Apparently, Kubrick set the record for takes of a single scene in The Shining. According to a documentary on the making of that film, Shelley Duvall was forced to swing a baseball bat at a psychotic Jack Nicholson while ascending a staircase backwards a grand total of 127 times.
We know the stories of Kubrick’s need for control. He used to go into West End movie theatres to check the balance of speakers and clarity of sound.
We know the stories of his relentless perfectionism. Ask Shelley Duvall.
And of course, there is his reclusiveness, which led to creating the battle of Hue at a deserted gas works in London for Full Metal Jacket.
But for each of these assertions, there are tales that fully counterbalance them. Steven Spielberg, who called 2001 nothing less than “…the Big Bang that led my generation’s race to space,” also told a wonderful story after Kubrick was gone. He used to call up filmmakers he didn’t know and compliment them on their movies after having just seen them.
Yes, Kubrick was an iconoclast but that is a byproduct of being a visionary.
Yes, he controlled his own marketing. Because he knew what he wanted. And he knew how to do so many things well. If his passing serves no other purpose, let it remind us that it is a purity of vision, a single-minded pursuit of an aesthetic, not test-marketing, that makes great art.
In a world bludgeoned in its ethics by the bottom line, we need more artists of Kubrick’s will. Consider that when the British press lambasted Clockwork as glorifying violence, a total misinterpretation, and when a young thug who beat up a vagrant tried to cite seeing Clockwork in his defense, and when the British tabloids attacked him, Kubrick in essence said they didn’t deserve to see the film and pulled every single print from distribution in England.
I am still feeling the effects of his loss. But I’m proud to say, the day he died, I was driving past the Music Hall Theatre in Beverly Hills and saw, on its marquee, about the best tribute I can think of.
After listing the three films at the theatre, the marquee simply said, “Thank you, Mr. Kubrick.”