Kubrick at LACMA

by Sonny Bunch on January 7, 2013

pf_kubrick_2001_05I’ve got a piece on the Stanley Kubrick exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art over at the Free Beacon. The exhibit’s definitely worth checking out if you are in the city and have two or three hours to kill. I want to expand on one point I made early on about Kubrick’s legacy, however:

Why does Kubrick endure? The answer is twofold.

First, Kubrick’s body of work straddles the art house and the mainstream. His work is provocative and thought provoking and excites the senses despite its frequently languid pace. Even as Kubrick traipses through cinematic neighborhoods that are popular with the people but less respected critically—“genre” fare like horror, sci-fi, noir—audiences experience an elevation of tone rarely seen in such pictures.

The point I was kind of dancing around here and didn’t quite hit due to my own timidity is this: Kubrick is the perfect entry-level auteur, the kind of director for the moviegoer who enjoys films that step modestly beyond the multiplex but not much further. I’m tempted to use the term “middlebrow,” though I hate the connotation and would be vaguely troubled to describe my favorite (well, one of my favorite) directors as such. 

Perhaps more delicately put, Kubrick is extremely accessible. His films are all in English; they frequently feature huge stars (Kirk Douglas, Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise & Nicole Kidman, etc.); they work within genres that are popular with mass audiences; and, perhaps most importantly, his body of work is extremely small. 

The importance of that last fact cannot be overstated. Kubrick’s output is relatively minuscule: One can be fully fluent in Kubrick after having seen only 11 titles (13 if you feel like watching Killer’s Kiss and Fear and Desire; 10 if you feel, as I do, that Spartacus is barely a “Kubrick” film). Every one of those films is key to understanding what made Kubrick “Kubrick,” and you can work through the oeuvre in less than a month, assuming you leave your weekends free.

Compare that to, I dunno, Alfred Hitchcock, who has 67 director credits on IMDB. Or Martin Scorsese, who had 8 feature credits between 2000 and 2011 alone. In this way Kubrick is much like Orson Welles, whom one can feel comfortable discussing having seen only a handful of films. Kubrick endures in part because we can get our arms around him and really wrestle with his body of work.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Will January 7, 2013 at 1:45 pm

Yo Bunch, have you reviewed Django? Are you planning to?


Sonny Bunch January 7, 2013 at 1:45 pm

No? I dunno, I was going to, but it feels like the moment has passed. Maybe when it gets shut out of the Oscars.


Sonny Bunch January 7, 2013 at 1:47 pm

I actually wanted to write a piece comparing/contrasting the reaction the left had to Django and Lincoln. But I haven’t seen a good hard left freakout about DU yet, certainly nothing like we saw with Lincoln.


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