Pauline Kael on Stanley Kubrick

While I may never, ever agree with anything she’s written down, Kael almost always makes for a good discussion starter, particularly on the subject of Stanley Kubrick. I imagine if these two were ever placed in a room together, were they still alive, they’d lock eyes and make a mad dash to see who could reach for their guns first, Kael making fun of Kubrick’s glasses and Kubrick giving her that Benjamin Linus-esque stare of his.

Then, Kubrick would call in Paul Thomas Anderson, and it would become El Mariachi. Which she also wasn’t that fond of, if I’m remembering correctly.


On Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange:
“When I pass a newsstand and see the saintly, bearded, intellectual Kubrick on the cover of Saturday Review, I wonder: Do people notice things like the way Kubrick cuts to the rival teen-age gang before Alex and his hoods arrive to fight them, just so we can have the pleasure of watching that gang strip the struggling girl they mean to rape? Alex’s voice is on the track announcing his arrival, but Kubrick can’t wait for Alex to arrive, because then he couldn’t show us as much. That girl is stripped for our benefit; it’s the purest exploitation. Yet this film lusts for greatness, and I’m not sure that Kubrick knows how to make simple movies anymore, or that he cares to, either. I don’t know how consciously he has thrown this film to youth; maybe he’s more of a showman than he lets on — a lucky showman with opportunism built into the cells of his body. The film can work at a pop-fantasy level for a young audience already prepared to accept Alex’s view of the society, ready to believe that that’s how it is.”


On The Shining:
“We go to The Shining hoping for nasty scare effects and for an appeal to our giddiest nighttime fears — vaporous figures, shadowy places. What we get doesn’t tease the imagination. Visually, the movie often feels like a cheat, because most of the horror images are not integrated into the travelling shots; the horrors involved in the hotel’s bloody past usually appear in inserts that flash on like the pictures in a slide show. In addition, there are long, static dialogues between Torrence and two demonic characters — a bartender and a waiter — who are clearly -his- deamons: they are personified temptations, as in a medieval mystery play, and they encourage him in his worst impulses. (They also look as substantial as he does.) The taciturn bartender is lighted to look satanic; he offers Torrence free drinks. The loathsome, snobbish English waiter goads Torrence to maintain his authority over his wife and child by force. During these lengthy conversations, we seem to be in a hotel in Hell. It’s a very talky movie (a Hell for movie-lovers). Clearly, Stanley Kubrick isn’t primarily interested in the horror film as scary fun or for the mysterious beauty that directors such as Dreyer and Marnau have brought to it. Kubrick is a virtuoso technician, and that is part of the excitement that is generated by a new Kubrick film. But he isn’t just a virtuoso technician; he’s also, God help us, a deadly serious metaphysician.. . .”



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