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Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures

The Stanley Kubrick Collection (2001)

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Barry Lyndon
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • Dr. Strangelove: Special Edition
  • Eyes Wide Shut
  • Full Metal Jacket
  • Lolita
  • The Shining
  • Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures
  • Of all the things that are known about Stanley Kubrick (1928 - 1999), perhaps the most telling are two lifelong passions he discovered as a young man — chess and photography. With the 20th century at a close, there can be no doubt that Kubrick will rank among the very greatest of its cineastes — Welles, Kurosawa, Hitchcock, and Ford being a few others in the same, small category — partly because he was able to craft films outside of the Hollywood system and its many meddlings, and partly because, like his peers, he maintained a consistent vision throughout — just as there was nothing quite like a Hitchcock film, there was nothing remotely like a Kubrick film, and unlike Hitchcock, Kubrick didn't have a lot of people trying to copy him either. But with Kubrick, imitation was difficult anyway. Unable to bear repetition, he changed genres the way others change camera lenses: the war film, the caper film, the Hollywood epic, comedy, sci-fi, exploitation, costume drama, horror — Kubrick touched on each of these, but rarely more than once in a career that spanned nearly 50 years but produced a mere 13 feature films. Kubrick's working pace resembled a chess-match, where every nuance of every move (and therefore every nuance of every move thereafter) must be examined, re-examined, and tested before a commitment can be made. Driving the work was the photographer in the director's chair, an artist obsessed with getting the right shot, and knowing (as photojournalists do) that getting the right shot means taking hundreds. Or thousands. With Stanley Kubrick's death in 1999, many have observed that his lifelong career in the film industry gave the world a precious few films, and we are tempted to wonder how things would be had he worked at the rapid pace of Ford or Hitchcock. But what's important to remember is Kubrick's working methods are what made his few films the utter masterpieces that they are. Among the greatest of 20th century directors, he arguably will be remembered as the most unique.

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    Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures, a documentary produced and directed by Jan Harlan in collaboration with the Kubrick Estate, offers a generous tour of Kubrick's life and work, with footage from all of his films and interviews with family members, friends, colleagues, and admirers. As it was overseen by Kubrick's widow Christiane, the film doesn't needlessly scrutinize Kubrick's private life (which, by all accounts, was rather ordinary), but rather it is both a defense of the often-misunderstood director and a celebration of his life's output. But it also offers candid insights into the man and the artist, with childhood photographs and home video shot by his father (wherein the young Stanley very much resembles his older self, with his characteristic jet-black hair and penetrating eyes). Early photos from Kubrick's career as a young photojournalist for Look magazine demonstrate his impressive, intuitive gifts for light and composition, and particularly of two subjects that appealed to him: jazz musicians and boxers. Such efforts led to Kubrick's first short film, the self-financed 1951 documentary "Day of the Fight," with boxer Walter Cartier. After RKO bought the film and screened it in New York, Kubrick quit Look at the mere age of 21 to pursue film directing full-time, leading to two more short documentaries and his first feature film, Fear and Desire (1953). And while Kubrick was not happy with his first feature effort (he eventually withdrew it), the '50s showed his was a talent of great promise, thanks to Killer's Kiss (1955), The Killing (1956), and the antiwar Paths of Glory (1957). But frustrations with Spartacus (1960) caused Kubrick to quit America altogether, and the Bronx-born director — who at heart would remain a New Yorker all his life — settled in England, where he would remain for nearly four decades. From that point, A Life in Pictures surveys Kubrick's mature films, with comments and insights from such actors, associates, and fellow directors as Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Sydney Pollack, Alan Parker, Woody Allen, Paul Mazursky, Tony Palmer, Alex Cox, Jack Nicholson, Woody Allen, Peter Ustinov, Malcolm McDowell, Leon Vitali, Matthew Modine, Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise, and many, many others. Several comments are filled with expected praise, but many interesting stories are told as well, particularly Malcolm McDowell, recounting his turbulent relationship with The Master, and Steven Spielberg, noting how he first came to be involved in A.I..

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    A joy to watch for its entire 2:22 running time, A Life in Pictures also serves to remind us of Stanley Kubrick's most vital themes, and in particular the essential contradictions of human nature. Always a genre-hopper, Kubrick nonetheless was fascinated with antiheroes — in fact, as the documentary compresses Kubrick's output to a reasonable feature-length, it's clear we are in the presence of cinema's most famous rogues' gallery. Good and Evil may exist in the Kubrickian universe, but often they go hand-in-hand, or are embodied in the same individual: The respectable Prof. Humbert Humbert and his pedophile obsessions in Lolita; the buffoonish, incompetent world leaders and politicians entrusted with the fate of the Earth in Dr. Strangelove; the similarly entrusted HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey, who dooms the crew he is supposed to protect; A Clockwork Orange's small-time hoodlum Alex and his suffering at the hands of a paranoid socialist government; Barry Lyndon, soldier and gentleman to the world around him, but an amoral social climber at heart; and family man Jack Torrance in The Shining, where the undead spirits of a shuttered skiing resort tear at the fragile fabric of the family unit. Indeed, the moral contradictions that have dominated so much of Kubrick's work even become a throwaway gag in Full Metal Jacket, when Joker (Matthew Modine) explains to an Army officer that the peace button on his lapel and "Born to Kill" scrawled on his helmet is meant to suggest "The duality of man — the Jungian thing, sir." A worthy addition to any Kubrick fan's DVD collection, Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures is available only in Warner's June 2001 re-release of the nine-disc "Stanley Kubrick Collection." There is no word if it will be released as an individual title, but historically speaking few "bonus" DVDs ever are. If you own just a few Kubrick films on DVD, or are willing to upgrade to Warner's "2000 digital remasters" of Kubrick films, the box-set isn't cheap, but it offers the best presentation of Kubrick's post-1960 films yet to arrive on home video. Snap-case.

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