Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures

By Tibbetts, John C. | Literature/Film Quarterly, January 1, 2001 | Go to article overview
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Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures

Tibbetts, John C., Literature/Film Quarterly

Written and produced by Jan Harlan. Associate producer Anthony Frewin. Edited by Melanie Viner Cuneo. 141 minutes. Warner Bros. 2001.

After seeing [A Clockwork Orange], I realized it is the only movie about what the modern world really means.

-Luis Bunuel

The image is memorable: Atop a 20-foot tall camera platform, at ease in a side-saddle perch, sits Stanley Kubrick. He's surveying the chaos below of yet another day's shooting of the epic Spartacus. Yet, high above it all, he's as cool and casual as if he were enjoying a tea-time break.

This photograph is just one of hundreds of still images, along with fascinating behindthe-scenes filmmaking footage in Jan Harlan's new documentary, Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures, that reveal Kubrick as a wry observer of and patient participant in the madness that is the filmmaking process. Far from the adjectives that are constantly applied to him-"reclusive," "obsessive," and "eccentric" quoted from newspaper in the documentary's opening montage-this view of Kubrick emphasizes his identity not just as an admittedly relentlessly driven filmmaker (the viewer loses count of the number of images depicting him viewing the world through a lens viewfinder), but also as a devoted family man with a wife and three children and a soft-spoken friend and respected colleague of many. Apart from a few acerbic remarks from Shelley Duvall concerning tensions with Kubrick on the set of The Shining, there is scarcely a discouraging word heard from the galaxy of collaborators, friends. and relatives.

And who could dispute them? Intercut into a roughly chronological survey of Kubrick's life, narrated by actor Tom Cruise, are anecdotes and encomiums by a host of luminaries who knew him, lived with him, worked for him, or simply admired him-including directors Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Sydney Pollack, Paul Mazursky, Tony Palmer; family members and colleagues Alex Singer, James Harris, Jan Harlan, Barbara Kroner (sister), Christiane Kubrick (wife); and many artists with whom Kubrick collaborated, like writer Arthur C. Clarke, composer Gyorgy Ligeti, critic Richard Schickel, musician Wendy Carlos, and actors Peter Ustinov, Matthew Modine, Shelley Duval, Nicole Kidman, and, of course, Tom Cruise. Especially important are the contributions by wife Christiane, seated informally in her painting studio, two of her canvases prominently displayed behind her. She remembers her first meeting with her husband-to-be on the set of Paths of Glory (where she sang the affecting German folk song in the film's memorable conclusion) and speaks matter-of-factly yet affectionately about the forty-three years she subsequently spent with him.

"This film is a document about a man who remained silent whether he was being applauded or damned," Cruise's narrative explains. It is clearly intended to remove some of the veils of gossip and downright misinformation that have surrounded Kubrick for most of his career-and were allowed to persist because of Kubrick's unwillingness to grant interviews or speak out on his own behalf. Yet, ironically, one of the most fascinating parts of Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures is a fragment of a CBS radio interview he gave in 1958 in which he reflects on the new challenges Hollywood must face due to the advent of television. Here, the mere sound of his voice-a gentle, wise, and calm articulation-convinces as well as any image or tribute could of his innate sympathetic nature and commanding intelligence.

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