Some Thoughts on Stanley Kubrick

Kubrick died in 1999.

I love his work, cold though it is.

I love his crowd scene in Spartacus. They're hard. How do you use all those people? How do you photograph them? What do you have them do that they can do?

The 60's were the era of "A Cast of Thousands"— full of vagrant extras hanging out in Europe. I met some of them—waiters, deck hands, Roman soldiers.

Kubrick covered a hillside with a hundred of these hoboes dressed as rebel gladiators. Long shot. Olivier promises they'll go free if they tell him which one is Spartacus. So Kirk Douglas stands up and says, "I'm Spartacus." Pause. Another dude stands up and says, "I'm Spartacus." Third guy stands up: "I'm Spartacus." A fourth. A fifth. Then all rise as one and shout, "I AM SPARTACUS!" Brings tears to your eyes.

I know better, of course. It wasn't really his film. The voices were recorded at a Michigan State football game. But it's nice to associate Kubrick with that scrap of warmth. It's the only one we get.

And they were all Spartacus, those heroes, trapped in what Full Metal Jacket's soldier calls this "world of shit." Kubrick burned to be gone from it as hotly as Beckett did.

Like me (and this is the only possible comparison) Kubrick didn't buy Darwin's myth of evolution. People look at me like I'm from Mars when I say that (and perhaps I am). Nor do I have anything to replace it with. (See The Accidental Monkey.)

Kubrick was one of my few co-religionists on it. In 2001 David Bowman (half giant-slayer, half Odysseus—the one man who can string that bow) takes on the computer HAL (read IBM) who, if being the fittest were a matter of incremental brain circuitry, would win.

In a gesture of victory a monkey throws his bone-club, the first tool, into the air and, leaping the longest gap ever in a piece of editing, it becomes a space module. No explanation needed: our myth, and therefore invisible.

Kubrick had an allergy to this kind of b.s. Always in his films we are kept in the dark by an insidious paste of socio-corporate kaka. An executive arrives on the moon to inspect the monolith and gives his people a speech that is a model of this kind of thing, a speech we already know; then they all go out and have their pictures taken with it. (He was a funny man.) When the American president tries to get General Turgidson on the phone his mistress gives him the he's-in-a-meeting line and we hear the toilet flush. In Eyes Wide Shut young Bill must wade through this stuff even to get near the truth.

Close-up of the distress in the eyes of the prison guard who tyrannizes over Alex in A Clockwork Orange, when he must turn the kid over to the behaviorists. You never know who your enemies are in Kubrick till it's too late. He had more than his share of paranoia—but that in itself was an indictment of this existence: why should we be subject to paranoia?

That awful drill instructor in Full-Metal Jacket gave those marines what they needed to survive in the w.o.s., and was murdered for his trouble. I think the most crap-cutting remark I've heard on war was in Kubrick's Paths of Glory: "It's not death I fear—it’s mutilation."

You have your home thoughts, and then you have the ones you add on. And then you don't know which are yours any more. It's "strenuous" (to use a word Kubrick highlighted in Barry Lyndon) to rethink yourself. He had the look of a man who strained.

Kubrick on sex? The w.o.s. is sustained by sex. Sex gets us born into it and sex keeps us playing its game. From Lolita to Eyes Wide Shut he never stopped railing against the beauty of women—the demiurge's trick for keeping us trapped here. (And this from a father of daughters!)

For him it was automatism, mechanism—"the old in-out in-out" as Alex calls it, "the sperm bank upstairs" Jack calls his wife in The Shining. The docking of the space craft to waltz music is a coupling that will produce a star child. The mid-air refueling in Dr. Strangelove inseminates the plane that will give birth to the bomb.

General Jack D. Ripper knows the way out: "I deny women my essence." Then he just blows the world up!

And oh, how Kubrick wanted the world blown up! Did you think that was a protest movie? How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb—did you think he was kidding? He wants us set free! We'll meet again.

Didn't work though. Dr. Strangelove stepped in and restarted the whole catastrophe.

Only David Bowman is shot out past it, past the mean little god who rules it ("Jupiter and Beyond") to where he himself is what sees but is not seen. He watches an older Bowman eat, drop a glass on a glass floor, turn: is someone there?

To T.S. Eliot's question, "Who is the third who walks always beside you?" Kubrick had an answer: you.


  1. "In a gesture of victory a monkey throws his bone-club, the first tool, into the air and, leaping the longest gap ever in a piece of editing, it becomes a space module."

    Dear Mr. MacLean! And of course you know, from whom Kubrick picket that up? Remember the hunting hawk which turns in mid flight into a second world war fighter plane in Powell & Pressburger's A Canterbury Tale?

    Greetings from Finland

    ~(;^)~Hannu Björkbacka

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  3. MacLean, you're a trip. Always enjoy reading you. Re Kubrick I worked with him on FMJ and EWS and let me tell you he was a very hands-on guy. As an example, when his movies were released he personally inspected each newspaper WB advertised in. We had to fax the ads to him in England-- and God forbid the theatre sigs at the bottom were not to his liking. He insisted on Helvetica and nothing else would do. In the nearly 20 years I worked for the studio, he was the only one who ever asked and got such a thing. Of course the studio would do anything for him, including trying to get the 20+ agencies handling US advertising and promotion to push his wife's art book to the media which, of course, we did because this was Stanley F. Kubrick for crying out loud.

  4. DC, you're an ebullient guy, positively foaming with work--I've been looking at some of it--and I wish you every possible success. You're in the UK? Working on your scripts or do you also have a day-to-day connection with the business? (How does Mercedes come into it?) Tell me more!

  5. Thanks for the good wishes, but hey, MacLean, hands off of Mercedes. She's just a client-- albeit a healthy one with firm thighs and tight buttocks who knows her way around bodies and food as a personal trainer, author and nutritionist in English and Spanish-- but a client nonetheless. And no, we're not in the UK. We live and work out of SoBe-- where it rarely rains and beautiful women from around the world walk the streets with seemingly little to wear to clothe their bodies 24/7-- but someone's got to do it.