Thursday, 24 March 2011

In the Temple of Stanley Kubrick.

Kubrick's filmography spans many genres and themes, from horror to comedy and war to costume drama. A multitude of themes and messages can be found in these films, often concealed through semiotics and steganography, in Kubrick's works. Kubrick's first big hit Paths of Glory which, as  noted by Žižek, was a pacifist film in that soldiers are depicted as exposed to suffering and death without meaning as sacrificial lambs slaughtered for "an obscure and manipulated Cause." Contrast this with Spielberg's Schindler's List in which the Nazis represent the material rage of the paternal superego and Schindler is the paternal figure of the Jews, who are helpless children for which Schindler has be transformed into a responsible father. As Hannah Arendt pointed out that there is nothing fundamentally evil about the character of bureaucrats like Adolf Eichmann. The psychological and personal profile of Eichmann tells us nothing of why he committed such atrocities against Jews. Similarly the attempt by Spielberg to investigate Amon Göth as a person and not a cog in the most homocidal regime in history.

The work of Kubrick is far less simplistic and can actually convey fascinating ideas to the audience. Just take 2001: A Space Odyssey which begins with the dawn of man, the apes handling bones and encircling the monolith. Near the end of 2001 we encounter the imponderable X, which Lacan would describe as objet petit a, when the view penetrates the monolith and an intense abstract visual sequence follows. It soon turns to a hyper-realist representation of fantasy-space. As Ager pointed out, the monolith of 2001 is actually symbolic of the cinema screen and correlates with the fetishisation of art that Walter Benjamin identified within culture. Originally art became fetishised out of the way it exists in one place and can be seen only in that place at any one time. Through its own uniqueness in space and time, the work of art resists becoming truly available to the rabble. This is captured by the incomprehensible nature of the monolith and it's unexplained fetishisation by apes and spacemen alike, which is constant throughout. In a sense it is a meta-fictional aspect of the film, it's presence an insightful joke about art at the expense of the viewer.

On this blog I intend to review in depth specific films and novels, in the past the works of Chuck Palahniuk and JG Ballard been the subject of articles. There will no doubt be many more analyses on this blog, especially when it comes to artists of Kubrick's calibre. So far I have looked in depth at The Shining and Full Metal Jacket so far, both of which are adaptations of books and great examples of the two genres of war and horror:
This is Vietnam, the Movie!

These two articles look at the films in socio-political terms. In The Shining the "founding crimes" of the American Republic emerge from the elevator as a river of blood, whilst Kubrick ignores the perspective of the victim in his take on Vietnam - with unsettling implications. The critical look at Full Metal Jacket is appropriate as it is devoid the bravery shown previously to fill The Shining with hints and themes related to the genocide of Native Americans. A general suspicion of all forms of authority runs through Kubrick's work, although his earlier films are more liberal than his later movies. From lampooning a campaign by the John Birch Society against fluoridation in Dr Strangelove. Though this suspicion of authority led him to permit the atrocities committed against the Vietnamese in the name of anti-Communism. The mockery of the red fear rampant in America throughout the Cold War is almost totally absent, except in the form of the drill instructor's absurd jingoist rhetoric.

It also may be the reason for the conspiratorial themes throughout many of Kubrick's films, which were displayed most overtly in Eyes Wide Shut. In a scene reminiscent of the widespread rumours of orgies, organised and attended by the KGB, in Stalinist Russia the super-rich and powerful meet to engage in ritualistic sex. The faults of the system cannot be a result of a systemic flaw that inevitably produces certain consequences over time. Instead, there must be some meddlesome entity which disrupts the system and must be stopped. For Kubrick is the authorities, who are responsible for nuclear weapons and indulge in orgies at an obscure estate in New York. At the same time, The Shining reflected the emergence of the angry white male phenomenon which would dominate American politics years later. It would represent a new take on the right-wing authoritarianism Kubrick mocked in Dr Strangelove. Except it was Timothy McVeigh who learned to love the bomb in the 1990s.

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