A Year of Masterpieces – Analyzing the Filmography of Stanley Kubrick

As I mentioned in my State of the Blog post this month, I am planning a series of in-depth essays on the films of Stanley Kubrick.  Near the end of each month, I will publish an essay on one of Kubrick’s films, and I intend these pieces to be worthy of the films that they are analyzing, not mere “reviews”.  This will not be a trivial pursuit.  And, I acknowledge that I may not be up to the Herculean task.  Regardless, these are some of my favorite films, and I hope to enhance my enjoyment of them (and yours!) through analysis and discussion.

Now, onto the schedule, and the choices.

The most knowledgeable of you (or, you know, the ones who can Google) will know that Stanley Kubrick directed 13 narrative features, as well as a few documentaries and shorts to pay the bills when he was getting started.  Most of you also likely recognize that we’re given only 12 months to a year, as well.  So a conflict emerges immediately, and this is my proposed schedule:

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In a pinch, this list can also serve as a “Top 12 Stanley Kubrick Films” Clickbait article.

Links to Completed Essays:

The Killing (1956)

Paths of Glory (1957)

Spartacus (1960)

Lolita (1962)

Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Barry Lyndon (1975)


As you can see, I have decided that a chronological approach is the most appropriate.  This way, there is an opportunity to see various techniques, themes, and tendencies of Kubrick develop over the course of his career, and also makes keeping the context of the films far easier, as we are not jumping around five decades of film.  This order is also objective, and removes a need for me to list the films in order of my preference or esteem (which might be impossible anyway).

This is meant to be a shorter piece, so I am not going to discuss the more obvious choices.  This leaves four films worth commenting on, two which are on the list, and two which I left off.

Fear and Desire (’53) and Killer’s Kiss (’56) are the films I have chosen to leave off the list, and this is for two reasons.  First, very few people have seen these films (in fact, I’ve only seen one of them), so I imagine that there will be less interest in these than in any other film from Kubrick’s filmography by a wide margin.  In addition, the director himself has all but disowned these films, describing them as “amateurish” and “embarrassing”.  Kubrick considered these immature works made on low budgets by a nascent director, so if we are going to choose films to exclude, these leap to the top of the list.

Two inclusions are noteworthy, the first of which is Spartacus.  Kubrick was essentially conscripted by Kirk Douglas to direct the film after the initial director proved incapable of the task.  Hence, this is the only film in all of Kubrick’ career where he ceded full artistic control, which did not sit well with the perfectionist.  Additionally, it is a defensible position to argue that Spartacus is more Douglas’s film (or even Dalton Trumbo’s) than Kubrick’s.  Nonetheless, Kubrick’s influence riddles the film, especially with regards to the cinematography, and despite the director disowning the film in later years, he also personally signed off on various restoration attempts and re-releases of the film.  Bottom line: this is only a tough inclusion because everything else on the list is 100% Kubrick.

That is excepting, of course, A.I.:  Artificial Intelligence, the only film on this list not directed by Kubrick.  Critics and scholars debate to this day whether A.I. deserves inclusion into the canon of Kubrick, but it seems clear to me that it does.  Decades of pre-production went into this film, including various story treatments and concept art pieces (many of which appear, practically unaltered, in the final film).  Furthermore, there was constant communication between Kubrick and Steven Spielberg about the film, and one has to imagine that Spielberg kept the film as close to his friend Stanley’s wishes as he possibly could (including the ending – but we’ll get to that).  To me, A.I.:  Artificial Intelligence is worthy of inclusion, and if that angers you, then recognize that it is the final piece in this series and that you are completely free to simply stop reading in November and consider Eyes Wide Shut to be the last film I analyze.  But you’ll be missing a doozy.

I am excited to embark on this year-long trek into the world of Kubrick with the seven readers who will be interested enough to join in.  Hopefully you find my insights non-trivial, and find a new appreciation for the films of Stanley Kubrick.

Look for my piece on The Killing in about two weeks!

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