Review No. 550
A movie by Kubrick’s devotees…for Kubrick’s devotees.
Director — Jan Harlan
Producer — Mr. Harlan (associate producer: Tony Frewin)
Arthur C. Clarke
Narrated by Mr. Cruise.
Distributor — Warner Bros.
Release Date — February 17, 2001 (film festival premieres); June 12, 2001 (video premiere); October 23, 2007 (home video circulation)
Language — English
Country — USA
Running Time — 142 minutes
STANLEY KUBRICK: A LIFE IN PICTURES WAS WATCHED ON JULY 27, 2013.
PREFACE: Technically, this is a direct-to-video release, which means this review should not even exist. The biggest theatrical release the movie ever acquired, worldwide, was an exclusive release in Amsterdam. Not even a New York or Chicago release in America; it’s out of print as a singular release, and only available as a “bonus disc” on three different bundles of Stanley Kubrick’s films. BUT…as the movie was issued to eight film festivals (in fact, it was issued to both the Berlin International Film Festival and the San Francisco International Film Festival prior to the exclusive video premiere), I feel inclined to review it as if were a theatrical release.
Stanley Kubrick may just be the most transcendent director to strike the latter half of the twentieth century. Like Alfred Hitchcock, whose dynamic oeuvre both preceded and faded into Kubrick, this man is a control freak. Though if anything, other than enhanced versatility, sets Kubrick apart from Hitchcock, it’s that he’s a control freak with a persona that’s ten times more obsessive.
You can’t help but feel that the length of his time in the filmmaking business was predetermined. It’s ironic that Kubrick–a perfectionist who would work every shot until he fell in love with it as sincerely as the way he had envisioned it–would become an influential moviemaker that couldn’t have spanned the second half of the twentieth century more exactly: With inspiration from his job at Look magazine, Kubrick financed his first film–a short subject documentary called Day of the Fight–at $3,900. That movie was shot on April 17, 1950; Kubrick was only twenty-two. Now fast-forward to July 16, 1999: the wide release date of Eyes Wide Shut, just months after a heart attack took his life.
I’ve seen five of Stanley Kubrick’s films, and my mind has been blown by every single one of them. Okay, maybe not by Dr. Strangelove, but consider that I watched it without a clue what a cold war was. I’m sure I’ll see the beauty, let alone the perfection, upon a well-deserved rewatch. Kubrick is immortal for his ability to take absolutely any story and make it his own. He’s an inspired director, but he hides all the inspiration under his secretive, self-influential style.
But I’m not going to sit here and review Stanley Kubrick the man. A Life in Pictures is a surprisingly moving account, narrated by Tom Cruise (the star of his swan song), and featuring interview segments from his collaborators as well as those he inspired. This is a deceptively simple documentary, if truth be told, and a good thirty to forty percent of what it offers on the tie between Kubrick’s persona and his films (it’s enormous), can be found easily through Google search, or simply inferred by watching one of his films.
Often times, bias is a bit overly effective as well. Of course, nearly every one of the man’s films is considered a classic by now, but the commentary sometimes feels “fixed,” as if the controversy that marred his films were still existent. Then again, we’re looking at a director who died with only one Oscar to his name–a visual effects Oscar for 2001: A Space Odyssey–and was daring enough to speak out against Schindler’s List, which itself had seven Oscars. So I don’t know if there’s any distinguishable limit one can set when it comes to assessing the controversy of his films, or the audiences that made him such a consistent controversy.
Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures is flawed. But there’s something great about it: it feels, at times, as if the movie was directed by Kubrick himself. It’s thoroughly engaging. There’s something it offers beyond the facts, as well as beyond the emotion, that makes any audience eager to watch another Kubrick film. I know that I should be able to at least identify what that “something” is, but…
…well, considering Kubrick spent fifty years religiously refusing to explain any sort of ambiguity to his audiences, Kubrick’s devotees have successfully made his ideal documentary.