Video Picks Archive
This week my picks are
(1962 - ),
This week, I decided to take a departure from my normal format and showcase the legacy of Stanley Kubrick, whose last seven films have just been re-released on VHS video and DVD as "The Stanley Kubrick Collection". Kubrick himself was involved with these new editions, right before his death earlier this year. Instead of a tie-in with his final film, Eyes Wide Shut, this collection now serves as a memorial to the great genius. I also wanted to express how I felt personally about Kubrick, and that it saddened me to give a negative review to Eyes Wide Shut. Many people who are seeing this film are not familiar with his previous films. I feel that if anybody were to watch these today, they could see that Eyes Wide Shut does not do justice to Kubrick's memory. Here we can see a man that, after having great success with Spartacus in 1960, set about changing the rules of filmmaking, and mastered one completely different genre after another.
The first film is based on the novel, Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov, who also wrote the screenplay. Of course, Kubrick also makes his own touches to scripts, and in this case he had to tone down the content of the original, and quite controversial, book. James Mason plays Professor Humbert, a middle-aged man who is staying in New Hampshire for the summer, until he starts a new professorship in Ohio. He finds lodging in the house of Charlotte Haze (Shelley Winters), a widow with a daughter named Lolita (Sue Lyon, in an impressive debut). Humbert is immediately attracted to Lolita, who is about 15 (if she were 12, as in the novel, the film probably wouldn't have been passed by the review board). He eventually marries Charlotte in order to have an affair with the girl. Because of the times, this film had to settle for sly innuendo instead of outright sexuality. But it is worth seeing for the performances, especially Peter Sellers' portrayal of Quilty, Humbert's rival for Lolita's affection.
Dr. Strangelove, based on the novel Red Alert, by Peter George, shows Kubrick at his most whimsical. A mad general, Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden), has ordered a squadron of B-52s to drop atomic bombs all over the Soviet Union. The situation makes its way to the Pentagon, where President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) orders them to return. However, one plane does not receive the message, and continues its mission, unable to communicate with Washington. Sellers also plays two more roles: Dr. Strangelove, the German scientist who invented the bomb; and Capt. Lionel Mandrake, a visiting British officer who tries, in vain, to talk sense into Gen. Ripper. Easily the best Cold War satire, made at a time when mutual nuclear annihilation was just becoming a familiar concept. Other actors turning in stellar performances are George C. Scott (playing another gung-ho general -- foreshadowing Patton), Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickens, and James Earl Jones in his film debut.
Kubrick then proceeded to make the greatest science fiction film ever. Arthur C. Clarke came up with the idea for 2001, and helped Kubrick develop a screenplay as he fleshed out the novel. To try to describe the film entirely within the context of its plot is pointless. The film is almost entirely visual, like a moving painting. There is very little dialogue, most of it between astronaut/scientist Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and the ship's computer, HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain). The film's content condenses science fiction to its basic element: the effect of technology on the future of the human race. It starts with a sequence depicting hominids, barely bipedal, who discover a huge monolith outside their cave one morning. This inspires one of the simian creatures to pick up a discarded bone and use it as a tool for hunting and combat. Cut to the year 2001, man has colonized the moon and has begun mining it. A similar monolith is found, apparently buried beneath the surface for thousands of years, but was certainly made by an intelligent lifeform. This time the monolith inspires man to further explore space, taking a mission to Jupiter. On this mission, HAL starts to malfunction, and because of its artificial intelligence, it takes any possible measure to keep itself from being shutdown by Dave and his crewmate, Frank. All of this is shown with the most stunning beauty, and employing special effects that inspire awe even today.
After that, Kubrick actually set out to make another science fiction film, except this time there would be no space travel. In this version of the future, the surface of the earth has become an incredibly violent place, with street gangs terrorizing their community. A Clockwork Orange is based on the novel by Anthony Burgess, which took the idea of a negative future beyond that of Orwell's 1984. The film follows Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell), a young street punk who likes to listen to Beethoven whenever he's not beating people. One of his victims dies, and his friends desert him, leaving him to be arrested. In prison, he is put through a rehabilitation program that is supposed to remove his violent tendencies. It is a very disturbing film, but that is its point. This does tend to make the more squeamish shy away, but it is a great film, and should be seen.
Barry Lyndon could be considered to be the "forgotten" film of Kubrick's post-Spartacus period. It is based on the novel by William Makepeace Thackeray about a young Irishman who makes his way to high society. Ryan O'Neal stars as Redmond Barry, a young man in the 1700's Ireland who leaves home after winning a duel with his cousin's fianceť. He had been in love with her, but this late captain could have brought money into the family. On his journey, he joins the English army and fights in the Seven Years War against France. He deserts the army after his first battle, then finds himself among the Prussian army, who is allied with England. They send him on a mission to spy on another Irishman, who is posing as a French dignitary (Patrick Magee). He much prefers the Irishman to the Prussians, and becomes his loyal servant. While there, he falls in love with and marries the wealthy Lady Lyndon (Marisa Berenson) after her husband dies. He takes the name of her husband, and becomes Barry Lyndon. As Lyndon, he lives the life of a nobleman, spending wildly. This does not garner the respect of young Lord Bullington (Leon Vitali), the late Lyndon's son. Barry sees the world that he has quickly entered crumbling all around him. This film goes about at a deliberate pace, but manages to stay interesting. It never becomes dull or plodding, like Eyes Wide Shut. It's also nice to remember that O'Neal actually made decent films once.
Although some Stephen King fans might not agree, Kubrick's film version of The Shining stands as one of the best horror films ever made. From the lush costuming and immense cast of Barry Lyndon, Kubrick turns to a more simple idea. Jack Nicholson plays Jack Torrance, a writer who takes a job looking after a mountain resort that gets entirely snowed in during the winter. He takes his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and his young son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), with him in the hopes of having some nice time together and getting some serious writing done. Of course, Jack ignored the stories about the previous caretakers who went mad in the allegedly haunted hotel. He thinks he'll be too busy to let the isolation get to him. Danny has a gift, "the shining", that allows him to read people's minds and talk to spirits. Jack and Wendy think that the spirit Danny talks to is just an imaginary friend, but it is actually warning them of their impending danger. Jack does go mad and starts stalking his family, just as the ghosts there tell him to. King wrote another screenplay that was closer to his original work, and it was filmed as a TV mini-series in 1997. Kubrick's version, however, is actually much better, helped by not having the constraints of network television.
Finally, Full Metal Jacket stands as the last great film of Kubrick's career. Based on the novel The Short Timers, by Gustav Hasford, this film follows Private J.T. "Joker" Davis from marine boot camp in Parris Island, to Vietnam, where he serves as a writer for the armed services' newspaper. The scenes in boot camp show the raw brutality that these young men go through to be killing machines for the government. Vincent D'Onofrio (in his film debut) plays Private Leonard "Gomer Pyle" Lawrence, an out-of-shape misfit who is driven to insanity by the abuse of their drill sergeant (R. Lee Ermey). In Vietnam, Joker meets a platoon that has been on the front line and has been deeply affected by it. The "killing machine" mentality has gotten most to Animal Mother (Adam Baldwin), who now relishes killing innocent Vietnamese people. One of the best Vietnam pictures; it could easily contend with Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter to be the best of them all.
Update, 2/23/2002: The current version of the video collection now includes a new documentary entitled Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures.
For more information, visit the Internet Movie Database:
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Barry Lyndon (1975)
The Shining (1980)
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Guide to Star Ratings
Capsule Reviews © 1999 Matt Heffernan