“Essentially the film is a mythological statement. Its meaning has to be found on a sort of visceral, psychological level rather than in a specific literal explanation.” – Stanley Kubrick
Kubrick’s early fascination with fairy tales and myths, ghost stories, surrealistic and allegorical narratives, and tales of the supernatural would shape the structural models for his films. He once asserted that those kinds of stories “are somehow closer to the sense of reality one feels today.”
Kubrick did not attend college but audited film classes at Columbia University taught by the writers Lionel Trilling and Mark Van Doren and regularly attended the film programs at the Museum of Modern Art. He Often mentioned Nikolai M. Gorchakov’s “Stanislavsky Directs” and V. I. Pudovkin’s “Film Technique” as worthwhile studies on film production and editing.
Kubrick’s photographic and early films demonstrate the influence if film noir, a style of filmmaking that emerged in the 1940’s, an outcome of the relocation of European directors, artists, and architects to the United States that changed Hollywood forever. The visual experimentation of German Expressionism converged with American Realism, reestablished after World War II through the influence of Italian Neorealism. In the photography of Kubrick’s films, once can see both forms, as he oscillates between meticulous realism and willfully flamboyant expressionism.
Kubrick named the photographer Man Ray as an influence and often said that studyng the contrast between the filmmakers Sergei Eisenstein, whose films he saw as “all form,” and Charlie Chaplin, whose work he considered “all content,” was a useful exercise. Although Kubrick favored Chaplin, he determined he two approaches were not mutually exclusive. He admired the Expressionist films of German director Max Ophüls, “I loved his extravagant camera moves which seemed to go on and on forever in labyrinthine sets.”
By the early 1970’s the question of influence for Kubrick had given way to his singular point of view, and he had taken his place among the most celebrated directors. Asked by the magazine “Cinema” in 1973 to name his favorite films, Kubrick named films by Ingmar Bergman, Orson Welles, John Huston, Charlie Chaplin, and Michelangelo Antonioni. Federico Fellini’s “I Vitelloni” (1953) was his first choice.
A Singular Vision
“In making a film, I start with an emotion, a feeling, a sense of a subject or a situation. The theme and technique come as a result of the material passing, as it were, through myself and coming out of the projector lens. – Stanley Kubrick
Kubrick is often described as an auteur. Auteur theory—in which the director, rather than the screenwriter, is regarded as the “author” of a film—was first proposed in 1948 in an article by the French film critic and director Alexandre Astruc for the journal “L’Écran français.” Astruc identified consistency of visual style and thematic preoccupations across a body of work characteristic of what would become known as auteur filmmaking. In 1962 the film critic Andrew Sarris produced a model in the form of a diagram that makes the interconnection between the director and the film clearer.
According to this model, meaning, style, and skill do not flow in a singular direction but radiate outward while simultaneously folding inward. Ultimately the fusion of content with style and the director’s voice are so deeply intertwined that one cannot consider them as distinct from each other.
Citing the collaborative nature of film production— the fact that the cinematographer, production designer, costumer designer, editors, and actors may significantly shape a film—some contemporary criteria have challenged auteur theory, debunking arguments for single authorship in filmmaking. Whether one subscribes to the theory or not, Stanley Kubrick fits the description of the auteur. He often said that film was closer to music or painting than to the printed word in the way that it operates, and his working methods were practically those of an artist. He developed a new and essential relation between content and mise-en-scène for each film, amplifying the meaning of the narrative through manpulation of the physical aspects of light, color, movement, and performance.
“ I think you have to view the entire problem of putting the story you want to tell up there on that light square. It begins in the selection of the property; it continues through the creation of the right kind of financial and legal and contractual circumstances under which you make the film. It continues through the casting, the creation of the story, the sets, the costumes, the photography, and the acting. And when the picture is shot, it’s only partially finished. I think the cutting is just a continuation of directing a movie. I think the use of music effects, opticals, and finally main titles are all part of telling the story. And I think the fragmentation of these jobs, by different people, is a very bad thing.” – Stanley Kubrick