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March 21, 2023

Kubrick by Kubrick


Gregory Monro -2020
Level 33 Entertainment

At just a shade over an hour in length, Kubrick on Kubrick does not offer any revelations about Stanley Kubrick as much as it reinforces what is already known. The main attraction here is that we get to hear the filmmaker speak for himself in taped interviews with French film critic Michel Ciment. As might be indicated by the relatively short running time of this documentary, this is not in any way a thorough look at either Kubrick or his films.

The interviews with Ciment were done in response to an article Ciment wrote on 2001 in 1968. Ciment published the first edition of his book on Kubrick in 1980. At that time, Kubrick, who generally did not grant interviews, wanted to counteract some of the myths surrounding his persona. In the years following Kubrick's death in 1999, Kubrick has been humanized by the documentaries of his assistant, Leon Vitali, and his driver, Emilio D'Alessandro. What really makes Stanley Kubrick appear as a mere mortal are the home movie clips at the end. Kubrick appears to be maybe eight years old at the time. Those who have seen photos of the filmmaker when he was clean shaven will see a familiar face on a smaller, mildly stocky body. Dancing with a younger sister or playing with her in a park in their Bronx neighborhood, the sister gets knocked over a couple of times. Nothing in these old film clips from some time in the mid-1930s to indicate a future genius.

Monro presents Kubrick's career roughly in chronological order. Not all films are represented from those released prior to 2001. We do get to hear Kubrick's own thoughts on his narrative film debut, Fear and Desire, making it more understandable why he chose to make it unavailable for public viewing after its initial release. Monro uses archival interviews primarily from several of the actors and some crew members who have worked on various films. Perhaps familiar to some is the story of how R. Lee Ermey went from technical advisor to playing the part of the drilll sergeant in Full Metal Jacket with his scathingly funny insults from his own real life military activity used to create a character beyond what Kubrick initially imagined. Sterling Hayden discusses his difficulty during the filming of Dr. Strangelove, his first acting after literally sailing away from Hollywood six years prior, in 1958. Most astonishing is cinematographer Russell Metty on Kubrick's obsession with composing every shot in Spartacus, although that did get Metty his only Academy Award.

The enormous number of takes and extended periods of production are recounted. In terms of actual production, one of the more interesting stories is why Full Metal Jacket's scenes of combat in Vietnam were filmed around a factory outside of London, discovered by accident, but resembling the damaged buildings of Hue. Kubrick by Kubrick may be puzzling for those viewers who are less familiar with Kubrick and his thirteen feature films especially at a time when too directors are hailed as "visionary". For who either admire Stanley Kubrick in general or find themselves revisiting any of his films multiple times, there will be something to glean here.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at March 21, 2023 06:46 AM