Directed by: Jan Harlan.
Featuring: Tom Cruise, Ken Adam, Margaret Adams, Brian Aldiss, Woody Allen, Steven Berkoff, Louis C. Blau, John Calley, Milena Canonero, Wendy Carlos, Arthur C. Clarke, Alex Cox, Allen Daviau, Ed Di Giulio, Keir Dullea, Shelley Duvall, Anthony Frewin, James B. Harris, Michael Herr, Mike Herrtage, Philip Hobbs, Irene Kane, Nicole Kidman, Barbara Kroner, Anya Kubrick, Christiane Kubrick, Katharina Kubrick, Paul Lashmar, György Ligeti, Steven Marcus, Paul Mazursky, Malcolm McDowell, Douglas Milsome, Matthew Modine, Jack Nicholson, Tony Palmer, Alan Parker, Sydney Pollack, Richard Schickel, Martin Scorsese, Terry Semel, Alexander Singer, Steven Spielberg, Sybil Taylor, Douglas Trumbull, Peter Ustinov, Marie Windsor, Alan Yentob, Jan Harlan, Leon Vitali.
I have owned a copy of Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures for a decade now – ever since I bought the Stanley Kubrick collection on DVD that included 2001, A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shit – but I have never watched it. I love Kubrick – of course – but I wasn’t sure if I needed to see a documentary directed by Jan Harlan – one of his closest friends and collaborators, which no doubt would simply be a glowing portrait of the man. Having seen the film now, that is pretty much how I would describe the movie – glowing. It interviews Kubrick’s family, a few friends, his collaborators, and there is hardly a negative word spoken about the man. It skims his early years, and doesn’t delve into his personal life too much, but instead focuses on the movies he made. This is fascinating in many respects – interviews with many of the actors who worked with him, and other collaborators, provide some insight into his process. Interviews with filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen and Alex Cox provide insight into why directors love his films so much. Interviews with his family give limited insight into his life. It is all very interesting, but I think the documentary never really goes very deep into any of Kubrick’s work, or his life. It almost plays like a primer for people who know little or nothing about the man.
The film starts with Kubrick as a child – but doesn’t really dwell on that. A brief interview with his sister, and a few friends, and then we’re off to his career. About 15 minutes into the film and we’re already at 1956’s The Killing – having covered his childhood, his photographic work for Look Magazine, his three shorts, and first two films – Fear & Desire and Killer’s Kiss – in that time. From there, the movie takes its structure from Kubrick’s films – going chronologically from The Killing to Eyes Wide Shut, with stops along the way for each of his films.
The movie does provide some insight into how Kubrick worked, and how each of the films were received. There, a pattern emerges, with each film from Lolita to Eyes Wide Shut receiving tremendously mixed reviews and controversy, which over the years gives way to the consensus that the films are masterpieces. Obviously, many of Kubrick’s early collaborators are no longer around, so there are fewer interviews with the people who worked on the earlier films. Oddly, though, the film doesn’t have interviews with many of Kubrick’s collaborators who were still around when the film was made. There is no interview with Kirk Douglas – who Kubrick made two films with, clashing with on Spartacus – or Shelley Winters who worked on Lolita or Ryan O’Neal, who did Barry Lyndon nor any of the actors who worked on Full Metal Jacket except for Matthew Modine. We know that Kubrick could be difficult on set – and drove some of his actors crazy – but other than Shelley Duvall – who mostly acts like a good sport about what she went through on The Shining – no one has a bad word to say about the man.
In many ways, it feels like the film is pulling its punches. One of the most fascinating moments for me was Kubrick’s daughter reading one of his detailed instructions on how to separate two cats from fighting when he went away from a while – it is ridiculously detailed, and shows more than a little bit of obsessive compulsion disorder. A stronger film could delve into some of the darker aspects of Kubrick’s personality, and the way he worked, and still conclude that Kubrick was a genius – which is what he was. If he had to put people – himself included – to get what he needed, than that is what he had to do.
The film is still good – and of interest to Kubrick fans. But I was somewhat disappointed that the film didn’t delve into Kubrick a little deeper – not the man, who valued his privacy – but his films themselves. It seems like a missed opportunity that the film only has one interview with a film critic – Richard Schnickel – when it could have used much more (like Roger Ebert). Instead, the film is clearly made by a man who loved Kubrick – both as a person, and a filmmaker – and wants everyone else to love him too. There is value in that – but its limited, and it limits how good this film is.