. . . Kubrick

. . .

Not Going to See the Movie Comment: I was too young to deal with Mansfield Park the first time I read it, and I can't picture a living commercial movie director who isn't. Maybe if Kubrick had been interested in women, he could've managed it instead of Barry Lyndon. Maybe the Hitchcock of Vertigo and The Wrong Man could've, if he didn't mind having another flop.

But probably it's best left to an uncommercial experimenter like Valeria Sarmiento, 'cause it's never going to be a popular story: it's too unpleasant to seem charming and too pleasant to seem important. And unless you maintain that sour-and-sweet balance between the character of poor fostered-cousin Fanny Price and the voice of Jane Austen, you might as well throw the book back onto the Unfilmable shelf.

And that's OK by me, since I like Fanny almost as much as the villains and the narrator do. But then I wouldn't be all that popular in movie theaters either....

2015-06-09 : Regarding the "narrowing of horizons," Josh Lukin adds a contender:

You'd be surprised at how many people think We Have Always Lived in the Castle ends happily (Although I guess Constance's horizons aren't broad at the start, however much she wants to imagine that they are).
And, following up:
I had in mind the feminist readings that say, Yay, productive community among women, for which one has to pretend that Constance likes where she ends up as much as does her sister, rather than having to relinquish all her hopes and become a '60s homemaker, as it were. Reflecting on it, I guess it's no surprise that some readers trust Merricat so much that they miss that part.

. . .

Hands! Hands! Hands! Hands! Hands!

Ross Nelson writes to make my brain itch:

I was watching the newly remastered version of "Metropolis" Wednesday night, and a detail struck me that I hadn't paid attention to before. The mad inventor, creator of the city's engines and the robot/Whore of Babylon anti-Maria, has one prosthetic hand. Now, I automatically associate this device with Peter Sellers' Strangelove character in the Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove" but as I thought about it, I figured it must be a common trope, an echo of the evil character whose physical disfigurement shows his moral disfigurement.

Anyway, my question is, does that particular form, the inventor who is himself part machine, have a long lineage in film, traceable through the years, or is it mostly literary, and if so where does it appear? I expect the scifi B movies of the 50s must have used it as well, but where did Kubrick get it, and was "Metropolis" the first film usage?

I have a clear memory, which seems to be completely false, of a grotesque done during one of the great ages of prosthetic invention... something along the lines of Swift's "Lady's Dressing Room," or Mark Twain's or Edgar Allen Poe's burlesques, or The Dismantling of Lemuel Pitkin.... Well, those lines are getting awfully broad, aren't they?

The pulp era of science fiction (from what little I know of it) seems to have jumped straight to full-out cyborgs, with everything replaced but the brain. There's The Hands of Orlac, which is almost but not quite there and whose author may have come closer in some book I never would've heard of.

And there's whatever that itch is.

Anyone out there know? I'd really rather not credit Thea von Harbou with an original idea if I can avoid it.

. . .

All Harrows Even

Again and again Stanley Kubrick glimpsed real horror only to hide it behind catastrophe. (Don't look at its eyes.)

The Shining's church-basement Haunted House props and final popsicle mean nothing. The movie's real horror is how easily the madman we see at the beginning of the film is accepted as a normal husband and father, and how little the perks and pose of artistry require the production of art. The real horror is the certain existence of The Shining 2, The Shining 3, 4, 5, ...

The horror is that Jack D. Ripper retains command.

The horror is that Humbert Humbert never met Claire Quilty.

This is one reason my favorite Kubrick movie is Barry Lyndon. It seems to live in the same world we do, where our actions may or may not have consequences but at any rate remain inconsequential.

This is also one reason I like Patricia Highsmith. There's Ripley, obviously enough, but even scarier the pleasant tourists of Those Who Walk Away:

But it was the fact that Inez knew which fascinated Ray as he watched her laughing and talking, waving a hand gracefully. She might think him dead, murdered by Coleman, but it was not influencing her manner at luncheon. Ray found this fact absorbing. Coleman looked so pleased with himself, as if he had done the right thing, something commendable, something at any rate for which he would never have to apologize to anyone. In a way, it was as if the whole group, Antonio also if he knew, accepted his disappearance, maybe his murder, as no more than fitting.
The horror is we tug at the latex mask and nothing happens.

. . .

Kubrick, Critic

(Written for The Valve)

The first time I watch a Stanley Kubrick movie, I'm thrilled by its ambition and clarity.

The second time, the anticipated moments of humor, beauty, and shock re-arrive precisely in order, but thinner, like an anecdote that's outlived the memory it tells. Actors who'd conveyed life in other roles are played like tokens. My laughter and startles are a bit forced, as though I'm trying to put a lecturer at ease.

The third time, after the first ten minutes or so, there's no more movie. Just an idea I already know.

Only two Kubrick movies have interested me past that point. Both are literary adaptations, and in both, the ideas are formal. I watch them as literary analysis. With a 100-to-1 shooting ratio.

+ + +

"How did they ever make a movie of Lolita?"

Well, Lolita is a story of European guile in crass America. To make a highbrow book of it, European artist Nabokov told it guilefully. To make a commercial movie of it, American "they" told it crassly. In Nabokov's medium, Humbert Humbert takes advantage of a decadent tradition of ambiguously angst-riven confession. In Kubrick's medium Hollywood film, c. 1960 if you wanted to show middle-aged men lusting after girls, you made a leering sex comedy. And so that's the movie Kubrick made: The Twelve-Year Itch.

The logic is undeniable and, for me, anyway, irresistible. And James Mason makes an ideally sophisticated Tom Ewell, although Sue Lyon seems better suited to play the good-humored attractive wife than the drool-bespattered fantasy. (Tuesday Weld turned the role down after playing a similar part in a less prestigious movie and before playing similar parts in less prestigious movies.).

The problem is that Kubrick, as heir to Stroheim's flesh-loathing joylessness, isn't good at sex comedy. Even within the esoteric sub-sub-genre of leer noir, Lolita was bettered by Billy Wilder's Kiss Me, Stupid.

Maybe if they'd gotten Tony Randall for Clare Quilty?

+ + +

What most rewards me with pleasure viewing after viewing is Barry Lyndon.

I realize this reaction isn't universally shared. It's not, however, unique. I've watched the movie with others who've enjoyed it I even remember one very successful pan-and-scanned commercially interrupted viewing on late-night television. And maybe it's helpful to see it in such irreverent circumstances: I laugh pretty much all the way through, but acolytes seem to find (or seek and not find) a different experience the fresco series of sadness described by Mark Crispin Miller.

Although I admire Miller's argument, do I really care about Barry's sad fate? Or the sad fates of all who surround him?

Of course not. It's a Kubrick movie. I don't care about these characters any more than I cared about the fates of the Haze females, or HAL's or Alex's victims, or all life on Earth. And, in this case at least, Kubrick's coldness is no betrayal of his source material.

William Makepeace Thackeray attempted at least four simultaneous goals in The Luck [or Memoirs] of Barry Lyndon, Esq.:

This was an extraordinarily ambitious combination for a second novel. It was also kind of a mess.

In place of Thackeray's stew, being more a pastry chef, Kubrick neatly separated each ingredient and layered them in a tidy pattern.

First, to resolve the mix of fictional conventions, his movie splits down the middle. Its first half, naturally enough, is assigned the eighteenth-century: painlessly ironic misadventures of a young man, fairly good-hearted but amoral and far from bright, attractive through sheer boisterous health. This picaresque story ends in the hero's ascension to landed prosperity and a good marriage.

After an intermission, we enter the nineteenth-century: domestic melodrama, the horrors of class mobility, cross-generational tensions building and snapping, tragic accident, and villainy brought down, with lingering regret.

The problematically unreliable narrator was resolved by relocating out-of-character quotes from Barry into the omniscient third-person voice of Vanity Fair or Trollope's novels. The feeling of unreliablity was maintained by persistent discords between the dismissive tone of the "author" and the evidence of screen and soundtrack.

This solution kept Barry's character inarticulate and opaque, well within the scope of Thackeray's original blundering creep (or Ryan O'Neal's acting), and able to inhabit both halves of Kubrick's new scheme without dissonance. The new narrator was similarly at home, perhaps a bit more detached and worldly in the first half and a bit more censorious in the second.

Other techniques help bind the two halves. Kubrick's slow zoom-outs begin scenes as formally as the chapter titles and introductory paragraphs which were common to both centuries. Natural lighting, location shooting, and period costumes push material reality forward, while the meticulous care lavished on them reinforce the abstraction of pre-naturalistic style. As with Barry's character, so with others: Kubrick tones down Thackeray's vicious caricatures (which, photographed directly, might give us something more like Fellini's Satyricon or Welles's Don Quixote than like Richardson's Tom Jones) and adds flaws to Thackeray's more admirable (but almost blank) figures, resulting in fairly even affect.

The result, I admit, is cold and schematic but also intellectually engaging and very funny. It even induces, yes, a pleasant melancholy.

Not directly, though; not through parodic extravagances such as The Death of Little Bryan, with its "sad music" (that one piece of sad music, used whenever "sad music"'s needed), its angelic pain-free child, and its bravely tear-choking parents. That scene is pure clip art, like the Spooky House, Soul-Shattering Perversity, and Horrors of War sequences in other Kubrick movies.

No, the sadness is one uniquely suited to Kubrick's abilities. It's the sadness of distance. The distance between these dehumanized figures, each forever their own framed portrait, nailed to the wall, untouched and untouching. The distance between them and us, separated by time and telling. The implied identity with ourselves, and our own distances.

Even the voiceover dies as we watch, and a printed epilogue emphasizes the point:

It was in the reign of George the III that the above named personages lived and quarreled; good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now.

"... and [to complete the quote] do not the Sunday papers and the courts of law supply us every week with more novel and interesting slander?"

. . .

"Why do men [sic] halt between two opinions, and expect histological impossibilities?"

My recent outburst prompted the outburst below, recieved under the above title. I just hope Clifford D. Simak felt this proud when he read Fire the Bastards!

I'm tempted to have it carved on my tombstone. But, considering the financial burden that would put on my heirs (drat this Estate Tax!), I'll probably stick with my original choice of epitaph: "STUPID! STUPID! STUPID!"

Waitamminit, you don't name (or link) names, so I'm not sure of this; but --you're mad at teachers who accuse, say, the Clinton administration of being responsible for proto-bushian injustices so you point out Zizek's absurdity and threaten him with the disgruntlement of a mob of lumpen Christians? Not that there's anything wrong with your view of SZ --I especially liked the wordsalad he produces in the interview to which you linked, and it was indeed impossible for those who only intended to establish their state capitalism to rely on the revolutionary mobilization of the people (most effective revolution, though? by what criteria?)-- but something in the chain of argument reminded me of FrontPageMag's Derrida obit, and the longstanding canard that materialism by itself would reduce ideas to mere passive accompaniments of economic activity. There is a whole universe of meaning to be rescued and redefined: maybe it's just not a good time of year to level accusations against "academics." It *is* important, Ray, to remember that positive motivation to do something is aroused by the expectancy that one's behavior will be followed by positive consequences. Consider not just two prosodically similar statements, but *three*:

"None of that in Kubrick, who manipulates his films like a chess player, who makes an operational scenario of history."

"The destruction of craftsmanship during the period of the rise of scientific management did not go unnoticed by the workers."

"Understandably, hostile or uncooperative witnesses seldom grasped the nature of the hearings they were so forcibly attending."

I mean, it turned out to be advantageous for Kerensky, but at what price? Tom Frank is essentially trying to figure out how the Right's propaganda machine works, right? And had his book been universally ignored, they might have resented every blasphemous word of it. Does that, in your eyes, make him a class traitor by reminding him of your Bryn Mawr profs? These habits of life are of too pervading a character to be ascribed to the influence of a late or brief discipline. I lack the confidence to charge this danger equally to every part of the discourse; I no longer know what objects and ends are in my field of awareness. But surely your Missourian cohort would be equally unhappy with Chip, whose wound has closed up, for his elitism. Signs carrying social information vary as to reliability. Is it beyond your credence that there are teachers (and remember that SZ is not one) who provide political educations, who raise students' consciousness sufficiently to change their lives, and who still don't let the DLC off the hook, and remain appalled by Angela Davis' support for Clinton, or by Carter's having opened up the WH to the bornagainers' leaders? What then do you think of Riesman's view that there's such a thing as a "national character"? I dread hearing you say that the argument for child labor followed the same line, when the Constitution Party presented it in early 2000.


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Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.