Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures

Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures
   Warner Bros. , 140 minutes, 2001 Producer: Jan Harlan; Associate Producer: Anthony Frewin; Director: Harlan;Camera and Sound: Manuel Harlan; Editor: Melanie Viner Cuneo; Narrator: Tom Cruise.
   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 teatime break.
   This photograph is just one of hundreds of still images, along with fascinating behind-the-scenes film footage in JAN HARLAN’s documentary, Stanley Kubrick:A Life in Pictures, that reveals Kubrick as a wry observer of a patient participant in the madness that is the filmmaking process. Far from the adjectives that are constantly applied to him—“reclusive,” “obsessive,” and “eccentric,” blare out the newspaper headlines 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 and soft-spoken friend of many and family man of a wife and three children. Apart from a few acerbic remarks from SHELLEY DUVALL concerning tensions on the set of THE SHINING, there is scarcely a discouraging word heard from the galaxy of collaborators, friends, and relatives. Intercut into a roughly chronological narrative 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, and Tony Palmer; family members and colleagues Alex Singer, JAMES B. HARRIS, Jan Harlan, Barbara Kroner (Kubrick’s sister), CHRISTIANE KUBRICK (Kubrick’s third wife); and many artists with whom Kubrick collaborated, like writer ARTHUR C. CLARKE, composer GYÖRGY LIGETI, critic Richard Schickel, musician WENDY CARLOS, and actors PETER USTINOV, MATTHEW MODINE, Shelley Duvall, NICOLE KIDMAN, and Tom Cruise. Specially important are the contributions by Christiane Kubrick, seated informally in her painting studio, two of her canvases prominently displayed 354 n Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures around 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 matterof factly, yet affectionately, about the 42 years she subsequently spent with him.
   “This film is a document about a man who remained silent whether he was being applauded or damned,” intones Cruise’s narrative voice. It is clearly intended to remove some of the veils of gossip and misinformation that surrounded Kubrick for most of his career—and which persisted 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, it is the sound of his voice—gentle, wise, and calm—that convinces as well as any image or tribute could of his innate sympathetic nature and commanding intelligence. Each of the Kubrick films, from the short documentary “DAY OF THE FIGHT” to the 13 features (including the early FEAR AND DESIRE), is given its due. Particularly interesting are DOUGLAS TRUMBULL’s explanations of technical processes in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, MALCOLM MCDOWELL’s poignant regret that his close friendship with Kubrick did not extend past the shooting of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, JACK NICHOLSON’s comments on on-set improvisations in The Shining, demonstrations of the Zeiss-lens photography for the interior scenes in BARRY LYNDON, and the hilarious recollections by Tom Cruise and Sydney Pollack of interminable retakes during a billiards scene in EYES WIDE SHUT.
   Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures is an impressive achievement and a welcome introduction to Kubrick’s life and work. This is largely due to the fact that producer-writer Jan Harlan worked with Kubrick for 30 years and doubtless knew him as well as anyone. He began in 1969 as a special assistant during the preparation on “NAPOLEON” and remained with Kubrick as an assistant on A Clockwork Orange and executive producer of Barry Lyndon,The Shining, FULL METAL JACKET, Eyes Wide Shut, and (with Steven Spielberg) A. I. “We really wanted to set the record straight about Stanley,” Harlan explains. “So much had been said about him over the years that was simply not true. This would be an opportunity for those of us who knew him so well to have our say. ” Immediately after Kubrick’s death on March 7, 1999, Harlan gained the approval and backing of Terry Semel, former WARNER BROS. chairman, and, after Semel’s departure from Warner,Warren Lieberfarb, president of Warner Home Video, to make this documentary. Filming took place during a 12-month period and involved nearly 60 hours of interview footage and home-movie footage provided by Christiane Kubrick. The latter scenes are particularly interesting. “When you see home movies of Stanley jumping and playing as a child,” comments Christiane,“ you realize the sense of joy that never left him as an adult. Along with a great deal of other material that has been included, we hope that audiences will get a feel for where Stanley came from and how he lived his life. ” The documentary premiered at the Berlin Film Festival on February 17, 2001. It must be said that in his directorial debut Harlan’s own filmmaking skills are up to the demands of the subject. For example, he displays a canny sense of musical accompaniment to the images every bit as effective as Kubrick’s. Most subtly affecting is a continuing musical leitmotif in the documentary—a fragment of piano music that is quietly resigned and gentle in tone—derived from the piano postlude of the last song of Schumann’s song cycle, Dichterliebe, Opus 48. The words from Heine’s text immediately preceding that passage are apt:
   The bad old songs,
   The bad and evil dreams,
   Let us now bury them.
   Bring a large coffin. . . .
   Do you know why indeed the coffin
   Is so big and heavy?
   I also buried my love
   And my sorrow in it.
   Released in tandem with eight Kubrick features, Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures is in the DVD collection (Dolby Digital/Stereo 5. 1 format). LEON VITALI, assistant to Kubrick from 1976 to 1999, helped prepare the material for the digital age. He and Kubrick initiated this project as early as 1997. “We understood the work required was going to mean starting almost from scratch,” explains Vitali, “going back to the basic picture elements to improve the source material from which to do the transfers on new and highly sophisticated digital transfer machinery, and of course, remixing the sound tracks from the original mono mixes of the past and updating them into the 5. 1 and 2-track stereo mixes required today. ” In all, The Stanley Kubrick Collection, of which the Kubrick documentary is a part, took two years of constant work. “This collection, digitally remastered and digitally remixed,” continues Vitali, “is a testament to his spirit, his originality, and his stature as one of the greatest moviemakers of all time. ” Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures ends with a reprise of black-and-white, home-movie footage shot by Stanley’s father of the boy Stanley and his sister Barbara seated at a piano. Happy and smiling, the youngsters plunk away at the keyboard at some forgotten piano piece. The silence and the intermittent white flashes on the film stock remind us how fragile the fading film material is. Yet somehow Stanley himself, sensitive and driven as he was—perhaps to an extreme—did endure for 70 years. And, thanks to these new efforts in digitizing Kubrick’s work by Harlan, Frewin, Vitali, Warner Bros. , and the Kubrick family, the legacy of his work will outlast us all.
   J. C. T.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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