When Stanley Kubrick died in 1999 I felt a personal sense of loss. Not only was he never going to finish AI (which ended up being butchered by Spielberg) it also marked the end of a relationship I had with Kubrick since a young man. Since the age of 14 after watching Full Metal Jacket (a late night Channel 4 showing) I remember being captivated by the cold camera work, the pinpoint dialogue delivery, the swooping visuals that seemed almost romantic compared to the ruthless characters that sometimes paraded Kubrick’s work. Just as I was about to embark into media college and start my career as a film maker, my hero had passed. I had intended to meet the visionary, it was a distant goal to work with him. But ultimately he left us with a legacy of films that no other film maker could counter, even the mighty “hitch”.
5: Lolita (1962)
Regarded as controversial as the book in its day (Kubrick was told to raise the age of the girl from 12 to 14 to appease the censor) this little black and white movie with a milky faced James Mason and a sultry Sue Lyon with her “knowing” way and playful nature; also gave Peter Sellers ample room to flex his black comedy muscles. The film turned the book from an essay on primordial lust to a telling tale of frustration and cold war anxiety.
4: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
As a comment on the nature of mankind’s need to conquer, almost to the detriment of our own well being. 2001 blows the audience through a mind boggling river of questions; ultimately leaving more asked than answered. But just like the ape that spins the bone turned weapon into the air, only to watch it snap into a space station thousands of years into the future; maybe 2001 is better taken as an overall gesture of need. The need to command, the need to explore, the need to want more than sometimes is good for us.
3: A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Kubrick returned to the themes of sex in 1971 but instead of the repressed lust Mason had for Lolita, Alex and his “droogs” were not shy of picking the fruits of sin. But this time Kubrick also pierced that ever deeper hole in human nature; free will. Although we are abhorred by Alex and his exploits (played triumphantly by a young Malcolm McDowell) we also feel remorse when he is “conditioned” to be “good”. Regardless of his will or want, Alex must now do as “we” say. And that uncomfortable seat which mankind finds itself sometimes; was thrown aside and cheered against when at the end of the film, Alex is evil again. Ready to do us wrong.
Editors Note: I saw this on the re-release in 1999 after Kubrick’s death. It suffered a self ban by Kubrick after he received death threats upon the films’ release. Still the best film I have ever seen inside a cinema.
When Kubrick decide to do horror, people gasped. One could only imagine he orgasmic sex and blood spectacle he had in mind. But when The Shining was released in 1980; the critics were confused as much as shocked. This film had hardly any of the usual Kubricks’ traits, and yet is still feels very “Kubrickian”. Not just a pan shot, bust the best an shots, not just a zoom shot but the best zoom shots. And those long steadicam takes, whispering around The Overlook corridors; ready to be jumped out on or bumped into. Truly a haunted house movie of biblical proportions.
1: Full Metal Jacket (1987)
It’s no coincidence that I think 87 was Kubrick’s best year, he had reached the height of his infamy and we were a good 12 years away from what would be a terrible Eyes Wide Shut (1999).
The opening scenes of jar heads getting their melons shaved instantly threw us into war, destroying the little of “you” that is left before “charlie” has a chance. Some of the scenes, the bunk bed beating scene, Gomer Piles suicide scene, and the execution of the drill sergeant (the last father figure to die before we see our protagonist in combat) are drilled into the mind. But the scenes are nothing to the overall sense that Full Metal Jacket gives, the soldiers and commanders are like robots, answering only in foul rhetoric and knee jerk gay jokes. The enemy are all faceless and have no voice except for sexually explicit taunts. Full Metal Jacket bears keen witness to a boy becoming a man in a world of children.