Tag Archives: stanley kubrick

“Filmworker” shows the dedication to genius

People are attracted to genius. It’s what’s driven legions to Albert Einstein or Leonardo di Vinci or Galileo. To be enamored with someone who is so committed and so influential breathes vigor into our lives. So when Leon Vitali, a trained Shakespearean actor decided he wanted to work with Stanley Kubrick, one of the most famed filmmakers of all-time, it’s a wonder if he knew just how maniacal his soon-to-be mentor would be. Warm and loving one minute, crazed the next, it is the mark of genius to demand perfection while not understanding the human cost such ambition requires.

“Filmworker” follows Vitali from his role in “Barry Lyndon” through the end of Kubrick’s life and his work on the film restorations of all of Kubrick’s films. In between, we see the intense dedication Vitali has for Kubrick, serving as his assistant after turning down a career as an actor, working day and night to put Kubrick’s vision onscreen. We wonder how any person could submit himself so entirely to another individual, especially someone who at times seems to take others for granted and goes through misdirected tirades. It’s an interesting story about dedication, art and mentorship.

Directed by Tony Zierra, the film does a good job examining Vitali, his story and how his relationships were strained by his devotion to Kubrick. It tries a bit too hard to illustrate his upbringing and tie Kubrick to his abusive father. Nothing, especially a biography, traces linearly from one point to another point through causality. People make decisions irrationally for subliminal and overt reasons. Trying to pinpoint Vitali’s reasoning is a fruitless endeavor. His dedication despite Kubrick’s rashness is what’s truly fascinating.

While interesting, the film could have used a little more budget and editing as it sags near the middle and has some odd jump cuts during interviews. It tries to end on a happy note, almost forcing it upon the viewer, when a much more nuanced approach may have been worthwhile. Is Vitali’s life a tragedy, a sort of bizarre comedy or something else? He claims it’s a happy story. The viewer may feel differently.

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Movie Essentials: “2001: A Space Odyssey”

A rumor surrounding the initial studio screening of the film follows that one of the producers of the film, having worked hard to pump millions of dollars into the budget over an enterprise that lasted years, stood up at the film’s conclusion and promptly had a heart attack. Whether the rumor is true or not, the film has been giving viewers similar moments of shock, awe and bewilderment since.

2001: A Space Odyssey starts with a group of early humans, scrounging for food, competing with each other. They discover a strange, tall, black monolith which somehow instinctively draws them to it and soon they learn the concept of tools, the creatures taking the bones of a deceased tapir and using them to kill prey and rivals. Next, the audience is transported millions of years into the future, mankind now roaming space at ease, having discovered that same monolith on the moon, unsure what to make of it. A space mission to Jupiter finds a trio of characters, Drs. Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) along with the artificial intelligence program HAL 9000 trekking to the far corners of the solar system. After HAL mistakenly reports that a part of the ship is malfunctioning, Bowman and Poole talk of shutting HAL down. HAL responds by killing Poole, cutting off his air tube in space and then disabling the life support systems of the other crewmembers in suspended animation. Bowman is able to unprogram HAL as the ship comes to Jupiter, finding another floating monolith in space that transports him through the cosmos. In a desolate room by himself, Bowman watches himself quickly grow old until he is on his deathbed. He stares up at the monolith above him once more, reaching out towards it before he is suddenly transformed into the Star Child, a fetus-looking organism that overlooks Earth.

What it all means has been debated for years. Some have likened it to the journey of evolution, the growth from primitive animal to man to machine to eternal being. Others note the similarity in the storyline to that of The Odyssey (Bowman using a key to unhinge HAL similar to Odysseus knocking the eye out of the Cyclops). Some even see technology being the true center of the story, HAL at times much more human than either Bowman or Poole, who often appear robotic and unemotional.

Kubrick refused to reveal his original intentions as to what the film meant. Wisely, he did not want to sway anyone’s opinion. Screenwriter Arthur C. Clarke once said, “If you understand ‘2001‘ completely, we failed. We wanted to raise far more questions than we answered.” However, if you read the subsequent book that he wrote of the same name, it explains that the monolith is a creation of alien life that imbues other species with intelligent life. There are no aliens in the film however, giving the monolith a far more God-like feel, an omnipotent object that is unidentifiable.

Personally, in the mind of this reviewer, the monolith has always seemed a symbol of knowledge and power beyond human understanding, a metaphor for the eternal nature of the universe that we as human beings can only ponder but not understand. HAL, our attempt to create life, goes horribly wrong because of our inability to replicate consciousness as the universe does. What Bowman undergoes at the film’s conclusion is the metamorphosis into a being of sublime eternalness, the wisdom that comes from our souls joining the universe.

This process of understanding life is illuminated throughout the film itself, our birth represented as primeval man just learning to adapt (to walk for a child), the journey of adolescence symbolized by the voyage into space and the acceptance of inevitable death as Bowman is transported to a location beyond space and time, where such material aspects are inconsequential, and where he is joined with the universe, reaching a state of Utopian existence.

Now, that is only my interpretation. There are literally hundreds of others from all over. Different religions identify with the themes of the film and their own notions of the afterlife. Scientists debate its views on evolution and the progression of life on Earth and throughout the universe. Even hippies, those primarily responsible for making sure the film has the stature it does today, see psychedelic importance in the journey away from civilization into pure bliss. There is no right or wrong interpretation, creating a legacy for the film that will never end.

Kubrick stated that he wanted to change the medium of cinema with his work. He wanted to investigate new ways of experiencing film beyond the conformity that had set into the industry. With 2001, he has given audiences a film that continues to elicit questions and tickle our minds long after viewing. Boasting special effects that still appear seamless today and having influenced a generation of filmmakers, 2001 makes the wonder of the possibility of cinema seem infinite.

Movie Essentials: “Eyes Wide Shut”

Being the last film of the great Stanley Kubrick, “Eyes Wide Shut” often gets a bad reputation for not being as strong as Kubrick’s other works, but doing that severely looks down upon a great film.

While not as revolutionary as “2001: A Space Odyssey” or as iconic as “The Shining”, “Eyes Wide Shut” is a brilliant examination into sexual dominance and subconscious lust.

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The film starts off with Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) and his wife, Alice (Nicole Kidman), going to a party hosted by the wealthy Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack). A suave, mature gentlemen dances with Alice while two beautiful women flirt with Bill. Once they get home, Alice questions Bill about his intentions with those women, wondering if he had intercourse with them. Bill tells her that he wouldn’t because he loves her, but Alice reveals that she almost cheated on him even though it would have meant throwing their lives away.

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Bill’s eyes are closed to the undercurrents of the world around him, even from within his own family. He has societal shields set up that blind him to the ravenous sexual longings in others, shields such as congenial societal discourse and proper presentation. As he journeys forth from this discussion with Alice, he begins to see his blinders lessen in the dead of night.

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His anger and obsession with this vision of his wife and another man drives him to try infidelity himself. From the grieving daughter of his dead patient to a hooker he meets on the streets to the underage daughter of a costume shop owner, Bill finds the shady desire that lingers in a world he doesn’t understand. This is all culminated when he tricks his way into a nighttime sexcapade party where everyone is wearing a mask and the password is the not-so-subtle word “fidelio.”

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The masks represent the true selves of the participants, expressionless and ornery. Their actual physical faces are just facades that they use in public, facades that Bill has used to blind himself to the truth of the world around him; that subliminal desires drive us. This is also represented by the pale blue light lurking behind the characters in multiple scenes, beneath the surface but always present.

The entire party is presented as almost a dream, blurring the line between reality and surrealism. As the film continues, the viewer wonders exactly what is real: the dream or reality? The blending of both gives the viewer a portrayal of the psyche.

Kubrick is a master of crafting the subconscious into his films. The latent raw sexuality presented in “Eyes Wide Shut” is his reflection of the desires, grotesque or not, of the psyche inherent in us.

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At the film’s conclusion, Bill’s only salvation from his journey is his belief in marriage and the bond that holds him to his wife; not just sex but love and commitment as well. He can not unsee the desires that drive the world that he was blinded to, but he can maintain a sense of identity against those primal instincts and that identity is typified by being a husband. Whether or not he saves his marriage is unknown, but is left for the viewer to interpret.

The film is hypnotic in its ability to draw the viewer into its central mystery of possible murder, but it’s the peeling back of our “humanity” that sticks with the viewer. The delving into our inner psychosis is something that perhaps no filmmaker has done better than Kubrick and it makes everyone of his films memorable.

The Best 25 Movies of the Last 25 Years Part 1

It was my brother’s 25th birthday last month and that got me thinking about the past quarter-century of moviemaking. When thinking about this list, I was surprised by an apparent lack of surefire classics comparative to other decades which may speak to Hollywood playing it far too safe recently, but I still had to make several painful cuts (sorry “Shawshank” and “Pan’s Labyrinth”). And there are still some very, very good movies here.  So without further ado, here are my top 25 films of the past 25 years (1992-2017).

25. Under the Skin (2014)

    A haunting look into the human experience, “Under the Skin” burrows into your psyche, making you wonder about the nature of existence. Jonathan Glazer’s film takes you into the mind of an alien (Scarlett Johansson) with no concept of human interaction and makes you experience life as if you were witnessing it for the first time, something not easy to do. It is truly surreal, beautiful and grotesque all at the same time.

24. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

    Any number of Charlie Kauffman’s scripted-films could be on this list (“Adaptation”, “Being John Malkovich”), but I’ve decided to go with the film that most remember him for. Focusing on a guy (Jim Carrey) and a girl (Kate Winslet) after a rough breakup, they each undergo an experimental procedure to remove their memories of each other, but each memory needs to be individually extracted, and we watch their history in reverse order, seeing their evolution. A deeper project that explores the nature of love and memory and all the pain and joy that it brings, “Eternal Sunshine” perfectly balances the weird, the sweet and the comical into one film.

23. Fight Club (1999)

    “Fight Club” may be the signature anarchist film. Infused with creativity, the film, even twenty years after its release, is still a jaw-dropping experience of sheer ingenuity. It tells the story of the Narrator (Edward Norton) who meets a strange man selling soap named Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). Stuck at a dead-end job and working for corporate America, the Narrator needs to break out and with Tyler, they create Fight Club, a group that revels in simply beating each other night after night. But the club grows and grows, becoming something else entirely and something very wrong begins to affect the Narrator. Creating an avalanche of pop culture references and helping give rise to 1990s counterculture, the film is glossy and fun with an edge that burns in just the right way.

22. Three Colors Trilogy (1993-94)

Perhaps the most “classical” of any of the films on this list, Krzysztof Kieslowski’s three films (Blue, White and Red) illuminate the different themes of French nationalism: liberty, equality and fraternity. Whether it is the story of a wife who must come to grips with the death of her husband and daughter in a car accident, a man who is divorced because he can not consummate his marriage or the relationship between two people who have nothing in common, the threads of connection between all three stories elevates them to a richer meaner. They are a moving canvass of life.

21. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Despite being nearly non-stop action, “Mad Max: Fury Road” manages to imbue themes of environmentalism, loyalty, purpose and feminism into its narrative. With the world having fallen apart, Max (Tom Hardy) is alone, but finds himself abducted by a clan of biker gang thugs who take him a sprawling community dependent on a tyrant named Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). When Joe’s concubines are abducted by one of his subordinates, Furiosa (Charlize Theron), Max finds himself entangled in a predicament that appeals to his sense of honor.  “Fury Road” is one of the greatest action movies ever made, a sprawling, thrilling chase through hell and perhaps a telling cautionary tale of our future.

20. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007)

A harrowing story of dedication, “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” tells the story of two college roommates, Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) and Gabriela (Laura Vasiliu), in Romania who arrange to have an illegal abortion. Directed by Cristian Mungiu, the film is told in near real-time and in gripping detail. It is a treasure of suspense brimming with real-world issues.

19. Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

The foremost signature event of the 21st century are the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Not far behind that is the death of the al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Told in gripping detail through the eyes of fictional CIA operative, Maya (Jessica Chastain) and directed by Kathryn Bigelow, the film is a timecapsule of the post-9/11 mentality and all the history involved with that period. The range and scope of the film is breathtaking and the conclusion told in real-time brings the history straight to us.

18. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

The last film of the great Stanley Kubrick, “Eyes Wide Shut” is an eerie look into raw sexuality and the bonds of marriage. Even so-so Kubrick towers above the work of many other filmmakers, and the director’s swan song film is still a treasure that leaves open so many interpretations. Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) and his wife, Alice (Nicole Kidman) are sexually enticed by different people at a party in New York City. The episode leads to an admission by Alice that women are not as faithful to men as Bill would believe and the situation escalates as Bill is drawn into a world of sexual conquest, uninhibited desires and danger. It finds a way to dig under your skin in a way that is so purely Kubrick.

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