Sunday, April 23, 2006

New Guest Oeuvre: Stanley Kubrick (see sidebar)

Nothing below a B—, two A+s. Nearly as good as it gets, I think.


Nick Davis said...

I'll finally see Lolita this Monday night when I screen it for my class. I feel like there's not a film on this list that I shouldn't revisit, since I've seen them in such far-flung times and varied circumstances... and I haven't seen Killer's Kiss or The Killing, period, even though I own both. (After your countdown, I bought The Shining on DVD and am especially eager for a trip back to that hotel.)

JavierAG said...

Oh, wonderful. The grades for "Paths of Glory" and "Lolita" seem just about fine, I think - I was mesmerized by the sheer vitality of "Glory" being my first Kubrick and all, though I kinda agree with Pauline Kael when she says it "leaves you with nothing".

I thought "Lolita" was an absolute joy and I would be more than willing to give it the A treatment were it not for that uncomfortably odd ending in which the dynamics of the film seem to switch to melodrama. (I very much preferred the previous deceptively laid back, highly ironic tone).

"Dr. Strangelove", again, has ending issues. Other than that, I think it's pretty damn perfect and hilarious and thematically rich, and good enough for an A in my book.

"2001" is the only Kubrick (so far) that gets an A+ from me. Amazingly enough, the ending is this time the absolute best for me, and the minute Dullea enters that space-time thing towards the end I knew I was watching something genuinely trascendental, and I literally lost track of time as my mind became one with the film, hooked as I was to the (seemingly) cosmic revelations happening before me. It is just one-of-a-kind experience.

Don't get the B for "A Clockwork Orange". I loved this, and I'm one of those who think Alex was pretty much a "clockwork orange" from the start (society needs violence and its eradication to "teach" people how *not* to behave, and the consequences should they disobey their pre-ordained moral code). I think this amplifies the feeling of moral shock intended, as one realizes, yes, Alex's (mechanical) violence is indeed horrible and dettached, but at least it's a *human* trait that gains a lot of power when compared to the utter inhumanity of the government's "violence eradication" approach. But maybe you feel the flaws are elsewhere? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

We already know your feelings about "Barry Lyndon" and "The Shining" ;) and I won't comment on those because I need another re-watch (and "Barry Lyndon" I don't think I've seen, shame on me!!).

Spot on as far as "Full Metal Jacket" is concerned - quite possibly Kubrick's all-time low. I need to see "Eyes Wide Shut", especially after seeing your very high grade.

Anyways, this is lots of fun :) As for the A+ thing, only Bergman gets two from me ("Persona" and "Cries and Whispers"). Kubrick-wise, I definitely think "2001" is A+ worthy, and maybe "A Clockwork Orange" but I'll need a re-watch.

tim r said...

It's funny how much my thoughts on Kubrick have changed over time, and on re-viewings. I loved A Clockwork Orange the first time; Paths of Glory was way up in my top 20 for a long while, and I didn't get the hang of Barry Lyndon until maybe the third time I saw it. 2001 is often staggering, but it loses a + for me for the sheer perversity of the statement, in that it wants to take a giant evolutionary leap forward for mankind, but would rather do it without bringing any recognisable human beings along for the ride. A Clockwork Orange has an exacerbated set of similar problems to my mind: the movie's moral argument is faultless but almost gloatingly so, and I do feel it's the one Kubrick film (OK, bits of Full Metal Jacket too) in which his virtuosity becomes a kind of strait-jacket. I don't get on with either film's stylistic sarcasm, if you like, however valid and interesting the dehumanisation theme: it's like they're both directed by brilliant robots.

The artistry of Barry Lyndon and The Shining is on another level because there's a dimension of inexorable tragedy missing elsewhere in his work, with the exception of Paths of Glory, about which I absolutely agree with you and Kael: it's like, great point, superbly made, now what? Lyndon is the only movie of his which is painstakingly set exactly where it's meant to be, even though the characters often seem trapped in an oil painting, and I always marvel at how those gorgeous, tightly framed landscapes manage to convey exactly the sense of social constriction required. That point about settings: think about it. Lolita gets moved to St Albans, 5 minutes away from where Kubrick lived in Hertfordshire (and from my family home!) and about as alien from roadside America as it's possible to get. Full Metal Jacket's Vietnam was, not very convincingly, the London docklands. Eyes Wide Shut's New York was notoriously a studio backlot. Etc etc. Some of these do make a virtue of their displacement, but it's The Shining for me that takes the boldest move of really sequestering us away and having us spin in time and space. It's like the whole movie is set in that Regency room at the end of 2001, except with actual people in it this time: the whole visual scheme, like Lyndon's, is huge and elaborate spaces (the kitchen, the maze, the hallways) which nonetheless offer us no way out and conspire to thwart us. However pessimistic, this is fundamentally Kubrick's view of the world, so I think formally and conceptually this is his best work.

What haven't I mentioned? Spartacus is fairly negligible I think, albeit with great things in it like the Bass credit sequence and Charles Laughton: though it was a necessary film for him to make at that point in his career, it's a surprising slog now. Dr Strangelove benefits as often gets said from the tension between Terry Southern's inspired anarchy and Kubrick's rigid control, and it works marvellously when we've got our feet on the ground or in the War Room; I'm just not so crazy about the sequences on the plane. My A— for Lolita is a little vague, since it's the one I saw longest ago, but I was impressed enough by Mason, Winters and Sellers to reckon it's his best acted film and probably his most delicate and humane. That grade may change soon. Eyes Wide Shut, like The Shining to some extent, is a horror movie about marriage and it scared me silly and I don't think I will ever get married, now.

I'm maybe overgenerous with the A+s, by the way — pretty much any film in my top 50 gets one, so even Ridley Scott manages two, and Hitchcock three. We'll have them next. The span will be... greater, shall we say.

Goran said...

Here's my Kubrick ranking (if you ask me next week, it will be different):

1. Dr. Strangelove - I bought this for $10 just the other day and watched it last night for the first time since I was about 12 or so. I vote this to be the best as well as the best-acted of his pictures. And I must have been sedated the first time around cause I didn't realise that this is maybe among the five or six best-photographed pictures I've seen. Whereas I once strongly admired every minute of it, as of last night I passionately adore every minute of it.

2. Paths of Glory - we've been over this. I'll try seeing it again, maybe it won't hold up. Though I have a feeling it almost certainly will. I remember how pure and flowing and gorgeous the visual style was (and the direction in general). I know a lot of people find it cold, but for me it was deeply moving.

3. 2001: A Space Odyssey - it's a great film but I don't feel like I've experienced it fully since everybody tells me I have to see it on the big screen before I can claim that. It's had revival screenings at least twice over the past couple of years and I managed to miss it both times. I'm pissed!

4. Eyes Wide Shut - another one that needs revisiting in my book. I was reasonably blown away the first time around, but I caught a brief clip of it on TV the other night, which made me think I may need to reconsider it. I must have seriously overestimated Kidman's performance the first time around since back then I thought she delivered a good one and recently it came to my attention that she did very much the opposite. I feel Kubrick should have explained to her "Just because you talk slow with exaggerated mannerisms, it doesn't mean you're emoting."

5. The Killing - a gem.

6. Lolita - I enjoyed certain bits and I found other bits misguided - e.g. the flashback structure = utterly unnecessary. I still need to read the book.

7. The Shining - I think I discussed this one before. For me it's little more than a stylishly mounted genre picture (which I am still quite fond of, don't get me wrong). Maybe when I see it again one day, I'll change my mind. But I don't feel particularly pressed to watch it any time soon.

8. A Clockwork Orange - Kubrick very far from his best: well-composed but ponderous.

9. Spartacus - meh.

Now, permit me to negate this list: I have not seen Barry Lyndon.

I have borrowed it from my library about 4 times. But it's three hours long. So I have not seen Barry Lyndon. One day I know I will.

Also, one day I'll get around to Full Metal Jacket and his first two pictures.

I have a feeling I came off a bit too reserved. So here's another disclaimer: I adore Kubrick. He's safe in my pantheon. I think my problem is that I need to see most of his pictures at least one more time before I can sound as orgasmic when it comes to Kubrick as I do when it comes to some of my other favourite directors.

JavierAG said...

I love what you say about dislocation (sp probably completely wrong).

I think this is key to understanding his films. Kubrick's critics seem to think he doesn't have much of an interesting in humanity, whereas that's simply not the case. It seems to me that he unearths humanity through the destruction of it, the loss of it... some of his movies work as some sort of cautionary tale warning of what is to come if we let go of our humanity.

Of course, that's the optimistic side (!), because there's also the very real feeling that once you're inside, there's no room for escape in Kubrick's movies, no way to get out of a world wherein inhumanity has settled for good with no intention of leaving us.

"2001" stands alone in that I don't much mind the inexistence of a recognizable human figure, since he's going for something cosmic in scale in which we are but a small piece of the puzzle. Ironically, I see it as his most optimistic film. Go figure.

That Little Round-Headed Boy said...

Kubrick is the only director whose work takes on deeper resonance with time. I think it's too early to know how great EYES WIDE SHUT will be. More time is needed. I recall revewing THE SHINING in college and being so-so on it. Years later, when I started rewatching it, I couldn't believe how hypnotic it was. it gets better each time. The only one I can't go with is CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Maybe it means more to Brits, but I just can't warm up to its chilliness. I also would give THE KILLING an A. It's superior film noir, and quite accomplished for his experience at the time. Also, it and KILLER'S KISS capture the feel of his black-and-white photography for magazines. But let's face it, we're all arguing over matters of degrees: The man was the last towering film genius.

tim r said...

Right on.

@javier, I completely agree with you about 2001's optimism — just trust Kubrick to make it such chilly optimism!

damion said...

My rankings of the Kubrick Oeuvre:

1. 2001 - A +
("I'm afraid I can't agree with your grade Tim") said in Hal voice.
I just don't think that film gets any better than this. For me, it is not only his best work, but also the perfect embodiment of future/ past exisentialism. It is at once detatched from humans, and explicitly and purely human.

2. Dr. Strangelove - A
To this day... the best satire I have ever seen or read.

3. The Shining - A
I have been through a real journey with this film. At first, I LOVED it... and then I read the book. I had a hard time separating the film on its own merits and evaluated it as a failed adaptation that missed the core of the brilliant novel... then I got over that and began to see the film as its own thing... and loved it once again. Great performances all around (shelly, jack, the overlook, the little boy who lives in my mouth). I wont talk about the reasons I love it as it would just be repeating everyone else.

4. A Clockwork Orange - A
Maybe I am just some white trash from the deep south, and thus, too ignorant to see what so many of you see as wrong with this film, but I think it is F@#king brilliant! Almost perfect, in fact.

5. Lolita - A-
Delish! It is the only version that comes even close to being a good adaptation of this iconic novel. But I think that it falters a bit in a couple of places with the manipulation and sexuality. I am not bothered by its coolness, just bothered by its utter detatchment.

6. Eyes Wide Shut- B+
I think I need watch this one again. I saw it in the theater and I was too distracted by my dislike of Tom Cruise. I did think that Nicole Kidman was GENIUS in this though!

7. Full Metal Jacket - B
Good movie... but.....

Kamikaze Camel said...

ugh, I hated Lolita. So... aagh.

Full Metal Jacket, A
The Shining, A
Eyes Wide Shut, A-
A Clockwork Orange, A-
Dr Strangelove, A-
2001, B

and I just hired out The Killing today from the video store. Yay.

tim r said...

This went:

Fear and Desire (1953) —
Killer's Kiss (1955) —
The Killing (1956) B+
Paths of Glory (1957) A—
Spartacus (1960) B—
Lolita (1962) A—
Dr Strangelove (1964) A—
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) A
A Clockwork Orange (1971) B
Barry Lyndon (1975) A+
The Shining (1980) A+
Full Metal Jacket (1987) B—
Eyes Wide Shut (1999) A

Anonymous said...

Cool picture.

Hm..I think 2001 will always be my favorite Kubrick. I can't imagine anything I haven't seen usurping its position. Eyes Wide Shut really does come close, though.


the party that I'm always kicked out of ;)
I H-A-T-E Eyes Wide Shut which has perhaps prevented me from reaching further back to seeing some of the earlier work I missed.

ftr I do like The Shining quite a bit and Dr. Strangelove but even though he seems to be everyone's favorite filmmaker (or at least in second place) he isn't close to being mine --hence me being disinvited to the Kubrick party.

I've never seen Barry Lyndon and I want to try that one next.