It happened purely by accident, but over the last five years I’ve become a huge fan of Stanley Kubrick.
I can’t remember the first Kubrick film I watched. An early fascination with both horror and sci-fi leads me to think it was either The Shining or 2001: A Space Odyssey. I would have seen both before I was a teenager, which might explain why every time I see a lift open I expect it to empty a river of blood into the lobby, or why I can spot a match cut from a mile away.
A subsequent interest in war films led me to Full Metal Jacket, his concession to the MTV generation, and a student friend showed me Dr. Strangelove at University. My favourite novel, Vladimir Nabakov’s Lolita, led me to Kubrick’s adaptation, and as soon as the director’s own censorship ban was lifted from A Clockwork Orange following his death in 1999, I hungrily ate it up, the last piece of the puzzle.
There was a problem though. I saw Eyes Wide Shut at the cinema in 1999, and it put me off Kubrick for a long time. What I initially saw as a huge turkey of a film was further supported by a half-hearted viewing of Barry Lyndon in my twenties. I missed the beginning, I was hungover, and I just wasn’t in the mood for an overlong period drama.
Thanks to the New Zealand International Film Festival, I’ve been able to see a number of Kubrick’s films on the huge screen at Auckland’s Civic theatre– first The Shining, and then a retrospective of the director, including Spartacus and 2001. A renewed interest led me back to Barry Lyndon – a masterpiece! – and a middle-of-the-night-on-an-aeroplane viewing of Jon Ronson’s documentary, Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes, prompted me to give Eyes Wide Shut another chance. It’s still a question mark, but an intriguing one which requires further viewing.
The moment I was won over by Barry Lyndon was in one of the early scenes in which the titular character is almost seduced by his older cousin, Nora. The soundtrack to this encounter – The Chieftains’ Women Of Ireland – might just be one of the most bewitching pieces of music committed to celluloid. The scene skilfully portrays aching, forbidden love, something that was sadly missing from his toned-down adaptation of Lolita.
The one disappointing aspect of Kubrick’s work is that while his films are dense and rich fodder for cinephiles, there just aren’t too many of them (compared to a prolific director like Spielberg or Hitchcock). Five years between Barry Lyndon and The Shining. Another seven years to Full Metal Jacket, and then a whopping twelve years to Eyes Wide Shut (partly explained by the obsessiveness unearthed by the Jon Ronson documentary).
While he may have passed away almost twenty years ago, the director has still left a lot of clues lying around, if Rodney Ascher’s Room 237 documentary is anything to go by. Heard that conspiracy theory about Kubrick filming the moon landings? Prepare to believe it…
Hit: Sarabande (Main Title) – Georg Friedrich Handel
Hidden Gem: Women Of Ireland – The Chieftains