Showing posts with label Stanley Kubrick. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Stanley Kubrick. Show all posts

Monday, May 21, 2018


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Many a film goer worship at the altar of Stanley Kubrick, expatriate American director who relocated and remained in England until the end of his life. He's done fine work, but I generally pass on listening to the sermons in his name and the communion the entrenched faithful take as they finesse their feelings towards the late auteur's standing as genius.  I have always thought that Kubrick was a stuffed shirted pedant as a film maker, a man with a knack for visually striking imagery who has often mistaken long takes (consistently) , and sparse narrative detail (consistently) as being adequate substitutes for keeping his movies moving along. His determination to let the audience fill in the blanks is okay in my book as a strategy, but for my sense of how a movie achieves a narrative ploy, Nick Roeg does it better in lining up his narrative lines with his visual allegories; he is splendid at getting to the novelist's (Proustian?) quality of exploring an idea within an idea without having his name branding the project. You are watching a film directed by Nick Roeg, not witnessing another episode of NICK ROEG PRESENTS. Kubrick made sure you knew who the puppet master was, who the visionary was, who the genius was, and who's world you had just walked into when you took your seat. He wants us to linger on his images, contemplate the color scheme,the lighting, ponder how long it takes someone to add sugar and cream to their coffee. I have consistently found little reward in his films beyond an appreciation for the quality of production and design. At this point I'll insert my favorite Kubrick movies, as of his moment:s Dr.Strangelove. Everything clicked in this film, but I suspect Terry Southern's s work on the script had much to do with how funny it was.Next would be Fujll Metal Jacket--SK allowed the the generic particulars of a war movie to remain in fact and, in fact, produced a Vietnam film that was better than  Apocalypse Now.He is other wise inert as film maker, convinced his greatness, that conviction infesting his films with conspicuous ego attempting to make rather routine ironic twists and such appear profound than they actually are. He was a middle brow thinker who pulled the wool over the eyes of middle brow critics and teh middle brow audiences they wrote for , making them all think that he was something more than he was. He is lugubrious , a snail paced auteur .

Monday, January 24, 2011

Eyes Glued Shut

This caption is dedicated to my friends Barry and Janet.
Eyes Wide Shut, the final film by director Stanley Kubrick, came to us with a hype that suggestively alluded to matters of infidelity, necrophilia, an orgy,  intense , bad-faith sex between an eventually naked pairing of Tom Cruise and his then wife Nichole Kidman. The highlight of the film, it seems, was that we did view Kidman nude, a sleek figure one encounters in drawings by fashion designers, but the movie itself, intended to be ominous, exhibits all of Kubrick's faults and very few of his strengths. The movie is an uneven enterprise, impressive technical competence here , pretentious art gestures there; I have the suspicion that Kubrick actually died before he completed the film and that what we have was finished by c...ommittee. I am not a fan of Kubrick, but I do think that even his most portentous efforts had, at least, a "finished" quality, a well tailored fit. Kubrick could finesse his films to the degree that it was easy to overlook the vacuum that seems to habitually occupy the center of his themes. "Eyes Wide Shut" attempts to approximate the interiority of Schnitzler's novel and exhibits a topic drift; what ought to seem like incidents that, while insignificant in themselves, build to a culminating crash of tones, instead seems like the tale told by someone who cannot finish a sentence, let alone deliver a punchline.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Artificial, yes. Intelligent, no.

Salon has started a rather fine film section in it's redesign, and it was a surprise to see Chicago Reader movie critic Jonathan Rosenbaum highlighted in a brief piece defending Steven Spielberg's maligned sci-fi meditation on the human soul, A.I.Artificial Intelligence. His defense of the feature , brave as it is, has the benefit of being a pithy:

Reading it simply as a Spielberg film, as most detractors do, or even trying to read it simply as a Kubrick film, is a pretty futile exercise with limited rewards, even though the fingerprints of both directors are all over it. Seeing it as a perpetually unresolved dialectic between Kubrick and Spielberg starts to yield a complicated kind of sense -- an ambiguity where the bleakest pessimism and the most ecstatic kind of feel-good enchantment swiftly alternate and even occasionally blend, not to mention a far more enriching experience, however troubling and unresolved. As a profound meditation on the difference between what's human and what isn't, it also constitutes one of the best allegories about cinema that I know.

I am glad someone thought this was a good movie. I had the good fortune to take a couple film courses with Jonathan Rosenbaum in the seventies when he was a visiting film lecturer in UC San Diego's Visual Arts Department. The topic of one class, Paranoia in Films, was an especially engaging, if diffusely defined course, and it was of particular interest that the required text for the course was Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, from which Mr. Rosenbaum would bestow cryptic quotes from the book like "God is the original conspiracy theory" while showing acutely observed studies in monomania such as Nick Ray's Bigger than Life. That film in particular was apt for a course in paranoia on film, as it dealt with a meek school teacher's growing dependence of a mood altering medicine (cortisone) that converted into an arrogant, edgy, lunatic who needed eventually to be placed in a straight jacket. The print Rosenbaum received for the class wasn't the theatrical print he expected, but rather the cropped version, intended for television screens, where much of the image was cut away and the focus was on the talking heads. Viewing a tightly contained James Mason screaming larger than life on a large auditorium screen made you feel like you were watching someone trying to escape from a shrinking glass box. Paranoid indeed.

It's with this back story that I understand his appreciation of A.I.:Artificial Intelligence, but where he sees a brave vision from Steven Spielberg in the way he attempts to sort through the ways technology threatens to blur and eventually erase the distinctions between human and android programming--the eventual point was that both these creations are subject to a hard wiring that needs to bond with others as a defense against the lurking solitude--but it remains for me a vague, grandstanding mess. The buzz was that this was intended as the last film Stanley Kubrick was to make but never got to, and that Spielberg had gained access to the notes and developed his own ideas about how to flesh out, so to speak, the bare premise. Kubrick , is not the best person to pick if you're in the market for a useful idea for a film; more than a few of us have felt that the late director's reputation was inflated beyond sane justification, a man who could indeed shoot an engrossing sequence but was ill at ease to explain what thinking lay behind his imagery. It was a matter of monumental style in Kubrick's films, and he's lucky enough to make a hand ful of movies that haven't had their reputations collapse after their initial release and the wave of awestruck reviews.

His final movie, Eyes Wide Shut, was as pompous and preposterous a botched project as anything Ed Wood had made; you suspect that he had actually died before he had a chance to repair the raw feed in post production. Even the director's skill for making capable actors appear like sleepwalkers wasn't enough to calm the antsy Tom Cruise; he remains within his emotional range as an over-eyed wind-up toy. AI,in kind, was a half a bad idea from Kubrick's mind, was was reason enough for Spielberg to pour on the effects, flash the lights, go crazy with the colors, with abrupt and unconsidered cuts between broad humor, family hour sweetness and uncorked violence and villainy. The last set of clauses sound like a Coen Brothers movie, sure, but the Coens have a tone that runs through through their vexing genre variations and character studies; there are links, there are connections, there are matters in the frames that can be discussed, debated, but which are very tangibly present in the movie. Spielberg is muscle, flash, loud noises; his idea of subtext is a Cliffs Notes of discussion points--what morality play that can be discerned operates only on the surface, and it is when this happens--as it does all though this messy, ill-lit narrative--that you realize what button-pushing schlock meister the director really is. The whole A.I. enterprise comes off like that horribly cropped scene of James Mason yelling on an auditorium screen. Nothing at all fits the slim premise.