Every so often, I must light the candle, ring the bell, but never close the book. It is time for me to remember the life, the work and the art of Stanley Kubrick. In today's tsunami of massing media, of disposable here-today-gone-tomorrow filmmaking, of mobile phone video ('it's a movie isn't it?')… I reach for the artistry and vision of Kubrick as a haven in the flood. Consider the stunning discoveries of the Toba cataclysm, 73,000 years ago when our human species was reduced to less than 1000 individuals, a third of whom were female—an almost extinction of the species—and in that revelation, examine 2001: A Space Odyssey.
He died nearly twelve years ago, quietly in his sleep, after shipping a final cut to his distributor. He created only 16 films for distribution and there will never be another film by Stanley Kubrick. As each year goes by, more and more people realize what film artists have known since the 1960's... he was and remains singular among the handful of unique filmmakers in the 20th century. As one director mused: "I look at the history of cinema and I see it divided into 'before Kubrick' and 'after Kubrick'." He transformed the role of music from a mood and emotion heightening component to the role of a character in a film. He created photography and its love of lighting beyond the eye of any other filmmaker. He made production and costume design a signature of each frame. His sense of editing cannot be taught. He was singular and in that he influenced the few important filmmakers that surrounded him.
So few films? It doesn't matter. It may have taken him 4 to 8 years to create a work, but each film encompasses more beauty than most directors could achieve in a lifetime. And each of his films becomes a new film with each new viewing.
The high mark list begins with:
Paths of Glory
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
2001: A Space Odyssey
A Clockwork Orange
Full Metal Jacket
Eyes Wide Shut
There is much to say about these films. Each was released to a critical uproar. Some were wildly popular and delivered huge returns at the box office. None of them ever lost money. One of them still sits alone as a cinematic work of art and a popular movie. 2001 is not a science-fiction film, or a drama, or a documentary... it is in a genre of its own, a vision of the future and its roots. The design and technical achievements of this film still stand alone today, even when compared with the computer-game, cartoon wizardry of George Lucas and his Spielbergian cohorts.
Kubrick was also unique in that he had complete control of his films right down to their distribution, and advertising. He had a remarkable relationship with one of the hardest-nosed, profit-driven studios in Hollywood, Warner Bros. Throughout his life and career, he looked to them as if they were a Renaissance patron and that's how they treated him. He got whatever he wanted. He was their one Master — for which they wanted recognition. He was also a profitable one. Like Picasso, he showed how art and success and money mix — by living and breathing it 24 hours a day.
It's bad that he's gone. It's good that he lived. His envious critics are forgotten as all critics are. His imitators are disposable and ignored. In today's empowered lowest-common denominator where everyone is an artist, where the art and artifacts of cinema are merchandised and made matter-of-fact in a maelstrom of technology and voyeurism and youtubeability... his work remains an irresistible, unmitigated treasure.