Stanley Kubrick

Killer’s Kiss
[ The opening credits clearly show that even this early in his career, Kubrick was thoroughly in control of his movies. He wrote, produced, edited, photographed and directed “Killer’s Kiss”, the story of a washed up New York boxer who rescues a gorgeous blonde dancehall hostess from her sleazy boss, unaware that he bit off more than he can chew. This is a simple but effective noir tale, propelled by expressionistic black & white photography and a complex soundtrack mix of voice–over, music and background noise. It’s not a major work, but it’s exciting to find that Kubrick doing terrific little genre flicks before he turned to 3 hours long “Important” pictures. ]

The Killing
[ Kubrick once again makes brilliant use of B&W cinematography and dry voice-over, but this is a much more elaborate story, dazzlingly told out of chronological order. Almost 40 years before “Reservoir Dogs”, Kubrick was making his own non-linear crime movie about 6 unrelated men brought together by an imposing gangster to pull a big job. There’s an ex-con, a sniper, a Russian wrestler, a barman, a crooked cop and one of the cashiers at the racetrack they’re knocking off. But unlike Tarantino’s film, there’s room here for a woman, a manipulative and money-hungry hateful bitch of a femme fatale who throws off the balance of their meticulously planned robbery. “The Killing” is one hell of a heist flick, full of hard-boiled dialogue and suspense. ]

Paths of Glory
[ The first of Kubrick’s anti-war movies goes into the trenches of World War I to find Kirk Douglas ordered to take Ant Hill from the Germans, even though it will mean sure death for at least half his men. When the mission fails indeed, the asshole General who ordered it tries to distract attention from himself by sending three random soldiers to martial court for cowardice, which prompts Douglas, a lawyer in civilian life, to rise to their defence. “Paths of Glory” and its crisp B&W photography are technically impeccable, but this time Kubrick is after more than an exercise in style. Here’s a film that suggests that patriotism is “the last refuge of a scoundrel” and that the army is a place where being an idealist is something to be pitied. This is commonplace in this Michael Moore era, but to say these things in the 1950s while people were being blacklisted left and right was mighty gutsy. ]

[ In 73 BC, Rome is at the peak of civilisation in many ways, but it’s also deep into decadence, suffering notably from that most despicable of diseases: human slavery. Spartacus has been slaving away in mines since childhood, then he’s sold to a gladiator school but eventually enough’s enough, and Spartacus leads a massive slave uprising… This is a true epic, with huge sets, countless extras and spectacular action scenes. It also has depth and resonance – everyone knows about the homoeroticism (“Do you eat oysters or snails?”), but the film also shows how power corrupts and how the powerless need to fight for their freedom. Kirk Douglas’ performance is a bit one-note, but that one note does burn up the screen even when he goes full scenes without saying a word. Sir Laurence Olivier and Charles Naughton are unsurprisingly great as conniving politician bastards, Jean Simmons is lovely as Spartacus’s romantic interest and Peter Ustinov is a hoot as a slave trader. This might not be Kubrick’s most distinctive film, as it’s the only project on which he didn’t have full control over the script and he had to struggle with Douglas (who also produced and, incidentally, fired original director Anthony Mann), but it remains a powerful picture. ]

[ Vladimir Nabokov himself adapted his classic novel about the confounding attraction power of nymphets. Of course, having been made in the last years of the Production Code, the film is rather chaste as compared to the current overflow of teenage flesh that fills our screens, but sometimes working into guidelines inspires one to find more subtle way to suggest lust and it’s all the more erotic. Well, subtle might not be the right word to describe the talk of “cherry pies” and Camp Climax for Girls (!), but through the whole film the nature of Humbert Humbert (James Mason) and Lolita (Sue Lyon)’s relationship remains ambiguous. I also love the fluid B&W cinematography, the very ‘60s lounge score and especially Peter Sellers, hilarious as devious “genius” Quilty. ]

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
[ review ]

2001: A Space Odyssey
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

A Clockwork Orange
[ Un autre chef-d’oeuvre de Kubrick, avec encore du classique mur à mur (parfois réinventé aux synthés par Wendy Carlos), et l’ajout de ce langage si imaginatif. Mais je ne me rappelais pas à quel point c’est salement divertissant comme film. Au risque de blasphèmer, c’est parfois pas loin d’être un comic book movie (particulièrement le premier acte), avec tous ces personnages extravagants, ces décors colorés, cette direction photo et ce montage hyper stylisés… Certes, la proposition a d’autres ambitions, dont un véritable propos sur les pulsions violentes et sexuelles, la réhabilitation, le pouvoir des images, les manipulations politiques et médiatiques. Mais ça demeure frappant à quel point ce n’est pas un classique poussiéreux; c’est toujours aussi stimulant, viscéral, provocateur. Real horrorshow. ]

Barry Lyndon
[ The classical music, the storybook narration, the absolutely magnificent use of light and color… This is one of the most aesthetically pleasant films ever made, but it can also be sexy, sneakily funny and violently passionate. The 185 minute length is a bit straining, but I remained engrossed in the adventures of a poor Irish lad (Ryan O’Neal) with the English and Prussian armies, with eye-patched gambler Chevalier de Balibari (Patrick Magee) and in marriage with a wealthy widow (Marisa Berenson). “I demand satisfaction!” ]

The Shining
[ L’hôtel Overlook est possiblement le décor le plus iconique de l’histoire du cinéma. Qui plus est, la composition visuelle et les mouvements d’appareil accentuent encore plus l’aspect plus grand que nature, surréaliste de ce décor. Adaptation plus ou moins fidèle du roman de Stephen King, ce film de Stanley Kubrick est un véritable chef-d’œuvre de l’horreur, peut-être le plus grand d’entre tous. On peut beaucoup s’amuser avec l’inoubliable imagerie de The Shining (demandez à Spielberg), mais revoir le film nous replonge dans un état de profond inconfort suivi d’inquiétude et éventuellement carrément de terreur. Les lieux ont une mémoire. Des fantômes rôdent. Et le fragile équilibre mental de l’être humain fait encore plus peur. ]

Full Metal Jacket
[ review ]

Eyes Wide Shut
[ Le film de Noël le plus sexu? Les stars les plus brillantes de Hollywood, alors un power couple à la ville, filmées comme des divinitées dorées… mais aussi dénudées, déstabilisées, déconstruites. C’est seulement la 3e fois que je vois ce chef-d’oeuvre en bientôt 20 ans, la première fois ayant été le jour de sa sortie en salle, au Guzzo Méga-Plex Spheretech (of all places) et la précédente remontant à 2006, mais c’est un des films les plus intensément incrustés dans ma mémoire. Scène après scène, plan après plan, réplique après réplique. La lumière, les compositions visuelles, le montage, la musique… Mais surtout Tom Cruise et Nicole Kidman, possiblement à leur meilleur. ]