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Stanley Kubrick: A director worth the stress?

Written by Film

A notoriously difficult but wonderful director, Tom Cooney and Joe Holloran give us their perspective on whether Stanley Kubrick was worth the stress.

FOR

A budding cinephile wishing to delve deeper into the classics, I experienced my first Stanley Kubrick film when I was around 14 years old. It almost goes without saying that I was caught rather off-guard. The film was 2001: A Space Odyssey – sharply educating my unsuspecting mind that something made prior to 1970 could not only look good, but be a genuine visual masterpiece. And that’s only the tip of the weirdest and most wonderful iceberg.

One of the first things anyone taking their first foray into Kubrick should know, is that his films aren’t exactly easy-going. Directing only 13 features in his almost-50-year career, the auteur tackled numerous genres, topics and ways to make you feel all kinds of uncomfortable. Whether he’s helming a bone-chilling horror (*cough cough* The Shining), brutal war film (hello, Full Metal Jacket) or mesmerising erotic drama (Eyes Wide Shut, anyone?), Kubrick is always exposing and inspecting some kind of cultural nerve.

Despite the subject matters, it’s his masterful eye that consistently places these films in many critics’ Best Films of All-Time lists. Through his use of lighting, tracking shots, framing and many other similar techniques, Stanley Kubrick is the very definition of a visual storyteller. And when you cross such cinematic flair with the kind of stories that the man chose to tell (how could I forget his adaptations of Lolita and A Clockwork Orange?), you meet one of the greatest directors in film history.

Tom Cooney

AGAINST

There are few names in western cinematic history as renowned as Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999). One would be hard pressed to criticise his un-matched artistic vision. The man himself is a different story. Numerous first-hand accounts indicate that the director went beyond being a ‘perfectionist’ and strayed into abusiveness to get what he wanted. For Kubrick, the end certainly justified the means. Actors such as Shelly Duvall, Alan Cumming, Nicole Kidman and Malcolm McDowell have all spoken many times about the stressful and often unpleasant nature of the sets. Kubrick confessed himself ‘Not a people person’.

The case of Shelly Duvall does stands out as an extreme example. Duvall was so traumatized by the treatment she received on set of The Shinning(1980) by Kubrick that she effectively retired from acting and fell into depression. Many of her scenes in the film required her to act terrified and cry. Kubrick and Jack Nicholson would shout and scream at her to produce a more realistic performance – Kubrick in interviews after was un-repentant.

I’m not a religious man by any-measure, but I am reminded of a quote from the Bible Mathew 7:16 ‘Ye shall know them by their fruit.’ In other words, the tree may be foul and unpleasant to experience, but if it produces sweet fruit than you shouldn’t question it. Kubrick, undoubtedly was a difficult ‘tree’ to love. So with that in mind I will leave it up to you whether you can reconcile the end-products with the man, his personality and his questionable methods.

Joe Holloran

Last modified: 21st February 2020

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