Scorsese on Kubrick
Eyes Wide Shut came out, a few months after Stanley Kubrick’s death in 1999, it was severely misunderstood, which
came as no surprise. If you go back and look at the contemporary reactions to any Kubrick picture (except the earliest ones),
you’ll see that all his films were initially misunderstood. Then, after five or ten years came the realization that
2001 or Barry Lyndon or The Shining was like nothing else before or since.
If Kubrick had lived to see the opening of his final film, he obviously would
have been disappointed by the hostile reactions. But I’m sure that in the end he would have taken it with a grain of
salt and moved on. That’s the lot of all true visionaries, who don’t see the use of working in the same vein as
everyone else. Artists like Kubrick have minds expansive and dynamic enough to picture the world in motion, to comprehend
not just where its been, but where it’s going.
Take Eyes Wide Shut. Many people were put off by the film’s unreality
– the New York streets were too big, the orgy scene was a total fantasy, the action was slow and deliberate. All of
this is true, and if the movie were designed to be realistic, it would be absolutely reasonable to judge these as failings.
But Eyes Wide Shut is based on a Schnitzler novella called Dream Story, the story of a rift in a marriage told with the logic
of a dream. And as with all dreams, you never know precisely when you’ve entered it. Everything seems real and lifelike,
but different, a little exaggerated, a little off. Things appear to happen as if they were preordained, sometimes in a strange
rhythm from which it’s impossible to escape. Audiences really had no preparation for a dream movie that didn’t
announce itself as such, without the usual signals- hovering mists, people appearing and disappearing at will or floating
off the ground. Like Rossellini’s Viaggio in Italia, another film severely misunderstood in its time, Eyes Wide Shut
takes a couple on a harrowing journey, at the end of which they’re left clinging to each other. Both are films of terrifying
self-exposure. They both ask the question: How much trust and faith can you really place in another human being? And they
both end tentatively, yet hopefully. Honestly.
Watching a Kubrick film is like gazing up at a mountaintop. You look up and
wonder, how could anyone have climbed that high? There are emotional passages and images and spaces in his films that have
an inexplicable power, with a magnetic force that draws you in slowly, mysteriously: the boy’s rides on his Big Wheel
through the endless corridors of the hotel in The Shining; the monumental silence of outer space in 2001: A Space Odyssey;
the inhuman pace of the first half of Full Metal Jacket, building up to its logical, murderous conclusion; the grandeur of
the war room in Dr. Strangelove, at once scary and comical; the brutal pop future of A Clockwork Orange; the raw intimacy
of the exchanges between Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut.
I’m not sure if I can say that I have a favourite Kubrick picture, but
somehow I keep coming back to Barry Lyndon. I think that’s because it’s such a profoundly emotional experience.
The emotion is conveyed through the movement of the camera, the slowness of the pace, the way the characters move in relation
to their surroundings. People didn’t get it when it came out. Many still don’t. Basically, in one exquisitely
beautiful image after another, you’re watching the progress of a man as he moves from the purest innocence to the coldest
sophistication, ending in absolute bitterness – and it’s all a matter of simple, elemental survival. It’s
a terrifying film because all the candlelit beauty is nothing but a veil over the worst cruelty. But it’s real cruelty,
the kind you see every day in polite society.
Stanley Kubrick was one of the only modern masters we had, and this final
edition of Michel Ciment’s definitive book is an invaluable resource. Personally speaking, I’ve watched and studied
Kubrick’s work repeatedly over the years. He was unique in the sense that with each new film he redefined the medium
and its possibilities. But he was more than just a technical innovator. Like all visionaries, he spoke the truth. And no matter
how comfortable we think we are with the truth, it always comes as a profound shock when we’re forced to meet it face-to-face.
- Martin Scorsese, June 2001 (Kubrick: The Definitive Edition,
Scorsese on Full Metal Jacket
When Full Metal Jacket was first released, many viewers and critics were thrown off by the unusual structure. They
wondered why director Stanley Kubrick had split the action in half — the gruelling and relentlessly-paced basic training
scenes on Parris Island, and the more leisurely but ultimately devastating tour in Vietnam for Matthew Modine's Private Joker
and his friends. But then, it's often taken about a decade for people to catch up with Kubrick. Neither 2001: A Space Odyssey
nor Barry Lyndon nor The Shining were greeted with approval when they first appeared, and Eyes Wide Shut is still misunderstood.
What's interesting in Full Metal Jacket, which Kubrick and the great writer Michael Herr (the author of Dispatches)
adapted quite faithfully from Gustav Hasford's novel The Short-Timers (along with Hasford himself), is the way that the two
halves seem so different, and the manner in which they finally converge: two different roads to eruptions of terrible violence.
As in all Kubrick films, there is a profound sense of mystery at the core, but he's also exposing a deeply disturbing truth.
The shaving of the young men's heads, the physical and psychological punishment of their training, the terrible humiliation
perpetrated on Vincent D'Onofrio's Private Pyle, the horribly obscene language spouted by every single character, the callous
attitude toward the dead and the dying, the ultimate horror of the battlefield….it's all violent, from start to finish,
and you're left wondering to what degree war is embedded in our DNA.
And, as always with Kubrick, Full Metal Jacket is a physically
powerful experience. Once you've seen it a couple of times, every cut, every movement, every vista of the devastated city
of Hue (recreated in an abandoned London gasworks) becomes indelible.
-Martin Scorsese, December 2006
Scorsese on The Shining
When Stanley Kubrick set out to make a horror film, we were already terrified. Kubrick's films are terrifying enough
as it is. What would he come up with? We saw the trailer, a single image of an elevator from which a torrent of blood slowly
spilled and blanketed the screen...and the terror mounted. And, of course, as always with Kubrick, when the film finally came
out, it was like no horror film ever made. Really, it almost didn't belong to the horror genre; it was like nothing we'd ever
seen. But of course, that was Kubrick's genius: He created movies that were essentially unclassifiable, endlessly provocative
and profoundly disturbing. And no matter how many times you see them, they remain disturbing.
Of course, many horror fans were
put off by The Shining, and I don't believe that Stephen King, the author of the novel on which it was based, was ever very
happy with the movie. Kubrick and his co-writer, the novelist Diane Johnson, kept many elements from King's novel, but they
wrote their own work, turning to Freud's The Uncanny and Bruno Bettelheim's book about fairy tales, The Uses of Enchantment,
for inspiration. In their film, the horror came from within the family — the violent father (Jack Nicholson) suffering
from writer's block and having a hard time staying on the wagon, the mousy mother (Shelley Duvall) trying to believe that
everything is okay for as long as she can and the quiet son (Danny Lloyd) with an extrasensory gift called "shining" that
allows him to see terrors past and future. They're all cooped up in an enormous luxury hotel in Colorado that's been shut
down for the season and where they've agreed to stay for the winter as caretakers. The halls and corridors seem to extend
to infinity, like the shots of interstellar travel in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the sense of space itself is terrifying,
particularly in those justifiably famous Steadicam shots following Danny as he careens down the corridors on his Big Wheel.
In The Shining, Kubrick made
potent use of ambiguity. You never really know what's happening: Is the father hallucinating or is he the reincarnation of
a murderer from an earlier era? Are there real ghosts in the hotel or are they imagined by the traumatized son? Is the son
sensing the horrors that will be committed by his father or just projecting them onto him? Few movies create such a powerful
feeling of unease.
I love the score for this picture,
put together by Kubrick from a variety of pieces by Ligeti, Bartók and Penderecki (it's clear that the music inspired Johnny
Greenwood's score for There Will Be Blood). I also love the visions—the maze, the elevator, Nicholson bouncing a rubber
ball across the vast expanses of the hotel lobby to kill time, the enormous golden ballroom, the red Formica bathroom in which
Nicholson "meets" the butler. And, perhaps most frightening of all, the vision of an ordinary American family, beautifully
acted, who've wandered into deep psychic waters. Kubrick was a giant and I keep going back to most of his pictures, The Shining
Martin Scorsese, 2008