02 March 2021

Stanley Kubrick Produces

Stanley Kubrick Produces
James Fenwick’s Stanley Kubrick Produces focuses not on Kubrick’s artistic achievements as a director, but on his role as a producer and his place in the studio system. The book makes a revisionist assessment of Kubrick’s work, as Fenwick argues that the last decades of his career represented a debilitating decline in his ability to operate as a producer: “What emerges is almost a tragic narrative, Kubrick’s rise and fall as it were.”

The book covers Kubrick’s producing career chronologically, beginning with the independent films he both produced and directed. Fenwick even tracks down a copy of World Assembly of Youth, a short documentary that Kubrick once claimed to have worked on. (“Despite long-standing speculation about Kubrick’s involvement in the project, there is little evidence to support this.”) Fenwick makes an additional discovery: that Kubrick was involved in the sound editing of a film with the working title Shark Safari in 1953. Supported by extensive archive research, the book also provides detailed accounts of Kubrick’s producing partnership with James B. Harris, his collaborations with Kirk Douglas, and his various studio contracts.

The central thesis is that absolute control is a double-edged sword. Kubrick secured total control over every aspect of his films, though this was ultimately a Pyrrhic victory, as his micromanagement increasingly delayed the development of new projects: “Kubrick had become an impotent producer, overwhelmed by his own centralized management style and the information and research that he sought.” (The Channel 4 documentary The Last Movie made a similar point, comparing late-career Kubrick to a computer overloaded with data.)

05 January 2021

The Making of a Masterpiece

The Making of a Masterpiece
The Making of a Masterpiece
The Making of a Masterpiece
Taschen published The Stanley Kubrick Archives as a collector’s edition in 2005, and last year they launched a new series—The Making of a Masterpiece—based on material from that still-definitive work. Each book in the series is essentially a reprint of an individual chapter from The Stanley Kubrick Archives, reformatted to a square 12” format (the same size as an LP sleeve), and bundled with a DVD and poster.

There are three titles in the series so far: A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. The LP-sized format allows for some impressive full-page illustrations, and the authorised poster reproductions are a welcome bonus. The inclusion of the DVDs is more surprising, though, as most readers will either already own them, or prefer to stream the films online. Also, the DVDs are vanilla discs with no bonus features.

While the essays and images are almost entirely the same as the original chapters in The Stanley Kubrick Archives, completists should note that the new books do feature a small amount of new material. In the 2001 book, this includes two letters from Kubrick to Arthur C. Clarke, and a few additional photographs of Kubrick on the set. (On the other hand, Kubrick’s 1968 Playboy interview is missing.)

The A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon books include slightly more new material, each adding a handful of on-set photos and a few script pages. Barry Lyndon also has an additional letter from Kubrick, to a studio executive in Japan. In the letter, Kubrick attempts to assuage the Japanese censor’s concerns that pubic hair is visible in the film’s bathtub scene. (Any depiction of pubic hair is forbidden in Japan.) Kubrick reassures the executive that the actress in question was wearing a bikini to preserve her modesty.

12 October 2020

Stanley Kubrick: American Filmmaker

Stanley Kubrick: American Filmmaker
More than twenty years after Stanley Kubrick’s death, academic interest in his films is still increasing. The latest book on the director, Stanley Kubrick: American Filmmaker by David Mikics, could best be described as a beginner’s guide to Kubrick’s work. At a brisk 200 pages, this is certainly not an in-depth study, though it does include a potted production history of each Kubrick film.

Mikics, a professor of literature, makes insightful comparisons between the films and their source novels. He also identifies subtle physical nuances in actors’ performances. The book’s sources include letters from the Kubrick Archive (or, as the dust jacket puts it oxymoronically, “new archival material”).

His analysis is relatively interesting, though Mikics (again, a literary scholar rather than a film critic) makes some technical errors. A studio executive’s comment about “1.66 lenses” goes uncorrected; they should be 1.66 mattes. He also conflates two different quotes from Dr Strangelove: “I don’t avoid women, Mandrake, I just deny them my precious bodily fluids.”

Mikics makes a series of tenuous links between Kubrick’s life and his film plots. He claims, for example, that Lolita echoed the director’s relationship with his daughter (“The Lolita story oddly foreshadows the relation between Kubrick and Vivian”), and that Barry Lyndon represented Kubrick’s feelings towards his father (“Tension and disappointment animate father-son relations in Barry Lyndon as they did in the teenage Kubrick’s life”).

In the book’s final paragraphs, Mikics writes that “Kubrick’s appeal has outlasted his death, even extending to pop music of the 2010s.” It’s true, of course, that Kubrick remains influential, though simply citing two recent songs is hardly a sufficient discussion of his legacy. Then, Mikics considers Kubrick’s cinematic influence, though again he gives only a limited selection of recent examples: The Tree of Life, Arrival, and Zama.

21 April 2020

Kubrick by Kubrick

Kubrick by Kubrick
Grégory Monro’s documentary Kubrick by Kubrick (Kubrick par Kubrick) premiered on the French Arte channel on 12th April. The film is largely comprised of audio clips from Kubrick interviews recorded by Michel Ciment in 1975, 1980, and 1987, and begins with Kubrick’s admission that “I’ve never found it meaningful, or even possible, to talk about film aesthetics in terms of my own films. I also don’t particularly enjoy the interviews.” Most of his thirteen films are covered, with three exceptions (Killer’s Kiss, The Killing, and Lolita).

Much more extensive extracts from Ciment’s recordings were broadcast on French radio in 2011, though the material in the documentary has improved sound quality (thanks to noise reduction). Some extracts also appeared in Making Barry Lyndon. Extended interviews with Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock/Truffaut) and Orson Welles (The Lost Tapes of Orson Welles; This Is Orson Welles) have also been released in audio format.

If your main source material is an audio tape, how can you make a visually appealing documentary film? Monro follows the pattern previously adopted by other documentaries built around audio recordings: as in Marlene and Listen to Me Marlon, a tape recorder plays while the camera prowls around a set. In this case, the set is a recreation of the bedroom from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the audio is supplemented with vintage talking-head clips, shown on an old CRT television (just like the TV playing Summer of ’42 in The Shining).

Other Kubrick interview recordings have also been released in recent years. The collector’s edition of The Stanley Kubrick Archives included a CD featuring a 1966 Kubrick interview by Jeremy Bernstein for The New Yorker. A 1987 Kubrick interview by Tim Cahill for Rolling Stone was issued as an episode of The Kubrick Series podcast. Japanese TV producer Jun’ichi Yaoi interviewed Kubrick by telephone in 1980, and VHS video footage of the interview was released online in 2018.

19 April 2020

The Criterion Collection
Dr Strangelove

Dr Strangelove
Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove was first released by the Criterion Collection on laserdisc, in 1992. That transfer was supervised by Kubrick himself, and he even designed the front cover, though the disc was swiftly withdrawn from sale after Kubrick complained about the unauthorised inclusion of a screenplay draft among the supplementary features. (The draft script opened with a segment titled The Dead Worlds of Antiquity, told from the perspective of an alien civilisation.)

The Criterion laserdisc presented Dr Strangelove “in its original split-format aspect ratio for the first time.” The film alternated between 1.66:1 and 1.33:1, as it had on its original theatrical release. (Criterion’s Lolita laserdisc also featured these alternating ratios.) When Dr Strangelove was released on DVD for the first time, in 1999, the split-format was retained, though all subsequent releases have been matted to 1.66:1. Sadly, the Criterion blu-ray, released in 2016, is also framed at 1.66:1, though it does have an uncompressed mono soundtrack.

The blu-ray’s supplementary features include an extraordinary new discovery: an exhibitor’s trailer of highlights from the film, narrated by Kubrick himself (“Please remember, as you watch this, that the material is uncut”). The disc also includes an interview with Mick Broderick, author of the excellent Reconstructing Strangelove. The packaging is equally impressive, with reproductions of the “miniature combination Russian phrasebook and Bible” and the “Plan R” dossier.

23 February 2020

World Class Cinema

World Class Cinema
The Shining
The Graduate
The Housemaid
After The Wizard of Oz and Annie Hall, the Thai Film Archive has announced the next batch of films in this year’s World Class Cinema (ทึ่ง! หนังโลก) programme. Highlights over the next few months include Stanley Kubrick’s horror film The Shining (showing on 15th March), the ‘New Hollywood’ classic The Graduate (19th April), Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece Jaws (17th May), and the South Korean ‘golden age’ melodrama The Housemaid (하녀; 16th August).

The Shining was originally scheduled for last year’s World Class Cinema season, though Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange was shown instead. All screenings will take place at the Scala cinema in Bangkok.

22 December 2019

2001 Between Kubrick and Clarke

2001 Between Kubrick and Clarke
2001 Between Kubrick and Clarke: The Genesis, Making and Authorship of a Masterpiece, by Filippo Ulivieri and Simone Odino, now sits alongside eleven other books about 2001: A Space Odyssey on my bookshelves. (The others are 2001: Filming The Future, The Making of Kubrick’s 2001, The Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey, 2001 Memories, Moonwatcher’s Memoir, Are We Alone?, 2001: A Space Odyssey, 2001: The Lost Science, The 2001 File, The Making Of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Space Odyssey.)

Despite being the latest of at least a dozen books on the subject, 2001 Between Kubrick and Clarke offers a surprisingly original analysis of the making of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece and his collaboration with Arthur C. Clarke. It provides “for the first time a complete account of the creative odyssey undertaken by Kubrick and Clarke,” including previously-unseen material from both the Kubrick Archive and, especially, Clarke’s papers at the Smithsonian.

Most accounts of the production of 2001 are largely anecdotal, relying on decades-old recollections, though 2001 Between Kubrick and Clarke takes a reassuringly systematic approach, verifying every fact via contemporaneous press reports and production documents. The book’s most substantial section offers a unique chronology of 2001’s production, meticulously researched and thoroughly detailed. There is also an in-depth examination of the often-overlooked period following Dr Strangelove, when Kubrick was formulating his plans for 2001.

2001 Between Kubrick and Clarke was first published in Italian, as 2001 tra Kubrick e Clarke: Genesi, realizzazione e paternità di un capolavoro. Co-author Filippo Ulivieri also wrote the excellent Stanley Kubrick and Me, the memoir of Kubrick’s personal assistant.

25 October 2019

Siri House

The Shining
To celebrate Halloween, Siri House in Bangkok will be showing Kubrick’s The Shining tomorrow. The screening is free of charge.

27 August 2019

Eyes Wide Shut

Eyes Wide Shut
Eyes Wide Shut: Stanley Kubrick and the Making of His Final Film examines the production and legacy of Eyes Wide Shut, twenty years after its theatrical release. Authors Robert P. Kolker and Nathan Abrams make effective use of files from the Stanley Kubrick Archive, comparing script drafts and using production reports to create a detailed account of the extended filming process. (Frederic Raphael’s self-serving memoir Eyes Wide Open is also a major source.) Endnotes are included, though they are not numbered in the body text, thus phrases such as “Cruise says” misleadingly imply that Tom Cruise (for example) spoke to the authors personally.

The book’s second half, dealing with Eyes Wide Shut’s post-production and release, is less impressive than the first. There are only two paragraphs devoted to the editing process, and Kubrick’s editing notes are dismissed as “gobbledygook.” The film was censored to comply with MPAA regulations, though the authors were unable to confirm how this was decided: “whether Kubrick intended to do this remains the subject of some controversy.” (The soundtrack was also changed, for the film’s European theatrical release and all video versions, though the book makes no mention of this.)

Kubrick died during post-production, and the book leaves key questions relating to posthumous editorial decisions unresolved. Most remarkably, the film’s state of incompletion at the time of Kubrick’s death is dealt with under the subheading “The Irrelevant Question”. Such matters are dismissed as mere trivialities: “Whether it might have been different in some small way is ultimately irrelevant and certainly counterproductive to our understanding of the film and the pleasure we take from it.” This is a pretty extraordinary statement, given Kubrick’s meticulous attention to detail.

16 July 2018

Cinema Winehouse

Full Metal Jacket
Bangkok's Cinema Winehouse will be screening Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket on Saturday. (They showed Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange and The Shining earlier this year.)

31 May 2018

The Killing

The Killing
Bangkok Screening Room will be showing Stanley Kubrick's The Killing next month. The Killing, a noir thriller, was the first film Kubrick made with his producing partner James B. Harris. (His previous films, Fear and Desire and Killer's Kiss, had been made without a production company.) The Killing was one of many crime films influenced by John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle, though its editing is entirely original: its non-linear narrative style would later influence Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. Sterling Hayden, star of The Asphalt Jungle and The Killing, would later play Jack D. Ripper in Kubrick's Dr Strangelove. The Killing will be shown at Bangkok Screening Room on 15th, 16th, 20th, 22nd, 23rd, 24th, 29th, and 30th June; and 1st July.

09 May 2018

"I'm not gonna try to
sound like Winston Churchill..."

The latest episode of The Kubrick Series podcast is an interview Stanley Kubrick gave on 10th June 1987 to Tim Cahill, a magazine journalist. Cahill supplied his two-hour Dictaphone recording of the interview, and it was uploaded yesterday. The interview was first published in the 27th August 1987 issue of Rolling Stone. In the article, Cahill described Kubrick as "entirely unpretentious. He was wearing running shoes and an old corduroy jacket. There was an ink stain just below the pocket where some ball point pen had bled to death."

Comparing the tape and the published transcript, it becomes clear how much Kubrick's answers were compressed and paraphrased in the printed version. The article also includes several quotes that are not on the tape, such as "truth is too multifaceted to be contained in a five-line summary." These bon mots were clearly written later, and at one point on the tape Kubrick asks for some time to review a draft of the transcript: "Give me at least a day to have a crack at it... I'm not gonna try to sound like Winston Churchill, but I'd like to just tidy it up." He even specifies that he'd like a triple-spaced manuscript: "I've gotta have room to write, to change the words." (The Kubrick Archive has dozens of pages of interview transcripts similarly revised by Kubrick.)

This is the third posthumously-released Kubrick interview recording. Alison Castle's book The Stanley Kubrick Archives included a CD of Jeremy Bernstein's interview with Kubrick, recorded in 1966. The French radio series A voix nue broadcast Michel Ciment's Kubrick interviews from 1975, 1980, and 1987. (The archive of film critic Alexander Walker, at La Cineteca del Friuli in Italy, has two recordings of Walker's interviews with Kubrick, from 1980 and 1987.)

07 May 2018

Cinema Winehouse

A Clockwork Orange
Gone With the Wind
Seven Samurai
The Exorcist
From tomorrow until Saturday, Bangkok's Cinema Winehouse will be screening a classic film every evening. Tomorrow, it's Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, followed by Gone With the Wind on Thursday, Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (七人の侍) on Friday, and The Exorcist on Saturday.

03 May 2018

Space Odyssey

Space Odyssey
Michael Benson's Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece provides a new production history of 2001: A Space Odyssey, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the film's release. Benson's previous book was the excellent Cosmigraphics, and Space Odyssey benefits from his dual interests in cosmology and visual art.

There are, of course, many books on the making of 2001, including 2001: Filming The Future, The Making of Kubrick's 2001, The Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey, 2001 Memories, Moonwatcher's Memoir, Are We Alone?, 2001: A Space Odyssey, 2001: The Lost Science, The 2001 File, and The Making Of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. At 500 pages, Space Odyssey is the most exhaustive account of the making of the film.

Through a Different Lens

Through a Different Lens
Lou Jacobs
Donald Albrecht (co-editor of Only in New York) and Sean Corcoran curated Through a Different Lens: Stanley Kubrick Photographs, an exhibition opening today at the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY). They also edited the exhibition's lavish and comprehensive catalogue, published in folio format by Taschen.

Stanley Kubrick became a staff photographer for Look magazine in 1945, straight out of high school. Five years later, he quit in order to become a director. I have compiled a complete list of Kubrick's published photographs, which is included in the Stanley Kubrick Archive and was reprinted in Fotografie 1945-1950.

The images in Through a Different Lens are drawn from the MCNY's collection of thousands of Kubrick's photos. (Stanley Kubrick at Look Magazine is also based on the MCNY's collection.) The photographs are almost exclusively black-and-white, though there is a colour portrait of the clown Lou Jacobs. In their introduction, the editors argue that Kubrick's photography "honed his skills as both a storyteller and an image maker, albeit through a different lens."

There have been several previous catalogues of Kubrick's photographs: Ladro di sguardi, Still Moving Pictures, Drama and Shadows, Fotografie 1945-1950, Visioni e finzioni. A limited selection also appears in Art by Film Directors. To a greater or lesser extent, these surveys all have similar limitations: they decontextualise the images (presenting them out of sequence, either retitled or untitled), and they recycle a limited selection of photographs.

Through a Different Lens is the first book on Kubrick's photography to avoid these shortcomings. It includes more than 300 photographs, making it the most extensive collection in print. The arrangement is chronological, and Look publication details are also included.

19 April 2018

Cinema Winehouse

Lawrence of Arabia
The Shining
After the Songkran holiday, Bangkok's Cinema Winehouse is showing more classics this week. David Lean's epic Lawrence of Arabia is screening tonight. (It was previously shown in 2015.) Tomorrow, it's Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo (用心棒), previously shown as part of the Kurosawa retrospective at CentralWorld. On Saturday, it's Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (last shown during the Cinema Scarehouse season).

08 April 2018

Archive on Four

Yesterday's episode of the BBC Radio 4 series Archive on Four was a documentary marking the fiftieth anniversary of 2001: A Space Odyssey, "the most influential science-fiction movie ever made, and a film whose deeper meaning is still being actively debated." The programme was presented by Christopher Frayling (author of The 2001 File), who visited the Stanley Kubrick Archive and interviewed Pier Bizony (author of The Making of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey). There have been two previous BBC radio documentaries on 2001: Landmarks and The Film Programme have both broadcast episodes about the making of the film.

29 March 2018

Cinema: Stanley Kubrick

Cinema: Stanley Kubrick
Cinema: Stanley Kubrick
On Tuesday, an extensive collection of Stanley Kubrick memorabilia was auctioned in Torino, Italy, raising a total of €90,000. In its sale catalogue, the auction house describes the fifty-five lots as "the most important collection of material relating to the life and work of Stanley Kubrick ever offered at auction."

The auction included notes and other documents signed by Kubrick (such as an autographed Christmas card, similar to one I bought in 2006) and props from his later films. All items were given by Kubrick to Emilio D'Alessandro, his personal assistant, whose memoirs have been published in both Italian (Stanley Kubrick e me) and English (Stanley Kubrick and Me).

20 October 2017

The Criterion Collection
Barry Lyndon

Barry Lyndon
Making Barry Lyndon
Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon was released this week on blu-ray and DVD by the Criterion Collection. Criterion titles are almost always superb, and Barry Lyndon is no exception: their new blu-ray is the film's definitive release.

Barry Lyndon has previously been available on Warner laserdisc and VHS, in its original 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio and mono soundtrack. It was also released in this format on DVD in 1999, as part of The Stanley Kubrick Collection. However, when it was remastered in 2001, the soundtrack was remixed to 5.1 surround sound, and this artificially enhanced version reappeared on subsequent DVD releases.

When the film was released on Warner blu-ray in 2011, its aspect ratio was cropped to 1.77:1 (the HD-TV format). Leon Vitali, one of Kubrick's assistants, defended the release by claiming that Barry Lyndon's aspect ratio had always been 1.77:1, and it had never been available in 1.66:1 (despite thirty-five years of theatrical, laserdisc, VHS, and DVD releases in 1.66:1). Even when a letter by Kubrick stating that it "was photographed in 1-1.66 aspect ratio" was discovered, Vitali maintained that Kubrick preferred 1.77:1.

Thankfully, the Criterion blu-ray returns the film to its correct 1.66:1 ratio, and its original mono soundtrack has also been restored. This meticulous attention to detail is unsurprising, as Criterion's Lolita, Dr Strangelove, and 2001: A Space Odyssey laserdisc transfers were supervised by Kubrick himself. They have also released excellent blu-ray editions of The Killing (and Killer's Kiss) and Dr Strangelove.

Criterion's Barry Lyndon blu-ray also features supplements covering various aspects of the film, notably the new documentary Making Barry Lyndon, which features extracts from Michel Ciment's interview with Kubrick, as broadcast on A Voix Nue. The documentary also includes the incredible (in both senses) story that Kubrick telephoned the Queen from the set of Barry Lyndon to ask her about royal etiquette!

Ciment (author of Kubrick: The Definitive Edition), and Christopher Frayling (author of Ken Adam: The Art of Production Design, Ken Adam Designs the Movies, and The 2001 File) are interviewed in other documentaries on the blu-ray. (Criterion has produced an entire disc's worth of extra features, whereas previous releases had no supplements apart from the trailer.)

21 February 2017

World Class Cinema

World Class Cinema
Gone With The Wind
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Rebel Without A Cause
2001: A Space Odyssey
The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly
Following the Festival Of Classic Movies (2007) and เมื่อครั้งเสด็จฯ ทอดพระเนตร ภาพยนตร์ (2016), there will be another season of Hollywood classics showing in Bangkok this year. World Class Cinema will feature nine films, all screened at the Scala cinema, beginning with Victor Fleming's Gone With The Wind on 12th March. Other highlights include Howard Hawks' Gentlemen Prefer Blondes on 9th April; Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without A Cause on 2nd July; Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey on 17th September; and Sergio Leone's The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly (the restored version) on 15th October.