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January 7, 2018

Stanley Kubrick was an iconographic king

Flickr/Cea

An elevator door opens to reveal a river of blood. A bone tossed into the sky by a monkey becomes a space station. A young “droog”  kicks and beats an old man to the tune of “Singin’ in the Rain.” A crazed aircraft commander rides a nuclear bomb like a rodeo cowboy. An over-the-top drill sergeant screams at a terrified group of new army recruits.

There are few artists who can be credited with so many iconic scenes in cinema as Stanley Kubrick. Indeed, the aforementioned examples are only a taste of the iconography espoused from the mind of the late American auteur who died 14 years ago last Thursday.

From “Dr. Strangelove” to “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Kubrick’s career peaked and dipped wildly as his audiences reacted to his films with equal parts admiration and distaste.

In 1960, his epic “Spartacus” was a Hollywood crowd pleaser starring Lawrence Olivier and Kirk Douglas.

A decade later, his incredibly adult adaptation of “A Clockwork Orange” was so reviled by acclaimed critic Pauline Kael that she referred to it simply as “pornography.” It is fitting that the punishment for the ultraviolent protagonist of his 1972 Best Picture nominated movie, is to watch films that are themselves explicitly violent in order to recondition his affinity toward such antisocial behavior, given the nature of many of Kubrick’s films.

Jack Nicholson’s legendary portrayal of fictional author Jack Torrance in “The Shining” uses intense flashes of murderous aggression to terrorize his family and the other patrons of the Overlook Hotel.

In “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the ship computer HAL 9000 attempts to kill its human operator. And Gomer Pyle, a marine recruit in “Full Metal Jacket,” performs a murder-suicide after being pushed to the brink by his platoon’s intense hazing.

Indeed, violence is a major theme underlying Kubrick’s œuvre – a fact he played on with the famous treatment scene in “A Clockwork Orange.”

Keeping with this theme, Kubrick had one particular project that he tried to get produced for many years. Entitled “Napoleon,” the film would be a period piece chronicling the life of the infamous emperor. Unfortunately, the studio canceled the movie due to projected costs and Kubrick’s script was never used.

Recently, however, former collaborator and colleague Steven Spielberg announced that he would be picking up where Kubrick left off and work bringing “Napoleon” to life. Instead of a movie, Spielberg plans to turn the story into a series on television – an idea actually presented by Kubrick, but set aside because at the time there was “not enough money available in TV to properly budget such a venture.”

But after Spielberg’s massively successful venture producing the World War II show “Band of Brothers” for HBO, he feels that he can faithfully realize his deceased friend’s dream. And it wouldn’t be the first time the two worked on a project: in 2001, Kubrick’s unfinished “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” was completed by Spielberg using many of the director’s notes and directions written before he passed. 

Kubrick may be gone, but his influence is still palpable throughout the industry. His brilliant use of editing, sound and visual motifs have often been replicated in other movies, but rarely with as much success or originality. The fact that someone as prolific and well-known as Spielberg would sacrifice his time and resources to complete yet another Kubrick project says something about how revered he was, even amongst other filmmakers.

Kubrick may be the man who ruined “Singin’ in the Rain” for fans of the Gene Kelly musical, but he will forever be remembered for his daring and brilliant execution of many classics of the 20th century.

Søren Hough can be reached at shhough@student.umass.edu.

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