Signature Shots from the Films of Stanley Kubrick: One-Point Perspective

Stan­ley Kubrick­’s fil­mog­ra­phy, a tow­er­ing, mul­ti­fac­eted edi­fice of sheer craft, offers many pat­terns for atten­tive fans to spot.  Some occur with­in a film of his, oth­ers between them; some he and his col­lab­o­ra­tors delib­er­ate­ly includ­ed, while oth­ers sim­ply emerged. The short video embed­ded above spots a pat­tern in Kubrick­’s tech­nique itself. Those unschooled in pho­tog­ra­phy or oth­er types of image com­po­si­tion may feel what the video means to shows them with­out being able to put it into words. All these shots — from films as var­ied as 2001Paths of Glo­ry, Bar­ry Lyn­don, and A Clock­work Orange — use what’s called “one-point per­spec­tive,” which you get when “the paint­ing plate (also known as the pic­ture plane) is par­al­lel to two axes of a rec­ti­lin­ear (or Carte­sian) scene – a scene which is com­posed entire­ly of lin­ear ele­ments that inter­sect only at right angles.” Got that? In oth­er words, all the visu­al lines in these shots appear to con­verge on a sin­gle point, usu­al­ly dead ahead.

Like many of Kubrick­’s sig­na­ture choic­es — see also the Kubrick zoom — using one-point per­spec­tive has its con­tro­ver­sies. One com­menter calls the video “best argu­ment against those who tell me that you should not make sym­met­ric shots.” Anoth­er calls it “a prime exam­ple of how off-putting sym­me­try can be in motion pic­ture pho­tog­ra­phy,” since “you feel like there’s some­thing wrong in every one of these shots,” that “you can’t put your fin­ger on it, but you know things aren’t quite right.” (Giv­en the free-float­ing but thor­ough dread in pic­tures like The Shin­ing, 2001, and A Clock­work Orange, might the shots be per­fect­ly suit­ed to their projects?) Still anoth­er invokes a Kubrick dic­tum that, whether or not it explains any­thing about his one-point per­spec­tives, seems nec­es­sary in any dis­cus­sion of his meth­ods: take the first idea you thought of, then do the exact oppo­site.

The Vimeo account of the video’s cre­ator, a cer­tain kog­o­na­da, also fea­tures com­pi­la­tions of the tech­ni­cal pat­terns found in Quentin Taran­ti­no, Dar­ren Aronof­sky, and Wes Ander­son.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Mak­ing of Stan­ley Kubrick’s A Clock­work Orange

James Cameron Revis­its the Mak­ing of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

Mak­ing The Shin­ing

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (1)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • dusty says:

    after watch­ing all his flicks again, i come away with many of them are the angles and lines he makes every shot. very geo­met­ric and almost archi­tec­tural­ly like.… not all of them but many.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.