How Stanley Kubrick Made His Masterpieces: An Introduction to His Obsessive Approach to Filmmaking

in Film | December 1st, 2016

As each semester in my film course rolls around, it’s more and more apparent how time depletes the pop culture currency of those directors who did not make it into the 21st Century. A knowledge of Stanley Kubrick used to be a given, as was the understanding of what “A Stanley Kubrick Film” meant to film fans. Now he is a solution to a weird join-the-dots, as I watch students who know The Shining as a classic horror film grok suddenly that the same director made the headtrip 2001: A Space Odyssey. And what’s this Barry Lyndon film? And this Spartacus that looks like it’s from a completely different time? It can baffle a young cineaste, and it baffles them in a different way, I suppose, than how Kubrick baffled his contemporaries from film to film. Yes, there’s more of my students who have seen Dr. Strange than Dr. Strangelove, but the joy of discovery is still there, as is the thrill of being in a special fan club when you do discover Kubrick.



Fortunately, we are also having a renaissance in film critique in the medium of video, as followers of this site know. Along with Tony Zhou and Evan Puschak, Lewis Bond (aka Channel Criswell) has created some of the most in depth video essays on YouTube. Having authored overviews of the work of Hayao Miyazaki, Yasujiro Ozu, Andrei Tarkovsky, Lars von Trier, and David Lynch, Bond offers an excellent introduction above to Kubrick’s oeuvre.

Not content to use his knowledge of Kubrick’s films, Bond visited the Kubrick archives in London, learning firsthand the meticulous way the director created a film.

“His work ethic bordered on the obsessed,” he says. “This experience was how I imagined it is to see a great painter’s brushes. It was a way to gain a brief glimpse into the mind of a master at work.”

Bond makes the case that Kubrick’s attention to detail through all stages of production, including editing, distribution, and even attending screenings and checking the quality of the prints, is exactly what makes him one of the best directors. Every choice seen in the films, all the way down to the smallest prop, has Kubrick’s DNA on it. It’s no wonder that people pore over every frame of The Shining, reading into it all sorts of meaning.

“He changed the way visual stories were told,” says Bond, where Kubrick’s mise en scene and composition both deliver the essential narrative and the symbolism underneath.

Kubrick could only have reached these heights with the complete creative control his fame afforded him from the 1960s onward. There was time to plan, time and money to shoot, and time to edit, something directors–before or since–rarely get. And not all directors have the discipline to deliver when they get such freedom.

There’s much more in Bond’s essay so check it out. Side note: Lewis Bond’s girlfriend Luiza Lopes (aka Art Regard) also creates video essays on directors like David Cronenberg, Roman Polanski, and Ingmar Bergman. Could this be the first ‘celebrity couple’ of the video essay era?

Related Content:

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The Filmmaking Craft of David Fincher Demystified in Two Video Essays

The Geometric Beauty of Akira Kurosawa and Wes Anderson’s Films

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

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