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Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (Jan Harlan) 2001

    Perhaps because its subjectís brother-in-law directed it and perhaps because it feels as if Warner Bros. has bankrolled it, Jan Harlanís adulatory documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures gives the impression at times that filmic history is being rewritten before our eyes. Thatís not to imply that itís not put together well. The two and a half hour running time flies by quickly, and the many exclusive interviews included provide some genuine insight into the man behind such landmark films as 2001. Kubrickís story and attitudes are so well known by cineastes that the only way a feature without grand factual revelations about the man can make his tale seem fresh is by providing first hand accounts of working with the man, so this documentaryís flaws donít lie in its approach. Tracing his career and personal life chronologically from birth until death, the film certainly serves well as a refresher course to those familiar with the directorís works. For those who havenít seen Kubrickís oeuvre, it might prove a detrimental viewing experience, however, since several of his moviesí endings are freely spoiled.

 

    Iím no Kubrick scholar, having only a slightly above average knowledge of his work, but the portrayal of the director offered in this film still seemed suspect to me. The most glaring omission is the fact that Kubrick was fired from the production of the Marlon Brando vehicle One-Eyed Jacks (1961). Coming as it did after the directorís clashes with Kirk Douglas on the set of Spartacus, this experience must have been instrumental in Kubrickís decision to insist upon total creative control on his future projects. To gloss over the experience entirely is to ignore a major event in the directorís development. Any problems with historical accuracy seem less severe when compared to the filmís simple-minded deification of its subject, however. In the filmís eyes, Kubrick never made a film that was anything less than a masterpiece. Any interviewees that might have criticized his work have been shuttled off-screen. His decision to remove several of his early films from circulation is never really called into question. The way that narrator Tom Cruise intones ďhis only Oscar everĒ as he describes his 2001 Special Effects award win makes the slight sound tantamount to a cardinal sin. Furthermore, there is a repeated insistence that Kubrick was an utterly normal, social, and congenial guy. Obviously, the myth of Stanley Kubrick has overtaken the reality of Stanley Kubrick, but the doggedness expressed in debunking the perception that Kubrick was a hermit soon becomes tiresome, and a bit silly, frankly. I enjoy Kubrickís films as much as anyone, but I simply donít understand the need to make his genius more human. I am perfectly content to approach his intelligence like the black monoliths in 2001: able to appreciate it, but not sure that I'll ever fully understand it except as something other than my own.

 

* * 1/2 

4-16-02 

Jeremy Heilman