Text by Edward Champion
Uncompromising. Meticulous. Control freak. Reclusive. These were all words that were attached to Stanley Kubrick throughout his life. But they were also words that described a man who changed the rules of filmmaking. Kubrick merged the artistic film with the commercial, melding his stark independent vision with the coffers of Hollywood in a way that no other filmmaking genius -- not even Welles -- has managed to accomplish and may never succeed at doing again.
The death of Kubrick came as a shock to me. His legacy -- the twelve films that he created (including the forthcoming Eyes Wide Shut) -- impacted me personally and made me see film in a completely different way. In 1987, I saw my first Kubrick film, Full Metal Jacket, and discovered that film was more than just a medium that entertained. As I became engrossed with the moral disintegration of Private Gomer Pyle, as I watched raw recruits turn into seasoned veterans without remorse or morality, I realized that film had the ability to transcend mere storytelling and become an unforgettable visceral and visual experience.
I soon found myself renting every Kubrick film I could get my hands on, and became captivated with every frame, every character, and every painstakingly crafted allegorical touch that Kubrick embellished his films with. The giddy lunacy of Dr. Strangelove, the evolutionary epic of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the moral philosophizing of A Clockwork Orange. I was amazed that the man could move seamlessly from one genre to another.
I watched these films over and over. Who was the man that created these images?
I began to read books. I collected an arsenal of magazine articles and clippings and learned that he had moved to England to maintain control of his films after he had become disappointed with the way Hollywood had attempted to wrestle control of Spartacus away from him. Through Kubrick, I learned that directing a film was more than just an artistic challenge. It was, above all, a relentless battle with the people who gave you the money.
I soon found myself experimenting with a video camera, hoping to recapture the visual poignancy of 2001's bone being tossed up into the air and becoming a spaceship, trying to reproduce the visual beauty of Barry Lyndon's candlelit imagery. And I soon moved on to Super 8 and 16mm formats, all the while keeping a mental checklist of all the true Kubrickean moments that I remembered.
There were other filmmakers that inspired me, who showed me how to work with the film form in the way in which they executed a scene or accomplished a shot. But it was Kubrick that showed me how the film worked as a whole.
To be fair, Kubrick was frequently tough on his actors. In A Clockwork Orange, he kept Malcolm McDowell's eyes open to that horrible metal device for nearly twelve hours straight. He shot a relentless number of takes for nearly every shot, 47 takes for a simple shot of Scatman Crothers crossing the street in The Shining. He took years upon years to create a film just to get it right. But his talent was so enormous, so all-encompassing, so vast, so true to the film form, that somehow all the horror stories seemed justified.
With Kubrick now gone, I wonder if film will ever be the same. He was a Dostoevsky, a Melville and a Tolstoy all rolled up in one. He was an uncompromising giant unafraid to tackle controversial issues and explore the human condition through his unique vision.
I can only hope that there will be a filmmaker of equal stature in the years to come.