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The Original Creators: Stanley Kubrick

We take a look at some iconic artists from numerous disciplines who have left an enduring and indelible mark on today’s creators.
February 14, 2011, 8:07pm

Each week we pay homage to a select “Original Creator” — an iconic artist from days gone by whose work influences and informs today's creators. These are artists who were innovative and revolutionary in their fields. Bold visionaries and radicals, groundbreaking frontiersmen and women who inspired and informed culture as we know it today. This week: Stanley Kubrick.

“Watching a Kubrick film is like gazing up at a mountaintop.” – Martin Scorsese

Stanley Kubrick’s films seem like they’re the very spine of modern cinema. Traversing genres and technically astute, his visual style could be at once formal, comical, and surreal, his subject matter both fantastical and brutally real. He wasn’t afraid to deal with daunting, complex issues like free will, the nature of good and evil, nuclear war, the dynamics of a couple’s relationship, or the question of a supreme being and the anxious fate that awaits us in the heavens. An avid chess player, his movies have the measured intellect of a chess player’s moves. He was an intellectual who wasn’t afraid to take highly regarded works of literature and turn them into his own.

Below we take a look at a few of the high points from this seminal director’s impressive oeuvre:

Paths Of Glory (1957)
A bleak anti-war film about three soldiers in World War I who are executed as scapegoats for a failed military attack. It looks at the lack of compassion man can show to his fellow man, with the officers jostling for promotion and ultimately utilizing the frontline soldier’s lives for the benefit of their careers. The film introduces Kubrick’s penchant for having his protagonists, this time the tragic figure of Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas), experience short term success while ultimately failing.

Kirk Douglas decries the insanity and inhumanity of his superiors to execute innocent men.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Adapted from the novel Red Alert, a tense thriller about nuclear war, Kubrick made the script his own by turning it into a dark-as-a-nuclear-winter satire. In a bold act that was unheard of at the time, he attacked the sacred cows of presidency, the US military, the Pentagon, and the threat of Communism, using comedic great Peter Sellers in multiple roles. It’s a farcical, savage, but chilling black comedy masterpiece.

“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here. This is the War Room.”

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
This non-linear sci-fi movie uses surreal imagery to create a sense of ambiguity and awe, where dancing space ships waltz along to the “The Blue Danube” by Johann Strauss II. The film was the first to show the potency of decent special effects, while also featuring a strong robot character: HAL 9000.

The famous jump-forward where bone becomes spaceship, linking mankind with machine.

A Clockwork Orange (1971)
A film about youth culture in free fall, exploring issues of free will where a brutal young man is brutalized by the state in order to become civilized. Kubrick has said in an interview that “Alex represents the unconscious: man in his natural state. After he is given the Ludovico ‘cure’ he has been ‘civilized,’ and the sickness that follows may be viewed as the neurosis imposed by society.”

The Shining (1980)
One of his only movies that bows to the conventions of genre specifics. The striking imagery of blood cascading down an empty hotel corridor and Jack Nicholson running around with an axe, along with the steadicam shots create a terrifying atmosphere.

Turning a scene of a kid on a tricycle into the most terrifying thing ever.

The problem with Kubrick is you could list all his films as noted works and a measure of this is his influence, felt in the work of his peers and in the moving image in all its varied forms—short films, music videos, animation, television, and internet videos. The Killing, a film noir about a heist gone wrong went on to influence Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. The retro-futurist aesthetic of A Clockwork Orange has permeated pop culture, as well as the design field. The Shining, as is often the case with all his films, has gone on to become filmic lore with Redrum, the creepy twins, and “Heeeere’s Johnny!” being endlessly parodied. The visual style of 2001: A Space Odyssey has gone on to influence sci-fi films from Alien to The Matrix to Tron Legacy, and Sunshine. The dream reality of Eyes Wide Shut can be felt in Christopher Nolan’s Inception. David Simon, creator of The Wire, has cited Paths Of Glory as an influence on his show dealing, as it does, with the difficulties faced by middle management. And often, as is the case with Full Metal Jacket, the dialogue from the films has entered common lexicon.

Next week: Frank Lloyd Wright