Thursday, July 12, 2012

Triptych: All Work And No Play

"Classic Movies In Miniature Style: The Shining" by Murat Palta

"The Nooning" (t-shirt) by James Hance

"The Legend of Kubrick" (t-shirt) by Drew Wise

I have always had very ambiguous feelings about Stanley Kubrick. As a film studies graduate, I was made to watch and study the majority of his films, and he was considered to be on par with Hitchcock or John Ford in terms of importance and influence. And far be it from me to argue with that: he was a great filmmaker, end of story.

But my first introduction to Kubrick came when I was about sixteen years old, and watched A Clockwork Orange for the first time. On that first viewing, and on every subsequent viewing of A Clockwork Orange, the impression that I was left with was, primarily, "This film is a narrative shambles." I am not a fan of A Clockwork Orange. I don't feel like it conveys its plot, or its themes, even remotely effectively. It is highly dated and comes across as placing far too much emphasis on shock value - or what passed for shock value in 1971. And yet, it is consistently considered by many to be Kubrick's finest hour.

It wasn't until I took a course in American film directors that I finally saw some of his other films: Dr. Strangelove, The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Full Metal Jacket. And in watching those films, I came to appreciate what Stanley Kubrick was all about. His films all involve an unravelling of some sort, whether it comes as part of the character development or narrative (as in The Shining) or as part of the structure of the film (2001, Dr. Strangelove) and often in both (Full Metal Jacket, Eyes Wide Shut). Certainly A Clockwork Orange fits into this aesthetic, but Kubrick accomplished the same thing more effectively elsewhere in his oeuvre.

Dr. Strangelove was an epiphany to me, a dry-witted satire unlike anything I had ever seen before. That film is absolutely made by Peter Sellers and George C. Scott. But of all of Kubrick's films, the one that has sat with me, uneasily, over the years has been The Shining. I'd read the Stephen King novel more than once in my teens; Kubrick's adaptation, while hardly faithful, was a thrilling example of the art of novel-to-film adaptation. It's a genuinely frightening movie, moreso for Jack Torrance's deterioration than for his (admittedly chilling) hallucinations. Stephen King was reportedly very dissatisfied with the adaptation but to me it stands as one of the finest horror movies ever made.

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