most thought-provoking philosophical inquiries ever committed to film.

  • Where's the DVD?: Warner has the rights to A Clockwork Orange. Look for a DVD sometime this summer.
  • Kubrick's ban: When it was first released in the UK, A Clockwork Orange immediately sparked a series of notorious copycat crimes that were so unsettling that Kubrick withdrew the film and would not allow it to be shown on British soil -- a self-imposed ban that has been in effect for 27 years. If you're a Brit and want to see the film, your best bet is to travel outside of the UK.
  • Burgess's bane: The late Anthony Burgess never liked what Kubrick did to his novel, particularly since the film ends at the second-to-last chapter, when Alex is "cured," and omits a final chapter wherein Alex begins to independently develop a conscience. Kubrick apparently preferred the ironic conclusion of Alex's release, and the U.S. edition of the novel (also owned by Warner) has omitted the final chapter for many years. If you're American and want to read the original novel, your best bet is to buy it in the UK.

Friday, 12 March 1999
Weekend Dispatch

boxcoverMissing in Action Kubrick Flick: Many critics have argued that there is no over-arching theme that dominates Stanley Kubrick's films, but even more apparent was Kubrick's constant genre-hopping. From sci-fi (2001) to costume drama (Barry Lyndon), comedy (Dr. Strangelove) to erotic film (the forthcoming Eyes Wide Shut), Kubrick seemed to enjoy experimenting with different genres, and even though he visited most of them only once, he ususally delivered standard-setting achievements. By the late '70s, Kubrick turned his attention to the horror film, and the result was 1980's The Shining. Based on the novel by Stephen King, Jack Nicholson stars in The Shining as Jack Torrance, a writer who takes an off-season caretaker job at The Overlook Hotel, a popular Colorado ski resort that shuts down during the deep of winter. With his wife Wendy and young son Danny in tow, Jack plans to use the isolation to concentrate on his writing, but he soon descends into a homicidal psychosis as the sinister past of the hotel overtakes his persona. While The Shining is regarded as a classic of the horror genre, it actually functions at a much higher level, avoiding the sordid shocks and gratuitous gore of most slasher flicks, and instead concentrating on Jack's descent into madness, as well as the responses of Wendy and Danny, who discover that they are no longer living with the man they once knew and are forced to defend themselves against his murderous aggression.

  • Where's the DVD?: Warner has the rights to The Shining. No official date has been announced, but expect a DVD later this year.
  • Location, location, location: The interiors of The Overlook hotel in The Shining were constructed at England's Pinewood Studios, but fabricating an exterior setting of an isolated, snow-bound resort may have been too much for even Kubrick's perfectionism. The Overlook we see in the film is actually Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood in Oregon, which isn't very far from the main offices of The DVD Journal. We like to drive there sometimes just to look at it and get the creeps.
  • Quotable: Everybody loves watching Jack Nicholson take down a door with an axe and yell "Here's Johnny!", but don't credit Kubrick for this sarcastic snippet -- Nicholson ad-libbed it on the set.
  • King's comeback: Anthony Burgess wasn't the only writer who disliked how Kubrick had interpreted one of his novels (see yesterday's update). Stephen King didn't like The Shining very much either, and it was with his blessing that a television miniseries of The Shining was produced and broadcast in 1997. The newer film used the correct location this time -- The Stanley Hotel at Estes Park, Colorado, which King had visited and used as the inspiration for his best-selling book.

-- Ed.

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