While I enjoy Stanley Kubrick movies, the bearded and presumably still-dead filmmaker sounded like he would’ve been a real asshole. Thanks to his interest in technological innovations for the cinema, I’ve often equated him with James Cameron…except with talent. Both men are known for having berated their co-workers to the point of breakdowns, and it wasn’t unusual for Kubrick to spend insane periods of time shooting a scene to get it just right. He was so exacting, in fact, that he only made 13 feature films in a span of 46 years.
Of course, this brand of obsessive behavior paid off when the finished product made its debut, and critics and fans are still lining up to lick the empty boots of Stanley Kubrick. In the following article, I’ll take a look at the Stanley Kubrick films that I’ve seen, offering my own feelings and experiences. I’ll also talk briefly about the titles I’ve yet to see, including my reasons for having skipped them to this point.
If you’ve never experienced the works of Stanley Kubrick, this is a fine jumping-on point. But if you’re a longtime devotee who feels the legendary director can do no wrong, prepare to be incensed (that’s why we have a comments section). Just keep it civil, or your arguments and observations will never see the light of day.
Stanley Kubrick Movies I’ve Seen
The following list is comprised of the Stanley Kubrick movies I’ve seen so far, as well as my opinions on each one:
The Killing (1956) – Kubrick tries his hand at film noir in this tale of a career crook (Sterling Hayden) who’s looking to pull one last job before getting married and settling down. If you’ve ever seen a crime movie, you can likely guess how well things turn out.
It failed to do much business during its initial release, but The Killing has since developed a cult following thanks to Kubrick’s later success. I was as underwhelmed as those original audiences, and the film’s first 30 minutes left me utterly unmoved. I turned the movie off after that and never finished it. Maybe it picked up steam as the narrative got more complicated, but I wasn’t motivated enough to find out. Since my Netflix queue was filled with more appealing options, I dropped it in the mailbox and never looked back.
Paths of Glory (1957) – I watched Paths of Glory in the last year, and it didn‘t disappoint. Kirk Douglas remains one of my all-time favorite actors, and he was especially adept at displaying contempt and righteous indignation. Those qualities come in handy here, as he plays a French officer and lawyer who takes up the defense of fellow soldiers railroaded on charges of cowardice and facing an execution by firing squad.
This wouldn’t be the last anti-war film directed by Kubrick, but it ranks among his finest efforts on the silver screen. The Georg Krause cinematography is stirring on every level, the supporting performance by Ralph Meeker is noteworthy, and Kubrick wrings every once of emotion out of scenes demonstrating the cowardice and petty nature of the human race. If you’re just beginning to explore Kubrick, put this on your short list.
Spartacus (1960) – Anthony Mann was this epic film’s original director, but he was canned a week into shooting and replaced by Kubrick, who had previously worked with star Kirk Douglas on Paths of Glory. It’s been years since I saw the film, but here’s what I remember: Douglas chewing the scenery as a real-life slave who helped organize a rebellion against his Roman masters; Roman troops getting messed up by flaming logs rolled downhill; the stirring and tragic showdown between Spartacus and fellow gladiator Draba (Woody Strode); wanting to slap the smug Crassus (Laurence Olivier); and the film’s climax and much-imitated scene where multiple people claim to be Spartacus.
Lolita (1962) – Vladimir Nabokov’s novel revolves around a middle-aged pedophile who lusts after a 12-year-old girl, even going so far as to marry her boorish mother in order to be close to her. Somehow, Kubrick managed to successfully adapt the book to the big screen. Oh, and did I mention that it’s a comedy?
James Mason is a riot as the dry academic controlled by his passion, and the debuting Sue Lyon lights up the screen as the object of his socially unacceptable obsession. Peter Sellers demonstrates his ability to morph into a wide range of characters, playing the delightfully oily Clare Quilty. Despite the differences from the original novel, both works endure as darkly comedic masterpieces.
Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) – One of the greatest example of movie satire ever released, Dr. Strangelove contains spot-on performances from an all-star cast, as well as a unique visual flair from director Kubrick. The scene with Slim Pickens riding an atomic bomb down into the heart of Russian territory remains an iconic screen image, as well as a chilling reminder of how close we come to annihilation on a daily basis.
This was among critic Gene Siskel’s favorite film, and I would have to agree with the bald-headed movie savant. Strangelove works on every level, which is even more impressive when you consider that it’s a comedy. Peter Sellers is a standout in his three roles as a by-the-book British officer, the President of the United States, and the title character who‘s a former Nazi scientist. My favorite, however, was George C. Scott for his role as General Buck Turgidson, a gung-ho military man who uses the War Room phone to talk with his mistress and later gets into a famous scuffle with the Russian ambassador (“There‘s no fighting in the War Room!”).
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – Much has been made of Kubrick’s sci-fi epic, but it never appealed to me on any level. Sure, it featured some fine classical music, but everything post-HAL just bored me to tears. I haven’t read the Arthur C. Clarke novel that the film was based on, but I have a hard time believing it could be more boring or pretentious. At least the sequel has Roy Scheider.
A Clockwork Orange (1971) – I watched this with a friend of mine a few years ago, and it instantly became his favorite Kubrick work. I’m partial to it, as well, due in large part to Malcolm McDowell’s alarming portrayal of a young ruffian living in a bleak future marred by rampant societal collapse. As with most of his films, Kubrick’s choice of classical music only serves to heighten the on-screen events, especially when it comes to acts of violence committed by Alex DeLarge (McDowell) and his gang of droogs. Based on the Anthony Burgess novel, it remains a powerful commentary on the nature of violence in society and the failure of science to curb man’s most basic tendencies.
Barry Lyndon (1975) – Ryan O’Neal is all but forgotten today, but he a respected movie star during the 1970s. This was one of his more interesting and demanding projects, as the Kubrick film casts him in the role of the title character, an 18th century Irishman who travels across Europe getting into various adventures (carnal and otherwise) before settling down and making a complete mess of his life. The duel in the barn with his stepson during the film’s waning minutes remains my favorite scene.
To demonstrate his obsession with the technical side of filmmaking, Kubrick had special lenses made so he could shoot everything with natural lightning. An impressive feat, although I’m afraid it will be lost on die-hard fans of Larry the Cable Guy.
The Shining (1980) – Stephen King wasn’t thrilled with this adaptation of his novel, but I always found it far more terrifying than the source material. Jack Nicholson is Jack Torrance, the recovering boozer who takes a job as the winter caretaker at the Overlook Hotel to try and finish his crappy novel, while Shelly Duvall shows off her homely looks as his meek wife. Scatman Crothers steals the show as the Overlook’s chef who likes paintings of half-naked women with afros, and he also recognizes the telepathic potential of young Danny Torrance (Danny Lloyd).
The film moves along at a snail’s pace, but the creepy moments will stick with you long after the credits roll. Little girls are shown hacked to pieces by an axe, rivers of blood pour from an elevator, and the hottie in Room 237 is not what she seems. And don’t overlook Nicholson’s menacing performance as a complex family man driven to madness through a combination of alcohol, isolation, and the supernatural.
Kubrick’s long shots are effective at emphasizing the isolation of the characters, and the Steadicam was used for only the third time in motion picture history (now a staple of the industry). But the most iconic shot remains Nicholson’s leering face peeking through the newly-hacked hole in the door, just prior to bellowing out “Heeeere’s Johnny!”
Full Metal Jacket (1987) – The first half of the film features draftees Matthew Modine and Vincent D’Onofrio getting the crap kicked out of them by a Vietnam-era drill sergeant played with relish by R. Lee Ermey. The second half follows Joker (Modine) as he serves as a war correspondent in Southeast Asia an witnesses the horrors of war firsthand.
This would mark Kubrick’s third anti-war film, and he pulls out all the stops in showing the futility of combat between nations. Bodies are thrown into mass graves, a helicopter gunner shares tips on the best way to pick off women and children from the air, and a shadowy enemy sniper relentlessly kills members of the U.S. military. It’s far from realistic in many spots, but the message is still received loud and clear.
I’m partial to the first half of the film, as the contrasting performances of Ermey (himself a former drill instructor) and D’Onofrio effortlessly carry the narrative along. Private Pyle descends into madness after suffering constant torment by Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, and he delivers one of the best examples of what’s been called the “Kubrick crazy stare.”
Stanley Kubrick Movies I Haven’t Seen
While I’ve seen most of his works, the following films of Stanley Kubrick remain on my to-do list:
Fear and Desire (1953) – I’ve never seen this debut Kubrick film about a small group of soldiers tasked with sneaking behind enemy lines, primarily because it’s never been given a commercial DVD release. Bootlegs are available, of course, but I’m too lazy to try and track down such things. Besides, I don’t Lars Ulrich or one of his cronies hassling me.
Killer’s Kiss (1955) – Running only 67 minutes long, this was Kubrick’s second effort as a director. Set in the noir genre, it tells the story of a failed boxer and taxi dancer who start up a romance despite the violent machinations of her employer. While I’m not opposed to seeing it, the disappointment of The Killing hasn’t exactly made me want to run out and watch another noir flick from Kubrick.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999) – I’ve seen a few clips from this Tom Cruise / Nicole Kidman vehicle about an upper-class married guy who stumbles across a hidden world of sexual perversions, but it’s never struck me as especially interesting. The titillation factor isn‘t a selling point for me, as nothing in this flick could be as hot as watching Andy San Dimas go through her paces. I’ll eventually watch it to see Kubrick’s final film, but I’m not in any hurry. Besides, the revelation of Tom Cruise’s craziness has further diminished my interest.
That concludes my look at all the Stanley Kubrick movies ever made. While my discussion may not have delved into technical aspects or provided a long-winded critical analysis of each film, it should at least indicate my general impressions of a filmmaker whose legacy is still felt in theatres across the globe. If you’re serious about the art of film, Kubrick is a must-see artist. If, however, you think the Transformers franchise is the best thing since sliced bread, go ahead and look elsewhere.