The mastermind behind some of the most influential cult classics that dramatically shaped cinematography as we know it, today we pay our respects to Stanley Kubrick. A man who wore many hats–and wore them well–we remember Kubrick as an epochal American film director, screenwriter, producer, cinematographer, editor, and photographer.
Worthy of an honorable mention for any one of these films alone, Kubrick crafted several iconic films, including: A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Full Metal Jacket & Eyes Wide Shut, just to name a few. But there was one film which birthed the style and signature genius of its creator, one that sparked a revolution in the films of its time, as well after it, Lolita.
Before Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial and tragic novel fell into the hands of Kubrick, he had just completed Spartacus, a Hollywood film starring box office royalty actors Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier and Tony Curtis. In an unfortunate twist, the shimmer of their golden age glamour wasn’t enough to create a refreshing and joyful artistic experience for the legendary director. After becoming a hired replacement for what Kirk Douglas perceived as a lackluster performance by the film’s original director, Anthony Mann, Kubrick felt somewhat forced to work outside of his creative globe. He spent majority of the shoot loathing the process, arguing with cinematographer Russell Metty–who was not a fan of Kubrick’s tireless efforts for perfection, but won an Oscar for his work in the film. Needless to say, upon the production’s end, Kubrick was turned off from Hollywood cinematic spectacles.
Adapting Lolita erupted a buzz alone. It was unconventional, and to some, inappropriate to bring a novel centered around a middle aged man’s sick perversion for its underage age title character. But being a true artist doesn’t always entail taking routes already paved and approved. In fact, it demands the opposite–the obligation to shed light on society’s twisted beasts. He wanted to move out of the box, but not without the backbone of his good relationship with studios like Warner Brothers.
And so, Kubrick moved filming overseas, to maintain a low key profile and appease the film’s British sponsors–along with his fear of flying. He worked closely with Nabokov, having him turn in his own screenplay for the adaptation, which ended up amounting to a whopping 400 pages. Of course, not everything made the cut, but what did amount to fruition was a body of work which set the pace for Kubrick’s unborn filmography and his artistic freedom. Although Lolita proved hit or miss for some, due to its subject matter, and the minimal space the Catholic Church gave him for development, it remains a legend in its own right for distinctive reasons.
Lolita tackles the grisly and undeniable melancholy of preyed innocence. Kubrick, as he was with all of his films, was fascinated with struggles of moral constraint vs. darkness. He often took projects which displayed society’s demand/expectation for order and the result of what happens when evil manages to slip through its punctured grip.
Euclidean Shapes and Lighting
Geometric patterns and symmetrical items are often placed in his films as formations. This began in Spartacus but was heavily used in Lolita. Some believe this to be a representation and symbolism of man’s nurturing restraint from sin, and in some cases, nature’s domination over it. His famous use of one point perspective also highlights this. This creative recipe often churns out a mood of dread, despair and foreboding.
Lolita bore the task of challenging its audience to stomach the perspective of both its protagonists–Humbert Humbert, the pedophile, and Lolita, the precocious twelve year old. There’s a discomfort you feel as a viewer, as seeds of empathy creep in when you feel they shouldn’t. The flaws of the characters become human, a psychological vehicle of reasoning, whether right or wrong. We see this same thing in Kubrick’s iconic A Clockwork Orange as well.
Lolita’s characters were a lot more colorful on screen, almost in a caricature-like way. This was especially the case with Peter Sellers’ interpretation of Clare Quilty, who Kubrick instructed to adopt the speech pattern of his friend, Norman Ganz, a New York jazz musician with a loud voice and lisp.
Seller’s said this of improvising Quilty’s character:
‘Quilty was a fantastic nightmarish character, [part heterosexual], part homosexual, part drug addict, part sadist, part masochist, part anything twisted and unhealthy you can think of. He had to be horrifying and at the same time funny. I had never met anyone at all like this so I just had to guess, to construct an imaginative idea for myself of what such a person must be like. When I saw myself on the screen, I thought ‘This time you’ve done it – no one will ever believe this.’ But then in the U.S. I actually ran into a couple of people who might almost have been role models for the character and I began to think, ‘Oh, well, perhaps you weren’t so far out after all.’
The Objectification of Women
This is not by any means great. It is, unfortunately, the truth of Kubrick’s film record. Women are placed as objects of sexual affection. Lolita’s character needs no explanation, as well as Nicole Kidman’s character in Eyes Wide Shut. Dr. Strangelove contains only one woman–a secretary whom General “Buck” Turgidson is having an affair with . Donned in lingerie as she discusses military briefings, this was her only scene in the film. The technique in this was perhaps used to convey society’s blind attitude towards women.
As a jack of all trades when it comes to story telling, Kubrick relied on more than just the overtly intense and obvious. Many of his best scenes entailed the excruciating suspense of silence and curiosity. An example of this is the opening scene of dialogue between Clare Quilty and Humbert. It clutches the attention of the viewer and keeps them eager to witness the story’s unfolding.
The Disruption of Chronology
In a move employed by current directors like Quentin Tarantino, Kubrick broke up the tale of Lolita by setting the ending as the film’s opening. He felt this was necessary and vital to the quality of the film since its ending shrinks under the impact of its first section. This allowed audiences to connect with the film’s immoral cast.
Use of Zoom
The zoom lens was an extraordinary tool for Kubrick. His rhythm was for the most part slow–to heighten intensity and perspective. One of his most famous zoom-outs occurred in the first shot of A Clockwork Orange–one could even argue it to be the most famous zoom in film history.
Kubrick utilized drastic wide-angle lenses in just about each of his films. This kept detail and depth within the entire shot, but the actual character in focus to invoke a cloud of pathos.
The Extremely Long Take
Long takes don’t usually last as long as Kubrick’s–three minutes and more. With this vehicle of story telling, we’re able to see more than just one person or part of the setting. We can take in numerous interactions, body language and room decor–all of which assists in delivering the grand themes and character backgrounds and emotions.
Article written in assistance by Celeste Grubbs.