Eyes Wide Shut was Stanley Kubrick’s final completed feature film, and fittingly for a director who did more to redefine and test narrative cinema than arguably any other director of the 20th century, it feels like the summation of his decades-long quest to test how Machiavellian cinema could be. It feels like the completion of his life quest, but it also feels pointedly incomplete, like a work that remains alive and growing to this day. A work that refuses to be batted down or defined. A work that always has something to say to us, that invites discontent and disagreement, and a work that shows a talent still learning new tricks right up until his final moments. Kubrick was a director who always seemed both wise beyond his years and too young, too reckless, and too much of a social provocateur to fit in with the supposedly mature, normative adult world of cinema. Eyes Wide Shut, inviting both the age of wither of a great old-school fable and the heedless, impulsive, devil-may-care gravitas of an unformed New Hollywood bad-boy, is the culmination of all the contrasts that made Kubrick himself. Continue reading
Update 2018: Strangelove’s mockery of masculinist egotism is as acerbic as ever, somehow emblazoned rather than tempered by the sheer mundaneness of the film, its depiction of Cold War crisis not as ideological quagmire but banal kerfuffle between functionaries. The bomb dick is a supremely brutal image, as mischievous as it is evocative of the tensions and aporias in mid-century Cold War culture and the increasing totalitarianism of capitalist and communist ideologies alike. Totally cuts through the crisis-logic of world ideologies by exposing how quotidian the construction of apocalypse really is.
It is the eternal misfortune of the critic, or any person really, to look back upon their years of film viewing and come to the realization that they’ve changed. Critics merely have more tangible evidence to this case. It is especially unfortunate when one’s preferences change to the point where the funny bone is not on the laundry list of necessary boxes to check upon viewing a film. I kid, for we aren’t all heartless bastards or anything, but sometimes it can seem that way. This is why I try, sometimes against my better judgment, to keep things generally light around these parts of the internet. It is why I try to set my sights on something a little … more genial than my normal repertoire of parables of human decay that come in only two forms: grim and actively soul-destroying.
I don’t laugh a lot in movies, plain and simple. But, there’s a joyous flip-side as well! Each time I do cackle at a moving image, the moment is all the more prescient and grin-inducing for its rarity. And, since it is the Holiday season and all, I felt it time for a slight gift to myself, the gift of laughter. I’ve already reviewed a couple of my all-time favorite rib ticklers, such as Duck Soup and This is Spinal Tap. They are part of the precious few, and the following two films keep their company well. Fitting the spirit of the films, I’ll also keep things fast and loose, and try to keep the reviews from imploding on itself for getting too long in the tooth. Perhaps a few more will come as December comes to a close, if of course I maintain the Holiday cheer. But no promises.
Amusingly, I’ve already failed to keep my promise of promoting “genial” films, and it’s only choice #1. When I’m sick I always make a trip to the doctor, but you wouldn’t know this particular surgeon to bring joy from the bone-dry tone and swirling sense of nihilist dread seeping through the frames and suffocating everything that walks within. For Dr. Strangelove (Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb) doesn’t have a genial bone in its body. It’s a vicious, angry little nasty-minded bit of coal for your Christmas morning. Were you expecting anything else from the English language’s bleakest director, Stanley Kubrick? If he knew the meaning of the word “playful’, it was only in the context of attaching puppet strings to human flesh and moving them around like the devil’s playthings. They were his toys, and Dr. Strangelove is him on his Christmas morning with a smirk a mile wide.
Updated mid 2015
Stanley Kubrick spent a long time lost in the wilderness of The Shining, and perhaps fittingly for the famously meta-textual director, it has a back-story to match its on-screen horrors. Most famous is the off-screen feud between Kubrick and the author of the book the film is based off of, Stephen King. King’s voice was becoming increasingly popular when the film was released in 1980; he was on his way to becoming a genuine pop culture phenomenon, and his famous distaste for the film drew much media attention, so much that it threatened to overshadow the film itself. Thankfully, Kubrick was an imposing, conniving, controlling maelstrom of a director, the kind of man who, for good or bad, would never release a film that would stand behind its backstory in import. Perhaps because of all the tensions surrounding the film’s production, he had no real choice but to up and direct a masterpiece. He succeeded.