Vsevolod Pudovkin was a Soviet film director who developed influential theories of film editing. In this 12-minute video, Evan Richards uses clips from films like 2001, Lawrence of Arabia, and The Godfather to illustrate Pudovkin's editing techniques.
The most instructive book on film aesthetics I came across was Pudovkin's Film Technique, which simply explained that editing was the aspect of film art form which was completely unique, and which separated it from all other art forms. The ability to show a simple action like a man cutting wheat from a number of angles in a brief moment, to be able to see it in a special way not possible except through film -- that this is what it was all about. This is obvious, of course, but it's so important it cannot be too strongly stressed. Pudovkin gives many clear examples of how good film editing enhances a scene, and I would recommend his book to anyone seriously interested in film technique.
Because I like and respect Jason Kottke, I'm taking this opportunity to express a contrary viewpoint on a documentary he reviewed not two days ago, Rodney Ascher's "Room 237".
Before I forget, happy birthday, Jason.
Now, what I suspect has happened here is that both he and our friend John Gruber, whose tweet spurred Jason's post, sort of missed the point. Which is that the film's ambition was not to cast light on the conspiracy theories around their beloved Kubrick film ("The Shining", in case you're coming to this late), it was not to document further context around the film or to disclose any of its master filmmaker's process or intentions, but rather to paint an artful picture--a media collage if you will-of obsession, and mania.
But "Room 237" isn't about "The Shining" or about Kubrick, it's about a small assortment of unrelated film scholars(?) who have selected "The Shining" as their thing. It's about the degree of their obsessions, the intricacies of their fixations.
Or rather, it's not about the people, it's about the infatuation. Watching the film, you'll notice fairly quickly that the filmmakers have made the unique and brilliant choice to never show the theorists' faces on-camera. All we know of them is their voices and their theories. This was at once a respectful and calculated choice. Respectful in that it protects the interviewees from some of the involuntary judgments we the audience will tend to make when given the benefit of someone's physical appearance. And calculated in that presenting the subjects in audio only frees the viewer from the distraction of a fully fleshed-out human connection. Sure, we can extrapolate character and make judgments based on vocal tone and demographic (not to mention the content of the speech). But the main focus is on the visualizations themselves, which are nightmarishly brilliant.
What we have in the supporting media is a mashup of Kubrickian archive, bizarro warpy analog synth music, some digital wizardy, and old dollar-bin stock footage, all coming together to form a spooky dream fort -- a haunted factory built of unfamiliar nostalgia.
You know that psychological effect that has no name, when you used to find an old VHS tape in the back of the cabinet, one that your family would use to record TV shows a decade before, and you'd play it, only to find that the commercials were still intact? Remember that creepy, kind of gross but comfortable remembrance? That's what "Room 237" has in spades.
I have a unique (or at least memorable) story of my first viewing of "The Shining". Short version: impacted largely by the medium through which I viewed it, the movie scared the living piss out of me. But I'm willing to put a stake in the ground and say that as scary as "The Shining" is to me, "Room 237" is even scarier. Not because I believe any of the conspiracy theories to be true, but because our minds are capable of manufacturing them.
The documentary Room 237 doesn't sound like it's about any of the things I like about Stanley Kubrick's films, especially The Shining. But Stephen King reminds us that he doesn't like The Shining either, and for better reasons than novelists usually give when talking about movies based on their books:
Shelley Duvall as Wendy is really one of the most misogynistic characters ever put on film, she's basically just there to scream and be stupid and that's not the woman that I wrote about.
Wendy's best moments in the film are when she's not that thing, but yeah, she's mostly that thing.
But at the same time King is bothered by one of the things that is actually super-distinctive and weirdly compelling about Kubrick, fucked up as that dude clearly was:
I'm not a cold guy. I think one of the things people relate to in my books is this warmth, there's a reaching out and saying to the reader, "I want you to be a part of this." With Kubrick's The Shining I felt that it was very cold, very "We're looking at these people, but they're like ants in an anthill, aren't they doing interesting things, these little insects."
So wait, why is Stephen King talking about The Shining? Because he has a sequel to the book, just out today, called Doctor Sleep. It's about Daniel Torrance, the little boy from the novel. It follows him through his childhood, and now he's all grown up.
Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father's legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant "shining" power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes "Doctor Sleep."
"Aided by a prescient cat"! Oh, whoever at Studio Ghibli becomes the anointed heir of Hayao Miyazaki, please give us a warm, weird, spooky film version of this. This book trailer isn't doing it for me.
King's BBC interview is better. Besides Kubrick's movie, he talks about how The Shining was in retrospect a way for him to autobiographically work through his own drinking problems and resentment for literary fiction.
John Gruber's tweet last night reminded me I'd never written up a review for Room 237, the documentary about Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Gruber writes:
Broke down and watched "Room 237". It was bad. Really bad. Boring bad. Crazy people.
Just watch "The Shining" again instead.
I agree. I watched it earlier this year and disliked the film so much, I didn't even finish it, which is rare for me. As I hinted at on Twitter, I'm exposed to enough anti-vaccine, anti-evolution, anti-anthropogenic climate change, anti-science, and religious fundamentalist "theories" in my day-to-day reading that are genuinely harmful to humanity that an examination of how the minds of conspiracy theory crackpots take the smallest little details and weave them into fantastical stories that make no sense is not how I want to spend my time.
As if to underscore my dislike of the film, the following arrived in my inbox shortly after I watched it.
To: Jason Kottke <email@example.com>
Prospective Story: Re: Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining"
i'm not good at salesmanship so i'll get right to the point. i've solved the mystery of room 237 in stanley kubrick's 'the shining' i'm shopping this information to various media sources. here's the deal:
*** the price is $13,000.00
*** i'm aware of the documentaries, the scholarly analyses and the terrabytes of web space dedicated to the topic
*** nobody has gottten it right
*** i guarantee satisfaction
*** there's no risk. either you think the solution to the greatest cinematic mystery of all time is worth 13k or you don't. all i require beforehand is a conditional agreement protecting me from ip theft
*** i remain anonymous. once the transaction is complete the information is yours. i don't care who receives credit or what you do with it
it's been over 30 years. this information should be public. YOU can be the first.
i look forward to your response
Putting on my tin foil hat for a minute, DONT YOU SHEEPLE UNDERSTAND WHAT THIS MEANS? That someone is watching what I'm watching! How did this person know I had just watched Room 237?! I bet it's the NSA! Or something! They are watching for people with large audiences to plant lies about Kubrick to deflect attention away from the faked Moon landing! For some reason! THIS IS THE PROOF WEVE BEEN WAITING FOR!??
You must understand that without the French toast I am no good to the cast and crew. And I will not eat the French toast if it is not prepared the right way. If I do not eat the French toast, my blood sugar will drop to precariously low levels, and I will be groggy and unable to make the necessary split-second decisions a director has to make in order for a film to be successful. Therefore, it is essential that you understand something about the French toast: it is not only my breakfast, it is the film.
Stanley Kubrick was a friend of mine, insofar as people like Stanley have friends, and as if there are any people like Stanley now. Famously reclusive, as I'm sure you've heard, he was in fact a complete failure as a recluse, unless you believe that a recluse is simply someone who seldom leaves his house. Stanley saw a lot of people. Sometimes he even went out to see people, but not often, very rarely, hardly ever. Still, he was one of the most gregarious men I ever knew, and it didn't change anything that most of this conviviality went on over the phone. He viewed the telephone the way Mao viewed warfare, as the instrument of a protracted offensive where control of the ground was critical and timing crucial, while time itself was meaningless, except as something to be kept on your side. An hour was nothing, mere overture, or opening move, or gambit, a small taste of his virtuosity. The writer Gustav Hasford claimed that he and Stanley were once on the phone for seven hours, and I went over three with him many times. I've been hearing about all the people who say they talked to Stanley on the last day of his life, and however many of them there were, I believe them all.
Somebody who knew him 45 years ago, when he was starting out, said, "Stanley always acted like he knew something you didn't know," but honestly, he didn't have to act. Not only that, by the time he was through having what he called, in quite another context, "strenuous intercourse" with you, he knew most of what you knew as well. Hasford called him an earwig; he'd go in one ear and not come out the other until he'd eaten clean through your head.
He had the endearing and certainly seductive habit when he talked to you of slipping your name in every few sentences, particularly in the punch line, and there was always a punch line. He had an especially fraternal temperament anyway, but I know quite a few women who found him extremely charming. A few of them were even actresses.
Some Americans move to London and in three weeks they're talking like Denholm Elliott. Stanley picked up the odd English locution, but it didn't take Henry Higgins to place him as pure, almost stainless Bronx. Stanley's speech was very fluent, melodious even. In spite of the Bronx nasal-caustic, perhaps the shadow of some adenoidal trauma long ago, it was as close to the condition of music as speech can get and still be speech, like a very well-read jazz musician talking, with a pleasing and graceful Groucho-like rushing and ebbing of inflection for emphasis and suggested quotation marks to convey amused disdain, over-enunciating phrases that struck him as fabulously banal, with lots of innuendo, and lots of latent sarcasm, and some not so latent, lively tempi, brilliant timing, eloquent silences, and, always, masterful, seamless segues -- "Lemme change the subject for just a minute," or "What were we into before we got into this?" I never heard him try to do other voices, or dialects, even when he was telling Jewish jokes. Stanley quoted other people all the time, people in the industry whom he'd spoken to that morning (Steven and Mike, Warren and Jack, Tom and Nicole), or people who died a thousand years ago, but it was always Stanley speaking.
Kubrick died a few months before the piece was published and his final film, Eyes Wide Shut, came out right around the publication date. And if you don't want to read all 12,000 words in your browser, there's an expanded version of the essay available as a book.
Ah, the good old days, when people used to talk to each other in public rather than looking at their phones or listening to headphones all the time. Except that's not been the case for awhile as XKCD demonstrates with a series of quotes from various publications dating back to 1871. This is from William Smith's Morley: Ancient and Modern published in 1886.
With the advent of cheap newspapers and superior means of locomotion... the dreamy quiet old days are over... for men now live think and work at express speed. They have their Mercury or Post laid on their breakfast table in the early morning, and if they are too hurried to snatch from it the news during that meal, they carry it off, to be sulkily read as they travel... leaving them no time to talk with the friend who may share the compartment with them... the hurry and bustle of modern life... lacks the quiet and repose of the period when our forefathers, the day's work done, took their ease...
In 1946, a young Stanley Kubrick worked as a photographer for Look magazine and took this shot of NYC subway commuters reading newspapers:
Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures is a documentary released in 2001 about Stanley Kubrick. Narrated by Tom Cruise, the film was directed by his long-time assistant Jan Harlan and features interviews of many actors from Kubrick's films as well as other noted directors like Spielberg and Scorsese. The entire thing is available on YouTube:
Stanley Kubrick didn't give long interviews...or didn't like giving them anyway. But Jeremy Bernstein convinced him to sit down for one, perhaps because Kubrick was a huge chess nerd and Bernstein played chess seriously. So the two of them did this hour-long interview in 1965 that resulted in this New Yorker piece about his life, films, and the then in-production 2001.
During our conversation, I happened to mention that I had just been in Washington Square Park playing chess. He asked me who I had been playing with, and I described the Master. Kubrick recognized him immediately. I had been playing a good deal with the Master, and my game had improved to the point where I was almost breaking even with him, so I was a little stunned to learn that Kubrick had played the Master on occasion, and that in his view the Master was a potzer. Kubrick went on to say that he loved playing chess, and added, "How about a little game right now?" By pleading another appointment, I managed to stave off the challenge.
Clockwork would be shown in standard cinemas as a quality platform release, which meant there were many options per city. I knew that Don Rugoff's Cinema 1, the most prestigious cinema in New York, had to be the New York theater, but how to be sure that the film would be booked into the best cinema in Indianapolis or Cleveland or Atlanta? To choose the right theater in each city, we needed to know which cinema sold the most tickets to the most interesting pictures. But while a studio would know what its own films grossed, detailed box-office figures of competitive films were closely held secrets. There was no comparative information, and that is exactly what Stanley wanted.
Influenced by Kubrick's system, Variety released their first nation box office rankings chart a few months later. (via df)
It has some candid interviews and very private moments caught on set such as arguments with cast and director, moments of a no-nonsense Kubrick directing his actors, Scatman Crothers being overwhelmed with emotion during his interview, Shelley Duvall collapsing through mental exhaustion on set and a very playful Jack Nicholson enjoying playing up to the behind the scenes camera.
Stanley Kubrick's unfinished Napoleon project was supposed to be (in Kubrick's words) "the greatest film ever made." At the meticulous-yet-epic scale Kubrick imagined it -- think 30,000 real troops (from Romanian and Lithuanian Cold-War-armies) in authentic costume on location as extras for the battle scenes -- it was unfilmable.
So instead of the film, we have Kubrick's gigantic preproduction archive of notes and drawings and photographs, which (on top of the complete screenplay and drafts for the movie) is one of the largest scholarship-grade Napoleonic archives in the world.
Two years ago, Taschen put out a ten-volume de luxe edition of this material that cost $1500, which was by all accounts definitely awesome, but so expensive and unwieldy I don't think even Kubrick superfan John Gruber bought it.
The book, in a deliberate echo of the film, is rough around the edges. Rather than providing a seamless, synthesized account of Kubrick's vision, the editor, Alison Castle, has focused on the raw materials: the photographs, clippings, letters, and notes that Kubrick kept in binders and a huge, library-style card catalog. There are interviews with Kubrick, and a complete draft of the screenplay, with many marked-up pages from earlier drafts. Here and there you'll find introductory essays by Kubrick experts, or a historian's response to Kubrick's screenplay -- but the emphasis is on the small gestures, as in the collection of underlined passages and marginal notes that Castle compiles from Kubrick's personal library of books about the emperor. A special 'key card' included with the book gives you access to a huge online library of images.
While I was wondering how/if we'd remember Kubrick differently if the Napoleon movie had come together, I came across this snappy transition from Kubrick's Wikipedia page:
After 2001, Kubrick initially attempted to make a film about the life of Napoleon Bonaparte. When financing fell through, Kubrick went looking for a project that he could film quickly on a small budget. He eventually settled on A Clockwork Orange (1971).
Stanley Kubrick's first feature-length film was called Fear and Desire and copies of it are hard to come by these days -- very few prints exist and it is unavailable on DVD or even VHS. But there's a copy available on Google Video, billed as "the most uncut print" available.
You begin with an artifact left on earth four million years ago by extraterrestrial explorers who observed the behavior of the man-apes of the time and decided to influence their evolutionary progression. Then you have a second artifact buried deep on the lunar surface and programmed to signal word of man's first baby steps into the universe -- a kind of cosmic burglar alarm. And finally there's a third artifact placed in orbit around Jupiter and waiting for the time when man has reached the outer rim of his own solar system.
When the surviving astronaut, Bowman, ultimately reaches Jupiter, this artifact sweeps him into a force field or star gate that hurls him on a journey through inner and outer space and finally transports him to another part of the galaxy, where he's placed in a human zoo approximating a hospital terrestrial environment drawn out of his own dreams and imagination. In a timeless state, his life passes from middle age to senescence to death. He is reborn, an enhanced being, a star child, an angel, a superman, if you like, and returns to earth prepared for the next leap forward of man's evolutionary destiny.
That is what happens on the film's simplest level. Since an encounter with an advanced interstellar intelligence would be incomprehensible within our present earthbound frames of reference, reactions to it will have elements of philosophy and metaphysics that have nothing to do with the bare plot outline itself.
P.S. Kubrick also stated that HAL was not gay -- "HAL was a 'straight' computer". (via prosthetic knowledge)
Possibly the worst idea in the world: a movie version of Lord of the Rings starring The Beatles (with Lennon as Gollum) and directed by Stanley Kubrick. According to Peter Jackson, this was a possibility but JRR said hells no.
According to Peter Jackson, who knows a little something about making Lord of the Rings movies, John Lennon was the Beatle most keen on LOTR back in the '60s -- and he wanted to play Gollum, while Paul McCartney would play Frodo, Ringo Starr would take on Sam and George Harrison would beard it up for Gandalf. And he approached a pre-2001 Stanley Kubrick to direct.
Warning: this video contains spoilers, violence, and cinematic greatness.
Many friends after seeing my video "Tarantino vs Coen Brothers" requested me to do a new video duel of directors, so I decided to do now a tribute to my two favorite directors, Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese, were 25 days re-watching 34 films, selected more than 500 scenes, and a hard work editing.
All during the filming of 2001 we played chess whenever I was in London and every fifth game I did something unusual. Finally we reached the 25th game and it was agreed that this would decide the matter. Well into the game he made a move that I was sure was a loser. He even clutched his stomach to show how upset he was. But it was a trap and I was promptly clobbered. "You didn't know I could act too," he remarked.
Watching Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon is a pleasure, like eating a very good soup. It is very stylised and then suddenly comes some emotion [when the child falls off the horse]. There is not a lot of emotion. There are a lot of moods and some fantastic photography, really like these old paintings.
Thank God he didn't have a computer. If he had a computer at that time, you wouldn't care, but you know he has been waiting three weeks for this mountain fog or whatever. It is overwhelming with the boy, because it is suddenly this emotional thing. The character Barry Lyndon is not very emotional. In fact, he is the opposite. He is an opportunist.
I saw the film when it came out. I was in my early twenties. The first time I saw it, I slept. It was on too late and it is a very, very long film. What is interesting is that Nicole Kidman told me Kubrick hated long films. If you have seen Barry Lyndon, the last scene of the film, where she is writing out a cheque for him, is extremely long. It goes on and on and on, but it's beautiful.
The good thing is that Kubrick always sets his standards. Barry Lyndon to me is a masterpiece. He casts in a very strange way, Kubrick. It is a very strange cast. But that is how the film should be, of course. This thing that he liked short films was very surprising. And he liked Krzysztof Kieslowski very much. He was crazy about Kieslowski.
I don't know if Kubrick saw any of my films, but I know Tarkovsky watched the first film I did and hated it! That is how it is supposed to be.
"The first time I saw it, I slept" will be my go-to answer for lots of things from now forward.
After posting the video of the chickens from the Muppets clucking their way through the Blue Danube waltz, I couldn't resist putting it together with the most iconic use of that tune in contemporary culture. Here, then, is Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Chicken Cordon Bleu Danube cut.
On Stanley Kubrick, George Lucas, Robert Morris, Robert Smithson, Jane Jacobs, 2001, Star Wars, and minimalism: Star Wars: A New Heap.
Kubrick's film presented a future of company men moving with assurance and clear intention toward a godlike minimalist object. Lucas, on the other hand, gave us a slapdash world of knuckleheads pursued by industrial-scale minimalists. Visually, Kubrick's film is as seamless and smooth as the modernist authority it mirrored. Like the mid-century modernists, 2001 associated abstraction with the progressive ideals of the United Nations as embodied by its New York headquarters. Lucas, on the other hand, was a nonbeliever. Even the initially smooth and unitary form of the Death Star was shown, as the rebel fighters skimmed its surface, to be deeply fissured with an ever-diminishing body of structural fragments. These crenulated details suggested a depth and complexity to modern life that modernism's pure geometries often obscured.
A flying saucer had never been a slum before. The immaculate silver sheen of the saucer was reinvented as a dingy Dumpster full of boiler parts, dirty dishes, and decomposing upholstery. Lucas's visual program not only captured the stark utopian logic that girded modern urban planning, it surpassed it. The Millennium Falcon resisted the modernist demand for purity and separation, pushing into the eclecticism of the minimalist expanded field. Its tangled bastard asymmetry made it a truer dream ship than any of its purebred predecessors. It is the first flying saucer imagined as architecture without architects.
After seeing Ferro's commercials, Kubrick hired him to direct the advertising trailers and teasers for Dr. Strangelove and convinced him to resettle in London (Kubrick's base of operations until he died there in March 1999). Ferro was inclined to be peripatetic anyway, and ever anxious to bypass already completed challenges he agreed to pull up stakes on the chance that he would get to direct a few British TV commercials, which he did. The black and white spot that Ferro designed for Dr. Strangelove employed his quick-cut technique -- using as many as 125 separate images in a minute -- to convey both the dark humor and the political immediacy of the film. At something akin to stroboscopic speed words and images flew across the screen to the accompaniment of loud sound effects and snippets of ironic dialog. At a time when the bomb loomed so large in the US public's fears (remember Barry Goldwater ran for President promising to nuke China), and the polarization of left and right -- east and west -- was at its zenith, Ferro's commercial was not only the boldest and most hypnotic graphic on TV, it was a sly subversive statement.
Kubrick wanted to film it all using small airplane models (doubtless prefiguring his classic space ship ballet in 2001: A Space Odyssey). Ferro dissuaded him and located the official stock footage that they used instead. Ferro further conceived the idea to fill the entire screen with lettering (which incidentally had never been done before), requiring the setting of credits at different sizes and weights, which potentially ran counter to legal contractual obligations. But Kubrick supported it regardless. On the other hand, Ferro was prepared to have the titles refined by a lettering artist, but Kubrick correctly felt that the rough hewn quality of the hand-drawn comp was more effective. So he carefully lettered the entire thing himself with a thin pen. Yet only after the film was released did he notice that one word was misspelled: "base on" instead of "based on". Ooops!
If you want that hand-lettered look for yourself, Pablo Skinny is a font by Fargoboy that closely duplicates Ferro's handwriting.
Update: According to this Wikipedia article, the work of Canadian avant-garde filmmaker Arthur Lipsett caught the eye of Stanley Kubrick after an Oscar nomination for his short film, Very Nice, Very Nice and, more importantly for our business here, that Kubrick directed the Strangelove trailer himself in Lipsett's style after Lipsett refused to work with Kubrick on it:
Stanley Kubrick was one of Lipsett's fans, and asked him to create a trailer for his upcoming movie Dr. Strangelove. Lipsett declined Kubrick's offer. Kubrick went on to direct the trailer himself; however, Lipsett's influence on Kubrick is clearly visible when watching the trailer.
The two are stylistically similar for sure, but Ferro is credited with having designed the main title sequence (according to the titles themselves). That passage doesn't appear to have been derived from any particular source, so I looked for something more definitive. From a 1986 article by Lois Siegel
After his Academy Award nomination, he received a letter from British filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. The typewritten letter said, "I'm interested in having a trailer done for Dr. Strangelove." Kubrick regarded Lipsett's work as a landmark in cinema -- a breakthrough. He was interested in involving Lipsett. This didn't happen, but the actual trailer did reflect Lipsett's style in Very Nice, Very Nice.
Kubrick described Very Nice, Very Nice (1961) as "one of the most imaginative and brilliant uses of the movie screen and soundtrack that I have ever seen." Kubrick was so enthused with the film he invited Lipsett to create a trailer for Dr. Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1965) an offer Lipsett refused. Stanley Kubrick, letter to Arthur Lipsett, Arthur Lipsett Collection, Cinematheque québécoise Archives, Montreal, May 31, 1962.
It's not clear what the connection is between Lipsett's work and the trailer that Ferro ended up producing for Strangelove, but several sources (including Heller) say that Ferro developed his quick-cut style directing commercials in the 1950s, work that would predate that of Lipsett.
Lipsett more clearly influenced the work of another prominent filmmaker, George Lucas. Lucas found inspiration in Lipsett's 21-87 in making THX-1138 and borrowed the concept of "the Force" for the Star Wars movies. Lucas' films are littered with references to Lipsett's film; e.g. Princess Leia's cell in Star Wars was in cell #2187. (thx, gordon)
An annotated list of the top ten cinematographic moments in film in 2007: part 1 and part 2.
The shot that stuck out in my head the very first time I saw the film spoke to me so deeply that I referenced it in my initial review: "A few years trickle by as Plainview adds onto his enterprise until finally, oil. A black-tarred hand reaches to the sky and suddenly you sense the influence of Stanley Kubrick on the film. Like the apes who discovered weaponry in "2001: A Space Odyssey," Plainview has come upon the object that will dictate America's destiny for the next century and more." I don't thiink I could say it any better now.