Posts Tagged ‘Kubrick’

The Shining (1980) *****

Dir: Stanley Kubrick | Cinematography: John Alcott: Script: Stanley Kubrick/Diane Johnson | Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers, Danny Lloyd | 144′  | Thriller US

Cold, hypnotic and profoundly disturbing, this tale of a family who come to grief during the isolation of one Colorado winter is burnt into the memory and will remain a standout film of the 20th century.

Based on Stephen King’s bestselling novel, some see Kubrick’s tale of a family man who takes a job as winter caretaker in the Overlook Hotel as a psychological drama, some a ghost story.   The film’s enduring success is partly due to its ability to be whatever to whoever experiences it. The endless fascination with the film and its different interpretations for cinemas goers and critics alike has even spawned a documentary: Room 237: a mishmash of strands examining esoteric codes and arcane theories behind the screen original, with appeal largely to the anorak brigade.

Stanley Kubrick seeded his 14th feature with so many elements that build tension and spark off an unsettling reaction in the viewer before the action has even started.  In other words, we’re actually ‘spooked out’ in anticipation. The desolate forests of snowbound Colorado in the awesome opening helicopter sequence; the weird emptiness of the brightly-lit hotel interiors; Danny’s unnerving psychic gift and his visit with a child psychologist (a new scene); a spine-chilling score; the talk of a previous tragedy in the hotel and the fact that the family are an unknown quantity add to its strange power,

Kubrick’s exacting standards often meant 50 takes to get the scene right and get the cast to give their all. Jack Nicholson was even said to remark: “Just because you’re a perfectionist, it doesn’t mean you’re perfect”. That said, he gives one of the most memorable turns of his career as Jack Torrance, a frustrated wannabe writer with anger-management issues whose metamorphosis from decent guy to demon has its amusing moments as in the scene with bartender Joe Turkel (extended here).  Shelley Duvall, is perfect as a simpering homemaker and mother who was forced to remain ‘hysterical’ for nearly four months to comply with Kubrick’s demands on her.  Danny Lloyd is extraordinary as a sensitive 7 year-old boy with psychic potential who has an imaginary friend Tony who speaks to him of impending tragedy.

Veteran actor Scatman Crothers had never heard of Kubrick until he was cast as Halloran, the kindly hotel chef who shares Danny’s extrasensory perception and calls it “shining”.  Barry Nelson gives a suave and polished turn as Ullman, the hotel manager; and Philip Stone, who plays Grady the former caretaker and is the only character to dominate Jack Torrance (in a status switch in the mens’ room scene), is supremely in control of his chilling performance.  Scored with a dissonant soundtrack using existing recordings by Bela Bartok, Gorgy Ligeti and Polish modernist Krzysztof Penderecki that presage doom from the title sequence until the credits roll, Kubrick creates a malevolent dystopia that will shine out for eternity as a signpost to horror. MT.

THE SHINING is now on re-release in selected arthouse venues

 

Doctor Sleep (2019) **


Dir.: Mike Flanagan; Cast: Rebecca Ferguson, Ewan McGregor, Emily Alyn Lind, Kyliegh Curran, Zahn McClanon; USA 2019, 151 min.

As sequels go, this is par for the course: in other words, a bitter disappointment. Mike Flanagan is known for his horror outing Gerald’s Game and has now misguidedly embarked on a screen adaption of Stephen King’s 2013 novel Doctor Sleep that follows the troubled life of Danny, the young boy from his 1975 novel The Shining, famously adapted for the screen by Stanley Kubrick in 1980.

Doctor Sleep is just not up to standard despite Flanagan’s best efforts to emulate the style of Kubrick’s original. The inflated running time of two and half hours makes matters even more tedious, extending a simplistic plot to breaking point. The result is a torpid, confused and second rate addition to the King adaptation saga.

It sees Dan Torrance (a decent McGregor) suffering the aftermath of his childhood traumata during a wintry stay in The Shinings’s Overlook Hotel, and on course to replicate his father’s uneasy journey through life as an adult. Alcoholism has already derailed his career before he finally fetches up in a small New Hampshire town where he works in a hospice to help the dying. But the past raises its ugly head in the form of Rose (Ferguson) the cultish leader of ‘The True Knot’, a group of immortals living in huge luxurious caravans. They kidnap young people who possess the well-known gift of ‘shining’, torture them and prolong their own lives with the potent dying breath of their victims. The charismatically evil Rose is amply supported by her deputy Crow Daddy (McClanon) and Andi (Lind), whose nickname ‘Snakebite’ refers to her powers of putting her victims to sleep. But Dan is soon joined and supported by teenager Abra (Curran), whose ‘shining abilities’ outperform the rest of the crew. They combine forces to quell this evil band in a climactic finale based on re-rendered original shots of the Overlook Hotel and its adjacent maze.

DoP Michael Fimognari tries his best to come up with an inspired visual look to enhance Flanagan’s pedestrian script. But everything is so mediocre he can’t help but fail. The same goes for the actors whose characters are terribly one-dimensional with lines that makes us cringe in despair, despite their best efforts, so much so that we actually welcome the appearance of a fluffy, blue-eyed cat who seems the only creature able to fathom out the predictability of it all. Performance-wise McGregor is particularly good as an adult Dan, but the young Danny (Roger Dale Floyd) looks nothing like the original Danny Lloyd, making us unconvinced this has any bearing on its source material. That said, Carl Lumbly makes for a rather good Scatman Crothers as does Alex Essoe as Wendy.

Despite Flanagan’s protestations in a pre-screen interview, we are left wondering whether Stephen King has really given his blessing to this – at best – unimaginative affair. After all, he more or less disowned Kubrick’s film, executive producing his own script of the novel for a TV miniseries in 1997.

All things considered directing-wise, Flanagan isn’t worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Stanley Kubrick’s table despite his best efforts to emulate his hero in this sequel. To compare the two films is like comparing an Aston Martin with a Reliant Robin – both will get you from A to B but offer a completely different experience. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 31st OCTOBER 2019

 

 

Full Metal Jacket (1987) **** Kubrick Retrospective 2019

Dir: Stanley Kubrick | Writers: Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr, Gustav Hasford | Cast: Matthew Modine, R Lee Emey, Vincent D’Onofrio, Adam Baldwin, Dorian Harewood | US Action thriller 116′

The last film to be released during Kubrick’s lifetime is a bleak and violent look at the Vietnam war through the eyes of recruits moving from the brutal US Marine training bootcamp into the nightmare of active service overseas. Pessimism combined with dark cynicism gives us a flavour of what came before in Paths of Glory and Dr. Strangelove.

The first half of the film is extremely loud and shouty, focusing on the recruits’ dehumanising and draconian training programme. Although it makes for grim viewing there’s a certain visual symmetry at work here echoing Leni Riefenstal’s Olympia (1938), although the dialogue is coarse and sweary, and full of racist bigotry as you might expect given the all-male environment where the men are toughened up and whipped into shape. There then follows a brutal and melodramatic baptism of fire before the men head to Vietnam, where top recruit and military journalist Pvt Joker (Modine) decides to try his hand in the front line: “a day without blood, is like a day without sunshine”. Kubrick maintains a cold-eyed distance throughout the mayhem and hard-edged horror. There is no attempt to bring out the humanity of these men who are now reduced to killing machines, murdering anything that moves as they fight for their own survival in the dog eat dog delirium. Kubrick’s message is clear: War is no place for decency. You come away not knowing or caring about any of the characters. Stunned and saddened by the senselessness of it all. No pity or poetry here. MT

BFI STANLEY KUBRICK RETROSPECTIVE | APRIL-MAY 2019 at BFI Southbank 

Lolita (1961) ***

Dir.: Stanley Kubrick; Cast: Sue Lyon, James Mason, Shelley Winters, Peter Sellers; UK/US 1961, 152 min.

Vladimir Nabokov wrote a screenplay of 400 pages for Stanley Kubrick’s film adaption of his 1955 novel – it would have amounted to a running time of over seven hours. Kubrick also had to take into account the Hays censorship code, which made it impossible to show detailed sexual aspects of the love between Humbert Humbert, a middle aged college lecturer and a twelve-year-old girl named Lolita, whose name became synonymous with any young temptress – even though she was the victim of adult male predators.

Lolita opens with a murder: a drunk elderly man is shot dead while playing Chopin on the piano. Then the linear events leading to this crime unfold: A lecturer in French literature Humbert Humbert (Mason), arrives in Ramsdale, New Hampshire, in search for lodgings. On the verge of turning down the rooms on offer from Charlotte Haze (Winters), he is just about to reject them, when he sees her daughter Dolores ‘Lolita’ (Lyon) and falls in love. But Charlotte has a shine for Humbert too, and drives her daughter to a girl’s camp, leaving a letter for Humbert, telling him to move out – or marry her. Humbert, still obsessed with Lolita, then marries Charlotte who later reads his diary where he confesses to his love for the school girl. Charlotte runs out of the house to post a letter to the authorities, but is killed in a car crash. Humbert fetches Lolita from the camp, pretending that her mother is in hospital, but seduces the girl in a motel. They set off on a romantic adventure, and are followed by an obnoxious stranger. In the autumn, Humbert enrols Lolita in a nearby High School where she is to participate in a school play. A discussion with Dr, Zempf (Sellers) upsets Humbert and he takes Lolita out of the school, touring the country again. Finally, Lolita disappears; leaving Humbert desolate. Much later, he learns that she is pregnant, living in a tranquil suburb. He gives her money, from the sale of her mother’s house, but she wants to stay with her husband Dick. She also tells Humbert that she ran away with Clare Quilty (Sellers), a famous playwright, who impersonated Dr. Zempf and followed them on their journeys. Humbert dies before the murder trial.

Kubrick set his sights on Mason to play Humbert from the beginning, but he was unavailable due to other commitments. Laurence Olivier and David Niven also turned down the part, but finally Mason took it on board. Kubrick and Nabokov were happy with the casting of Sue Lyon – who was fourteen, playing a twelve-year-old – Nabokov later admitted he would have preferred the French actress Catherine Demongeot, who played Zazie in Louis Malle’s Zazie dans le Metro. Over 800 actresses had test screenings for the young Lolita. 

Meanwhile, a 1977 remake by Adrian Lyne –  much more faithful to the novel – made a colossal loss at the box office.

And while Kubrick tried to make Humbert into an “Unreliable Narrator” telling the story from his own selfish viewpoint, he fails to do the Lolita character any justice. Lolita certainly has its merits as a drama, but it’s un-conceivable that such a film could ever be made today. AS

Stanley Kubrick RETROSPECTIVE | APRIL AND MAY AT THE BFI 2019  

    

 

A Clockwork Orange (1971) 4K restoration

Dir.: Stanley Kubrick; Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Warren Clark, James Marcus, Michael Tarn, Adrienne Corri, Carl Duering, Miriam Karlin, Michael Gover, Anthony Sharp; UK/US 1971, 136 min.

Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s 1962 decline-of-civilisation novel, A Clockwork Orange, remains a chilling, thrilling and unsettling cinematic vision of nihilistic violence and social control.

The brutal socio-political satire was a big success for Kubrick taking £618K at the UK box office on its opening weekend in January 1972. Burgess’s oeuvre of over thirty novels is overshadowed by A Clockwork Orange. The author claimed writing was merely a “jeu d’esprit, just for money, finishing the novel in three weeks”. But during WWII his first wife Lynne had been raped by American soldiers, which led to a miscarriage.

Set in a futuristic Britain, teenager Alex DeLarge (McDowell) is the leader of a teenage quartet called the ‘Droogs’. Brutal and psychopathic, they enjoy wreaking havoc after school. Alex is the gang-leader keeping Dim (Clarke), Georgie (Marcus) and Pete (Tarn) under the cosh: disobedience is immediately repressed with violence. After a fight with a rival gang, they break into the Hertfordshire home of writer Alexander (Magee), reducing him to a cripple and raping his wife Mary (Corrie) while warbling “Singing in the Rain”.

Next day, Alex, a keen Beethoven fan who lives with his parents in a garish high-rise, plays truant from school. Later the Droog break into the house of “Catlady” (Karlin), a yoga freak, who Alex kills with the bust of his beloved Ludwig. Arrested and imprisoned in a masterfully performed series of scenes demonstrating just how draconian the authorities were back then, Alex is offered the chance of submitting himself to a new-fangled therapy “the Ludovico treatment”, which aims to ‘reset’ his mind, making him averse to violence and sex. The therapy has the desired effect. But in one of the films, selected by Dr. Brodsky (Duering), Beethoven’s Ninth is played, making Alex feel nauseous when he hears the music. After a demonstration by the Interior Minister (Sharp), during which Alex faints at the sight of a naked woman, he is released. But his parents do not want him back, they have rented his room to a male lodger, who now fulfils their parenting needs. So Alex is forced onto the streets for a touch of his own medicine.

Attacked by an old hobo, whom he had punched up in his Droog days, he is saved by two policemen – Dim and Georgie. They drive him into the countryside, beat him senseless and leave him for dead. Half-crazed, Alex finds himself once again on the doorstep of Mr. Alexander’s house, who is wheelchair-bound, and widowed. Strangely, Alexander does not recognise Alex without his Droog outfit, instead he publishes articles in his defence, claiming he is a victim of the government’s inhuman treatment. But when he hears Alex crooning that same song of the original attack, his trauma resurfaces and he finds a way of getting his own back by playing Beethoven’s music. Alex jumps out of the window. The fall resets the therapy, and soon Alex returns to his evil ways.

The minister promises to help, accusing Alexander of cruelty, and uses Alex in his campaign to quieten down critics of his government. Alex wakes up in a hospital with broken bones. While undergoing a series of psychological tests, Alex finds he no longer abhors sex and violence. The Minister arrives and apologises to Alex, offfering to take care of him and get him a job in return for his cooperation with his election campaign and counter-offensive. As a sign of goodwill, the Minister brings in a stereo system playing Beethoven’s Ninth. Alex then contemplates violence and has vivid thoughts of having sex with a woman in front of an approving crowd, and thinks to himself, “I was cured, all right!”

So what is the message behind A Clockwork Orange? Obviously it’s a film open to individual interpretation but there a few clear themes running through the narrative: crime and retribution; personal responsibility; the nature of forgiveness.

DoP John Alcott widescreen images, using frog eye lenses, show the bad taste of the 1970s aesthetics in all its glory, presenting us with a dystopia of mind-blowing crassness. McDowell is the prince of darkness, his long false eyelashes giving him a satanic look. With gang violence erupting in Britain on a large scale – Kubrick himself received death threats and asked Warner Brothers to withdraw the film from circulation for  good. One victim of this ban was the famous repertoire cinema “Scala” in Pentonville Road, which showed A Clockwork Orange in 1993 and had to close the same year for good, after rising rents and the prohibitive legal costs of Kubrick’s legal team led to insolvency. AS

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE | 4K RESTORATION | IN CINEMAS from 17 September 2021

 

 

 

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