Monday, April 24, 2023

Kubrick: A Man Who Could Tell Every Kind of Story

 Annamaria on Monday

I have been binge watching the films of Stanley Kubrick, and because I am such a nerd, doing it in date order. I had seen and greatly admired almost all of them before, but packing them densely into the past couple of weeks has tripled my respect for breadth of his talent.

Here is my evidence. And if you are tempted to say that Kubrick had co-writers on most of these films, I give you that. But, in all but one of the his movies, he had complete control over the storytelling. You may also be tempted to say that he based almost all of his screenplays on previously published written works. Please don't go there if you don't want to hear my ever-ready passionate lecture on the greatness of Shakespeare.

Killer's Kiss 1955 Film Noir

This was Kubrick’s second film, but the first one where he was the writer as well as the director.  It is a typical war story that involves a down and out, over the hill, boxer, who when the story begins, encounters a woman who could never be his. She, of course, draws him into a problem she is having with a very bad guy.

Kubrick wrote the screenplay on his own and filled it with unusual turns and twists. It also departs from the typical film noir at the very end. I wondered about that. It was not at all when I was expecting in a genre that never ends happily. While researching this blog, I found that, because his budget was very low, toward the end of making the, Kubrick had to turn to United Artists for support. They agreed but only if he would give the film a happy ending.

The Killing 1956 Caper Movie

Like all its brothers and sisters in this genre, Kubrick's story focuses on a veteran criminal planning one last heist. After this one, he expects to be so rich that he will be able to go straight. The screenplay is brilliant. The main character of course, enlists, all of his former partners in crime, but there is no standard scene where he lays out the whole plot for his friends. Kubrick has him tell some of his cohorts some of the story and others other parts, and he keeps quite a few surprises to himself. It keeps viewers from ever knowing exactly what's going to happen next!

Paths of Glory 1957 War Story

This was the first Kubrick film I ever saw, and I've loved it every time I've seen it, including a week ago this past Saturday! It has battle scenes and deaths as every war story must, but there is triumph at the end. Kubrick is in league with with my anti-war convictions, and though there are heroic deeds, the story is tragic. And beautifully told, as well as brilliantly played by the entire cast, especially Kirk Douglas.

Spartacus 1960 Epic Historical Drama

This story of a slave revolt in antiquity also stars Kirk Douglas, this time heading a brilliant cast the includes Lawrence Olivier, Peter Ustinov, John,Gavin, jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, and a drop-dead gorgeous Tony Curtis! In my research, I discovered some thing quite wonderful about the writing here. Only in this one film did turn over the screenplay to someone else: Dalton Trumbo. Kubrick and Douglas, who were coproducers, boldly announced the name of their writer, even though Trumbo had been blacklisted by the McCarthy committee. As I suspected communist, he was not supposed to have a job.  Ordinarily in those bad old days. work of the blacklisted carried the name of a front.  But Kubrick and Douglas made it a point to be openly defiant.  The screenplay was based on a book by another blacklisted author--Howard Fast, who had been forced to self-publish because no publisher was allowed to do so.  On opening night, Spartacus was picketed by the American Legion. President John F. Kennedy crossed the picket line to support the flick. This film was instrumental in putting an end to blacklisting.

Lolita 1962 Psychological Drama

Kubrick wrote this screenplay jointly with Vladimir Nabokov, author of the notorious novel of the same name.  The Motion Picture Production Code enforcers had everything to say about what aspects of the original story could be kept in and which had to be toned down to such an extent that they lost all their drama and shock value.  Not even brilliant performances by James Mason, Shelley Winters, and Peter Sellers could compensate for the losses.  Kubrick later admitted that, had he known how deep censors' cuts would go, he wouldn't have tried the project in the first place.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb 1964 Satiric Thriller 

At the begining, Kubricks intention was to make the movie a serious thriller based on a book by Peter George called Red Alert.  Peter George himself, Terry Southern, and Stanley Kubrick worked on the play, but it became clearer and clearer to Kubrick that the story was not working as a straight thriller, that it needed to be a comedy. A stroke of brilliance that resulted in a masterpiece, one of the funniest movies ever made. I'll give you a little taste of the fun by just giving you the names of the characters: US Air Force Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden), Group Captain Lionel Mandrake,and US president Muffley and Dr. Strangelove (all played by Peter Sellers), General Buck Turgidson, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (George C Scott.  To name just a few.  I sincerely suggest that you buy this movie and watch it every few years. You'll never tire of it.

2001: A Space Odyssey 1968 SciFi

Kubrick wrote this screen play with with the brilliant Arthur C. Clark, who--as they were working on it--also wrote a novelisation of the story.  When one sees the film these days, Kuprick and Clark and the film's Art Director and Costume Designer seem to have been prescient!  If you watch it today, you will see clothing styles that look familiar, a laptop-style computer on which a traveler has a FaceTime phone conversation with his daughter back on earth, and, showing that the film is completley current, the main character has many conversations with an AI chatbot called HAL.

Not so impressive you think?  Well, consider this: this flick was released a full year before the then "miraculous" first humans landing on the moon.  Just four years before the film debuted, I worked on the first "real-time" computer project outside the Pentagon.  It required three room-size computers (two IBM 7080s and one 7740).  They sat in a specially air-conditioned glass box erected on a floor raised three feet; the space underneath it was fill with wires and quite a number of cathode-ray tubes.  The miracle that monstrosity could perform was that it could calculate an employee's retirement benefit in less than twenty minutes.  And yet, right around the same time, Kubrick and his team were inventing the setting and technology for their movie 2001, that also asked philosophical questions.  When I saw it for a the first time fifty-five years ago, it felt like a religious experience.

A Clockwork Orange 1971 Dystopian Crime

Kubrick based his screenplay on Anthony Burgess's astonishing 1962 novel.  The flick created a sensation when it was released.  I went to see it in its first week, bought the book the next day, read it immediately, and returned to see the film a second time one week later.  Parts of it very are violent, but the story is so well told that none of it seems like gratuitous sensationalism.  Malcolm McDowell's performance as Alex is perfect.

Barry Lyndon 1975 Period Drama

My professor of writing would have called this film and Thackery's book on which it was based picaresque: a story in which we follow the main character through al long series of life experiences.  Kubrick's direction and John Alcott's cinematography produced a gorgeous work of art.  Every frame of it looks like a beautiful painting. the acting, the music, the costumes, all perfect. 

The Shining 1980 Horror

I tried to watch this film again, in fact I repeatedly tried until now there are less than three hours till midnight, when I have to click on "Publish."  I am sorry, I can't take horror in print or on the screen.  Not even if the story comes from the brilliant Stephen King.  Not even if it's a film by Kubrick.  Not even if it stars Jack Nicholson. In fact, especially if King, Kubrick, and Nicholson are involved.  they are all so brilliant at scary.  But no go for me. I run from the room.

I spent so much time trying to watch The Shining, that I haven't gotten to a new viewing of Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut.  But I think I have made my case about the breadth of Kubrick's genius.

By the way, the way, the music in each film is worth a discussion in itself.  I used to own recordings of the soundtracks of Strangelove, 2001, Clockwork, and Barry Lyndon.  The have gotten lost in the shuffle of life.  First think tomorrow, I am going to rectify those omissions. 


  1. Thanks, Annamaria. I haven't seen some of the earlier films, so will need to rectify that!

    1. I hope you enjoy them, Michael. I have been tracking such treasures from Netflix DVD, which I joined in its first month. I am one of the last, I guess. They are closing it down in September.
      Those early flicks are more stories of their own time. Then in Spartacus, Kubrick went universal, and stayed, and to the delight of his fans, explored broadly.

  2. When I saw Clockwork Orange, I was a grad student at Illinois. When I walked out of the cinema, emotionally shocked and drained, a line of riot police with shields and billy clubs was sweeping down Green Street towards me. I freaked out. Was I part of the film? That was the night of student protests abut the mining of Haiphong harbour and associated bombing. I remember my total disorientation to this day. What a movie!! And what accompanying music!

    1. Yikes, Stan. I walk on the surreal side! I just watched it again, and it holds up. Hearing the sound track made me want to hear Wendy Carlos's Ludwig Van again. She was WAY ahead of her time, as person and as an artist.

  3. Pretty amazing to run through a list of his works. One of the spines of my lifetime.

  4. Thanks for this. I didn't realize some of these films were by Kubrik. I've seen only five of them, but they were indeed brilliant. Like you, though, I can't stand horror films, so I never saw (and never will see) The Shining. Just the poster was enough to tell me all I wanted to know about that film.

  5. You've convinced me to go back and re-watch many of those films, I'd forgotten he'd done so many that marked different milestones in my life...notably Clockwork Orange, Dr. Strangelove, 2001, Full Metal Jacket....and so on. Thanks, Sis, for reminding me to spend more time on NetFlix.

  6. I have to second Elizabeth and say I hadn't realised all these pioneering movies were the work of Kubrick. It gives me the same awe and appreciation for his work that you have. (And I, too, could not bring myself to watch The Shining. Too much imagination, I fear...

  7. I saw Dr. Strangelove in London with my grandmother very soon after it came out. We must have been the only Americans in the packed theater because we were the only ones laughing. Afterwards we couldn’t figure out if everyone else just didn’t understand the exaggerations of the satire or were too British to laugh out loud!
    Thanks for the retrospective — I didn’t know (or remember?) that some of these were Kubrick. Brilliant all!!