Some say that it’s movies that define our boomer generation. Writing from Asheville, North Carolina, Gary Carter thinks so. Especially when those movies were made by the incomparable Stanley Kubrick.
Chances are that if you were of a certain age in 1968 when Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” first exploded on the screen, you can still recall a lot about it: the awe and wonder it created, where you were when you first saw it, who you were with, and in some cases, the substance you were under the influence of (I plead the Fifth on the last ones to protect the innocent).
It was an inspired and monumental cinematic undertaking on the director’s part that expanded horizons and generated countless arguments about the film’s meaning and intent. For those of us planted in our seats, it was a rocket ride into the vastness of space and a forced examination of our place in the universe.
According to a new biography, Stanley Kubrick: American Filmmaker (Jewish Lives) by David Mikics, the suits at MGM were certain that the film was doomed to be a big-budget flop, the perfectionist director having spent more than twice his $5-million budget (a laughably paltry sum now more than 50 years later).
But, driven by word-of-mouth, audiences flocked in, particularly those under 30, with “the Ultimate Trip” becoming the new marketing slogan. “People were watching 2001 over and over, and always, it seemed in an altered state,” Mikics says. “Before long John Lennon remarked, ‘2001, I see it every week’.”
But Kubrick was already an influential master of the cinema by the time he made this movie. From the early 1950s until his death in 1999, he built an impressive resume that includes the thunder of “Spartacus,” a haunting tale of lust in “Lolita,” the brutal grace of “A Clockwork Orange,” the sumptuous portrait of “Barry Lyndon,” the satiric bite of “Dr. Strangelove,” the unsettling chaos of “The Shining,” the blunt force of “Full Metal Jacket,” and the mysterious “Eyes Wide Shut,” the director’s final film.
I found this slim book both entertaining and enlightening, functioning as both biography and film criticism, underscored by interviews and new archival material. All of Kubrick’s output is examined as part of a portrait of the self-taught filmmaker and self-proclaimed outsider who bent the movie industry to his will with intense focus on every detail and unwillingness to compromise his vision.
The director thrived on chaos while he worked, with scripts often changing literally from day to day. At the other extreme, Kubrick raged over what he considered poor presentation in movie theaters, demanding specific projectors and lenses. Yet, he was a strict supporter of his team, particularly the actors.
The insights and back-story Mikics offers serve for me as basis and enticement to go back for another appreciative look at Kubrick’s films, maybe including another “2001” thrill ride.
Perhaps the last word is best left to director and admirer Martin Scorese: “Watching a Kubrick film is like gazing up at a mountain top. You look up and wonder, How could anyone have climbed that high?”