Sunday, January 26, 2014

Personal Heroes: Stanley Kubrick

You sit at the board and suddenly your heart leaps. Your hand trembles to pick up the piece and move it. But what chess teaches you is that you must sit there calmly and think about whether it's really a good idea and whether there are other, better ideas.

What ideas did he have? What did he say?

That war is brutal folly and anyone trying to place rules on it is playing a fool’s game.
That man is of little consequence in the vast scheme of the universe, but is still of consequence, nonetheless.
That a lifetime in pursuit of wealth is a wasted life.
That ego and self-absorption has no place in family.
That free will is a sacred gift, even if it is ill-used.
That any elaborate scheme for good or ill can be undone by Fate.
That love has nothing to do with mystery, but with complete honesty.
And, ultimately, it is not a person's intelligence that matters, as the smartest of us can be undone by their nature and their character.

"I would not think of quarreling with your interpretation nor offering any other, as I have found it always the best policy to allow the film to speak for itself."

He worked and honed and crafted and planned and plotted each of these stories for years, like elaborate chess-games against any contingency. By the time they reached his audience, he was so many moves ahead, the audience was frequently out of reach. Or out of touch. And it would take years for them to catch up. “People say it’s too bad he made so few films,” Martin Scorsese has said of him. “But there's so much, it’s enough. It’s enough.”

We’ll catch up with each of these little mysteries. Our only common thread to their ultimate meaning—he chose everything deliberately…specifically. There are no red herrings in his films. Everything has a purpose. They’re meant to be there. But you have to make leaps. Like knowing that Kubrick thought his version of "The Shining" was, essentially, a hopeful story. Any movie that proposed an after-life had to be.

Kubrick stayed out of the press, and the vacuum that created was usually filled with speculation about him. That he was phobic. That he was obsessive, certainly, and probably insane. Certainly he was misogynistic, if you look at his films.

But look at the man. Everything in Kubrick's life revolved around work and family. He couldn't make
Lolita, with its salacious subject matter, in America, so he moved to Britain and remained there, impressed with the British crews, and distrustful of the Hollywood "scene." Everything he could do in Hollywood, he could do there...and on his terms. He wouldn't fly, preferring, in his last trips to America, to sail. He said that he distrusted the airlines, but probably he preferred the time it took him to travel the ocean. With 2001: A Space Odyssey, it allowed him to stall...and to edit. He set himself and his family in a perfect world where he didn't need to travel much, where all the tools of his trade were within arm's reach. It must have seemed idyllic. And misogynistic? His family was nothing but women, whom he apparently doted on and adored. One of the stories his family tells of how he tried to convince one of his daughters not to leave home for the U.S. "But, everything you need is right here!" he would say. But the daughter moved anyway.

And he disliked doing interviews because the press always asked "those" questions. The ones that sound like you have to write a dissertation or you won't pass the exam.

He was always getting tapes from his sister in New York with football games and TV shows from the States. He was quietly talking to his team of professionals (lawyers, accountants) with the thought of moving to Vancouver B.C. On the editing of Eyes Wide Shut, which he'd been planning to film for decades, he pushed himself to working 18 hours or more a day, and he was found slumped, dead, during a night, working.

Kubrick's family took great pains to be available to the press and to use the Internet to dispel the stories that had accumulated over the years. His step-daughter Katherine used to respond regularly to questions on alt.movies.kubrick, and the picture one gets of her father was someone who would worry problems until he had the right answer, or at least the best answer for the moment. That he was a hopeless animal-lover, surrounding himself with spoiled dogs and cats. And rather than being reclusive, he just needed a good-enough excuse to leave home, like a play a friend was in, or a good party. He preferred to entertain at home.

He could drive people nuts with long phone-calls, and persistent questions over a wide range of topics. Persnickety questions. Too-much-detailed questions. And when you signed a contract to work for Kubrick, he expected you to be on-call at any time. You were his, mind, body and soul. In the field of movie-making, he demanded loyalty where most expect back-stabbing and that can be crazy-making. People came out of working on Kubrick movies changed. More disciplined. Tougher. Kubrick's crews were spare. He spent less in a day than any other major film director, and with that he bought the luxury of time. Time to experiment, to try it again. And again. Most shoots try to get something in "the can" as quickly as possible. But for him, to do a hundred takes of a scene wasn't a failure, it was a work on it, to experiment 'til you got what you wanted: something fresh, something unusual, something useful. Kubrick wouldn't "settle."

You checkmate. You don't "draw."

Well, he did once. Here is Kubrick's acceptance speech for the D.W. Griffith Lifetime Achievement award from the
Director's Guild of America. It shows an uncomfortable Kubrick graciously, but very stiffly, giving his speech. According to his wife, he hated doing it. He was always blowing lines, and messing up. Then, he wouldn't be satisfied with his delivery. Finally, he just gave up—the man who thought nothing of a hundred takes with a proper actor—finally conceded that that was the best he could do, given the talent he was working with. He probably felt like he was tipping over his king.
"Someone sent an article about Schnitzler and he died in the most wonderful way...He was sitting, writing at the type-writer, and there was someone in the next room and he got up to give him a page and (snaps fingers), fell over, and that was it. He hadn't been ill or anything, he was working...bang."
Stanley Kubrick talking to Michel Ciment in Kubrick on Kubrick

After his death, his family made a documentary in tribute and celebration--the first few minutes of which play like an Overture and is a brilliant encapsulation of the many facets of Stanley Kubrick, warts and all. Here are the first few minutes of "Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures"

One more video--about the time "A Life In Pictures" was released, Charlie Rose had Kubrick's widow, Christiane, and her brother, who made the film, along with Martin Scorsese to talk about Kubrick for an entire hour. Here's that quite special show:

Stanley Kubrick taught me that there was more to a film than cameras and actors. He taught me that somebody was telling a story, and how that person used the camera, and the things forever framed by it, were as much a part of telling the story as the words in the script. He taught me about the "language" of film. And once you learn that, every theater becomes a classroom. And you never stop learning. And that is truly a gift that keeps on giving. Of all the heroes in this series, he was the one I always wanted to thank the most.

“The most terrifying thing about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death--however mutable man may be able to make them--our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”

Stanley Kubrick

There's a man lives in London town,
Makes movies, he's world-renowned
Yes, he's really got the fame,
Stanley Kubrick is his name.
He does it all, he does it all,
Stanley does it all

He's a man who looks ahead
To make you think he raised the dead
And he cuts all his flicks,
He's a genius with his tricks.
He does it all, he does it all.
I'm tellin' y'all, Stanley does it all.

Scatman Crothers (who'd never heard of Kubrick when he was cast in The Shining)


No comments:

Post a Comment