A Thank You Note to Stanley Kubrick, Pt. 1


(originally published April 9, 1999, Entertainment Today)

Once in a great while, a filmmaker creates a work that changes your perception of the world, of the possibilities of filmmaking and life itself.

Most directors aspire to make one movie with that kind of impact.

For me, Stanley Kubrick made three.

I had just moved to Southern California from suburban New York and wasn’t even in my teens, when my parents took my older sister Julie and me to a drive-in to see a movie promoted as an offbeat comedy.

It was called Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

I didn’t know at that point what black comedy was. I had never seen an actor play multiple roles before, as Peter Sellers brilliantly did. And perhaps what made the most impact on me in “Strangelove” was seeing Kubrick’s hand-held footage of Americans killing Americans at Burpleson Air Force Base. Grainy, powerful, reminiscent of a war being waged in Southeast Asia.

Again, I was with my family when we saw 2001: A Space Odyssey at the Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco. The perfect melding of Richard Strauss waltzes and Gyorgi Ligeti’s 20th century music helped elevate 2001 to the greatest movie ever made about space travel and the limits of human knowledge.

Kubrick told Playboy magazine that with 2001 he “…tried to create a visual experience, one that bypasses verbalized pigeonholing and directly penetrates the subconscious with an emotional and philosophical content…just as music does.”

The film had such a profound impact on me that to this day, I still have the replica of the printed instructions for the “Zero Gravity Toilet” hanging on my bathroom wall.

In high school, my best friends and I immediately caught the first evening showing of A Clockwork Orange, a movie that constantly astonished and challenged the viewer with a potent mixture of fascination and revulsion.

On this subject, critic Pauline Kael once described Kubrick’s Lolita as “…black slapstick, and at times it’s so far out that you gasp as you laugh.”

Some people thought Stanley Kubrick was rather far out himself. Kirk Douglas, who starred in the epic Spartacus called him a “cold bastard.” Malcolm McDowell felt incapable of acting for a few years after Clockwork. Punch Magazine in Britain called him “insane,” prompting a libel suit that has sinced been dropped upon the passing of the master filmmaker.

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