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Realists Stanley Kubrick

He is a filmmaker who has meant a lot to many of us. In a world that is globalized and militarized, Kubrick is still relevant.


What is it that brings filmmaker Stanley Kubrick into consciousness today, really? Yes, the big one the exhibition Stanley Kubrick which is now on display at CCCB in Barcelona as well as the exhibition Through a Different Lens. Stanley Kubrick Photographs, which finished in January at the Museum of the City of New York. But also that it is exactly 20 years since he died, and that we here in Ny Tid are particularly interested in realism and the documentary. That there is a realism behind Kubrick's films, some will probably disagree with – when they think of films like Eyes Wide Shut (1999), 60's 2001: A romodyssé and Dr. Strangelove, or Ondskapens hotell (1980) Barry Lyndon (1975) and A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Photo from the Look period.

The photographer

So let me explain: At the New York exhibition, we saw Kubrick as a young photographer, from the five years he worked for Look Magazine (1945-50). The photographs show his journalistic and reflected approach, everyday realism in people's lives, where Kubrick's gaze and visuality appear as psychologically revealing. This period must have shaped much of his later film art.

Kubrick was 13 years old when he got a Graflex camera and was already taken as a photographer at the age of 17. Growing up in the New York Bronx had given him many photo opportunities. The exhibition shows how Kubrick used a hidden and observing camera, for example in the "Shoeshine Boy" series about shoe polisher Mickey, a New York street youth.

As the youngest in the staff, he made photo series or essays, often in pairs with a journalist. During these years he learned to master the cut, composition and lighting. He could show up with the camera in the wardrobe of celebrities – with an interest in how they created their public "personalities". He could go behind the scenes in television and radio studios, go to elite universities, describe the life of a boxer or photograph animals in a zoo or circus. One of his series of pictures first shows a monkey in a cage being watched by a group of people, before the perspective is reversed and we look out of the grid with the monkey – followed by the caption "A monkey is watching the people" [see below]. Yes, who are we really, we humans behind the grid?

Kubrick tried to remove the veil that prevents us from seeing the true nature of things.

Kubrick also staged photo series for Look – visually advanced compositions, with individuals in society. For example, photo series with marital jealousy or youth love and dates. With lyrics like "A Ladder of Love Development that Reaches from the Cradle to the Grave", or "What Every Teenager Should Know About Dating". Symmetrical opposites were also typical even then for the future filmmaker – as in the picture where a woman writes with lipstick "I hate love".

Unlike the more spectacular photo magazine Life, Look in the 40s and 50s (discontinued in 1971) was often direct and down. Look's slogan was "Inform and Entertain" – they had millions of readers. Kubrick's detailed, observational gaze emerged with Look Magazine, but also evolved with the post-war ethos and aesthetics as the backdrop. Look closely, or read the book Stanley Kubrick at Look Magazine (2013) by Philippe Mather, one can especially notice some photographic techniques from his years in the magazine – such as frozen image, mounted photographs, zoomed long shots with centered people, symmetrical compositions, varying depth focus or natural light. You will also in the films he later created, be able to recognize grips from here – such as montages, didactic narrator voice (text in Look), use of characters to denote the action, or advanced image combinations. Kubrick published hundreds of photographs for Look; the museum in new york has as many as 12 negatives. The exhibition's selection of 000 photographs gives an idea of ​​how the practice in Look provided an aesthetic and ideological direction for his later film work.

Kubrick eventually made some documentaries and a few feature films (Killer's Kiss og The Killing). But it was only when he began to draw on a teacher like Max Ophuls, and devoted himself to the use of the slowness of Andrei Tarkovsky and Michelangelo Antonioni, that he became famous – and developed into the brilliant filmmaker we know.

Dr. Strangelove

From New York I later went to the Barcelona Museum CCCB (Stanley Kubrickthe exhibition lasts until 31.03.), where the transition from photographer to filmmaker became clearer.

Kubrick was self-taught. On the museum wall with the montage of videos, interviews and biographical images of the filmmaker at work, he himself comments on this: "I think that if I had gone to college, I would never have become a director."

In our context, I highlight the films about the technological modern society we live in – Dr. Strangelove and 2001: A space odyssey.

In our context, I highlight the films that touch on the modern, technological society we live in – especially Dr. Strangelove og 2001: En romodyssé. Kubrick says from the mounting wall that in the 60s he was afraid of the atomic bomb. And the more he read, the more involved he became. Dr. Strangelove (1964) came out two years after the Cuba crisis. The film is again relevant today, now that the USA and Russia have stated the INF agreement on disarmament. Yes, as it sounds from the song at the end of the movie: "We'll meet again."

Based on a clear, unsentimental and relentless portrayal of reality, Kubrick has created a black, nightmarish comedy. And Peter Sellers (from Den rosa panteren) plays a full three roles. The film is a satire on humanity's ability to carefully construct our own destruction – with no way back. It is a dark fable about how humans create systems that can trigger a war, but without being able to avert it when it is prepared – here by a crazy man. In our time, we can say that the madness is only more compounded by the large military-industrial complex led by the US arms race. The film's model of "The War Room" is made by Ken Adam and exhibited in Barcelona [see photo]. In the film, the war room is a last resort, thought of as history's last crisis cabinet.

Dr. Strangelove is again relevant, now that the United States and Russia have given up the INF agreement on disarmament.

The film revolves around the novel Red Alert (by Peter George) with the counterculture writer, Terry Southern, who wrote the script. Kubrick already puts the satirical form in the film's subtitle, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. The film alternates between the realistic-documentary and the somewhat stylized parodic scenes. The military-industrial complex was then described with the film's hell machine. As Kubrick says from the montage wall in Barcelona, ​​he realized with the film the paradox. A line he lay on from Dr. Strangelove.

Abstraction, realism and details

But did he still hold on to realism? Let me refer to the realism in the above Kubrick at Look: «Even the most absurd (Dr. Strangelove), supernatural (Ondskapens hotell) or alienated (2001: En romodyssé) the fictional worlds of Kubrick's work are grounded in detailed accuracy and documentary realism. "

This was equally important, where the unknown could only function from an established reality. The book claims, despite Kubrick's changing aesthetics, that he never got rid of his roots from 1930s documentary photo projects, or John Grierson's definition of film as a "creative adaptation of reality." From Look he learned the «direct cinema» of the time there credibility in the production – regardless of genre – was crucial to get the audience to identify with what they saw.

For example, Kubrick told the New York Times in 1958 that the light in the films had to come from natural directions, so that "it provided a stronger sense of reality." Unlike film noir, one might say. And in 1980, after the premiere of Ondskapens hotell, he explains that credibility is achieved by "illuminating so that it looks almost like a documentary". This is a full 30 years after he left Look magazine.

From 2001 – A space odyssey.

The exhibition in Barcelona is clear on how detailed Kubrick worked with the films. He also stated how scientifically accurate he was with the work, such as using "actual elements as a means" to build credibility and prepare the audience for "more speculative and purely visionary aspects". Kubrick was consistently extremely keen on details; if viewers were to be emotionally moved by a film, they would first have to believe in the "reality" of a fictional world.

We are now up in perhaps the most important revolution of our time, the one Kubrick reflected around at the end of his life.

But Kubrick is also an intellectual artist. From the mounting wall in Barcelona we hear in connection with Dr. Strangelove Kubrick talks about abstraction in film: «You know, abstract ideas, clearly or comically stated – people do not react to abstract ideas. They only react to direct experience. » And he elaborates: "Very few people are interested in abstractions, and even few people can become emotionally involved, or emotionally react to an abstraction." Still, it was with the film as the medium he wanted to penetrate behind the apparent or mundane.

So how do you convey intellectual abstractions or existential, deeper terms in film? In the anti-war films Paths of Glory (1957) and Full Metal Jacket (1987) Kubrick may have shown that warfare does not least affect us. Kubrick operated with a kind of resolution of our usual order. The real working world is behind a veil of conventions: He tried to remove the veil that prevents us from seeing the forces of things or the real nature. Maybe some kind of "fundamental materialism" that denies something beyond and looks at man naked, without a God?

Kirk Douglas in the Paths of Glory.

There were at least 12 feature films from 1955 until he died suddenly in 1999. Is one good for a good Norwegian Kubrick anthology, Kubrick. Overview and maze (2001, ed. Arnstein Bjørkly), abstraction and realism are also the theme. As the French Philippe Fraisse says in this book, Kubrick deals with man in an "eternal distress of soul, in its wavering between his urges and his unspeakable fear" for an enigmatic existence here we exist. A form of realism is therefore also to distance oneself from traditions and habits so that we can see more clearly – more realistically than traveling around as sleepwalkers in our daily routines.

The journalistic approach from the time at Look also often emerges, as both the supernatural, grotesque or absurd are put in realistic contexts. As the filmmaker said in an interview with Penelope Houston in 1971: "I've always liked to deal with a somewhat surreal situation by presenting it in a realistic way." And critic Robert Koehler calls Kubrick's films "docufictions" promoted by the documentary filmmaker's "observational benefits of distance, commentary, and overview."

2001: En romodyssé

But let me follow the theme of realism a bit: Said Fraisse also writes that film 2001: En romodyssé (1968) is blamed for being too abstract – as Kubrick, rather than depicting our reality, lets almost symbolic human figures emerge as fables. But precisely here "it is a question of a higher form of realism, a more apt expression of the concrete". And "the concrete are the forces that work in us, beyond the words."

On the other hand, filmmaker Alain Resnais spoke after 2001s premiere (to the film magazine Positif) that «Kubrick manages to make us feel that we are watching a documentary, that this space journey is real… After serving us a distinctly scientific story, he succeeds in the last part in making us accept a ride into the imaginary ». Kubrick actually planned a ten-minute documentary black-and-white filmed introduction to 2001: interviews with scientists about extraterrestrial life – when he was afraid that the audience would find the movie too imaginative.

I 2001 we see the spaceship's 'thinking' computer, the HAL 9000, mutate and kill four astronauts before the fifth, David Bowman, manages to disconnect it. Bowman pulls out the digital memory chips, while the machine behind the yellow-red "eye" during the lobotomization says: "I can feel it. I can feel it. I am afraid. »

From 2001 – A space odyssey

And what power is it not Kubrick shows in the beginning 2001, where the monkey pulls the bone in the air before he cuts us a few million years ahead, to the spaceship of the same shape? Yes, i 2001 – in its interplay between realism and fantasy, and the use of the paradoxical and ambiguous – can one find a kind of poetic hope for something superhuman in the world, without God?

Artificial intelligence

Not only did Kubrick address our fear of nuclear weapons Dr. Strangelove, or our technology zeal and longing for eternal life with 2001. He also addressed the importance of artificial intelligence, where machines "take over" for humans. For where does today's enormous investment in artificial intelligence take us? The philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote a few years before these two films (i The question of the technique, 1957) that people are characterized by a way of being or thinking where the environment and other people are considered more and more as resources for utilization. An instrumentality where we almost become objects in dealing with objects – as we see today that algorithms and money dominate the world with little room for freedom and interpretation. We are getting closer to the robots' mechanical way of being. And today's variants of HAL are ubiquitous virtual machines, "big data" and monitoring (recognition algorithms), where artificial intelligence is used by far more than Facebook and Google…

Kubrick's planned film AI Artificial Intelligence, which he constantly changed throughout the 90s, had to give way to Eyes Wide Shut (1999). IN AI should a Pinocchio figure appear – he really wanted to be human. The humanist Kubrick is not alone in having grasped the meaning of replicants and "Frankensteiner". Kubrick's unfinished film was a hugely ambitious project, as Bjørkly points out in the anthology: It could have "become a kind of virtual reality sequel to 2001". In 1995, Kubrick passed the film on to Steven Spielberg, who completed it in 2001.

I 2001 Kubrick begins with the chapter "Dawn of Man" and ends with "Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite", where he introduces a kind of eternal return with an astral fetus (Star Child) – as a transgression.

We are now at the forefront of perhaps the most important revolution of our time with the focus on artificial intelligence and weapon technology. What has followed in the 20 years since Kubrick's death – with new algorithms, the proliferation of smartphones, the internet, automation, drones and the possible use of mini-nuclear weapons. It is as these films show, a development that you can almost no longer control. Kubrick is therefore more current than ever.

2001: En romodyssé og A Clockwork Orange is currently appearing on Netflix.

Read about the exhibition Through a different lens

Og the exhibition at CCCB.

Cinematheque shows Kubrick's films in March and April – overview here.

Truls Lie
Truls Liehttp: /
Editor-in-chief in MODERN TIMES. See previous articles by Lie i Le Monde diplomatique (2003–2013) and Morgenbladet (1993-2003) See also part video work by Lie here.

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