Thoughts on Kubrick

It is now well known just how voracious Stanley Kubrick was in his attention to detail. A few years back, The Telegraph ran an interview with his widow, Christiane, and a selection of his correspondence over the years. The following excerpt is from a letter Kubrick wrote to Robert Ettinger, an author concerned with cryogenics. One day I hope a book of Kubrick’s letters will be made available.

The Right Shot

The rigidity that would be created by, say, just the problem of having to be near your freezer at all times, will be an important social factor. The various legal considerations involved in the question of whether the people in the freezer were to be considered dead for purposes of tax, insurance and so forth or hibernating as you pointed out is also something which would require care and study. If you are proven correct (something unlikely to happen for a long time) your book will be a historical document. However, it is not possible to achieve anything resembling scientific agreement with your contention in its present unprovable state. Science and the world being what they are. Conservatism will always dominate imagination Far less imaginative and bewildering ideas than yours have been labelled crackpot for a long time before people were able to think about them. Perhaps it is not as surprising as it may seem that the book does not yet paralyse society. I think it would probably be very worthwhile if you were able to accomplish even a small commercial enterprise undertaking (no pun intended) to carry out your program. Any addition of reality to your idea would greatly help it. In closing I am still puzzled and so is I’m sure everyone else who has read your book about the step by step procedure someone might follow on his own. I think you tend to gloss over the banal difficulties. It’s almost impossible to get a sink repaired.

I picked up the Kubrick Collection box set during the holidays and over the course of the previous year, picked up the Criterion editions of The Killing and Paths of Glory. Though not my intention, I suddenly found myself with all but one of his theatrical films. That missing feature, Kubrick’s first, will soon be available in a set with his early documentaries and short subjects. Soon, it will be possible to chart his entire creative output.

It’s kind of a scary proposition because one must be in the mood to engage with Kubrick. Some of his films are anti-cinema, especially considering how the form has evolved since the 1980s. They’re often slow, disregard the three act structure, and vary in a wide range of topics and genres unthinkable for a modern director. Basically, the guy got away with murder. He chose his own projects from the word go, kept his production units small, and had the support of a major studio. To Warner Bros, it was important to cultivate the relationship with him, even though he only delivered five films over the course of thirty years.

This is the story every director wants to have, but it came at a cost. By the 1980s, Kubrick was perceived as a wild-haired recluse who terrorized Shelly Duvall on the set of The Shining.

Of course, he got a great performance out of her.

His meticulous attention to the details also left him with a reputation as a difficult director. He famously forced Scatman Crothers to do 97 takes of his character closing a car door. You’ll also notice a lot of the horror stories about Kubrick stem from The Shining. Sydney Pollack, working with Kubrick some 18 years later, expected to have all his scenes shot in a few days, the actor ended up staying in London for months.

For me, Kubrick’s work is marred by his final film, a collaboration with then Hollywood power couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. The pair were always eager to work out their marriage in front of the camera and Eyes Wide Shut says a lot more about the disintegration of their relationship than it says about its director, which is odd considering how much his other films are a reflection of his own mindset on the topic at hand. I’ve only ever watched the film all the way through once. The pieces seem uneven and I maintain Kubrick died before editing could be completed. For a man who removed 15 minutes from 2001: a space odyssey after it New York premiere, I doubt he was ready to really let it go until the prints had to be struck.

Or perhaps, as he lay dying, that obsession with the meticulous finally failed him.

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About Erik

Erik Amaya is the host of Tread Perilously and the former Head Film/TV writer at Bleeding Cool. He has also contributed to sites like CBR, Comics Alliance and Fanbase Press. He is also the voice of Puppet Tommy on "The Room Responds."
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