Thursday, December 18, 2014

Film History Paper #2... Stanley Kubrick by Trevor Scholtens

Every semester I pick three outstanding final papers from my Film History class at the College of DuPage.  I will be posting these throughout the week.

Second one up... Trevor Scholtens' take on STANLEY KUBRICK.

Stanley Kubrick: Auteur
by Trevor Scholtens

            Stanley Kubrick is one of the most influential, skilled, and arguably the all-around filmmakers to ever live. He has left a huge legacy behind him, but he started in New York City on July 26th, 1928 when he was born. Kubrick grew up in the Bronx with his father, Jacques, a doctor, his mother, Sadie, a stay at home mom, and his younger sister, Barbara. When he was in school, Stanley wasn’t a traditionally good student at all. He would often skip class, was a social recluse, and was viewed as an underachiever. He was considered by many to be intelligent, but his grades ranked at the bottom of his class. He never valued school, or even a formal education that much, once saying “I have never learned anything at school, and I never read a book for pleasure until I was 19.” He applied to many colleges by the end of high school, but none accepted him. As a kid, Kubrick wanted to become a professional novelist or a Major League baseball player. Since he never seemed to value academics, he played the drums for his high school’s jazz band, and took many pictures with a camera that his father gave him. He was a very skilled photographer and eventually sold some of his shots to Look magazine at the age of sixteen. About one year later, he was hired as a freelance photographer for the magazine (Stanley Kubrick Bio).

            In 1950, Kubrick created a photo essay about boxing and used his savings to make his first documentary short, Day of The Fight. He made two other documentaries, Flying Padre and The Seafarers, and then had family members invest in his first narrative film, Fear and Desire. The movie was shown in a few art-house theaters in New York. The movie is considered to be one of the first independent films due to him making it without a studio behind it. He then made two low-budget crime thrillers, Killer’s Kiss in 1955 and The Killing in 1956, and they were well received critically and financially. By 1957 Kubrick was able to make a film for a major studio, so he made Paths of Glory, a remarkable antiwar film that starred Kirk Douglas (About Kubrick).

Kubrick became better known when he directed the historical epic, Spartacus, in 1960 also starring Kirk Douglas. Spartacus was nominated for six Academy Awards and won four. Kubrick moved to the United Kingdom in order to make his provocative 1962 film, Lolita, based on the controversial novel by Vladimir Nabokov of the same name. He remained in the United Kingdom for the rest of his life and career as a filmmaker. Stanley then received his first Academy Award nomination for best director, best writing, and best picture in 1964 for his hilarious political satire, Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. The film that really brought him into the public’s eyes was the utterly incredible and cosmic epic 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968. The film was extremely critically acclaimed and earned four Academy Award nominations and won Kubrick the award for best special effects, the only Oscar he will have ever won (Stanley Kubrick Bio).

His success continued throughout the 1970’s with films like the shocking yet dazzling A Clockwork Orange in 1971, the historical fictional drama Barry Lyndon in 1975. Stanley then made the terrifying horror film The Shining in 1980, and the chilling Vietnam War film, Full Metal Jacket in 1987. His final film came twelve years later and was the surreal Eyes Wide Shut. He finished his final cut of the film and died of a heart attack in his sleep on March 7, 1999. He was 70 years old (Stanley Kubrick Bio).

            One reason why Stanley Kubrick is considered an auteur is because he has a very distinct and skillful visual style. His most distinct visual trait is his use of nearly perfect symmetry in almost all of his films. The way Kubrick sets up and films many of his shots makes them look close to perfectly symmetrical. Many of his films use this impressive technique to draw the audience in to whatever is going on because it is very interesting, and perhaps beautiful, to look at (The “One-Point Perspective” in Stanley Kubrick’s Works).

            Another visual trademark of Kubrick is his long tracking shots. Every single film of his has at least one uncut tracking shot that usually lasts for a while. These long tracking shots are impressive in their execution and usually show the atmosphere of the current scene very well. The shot is usually the camera pulling back while a character is walking forward facing the camera (Stanley Kubrick’s Legendary Film Techniques).  

            Kubrick also was very well known for his meticulous way of filming and directing his actors. Kubrick was famous for being a perfectionist when it came to his movies. He wanted every detail to reflect how he envisioned the film. His symmetrical shots are carefully and impressively made already, but he would often take charge of every small detail, even props in the background, so that it coincided with what he wanted. He was also very controlling of his actors. He would make his actors only say what was written in the script and very rarely let them improvise. His blocking was exact and would shoot multiple takes of every shot so that he could use the perfect one. He was famous for being very hard to work with as a director, but very effective. All of his actors gave extremely well done performances, even earning Peter Sellers an Oscar nomination for best actor in Dr Strangelove and Peter Ustinov a win for his supporting role in Spartacus.

            One theme that Kubrick often explored was the dark side of mankind. His films all have a form of crime or moral ambiguity committed by at least one main character. He would often include deaths and breaches of trust amongst the characters in his stories. His focus on humanity’s more sinister subjects made his films compelling, yet challenging for his viewers to watch.

            One film that shows his traits as an auteur extremely well is 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film has many shots that are symmetrical and beautiful to look at. The “stargate” sequence has a lot of shots of colors of light that are reflective and gorgeous. He uses long tracking shots for many scenes involving the astronauts on spaceships. One example is when an astronaut is running laps around the interior of the circular spacecraft and it lasts for a long time. The camera stays on him the entire time and the whole scene is uncut. Kubrick’s perfectionism is shown through his realistic ape suits and spaceships for the movie. He consulted NASA to help him create realistic looking designs for his spaceships which he spent a long time designing. His effects for the sequences in space were amazingly realistic today even with the limitations of 1960’s effects. The film explores humanity’s dark side by showing a scene that shows the first tool ever made by man to be used as a weapon to murder an enemy.

            Another film that expresses Stanley Kubrick’s qualities as an auteur is A Clockwork Orange. The film, again, uses a lot of symmetrical and well put together shots in it. An example of this would be in the opening shot when you see the Korova Milk Bar. Everything in the shot is symmetrical and impressively put together. He uses many tracking shots, including the scene where Alex browses a record shop. The scene is a continuous take through an elaborate record shop of Alex walking to the camera. He also took control of many things in the movie to make it more real. He actually instructed actors to harm the main actor in one scene and they broke some of the main actor’s ribs. His exploration of human darkness is shown by having the main character, Alex, being a rapist and murderer. He is a despicable human being, but he is still presented in a sympathetic light when bad things happen to him.

            One more film that illustrates his traits as an auteur is The Shining. His shots are extremely symmetrical, again, especially in the scene where Danny meets the Grady twins for the first time. He uses many long tracking shots in many scenes in the hedge maze, but more notably in the scene where Danny rides his bike through the hotel and the camera follows him for a long time without cutting. He was very controlling of his actors with this movie. He made Shelly Duvall walk up stairs 127 times and verbally abused her to get the paranoid, scared performance he wanted from her. The film explores the dark side of the human race by having the story basically about one man’s descent into murderous madness.

            Stanley Kubrick made only thirteen films in his lifetime and his influence and legacy even live on today. In my opinion, all of his films are astonishing and continue to this day to be inspiring and legendary. There are not many directors that this can be said about. He is an auteur because a Stanley Kubrick film is unmatched in its greatness and is easily recognizable as his own. He made films to the best of his abilities because he loved to make his movies and his passion showed on the screen with his masterpieces of modern cinema. He made his mark on the film world and it will never go away. Kubrick once said, “One man writes a novel. One man writes a symphony. It is essential that one man make a film” (About Kubrick), and that is exactly what this one man did.

Works Cited

No comments:

Post a Comment