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.

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