It feels like Stanley Kubrick has always been with us. He hasn’t gone anywhere. This is especially true of late. Through a Different Lens, an astonishing exhibit of his still photography for Look magazine in the late 1940s, is on display at the Museum of the City of New York. A revealing documentary titled Filmworker, about Leon Vitali’s life as Kubrick’s assistant, recently played here at the Metrograph theater. A new “unrestored” 70mm print of 2001: A Space Odyssey is currently being shown at the Village East Cinema. A new book, Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece by Michael Benson, has just been published. For the true believers among us, this is all a gift.
On display at this exhibit are selections of the thousands of photographs Stanley shot for Look magazine from 1946 to 1950. He was still in high school when he made his first sale. He’s 20 or 21 in the shot below, taken in 1949.
In the photographs, you can see Kubrick developing his eye, his way of seeing the world. You can also see how these photos inform the look of his early features, Killer’s Kiss (1955) and The Killing (1956). Below are some of the ones I shot at the museum earlier this month. Photos of photos.
Here is an extremely interesting and well-done video about Kubrick’s time at Look and how he worked. It’s part of a series called The Kubrick Files, by a blogger named Cinema Tyler.
Also included in the exhibit is Kubrick’s first film, Day of the Fight, which he made in 1951. He financed it himself, confident he could sell it (which he did). Kubrick produced, directed, photographed, edited, and did sound, as well as being his own grip and setting up lighting. The music was by Gerald Fried, who would score Kubrick’s first four features, Fear and Desire, Killer’s Kiss, The Killing, and Paths of Glory. Two years earlier, Kubrick had shot a photo essay for Look of prize fighter Walter Cartier preparing for a boxing match. He later decided to use Cartier as the subject for a film. A page of the photo essay is below.
Something I got a big kick out of was learning that the older photographers at Look watched out for Stanley, and formed a “Bringing Up Stanley” club. They could see the talent.
Through a Different Lens will be at the Museum of the City of New York (1220 Fifth Avenue @ 103rd Street) through October 28th of this year. If you’re in New York during that time, this is not to be missed.
Filmworker, Tony Zierra’s study of Leon Vitali and his life with Stanley Kubrick is a fascinating and often moving behind-the-scenes view of Kubrick at work and how it was for Vitali. Leon was an actor in film and television when he was cast as Lord Bullington in Barry Lyndon (1975). The experience of being in that film made Vitali want to work for Kubrick, which he ended up doing for over two decades until Stanley’s death in 1998. And beyond, actually, as he continues to be involved with the business and legacy of Stanley Kubrick. Filmworker vividly shows how impossible it could be working as Kubrick’s right-hand man, constantly on call, expected to do any and everything. You get the feeling it was an all-consuming calling for Vitali, a kind of fulfillment. We learn nothing of his family beyond a few glimpses of his daughters, but that’s it. Vitali’s life begins and ends with Stanley, and that’s just fine with him (or so he says).
Here’s an interview with Vitali talking about Kubrick. This isn’t from Filmworker; it was done for DP/30’s Oral History of Hollywood series.
Many of Kubrick’s films were poorly received, both critically and commercially, upon their initial release. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Barry Lyndon (1975) are probably the most prominent examples of this. The test of a film’s worth is how well it holds up over time. Once the dust has settled we can see what’s still standing. Both 2001 and Barry Lyndon are now regarded as masterpieces. Along with The Killing and Paths of Glory, they are my favorite Kubrick films. (I wrote previously on The Killing and Paths of Glory, which can be accessed here.) I remember seeing 2001 for the first time in 1968 at a Cinerama theater in Sacramento, California. I’ve seen it many times since then in different formats. Fifty years later 2001 is still being written about, talked about and seen by audiences. I saw it again last week, the new “unrestored” 70mm print. This was initiated and overseen by director Christopher Nolan, a firm believer in shooting and projecting films on celluloid film stock. Images and sounds on film tend to have greater texture and weight than they do in digital formats. As I understand it, the prints were made from new printing elements created from the original camera negative. Per Nolan, there were “no digital tricks, remastered effects, or revisionist edits” in the making of these prints. He wants audiences to have the same experience seeing 2001 they would have had in 1968. Here’s a link to an interview with Nolan in Film Comment that speaks to the importance of this, as he sees it, in some detail. It’s well worth reading.
The opening of 2001 always makes me feel like something momentous is about to happen (and it is). It gets me every time.
I’ve just begun reading Michael Benson’s Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece. You’d think the subject had been exhausted after 50 years of books, articles, and documentaries. I don’t claim to have read everything that’s been written about the film, but this one feels fresh. The book jacket boasts rave blurbs from no less than Martin Scorsese, Tom Hanks, Peter Biskind, and others.
There is a vast amount of material available online about Stanley Kubrick and his films. I’ve collected way too much to include in this post, so I’ll be doing a follow-up in a few days with other items I think are interesting. Stay tuned. In the meantime, just a moment… just a moment… – Ted Hicks