My Year in Film Studies (Part Five)
For those of you who missed it, you can find part four here.
And so now given that my aim was to use the films of Kubrick to launch into a study of the auteur theory, the task is to pick another film by the ex-pat New York photographer that would show the scope of his genius, while also allowing us to see how the man's films have a unity of style and substance that distinguishes his work from others in his field. Despite the fact that Kubrick only made 13 feature films, and most people only have access to the final eleven (Fear and Dsire and Killer's Kiss are not readily available), his films clearly enjoy many consistencies that make his work ideal for a study of the auteur theory. Kubrick's distinctive cinematic style means that passages in his films, like other masters of the medium, are almost instantly recognizable; even those films that may be unfamiliar are, paradoxically enough, often immediately familiar. Among the elements that make Kubrick's films ideal for such a study include his devotion to a meticulous and detailed mis-en-scene and mis-en-shot, his set ups, framing and unique editing style, which favour expressionistic angles and lighting, including reliance on long takes, deep focus and tracking shots, as well as closeups that are both extreme and extremely effective. In fact, Kubrick viewed editing as the key to filmmaking, as it is the element of the art that is unique to the process. Writing, set design, cinematography all have their progenitors in other art forms (stage and photography), while a director could use editing to create the film long after shooting had finished. In this Kubrick was quite different from the other master of cold, Alfred Hitchcock, who was so meticulous in his preparation that he viewed that actual process of shooting and editing tedious, as he had already completed the film in his imagination. Kubrick was more experimental, shooting scenes from all sorts of angles, and relying on multiple takes, so he could mix and match the material until he got the material he wanted. Wong Kar Wai, who otherwise shares almost nothing in common with Kubrick, is a good example of a contemporary filmmaker who utilizes a similar approach to his filmmaking.
Furthermore, Kubrick's themes likewise contain many overlapping elements, including his distrust of authority and hierarchical organizationsattraction to and fear of our (over)reliance on technology, all of which he felt certainly made our life both more comfortable and more exciting while simultaneously contributing to people's desensitization and dehumanization. Kubrick's film often have a critical and often satirical bent, as well as an ambiguity and open-endedness that encourages the audience to engage with and interpret the material.Finally, as mentioned above, Kubrick's films have a consistent coolness that reflect the artifice that comes from mounting such precise and fastidious productions as well as Kubrick's primarily intellectual concerns.
It was rather satisfying to study Kubrick because his films are so diverse and similar, so rich and enigmatic, and student responses were consequently and delightfully predictably unpredictable.
Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964, USA, Stanley Kubrick)
And so on to the film at hand. Back in the day, I wrote a review for this film for Apollo Guide, which you can read here.
Go ahead, I'll wait for you...
All righty, now that we're done with that, let's move on to the evaluation of the film's overall effectiveness.
The film's dark humour was the entry point into this film. Kubrick's cynicism about military industrial and political systems found a ready audience of like-minded students. His overt connection of sexuality and violence underlined many of the film's best jokes while placing an exclamation point on many of his most critical assertions. Furthermore, as a method of examing Kubrick the auteur, Strangelove proved an excellent choice, as the film is a pregnant cinematic pinata of stylistic and thematic material that ties this film to those that came before and after, including 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The film was well received, and was rated ever so slightly higher than 2001: A Space Odyssey (4.3/5) and was likewise ranked one spot above it. While it didn't provoke the same disparity of opinion as 2001, the film still required analysis and rewarded intellectual investigation.
What I'd do differently
While we did look at some moments from Full Metal Jacket and The Shining, I'd draw more parallels to other works of Kubrick, pulling more scenes out for comparison and contrast. This would help to enrich the discussion, particularly when it comes to examining the auteur theory.
Overall Grade: A
Part Six, wherein we shift gears to take a look at the ouevre of Alfred Hitchcock, can be found here.