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

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:

Buster Keaton: The Won­der­ful Gags of the Found­ing Father of Visu­al Com­e­dy

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 and/or watch his films here.

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