Directors Interesting

A Stanley Kubrick Odyssey

This twelve minute montage of Stanley Kubrick movies is a hypnotic tribute to the director.

Incorporating clips from from The Killing (1956) through to Eyes Wide Shut (1999), it highlights various motifs using editing and split-screen effects.

Titled ‘A Stanley Kubrick Odyssey’ it was cut together by Richard Vezina and the music featured is Summoning of the Muse by Dead Can Dance and Sanvean by Lisa Gerrard.

People who often accuse Kubrick’s films of lacking emotion should definitely watch this.

> Stanley Kubrick at Wikipedia and MUBi
> Dead Can Dance


Stanley Kubrick and The Tree of Life

Is a Stanley Kubrick quote from 1968 the best description of The Tree of Life?

There are more than a few interesting parallels between 2001: A Space Odyssey and Terrence Malick’s latest film.

In their different ways, both ask questions about the origins of human existence, contain astounding visuals courtesy of Douglas Trumbull, use a lot of classical music and have attracted rave reviews.

Both have also been incorrectly labelled as difficult, divisive films – 2001 was a major critical and financial success but because four prominent New York critics disliked it, was labelled as getting a ‘mixed’ response.

Malick’s latest film currently has outstanding critical scores on review aggregation sites like Metacritic (85), Rotten Tomatoes (85) and a very respectable IMDb rating of 7.9, despite some critics recycling the words ‘pretentious’ and ‘perfume ad’.

But after seeing Malick’s film I was immediately reminded of something Stanley Kubrick once said in a Playboy interview around the release of his sci-fi epic:

Playboy: If life is so purposeless, do you feel its worth living?

Kubrick: Yes, for those who manage somehow to cope with our mortality. The very meaninglessness of life forces a man to create his own meaning.

Children, of course, begin life with an untarnished sense of wonder, a capacity to experience total joy at something as simple as the greenness of a leaf; but as they grow older, the awareness of death and decay begins to impinge on their consciousness and subtly erode their joie de vivre (a keen enjoyment of living), their idealism – and their assumption of immortality.

As a child matures, he sees death and pain everywhere about him, and begins to lose faith in the ultimate goodness of man. But if he’s reasonably strong – and lucky – he can emerge from this twilight of the soul into a rebirth of life’s élan (enthusiastic and assured vigour and liveliness).

Both because of and in spite of his awareness of the meaninglessness of life, he can forge a fresh sense of purpose and affirmation. He may not recapture the same pure sense of wonder he was born with, but he can shape something far more enduring and sustaining.

The most terrifying fact 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 fulfilment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.

Stanley Kubrick in interview for Playboy, Stanley Kubrick Interviews, University Press of Mississippi, 2001, p.73

Is this not a near-perfect summary of The Tree of Life?

> My review of The Tree of Life
> Kubrick interview at Google Books
> The Tree of Life and 2001: A Space Odyssey at the IMDb


Letters to Projectionists

Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Terrence Malick and Michael Bay form an unlikely quartet of directors who have written letters to cinema projectionists.

This year has seen some interesting correspondence surface between filmmakers and projectionists about showing their film correctly.

Recently Glenn Kenny published a letter given to him by former Time critic Jay Cocks found a letter Stanley Kubrick wrote in December 1975 about the correct way to screen Barry Lyndon:

That also triggered a debate about the aspect ratio of the recent Blu-ray release from Warner Bros.

Recently, Ray Pride published a 2001 memo David Lynch wrote to cinema ‘projection departments’ in order to remind them of the aspect ratio, sound (‘3db hotter than normal’) and slight tweaks to the ‘headroom’ for screenings of Mulholland Drive.

(By the way, Lynch has also announced plans to open a themed nightclub in Paris, inspired by the film).

Last month the San Diego Reader reported that Terrence Malick penned a ‘fraternal salute’ to projectionists showing his latest film The Tree of Life in which he asked them to:

  1. Project the film in its proper 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
  2. The correct fader setting on Dolby and DTS systems is 7. Malick asks that faders be kept at 7.5 or even 7.7, system permitting.
  3. The film has no opening credits, and the booth operator is asked to make sure the “lights down cue is well before the opening frame of reel 1.”
  4. With all the recent talk of “darkier, lousier” images, operators are asked that lamps are at “proper standard (5400 Kelvin)” and that the “foot Lambert level is at Standard 14.”

At the other end of the directing spectrum, the Facebook page of American Cinematographer has posted a letter from Michael Bay in which he outlines to projectionists how to screen the ‘Platinum 6’ version of Transformers: Dark of the Moon for the ‘ultimate 3D experience’.

Interestingly Paramount, who are releasing the film, are the only major studio not to embrace the controversial pay-per-view plans which caused such a stink with theater owners back at Cinema Con in April.

After some high profile disappointments (3D versions of Pirates of the Carribbean 4 and Green Lantern grossed less than expected) this tentpole release will be keenly watched by Hollywood.

One recent complaint has been that US cinemas are not changing the 3D lenses for 2D screenings, which dims the brightness levels on the latter.

The letters are also timely as projection in multiplexes is often poor, with multiplex chains skimping on bulbs and often showing a movie with the incorrect aspect ratio.

With the advent of digital projection systems these problems were supposed to be addressed, but it seems that some cinemas are still cutting corners and shortchanging audiences and filmmakers.

This video demonstrates how modern cinema projectors work:

Back in 1998, Paul Thomas Anderson spoke to Mike Figgis about the old saying that the ‘projectionist has final cut’ and how he witnessed a bad Fuji print of Boogie Nights at an LA cinema (relevant part starts at 6.24):

To some this may seem like technical trivia but if cinema is to survive in an era of digital downloads and shortening windows, then projection standards must remain high.

> More on Movie Projectors at Wikipedia
> Wired on how modern 3D projectors work
> Guardian article on the life and work of a cinema projectionist
> How Stuff Works on movie projectors

Thoughts Trailers

Reactions to The Shining Since 1980

These different trailers for Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) give an interesting glimpse of how different eras perceive a film.

After the commercial disappointment of Barry Lyndon (1975), Kubrick wanted to do something with a bit more box office potential.

An adaptation of a Stephen King novel with a big star (Jack Nicholson) seemed to be a way of combining his interests as a director with the opportunity for a hit movie.

As it turned out the end result was met with a lukewarm critical reaction and modest box office before gradually establishing itself as a classic over time.

We can see part of this journey in how The Shining has been depicted in various trailers down the years.

Before the original US release in May 1980 there was this creepy teaser, which used the now famous image of blood coming out of an elevator.

The mood and mysterious tone kept users guessing, whilst cleverly using one of the signature shots.

On its release in the UK a few months later, Warner Bros were probably disappointed at the patchy reception in the US.

This recently unearthed UK TV spot reveals a lot more, but the inclusion of a still featuring Jack Nicholson’s grin (different from those used in other marketing materials) makes me wonder if the publicity department was having an off day when they approved this.

Kubrick then made a number of cuts to the film (around 25 minutes worth) before it opened in London and it seems initial audiences were baffled or even bored by what they saw.

The director was even nominated for a Golden Rasperry Award for Worst Director (!), which seems ridiculous now but perhaps speaks to its gradual appeal.

Part of that was down to screenings of the film on television and video during the 1980s, as it gathered a new audience who could appreciate its unusual style and considered approach.

This trailer for the ABC TV premiere in 1983 calls the film a ‘ultimate exercise in terror’ and cuts together some of the famous images in the film, including one scene involving skeletons dressed up at a party that was excised from the UK cut.

By now the film had ended its theatrical run, but a new audience was beginning to experience it just as the home video boom was taking off.

But why did it succeed with home audiences just three years after cinemagoers had partly rejected it?

Part of it may be down to Kubrick’s style, which doesn’t always make concessions to first time viewers and that The Shining has a special quality when you see it at home.

After all, it explores the quiet terror of being alone in a building and the ghosts of the people that may (or may not) have lived there before.

Perhaps the solitary nature of viewing it in the home suited the film better than the communal environment of the cinema.

Another technical detail worth pointing out is that it was effectively shot in the aspect ratio of 1.37, which means that although it was conceived and framed for a 1:85 theatrical release, the film was visually well suited to the squarer screens of TV and didn’t have to be pan and scanned.

After Kubrick’s death in 1999, British critic Jonathan Romney wrote an appreciation of The Shining for Sight and Sound, which was an excellent response to the initial criticisms:

“At first sight this is an extremely simple, even static film. [..] Kubrick had put so much effort into his film, building vast sets at Elstree, mak­ing a 17-week shoot stretch to 46, and what was the result? A silly scare story – something that, it was remarked at the time, Roger Corman could have turned around in a fortnight. But look beyond the simplicity and the Overlook reveals itself as a palace of paradox…. Even if the drama appears straightforward, there’s the matter of the unearthly stage it’s enacted on – the hotel itself, with its extraordinary atmospherics. Hotel manager Ullman (Barry Nelson) welcomes Jack by telling him how a former caretaker, Charles Grady, went crazy and chopped up his family: the problem was cabin fever, the result of confinement in isola­tion. Not only do the Torrances suffer cabin fever but Kubrick wants us to as well. The Shining makes us inhabit every comer of the painstakingly con­structed hotel sets, and the way the film guides us along corridors, around corners, up staircases – thanks to Garrett Brown’s revolutionary new gizmo the Steadicam – makes us feel we know every inch of the place, even (especially) the sound of its silences.”

It is true that there is an unsettling power to the film which takes the viewer right inside the mysteries of a particular place, rather than focus on the struggle between an innocent protagonist and an evil monster.

After his death people began to focus less on Kubrick’s reputation as a ‘reclusive genius’ and focus more on the glory of his work, which continues to inspire a generation of filmmakers fascinated by his attention to detail and impeccable craft.

With the proliferation of cheap digital editing tools and the web, frequent homages to Kubrick appear online, but perhaps the most memorable was this 2005 reworking of the film’s trailer as a romantic comedy:

The New York Times later reported on how it came about:

Robert Ryang, 25, a film editor’s assistant in Manhattan, graduated from Columbia three years ago with a double major in film studies and psychology. This week, he got an eye-opening lesson in both. Since 2002, Mr. Ryang has worked for one of the owners of P.S. 260, a commercial postproduction house, cutting commercials for the likes of Citizens Bank, Cingular and the TriBeCa Film Festival. A few weeks back, he said, he entered a contest for editors’ assistants sponsored by the New York chapter of the Association of Independent Creative Editors. The challenge? Take any movie and cut a new trailer for it – but in an entirely different genre. Only the sound and dialogue could be modified, not the visuals, he said. Mr. Ryang won the contest, and about 10 days ago, he said, he sent three friends a link to a “secret site” on his company’s Web site where they could watch his entry. One of them, Mr. Ryang said, posted it on his little-watched blog. And that was that. Until this week, when he was hit by a tsunami of Internet interest. On Wednesday, Mr. Ryang said, his secret site got 12,000 hits. By Thursday the numbers were even higher, his film was being downloaded and linked to on countless other sites, it had cracked the top 10 most popular spoofs on, and a vice president at a major Hollywood studio had called up his office, scouting for new talent.

The video has since been seen over 3 million times on YouTube.

By 2008 Kubrick’s status as a legend was complete and when UK channel More 4 screened a season of his films that summer, this trail was a wonderful homage to the making of The Shining:

Over the course of nearly thirty years, the reputation of Kubrick’s horror has grown. But what kind of trailer would Warner Bros cut for the film today?

Another edit on YouTube (by a user named Chigawa) gives us some idea:

The fact that The Shining still resonates, after the chilly reception in 1980, through numerous showings on TV and home video, is a testament its enduring power.

> The Shining on Blu-ray and DVD at Amazon UK
> IMDb entry for The Shining
> Stanley Kubrick at Wikipedia and MUBi
> List of edits to The Shining made for its UK release


Matthew Modine’s Full Metal Jacket Diary iPad App

The Kickstarter project to turn Matthew Modine‘s Full Metal Jacket Diary in to an iPad app is tantalisingly close to its funding target.

During the making of Full Metal Jacket (1987), Modine was allowed to keep a detailed diary and director Stanley Kubrick even granted him rare permission to take photos on set.

The end result was a limited edition book of about 20,000 copies but producer Adam Rackoff and Modine came up with the idea of an iPad app based on the existing materials.

It will use rescanned images, along with audio of Modine reading his own diary entries and feature previously unseen content.

Last month Rackoff and Modine created a Kickstarter page to raise the $20,000 needed to complete this project.

As I write this they currently have 252 backers who have pledged $17,889 of the $20,000 goal.

Potential donors can pledge from $1 up to $10,000.

The deadline is Friday 3rd June.

Previous film releated Kickstarter projects have included a Robocop statue in Detroit, and the US indie film I Am I.

> Kickstarter page for Matthew Modine’s “Full Metal Jacket Diary” iPad App
> Full Metal Jacket at Wikipedia
> Stanley Kubrick at MUBi