Navigating the work of Stanley Kubrick.

For this month's blog entry, I've decided to dedicate it to Stanley Kubrick. There are three reasons for this: (1) he's my biggest influence, (2) he started out as a photographer (poignant for this blog, as it pertains to photography), and finally, (3) it would've been his 88th birthday on July 26th of this year (he passed away on March 7th, 1999). I would like to spend this tiny bit of blog space and cater it to Kubrick newcomers.

Surprisingly enough, whenever I have the chance to bring up 'Stanley Kubrick' in a conversation, the other(s) usually have no idea who he is. I usually have to bring up the fact that he's made some of the most important films of the 20th century, such as, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, etc. (to name a few).

The first film that I mentioned above, 2001: A Space Odyssey, was the first Kubrick film that I watched as a young teenager. I didn't understand it. However, I was in awe, and even though my level of understanding was at a minimal, I was hooked with every passing frame. As the years went on, I would watch other Kubrick films (not knowing that they were Kubrick films), felt that they were great films, that they were interesting, but most importantly, different from any other film that I was watching at that period of my life. I'm making an assumption here, but I believe this is why I was hooked, so I dug a little deeper and watched all of his films, which later developed into reading about the person behind these films. Who is this man? How is he making these films? Why are they so aesthetically pleasing? Why do I keep coming back to them, and watch them throughout the years?

Because I was so interested in the process of filmmaking, especially the photography/cinematography portion of the process, I kept asking myself "why are Kubrick films effectively photographed?" or "why are they so pleasing to the eye?" I should be able to answer these questions, by providing you with mundane rules about framing, or spec sheets on the lenses he used, but that's too simple. I believe the answer will reveal itself, more clearly, in the very near future.

start with his photography.

"To make a film entirely by yourself, which initially i did, you may not have to know very much about anything but you must know about photography."
(Stanley Kubrick)

Naturally, if you were to immerse yourself into Stanley Kubrick's work, you would do so by watching his films. He was known for his filmmaking. Not particularly his photography largely due to the fact that it was early on in his career as a young man (started to work as a staff photographer for LOOK magazine at the young age of 17 years old), and it wasn't widely commercial. He often only captured street life, sporting events, and the natural events that happened around his city of New York.

Title: Stanley Kubrick: Drama & Shadows Author: Rainer Crone Publisher: Phaidon

Title: Stanley Kubrick: Drama & Shadows
Author: Rainer Crone
Publisher: Phaidon

Thankfully, for all Kubrick fanatics, there is a great book that is available, which focuses on his photography, rather than his films. Author Rainer Crone, who is an expert on Andy Warhol's art, had the opportunity of spending time in the Kubrick archives, and was able to sift through his photographs.

In the last couple of years, there have been a number of websites (not particularly legitimate) that have been releasing some of Kubrick's photographs, usually accompanied with a synopsis about his work as a photographer in New York City. I often try to find the most direct, and legitimate source, and I found it at the Museum of the City of New York.

They have over a hundred of his photographs within their archives, and they provide its visitors (to their website) with a lovely synopsis about his work as a photographer.

"between 1945 and 1950, stanley kubrick worked as a staff photographer for look magazine. he was not yet kubrick, the famous film director; he was just stanley, the kid from the bronx with an uncanny photographic sensibility. only 17 years old when he joined the magazine's ranks, he was by far its youngest photographer. kubrick often turned his camera on his native city, drawing inspiration from the variety of personalities that populated its spaces. photographs of nightclubs, street scenes, and sporting events were amongst his first published images, and in these assignments, kubrick captured the pathos of ordinary life in a way that belied his young age." (The Museum of the city of new york)

Photo credit: Stanley Kubrick

Photo credit: Stanley Kubrick

Photo credit: Stanley Kubrick

Photo credit: Stanley Kubrick

Photo credit: Stanley Kubrick

Photo credit: Stanley Kubrick

Photo credit: Stanley Kubrick

Photo credit: Stanley Kubrick

consider his skills in the game of chess.

"chess teaches you to control the initial excitement you feel when you see something that looks good and it trains you to think objectively when you're in trouble."
(Stanley kubrick)

Kubrick was a master chess player. He played his entire life, hustled chess in his younger years, and continued to play, even on his film sets. As we all know, chess is a game of the mind. You must have an extremely large amount of imagination, memory skills, and an exquisite mental capacity.

I especially admire an article written by Jeremy Bernstein (who also recorded an interview with Kubrick) about his chess playing with Kubrick during the production of '2001: A Space Odyssey'. 

"Seizing the moment I told him that I had been hustling him and had deliberately lost the first four games. his response was that i was a patzer. all during the filming of '2001' we played chess whenever i was in london and every fifth game i did something unusual. finally we reached the 25th game and it was agreed that this would decide the matter. well into the game he made a move that i was sure was a loser. he even clutched his stomach to show how upset he was. but it was a trap and i was promptly clobbered. "You didn't know i could act too," he remarked." (Playing chess with kubrick, jeremy bernstein - nyr daily)

Title: The Stanley Kubrick Archives Author: Alison Castle Publisher: Taschen

Title: The Stanley Kubrick Archives
Author: Alison Castle
Publisher: Taschen

There's an incredible interview between Jeremy Bernstein and Kubrick. It was recorded, and it runs for nearly ninety minutes. You can listen to it on Criterion Collection's version of Dr. Strangelove, or if you purchase The Stanley Kubrick Archives. The interview consists of many great elements, in which they exchange moments of when they were young living in New York, intellectual activities, the process of making a film, and you catch a glimpse into Kubrick's thoughts about nuclear weapons, the cold war, and other related political events that were happening in the early and mid 1960s.

The book, The Stanley Kubrick Archives, is a remarkable monster coffee-table book, published by Taschen. It incorporates two sections: (1) the films and (2) the creative process. The book was made in cooperation with Jan Harlan, Christiane Kubrick, and the Stanley Kubrick Estate.

Where should I start in regards to his films?

"A film is - or should be - more like music than like fiction. it should be a progression of moods and feelings. the theme, what's behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later."
(Stanley kubrick)

Well, this is simple to answer: start by watching his films. Immerse yourself in his art. A lot of people ask me "which film should I watch first?" I always reply by saying "just watch all of them in chronological order." I, thankfully, stumbled onto his films. If you have the luxury of just starting at any point, start at the beginning.

You can spend countless hours searching the Internet in regards to Kubrick's movies being ranked. It's really difficult to select a favourite, and it's especially difficult to tell you which one to start with.

If you really wanted an answer, I would tell you to watch two: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (because it is regarded as one of the most important political films of the 20th century), and second (but certainly not least), 2001: A Space Odyssey (because it changed the form, and it brought science-fiction to the forefront as a genre). Please have a look at the trailers to see for yourself.


Don't forget, he has plenty of other films. Such as Killer's Kiss, The Killing, Paths of Glory, Spartacus, Lolita, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut. Watch all of them. Consider all of their points. Try to connect all of them, even though they're all very different.

If you have a Bluray player, I would highly recommend getting the Masterpiece Collection. The Criterion Collection have released four Kubrick titles: The Killing, Paths of Glory, Spartacus, and Dr. Strangelove.

To acquire a better sense of Kubrick's composition, please have a look at this following video, by the incredibly talented 'kogonada'. In this video, which only runs under two minutes, you'll see how Kubrick utilizes 'one-point perspective' (which is a visual art method that shows how things appear to get smaller as they get further away, converging towards a single 'vanishing point' on the horizon line.) In addition, you'll see scenes from some of his other films.

After you've watched all of his films, and you're still interested in knowing a little bit about them, please consider the following resources.

Title: On Kubrick Author: James Naremore Publisher: British Film Institute

Title: On Kubrick
Author: James Naremore
Publisher: British Film Institute

First, I would consider reading James Naremore's 'On Kubrick'. It's "a critical study of Stanley Kubrick's career, beginning with his earliest feature, 'Fear and Desire (1953)', and ending with his posthumous of 'A.I., Artificial Intelligence (2001)'. This book argues that in several respects Kubrick was one of the cinema's last modernists."

There are many books, articles, and essays about Kubrick's work. It's difficult to sift through all of them and come up with a reliable source. I don't believe there are many sources that are terribly written about Kubrick's work, but they tend to repeat themselves, and it's only interesting if you get to read new information about the man, and his work. James succeeds in providing the reader with a very wide scope about his work (not many people consider Spielberg's A.I. - because it was originally a Kubrick production), and it makes you think a little more critically, without spending too much time on the "important" films of his career.

Title: The Making of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey Author: Piers Bizony Publisher: Taschen

Title: The Making of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey
Author: Piers Bizony
Publisher: Taschen

If you want to look at very specific detail, of one particular film, I would highly recommend Taschen's 'The Making of Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey'. It's an awkwardly designed book, with foldable pages, but it provides a unique, and extremely detailed look, at the production and process of the making of one of his most important films.

Do you think they ended there? Of course not. They went as far as releasing a book about a movie that Kubrick never produced! It is unfortunate because Kubrick was a true expert in two subject areas: the Holocaust and Napoleon. He wanted to make one about the Holocaust, entitled Aryan Papers, based on Louis Begley's 'Wartime Lies'. He never realized the project for two reasons: (1) he became overly depressed from reading all of the material surrounding the Holocaust, and (2) Steven Spielberg's 'Schindler's List' was released around the same time that Aryan Paper was to be released.

As for Napoleon, Kubrick was a true expert in the leader. He read for a period of two years, the entire spectrum of Napoleon's life as a politician and war strategist. He even interviewed many experts in the field, including professors at prestigious universities. The project was never realized because of the commercial failure of Sergei Bondarchuk's 'Waterloo' 1970 film. Kubrick's financial backers for his version backed out, and then Kubrick went on and made 'A Clockwork Orange'.

Taschen released a wonderful book entitled "Stanley Kubrick's Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made'. Taschen explains the contents of the book perfectly: "The text book features the complete original treatment, essays examining the screenplay in historical and dramatic contexts, an essay by Jean Tulard on Napoleon in cinema, and a transcript of interviews Kubrick conducted with Oxford professor Felix Markham."

Why did he have an obsession, or at least curiosity about Napoleon? I found that his interview with Joseph Gelmis, in 1969, was perfectly summarized:

Gelmis: Why are you making a movie about Napoleon?

Title: Stanley Kubrick's Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made Author: Alison Castle Publisher: Taschen

Title: Stanley Kubrick's Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made
Author: Alison Castle
Publisher: Taschen

KUBRICK: THAT'S A QUESTION IT WOULD REALLy TAKE THIS ENTIRE INTERVIEW TO ANSWER. To begin with, he fascinates me. his life has been described as an epic poem of action. his sex life was worthy of arthur schnitzler. he was one of those rare men who move history and mold the destiny of their own times and of generations to come -- in a very concrete sense, our own world is the result of napoleon, just as the political and geographic map of postwar europe is the result of world war two. and, of course, there has never been a good or accurate movie about him. also, i find that all the issues with which it concerns itself are oddly contemporary -- the responsibilities and abuses of power, the dynamics of social revolution, the relationship of the individual to the state, war, militarism, etc. so this will not be just a dusty historic pageant but a film about the basic questions of our own times, as well as napoleon's. but even apart from those aspects of the story, the sheer drama and force of napoleon's life is a fantastic subject for a film biography. forgetting everything else and just taking napoleon's romantic involvement with josephine, for example, here you have one of the great obsessional passions of all time." (Interview between joseph gelmis and stanley kubrick, 1969 - "the film director as superstar")

It's an under-statement to say that Kubrick's work is detailed, comprehensive, and fascinating. Even for the films that didn't see the light of day. Thanks to the Stanley Kubrick Estate, and its archives at the University of Arts London, we have a plethora of material and resources at our disposal, to help answer some of our questions, and being able to dig a little deeper into his work, and for some who are interested, his life.

What's next? the man.

If your level of interest in Stanley Kubrick continues, then you should start watching documentaries about the filmmaker, read biographies about the man, consult articles, and lastly, browse through a variety of interviews that he's done throughout his life.

First, I would start with Jan Harlan's 'Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures'. It's a comprehensive documentary, that runs for two hours and thirty minutes, that has one primary goal: telling the world that Stanley Kubrick was one of the most important American filmmakers of the 20th century. Please watch the trailer to acquire a taste of it.

Then, I would watch an interview between Charlie Rose, Martin Scorsese, Christiane Kubrick (Stanley's wife), and Jan Harlan (creator of the documentary mentioned above, and long-time producer/friend of Stanley's), entitled 'Life of Stanley Kubrick'. It offers another glimpse into the man behind the films. His intentions as an artist, and helps shine a bit of light around the kid from the Bronx, who loved cinema, sports, and technology.

If you want to know more about the man, then I would consider these following books: Michael Herr's 'Kubrick', Vincent Lobrutto's 'Stanley Kubrick: A Biography', and Emilio D'Alessandro's 'Stanley Kubrick and Me: Thirty Years at his Side.'

All three of these biographies offer a glimpse into the man himself, his daily routines, his process around the production of his films, and simply, life itself. Considering Kubrick rarely conducted any television interviews, or appeared on radio shows, we must rely on other people's perspectives about the man himself. People who knew him well, spoke with him for hundreds of hours on the telephone, or happened to assist him throughout his career.

At the end of the day, it's important to watch his films. It's important to consider all points made in his films, and most importantly, enjoy them.