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  Stanley Kubrick
(1928–1999). American director.

Directed and produced: Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (and co-wrote with Terry Southern and Peter George) (1964); 2001: A Space Odyssey (and co-wrote with Arthur C. CLARKE) (1968); A Clockwork Orange (and wrote) (1971); The Shining (and co-wrote with Diane Johnson) (1979).

Film based on his work: A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (Steven SPIELBERG 2001).

Among the many divergent and valid ways of characterizing his later works, one could say that Stanley Kubrick made films about the process of Stanley Kubrick making films, celluloid diaries of his evolving attitudes and perspectives during the films' lengthy periods of gestation and production. Thus, 2001: A Space Odyssey finds Kubrick first confronting all the Big Questions about the universe and humanity's destiny therein, reaching the conclusion that these are best left answered, and gradually paring away all the rational explanations for the film's events provided by co-author Arthur C. CLARKE. In A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick examines and indulges in the contemporary trend toward excessive sex and violence in films, decides that it is all somewhat distasteful but should nonetheless be permitted, and crafts a film with that same mixed message of abhorrence and tolerance. In The Shining, Kubrick considers the genre of horror, comes to regard it as basically boring but deeply comforting to some, and ends up telling a rather long and boring story about a troubled man seduced by a comforting horror. And experts in other film genres no doubt could readily describe Barry Lyndon (1975), Full Metal Jacket (1987), and Eyes Wide Shut (1999) in a similar fashion.

If one accepts this as Kubrick's modus operandi "I will make a film in order to find out what I think about that film and its subject matter" the celebrated flaws in his methods of filmmaking emerge instead as necessities. Of course, making such reflective films takes an excessive amount of time, marginalizes actors and other participants in the creative process, and results in slow-moving and seemingly self-indulgent films that may be fully appreciated only by their director. Still, as is true of only a few other directors like Alfred HITCHCOCK, one walks out of a Kubrick film intensely aware of the commanding presence of a single intellect, and, if of an analytical bent, intensely cognizant of scores of nuances and details that cry out for learned scrunity—the major reason why Kubrick, warts and all, remains a critical favorite. It is a hard game to resist, and I myself have endeavored elsewhere to wrest some of the secrets out of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I would still regard as the greatest and most evocative of all science fiction films; others have written entire books about that film, and it continues to be voted by the critics of Sight and Sound as one of the the ten best films ever made. Further, while A Clockwork Orange has not in my opinion aged well, I differ from others in being greatly impressed by The Shining: although admittedly completely miscast and utterly divorced from the Stephen King novel it purportedly adapts, it remains a fascinating and disturbing narrative in its own right, with the empty corridors of its deserted hotel functioning like the starscapes of 2001 to suggest an icy alienation from the banality of everyday existence.

I am excluding from my general analysis Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, not only because it is manifestly not a product of his mature period (why, he only took a year or so to make it), but also because I regard it as a far lesser work, despite an ongoing chorus of baffling critical raves. Kubrick always took himself far too seriously to be effective at comedy, and in this case he produced a film which was so mightily impressed with its own audacity in making an avowed comedy about a nuclear war that it never actually contrived to be very funny, despite desperate overacting from Peter SELLERS and the rest of the cast. I suspect Kubrick himself realized that the film was something of a botch, because it was after Dr. Strangelove that he resolved to always take several years to fully ponder, painstakingly develop, and meticulously complete all his films.

After The Shining, Kubrick had seemingly lost interest in science fiction and fantasy, but at the time of his death there was one major project still on his agenda, an adaptation of a Brian W. Aldiss story about a boy robot that was subsequently reshaped by the poorly chosen Steven SPIELBERG—a director vastly different from, and vastly inferior to, Kubrick—as the film A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. Haunted by Kubrick's ponderous legacy, yet unable to fully understand or appreciate it, Spielberg came up with a story that invites consideration as an addled recapitulation of Kubrick's genre films, beginning with the sterile domesticity of The Shining, moving into the stylized decadence of A Clockwork Orange, sometimes intermingled with dashes of self-conscious satire in the manner of Dr. Strangelove, and concluding with a ham-fisted lurch into the cosmic perspective of 2001. Happily, Spielberg gave Kubrick no screen credit for this strange concoction, so that it will thankfully be recorded in the annals of cinema only as an unofficial appendage, and not as an addition, to the distinguished Kubrick filmography.

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