Kubrick’s Favourite Films? Part One
It’s been a while since we conducted a list post isn’t it? Well, you can imagine my glee as mulling over a portfolio of possibilities this little article arrived and started gaining traction amongst the on-line film fraternity, of course the opinion of one of the most influential and coveted filmmakers of all time was bound to generate a dense cloud of commentary, and being a self-confessed obsessive of the man and his work I naturally found the inspiration for a new trawl through cinema history. Before we get started allow me to construct some context for our scan of past triumphs, firstly it should be noted that any claim to this being a definitive statement of Kubrick’s all time favourites is absurd, this should be taken as a fun exercise rather than any serious academic collation such as the decennial Sight & Sound poll for example, and anyway I suspect that Stan would dismiss any reductive exercise such as making a ‘top ten’ with the contempt it deserves – exactly how is Rashomon less brilliant in its own unique way than say Les Diaboliques? The spine of the list springs from a 1963 submission to Cinema magazine that Kubrick made when he was 35 years old, a recent permanent émigré to leafy East Anglia from the States, plotting his designs and working up the script for Dr. Strangelove which was to strafe theatres a year later. It’s a fine collection which sprawls over cinemas first seven decades, in many ways you can map the films to Kubrick’s own work in many fascinating and illuminating ways, but before we get into that lets just consider the pictures which didn’t quite make the cut.
As my fellow fanatics have barked it also omits some core films which Stan is on record as admiring, the elusive Funeral Parade Of Roses (which I ordered from Japan a decade ago to see) was an influence on A Clockwork Orange’s techniques for example, Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and An American Werewolf In London also prompted one of those surprising impromptu six-hour conversations with fellow industry colleagues – in the latter it’s not difficult to see the ironic use of music to counterpoise the horror and the technical achievements which would appeal to Stan – but most glaringly there is no mention of Kielowski’s expansive Decalogue series which legendarily actually convinced the so-called recluse to write a short introduction of praise for the accompanying screenplay folio. As I’ve noted before he cited The Godfather as the best cast film of all time – one wonders what he would have made with Brando had their initial discussions on One Eyes Jacks ever coalesced into anything – and I love the quote that one of his daughters made (I think it was Katharina) that she fondly remembers sitting with him watching movies like White Men Can’t Jump on the BBC which just goes to show he wasn’t always this imperious Prospero wrestling with the great themes of humankind in his isolated St. Alban’s mansion, sometimes he could just enjoy a well made story with suitably sketched characters, or maybe he just enjoyed the sport as he was a fairly big sports fan, he’d have Basketball and Baseball matches recorded and shipped to him well before the advent of Satellite broadcasting. So we have much ground to cover so lets begin in descending order, starting with an early Achilles heel in my film knowledge armour;
15. Blood Wedding (Carlos Saura | 1981) – I’ve never heard of this and I’m not sure where they gleaned Kubrick’s passion for the film from, but nevertheless here we are. I can only assume that the supposed ‘incredible’ camera work cited in reviews is what impressed him, he certainly liked to keep his cameras prowling through his sets, with the attendant strains on operators, focus pullers, set designers and actors that such gruelling shooting techniques could engender, so I’m looking forward to this which has been placed on my priority Lovefilm queue. Strange that people have been whining about the films lack of availability and claiming ebay copies go for $350 though, it was the first thing that cropped up in the search result…..
14. The Bank Dick (Edward Cline | 1940) – W.C. Fields seems to have been relegated to the comedy nerds as he doesn’t exactly spring to mind like say the Marx Brothers or The Three Stooges, and I wonder if this wasn’t just a little twinge of nostalgia on the part of Stanley as a movie which he could have seen in theatres at the tender age of twelve? Then again it is considered something of a formal classic in its comedic design, and there is a quiet strain of comedy running through his body of work, yes of course there’s Strangelove but I’d argue that Barry Lyndon, Lolita, The Killing and even The Shining all have their comedy moments – granted we’re talking hysterical, nervous, cackling laughter – but laughter none the less. Fascinating comedy themed factoid – original potential couples for Eyes Wide Shut when Stan was working on it during the Eighties were Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, and Steve Martin and his then missus Victoria Tennant – evidently he was going for a lighter approach at the time?
13. Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski | 1968) – Firstly, a confession. Yes I made a vague promise about crafting a Polanski trilogy didn’t I? Well, I did have tickets to see this which would have been great on the big screen, but the screening fell on the January Friday when that strange frozen substance fell from the sky and paralysed London’s transport infrastructure, so I counted my blessing at getting home in one piece to Limehouse rather than pressing my luck with a yomp over to the South Bank as well. The other film I had planned was Repulsion, but I actually revisited that last year so I was terribly excited at seeing it again so soon, I shall make amends with the quite ambitious plans I have for the upcoming John Boorman season. Anyway, I’m sure Stanley loved this for it’s all to difficult to replicate chilling tone, it’s creeping unease and impressive framing and compositions, I think he had less of an ego of making his riposte to this and The Exorcist as he felt he could ‘make the greatest horror movie ever made;’ than he really had one eye on the box office and saw thew astonishing returns that relatively cheap horror movies could provide. Then of course he went on to make The Shining in a swift turnaround (for him) of three years from Lyndon, and made one of the greatest horror movies ever made. Smug bastard…..
12. The Fireman’s Ball (Milos Forman | 1967) – I hang my head in shame as yet another glaring omission in my filmlore arsenal is exposed, truth be told there is a whole sequence of films which emerged from under the Iron Curtain during the Sixties and Seventies which I’m not particularly au fait with, material such as Andrejz Wajda’s cinema and indigenous films which the likes of cinematographers Vilmos Zsigmond and Laszlo Kovacs cut there teeth on before repatriating to the West, and providing illumination to a decade of America’s finest cinema. Everyone knows Milos Forman for the classic One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, itself a political a social parable like this movie, I think Cousins touched upon it during his Film Odyssey and I’ve just ordered myself a copy – death by bureaucracy sounds like an ideal companion piece to Strangelove, no?
11. The Phantom Carriage (Victor Sjöström | 1921) – We’ve moved beyond being ashamed and straight into penitent flailing now, friends of mine won’t be surprised to hear me give myself a good beating over Kubrick’s favourite movies. I’ve heard of Sjöström as an early pioneer of cinema back in the days of Griffith and Chaplin, I know that he’s the main actor in Wild Strawberries, but I confess I’ve never heard of this. Above is quite the most illuminating extract, it just goes to show the breadth and depth of material that the real cinema greats draw upon for their own material and scenes. It is curious, is it not, that the 1921 scene plays out in mid-shots of both lines of action, but sixty years later the same scene is played out in a variety of framing choices and cutting rhythms, the latter being slightly more terrifying….
10. The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme | 1991) – Now I’ve heard of this, in fact I can smugly assert to not only seeing this at the cinema during its initial run, but also having my very own Direct Versatile Disk copy – thus my Kubrick credentials are restored. It is a terrific thriller with glimpses of horror (rather than vice versa) with great lead performances, I wonder if Hopkins slithering, over the top portrayal of Lecktor didn’t appeal to his embrace the gallery of grotesques which populate his work? There’s a couple of terrific feints in the movie which Demme expertly pulls off, the first being the face as above, the second the cut between Clarice knocking at Buffalo Bill’s yard and the SWAT team preparation in a different location – great stuff, these are techniques which more recent movies could learn from….
9. Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky | 1972) – Shall I be lazy and post the most obvious clip, Tarkovsky’s alleged filmic response to the 2001 Stargate sequence? Well, this seems as good a place as any. I wonder what Stanley made of the slightly more challenging Stalker which is probably regarded as the more immortal film, I just like the idea of directors having these ‘feuds’ and remarking upon and rebutting each others work through their own projects, it reminds me of whole swathes of the history of fine art where entire movements have been created and potent phases of work emerged from such chest beating intellectual mêlées – cinema it seems is no different and just as valid.
8. Closely Watched Trains – (Jiří Menzel | 1966) – And we’re back to my shameful, tearful confession – nope I ain’t seen this either. Watching that trailer and the first thing that springs to mind is of course the abandoned Aryan Papers project, I don’t think there’s much more to say other than I think you’ll have to be in a very particular mood to absorb this movie, a black & white Czech coming of age art-house drama set against the fading pains of World War II – sounds hilarious….
7. If…. (Lindsay Anderson | 1968) – Rather a strange inclusion this, Stanley liked the film a great deal and it was purely on the strength of the scene above at 04:53 that he cast McDowell as the Mephistophelian Alex, in a career defining role which Malcolm will be chiefly remembered for once his glazzies mist over. We in Britain should be ashamed of ourselves as we haven;t made as subversive and savage a film in half a century, and if the current social and political upheaval isn’t the accelerant for such material then I don’t know what is. OK we’ll leave it there and I’ll come back and finish off the list next week, I’m off to the BFI for a visit for a simply divine experience…..