Warner Bros. Home Video presents
Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (2001)
"Everybody pretty much acknowledges that he's the man and, uh, I still feel that underrates him."- Jack Nicholson (Interviewee)
Stars: Tom Cruise, Woody Allen, Alan Parker, Arthur C. Clarke
Other Stars: Jack Nicholson, James Harris
Director: Jan Harlan
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some language, adult themes)
Run Time: 02h:22m:08s
Release Date: 2001-06-12
DVD ReviewFor most of his almost 40 year career as a film director, Stanley Kubrick studiously avoided the public eye and maintained a strict quarantine on the dissemination of personal information. There was a book published recently that collected all the magazine articles and interviews Kubrick had participated in over the years and it was not a very thick book. In fact, once you delete all the stylistic silliness of the writers, descriptions of the films and other irrelevancies, there is not even much about Kubrick, the man, in the entire book. Weird rumors about Kubrick's habits and methods abounded during his lifetime and, at a distance, he seemed to personify the concept of the mad, eccentric film genius. However, it is also true that the very mystery of Kubrick and his cinematic process has contributed a great deal to his near pantheon status among his peers as one of, if not the greatest, filmmakers in history.
Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures gives us a peek behind the curtains that no piece of media devoted to Kubrick's life and career has before. Here, his colleagues and fellow directors speak frankly about the director in way that was not permitted during his lifetime. Prior to this year, only the short film about the making-of process of The Shining, by Kubrick's daughter—a treasured extra on the video releases of that film—had been in general release.
Directed by longtime Kubrick collaborator Jan Harlan, A Life in Pictures contains some marvelous montages, including an excellent sequence of Kubrick scenes and photos taken for the popular illustrated magazine, Look. For the Kubrick buff, there are some extended clips from Day of the Fight, Fear and Desire and Killer's Kiss, three of Kubrick's early, rarely seen films from the 1950s.
Directors Steven Spielberg, Paul Mazursky, Woody Allen, Alan Parker, Alex Cox, Sydney Pollack, Douglas Trumbull, and Martin Scorcese all pay tribute to Kubrick. Actors from his films who talk of working with him include Tom Cruise (also the narrator), Shelley Duvall, Keir Dullea, Matthew Modine, Jack Nicholson, Peter Ustinov, and Malcolm McDowell. Family members and other colleagues also provide professional and personal insights about the reclusive director. There are imminently interesting home movies from various times in the director's life, showing him at work and with his family.
This documentary provides fascinating details about the battles that Kubrick fought to get his films made the way he wanted to make them. Discussions range from the censorship of Lolita (considered a dirty book) to the sensitive material of the black comedy Dr. Strangelove (called subversive) to the ultra-violence of A Clockwork Orange (withdrawn from British distribution by Kubrick himself) and, finally, the digital removal of parts from Eyes Wide Shut (extreme sexuality). It is simply amazing to see what things he was accused of and how he described in some of the "criticisms" of his films.
Our impressions of Kubrick films are often built upon critical appraisals that, in retrospect, often provide a skewed view of the material being reviewed. He is one of those directors, similar to Francis Ford Coppola, who often elicits criticism that shows more about the critic's agenda than really providing solid film analysis. I would trade all the words written about Dr. Strangelove for the brief comments Woody Allen and Martin Scorcese make here. 2001: A Space Odyssey is another movie that represents the nadir of American film criticism, as time has raised it to the top of many "greatest cinema" lists and consigned the vast majority of its reviews to the dustbin of ill-conceived diatribe. Another example of the distorted perceptions of his work in Hollywood is that fact that, during his long career, Stanley Kubrick was only awarded one Oscar® statuette, for Best Visual Effects in 2001.
I recommend the extra material that accompanies the The Criterion Collection edition of Spartacus as a good companion to this disc. Although Kubrick only participated at an extreme distance in the repackaging of that epic and did not provide any material for the commentary or bonus materials, much of the talk about Spartacus is about its director. This was the film, both a commercial and critical success, that taught the 32-year-old Kubrick that he must maintain full control of all aspects the process and also enabled him to demand it.
Besides many illuminating details about the films that were made, A Life in Pictures also provides interesting details about the abortive project that Kubrick never made, Napoleon, and the film project that was recently finished by long time friend, Steven Spielberg, A.I.
Later in his career, Kubrick's films did not seem to reach the heights of his early work, particularly The Shining (poor source material), Full Metal Jacket (hackneyed topic by that date) and Eyes Wide Shut (unsatisfactory acting performances). Each of these films has importance as part of the director's canon and the details provided about their creation are equally interesting. One particularly overlooked Kubrick film, Barry Lyndon, which was hailed as a technical masterpiece, received decidedly lukewarm notices. The technical details about the making of Barry Lyndon are marvelous and beg for a full documentary devoted to that underrated period epic.
Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures is a treasured part of The Stanley Kubrick Collection and serves one particularly fine purpose: If you are ever stuck for a Kubrick film to watch, maybe you have seen them all several times and just don't feel inspired to view one—put this movie on and pick a scene and you will inevitably see a comment by an interviewee or a film clip that will inspire you to put that one in immediately.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A
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Image Transfer Review: Interesting image transfer here as the film is presented in a variable matted widescreen format that preserves the original aspect ratio of the theatrical film. This makes for superior visuals for a documentary about a filmmaker as the film clicks are beautifully viewable. The film is also very well made, providing lush and detailed interview scenes that exceed many documentaries I have seen. Note the lovely framing of Kubrick's wife, Christianne, in her studio among her paintings. This film is a feast for the eyes.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: What a treat that the sound here is Dolby Digital 5.1! This is one of the best sounding documentaries I have ever heard and is a fitting aural tribute to a director who was very concerned about how his films sounded. Stanley Kubrick was a revolutionary in the way sound was used in motion pictures and introduced a generation to the music of Strauss, Ligeti and Beethoven. The sound quality of this presentation is a great tribute to the director.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 27 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese with remote access
Extras Review: This one is difficult because, in its way, it is an extra for a larger collection despite its presentation on a separate disc. In seeing this documentary, I know there is a wealth of material that could have been included. The candidate for owning this film (and thus the entire set) is a Kubrick fan. This sort of fan would be hungry for the bits and pieces that reveal clues about the life and work of the director. Therefore, a few crumbs thrown out would have been nice, especially some that are already available on the Internet, such as the script for the never-completed Napoleon. Heck, I might even have enjoyed a few move listings from some of Kubrick's chess games. Lately, many companies have turned to experts in the area of the material they are creating DVDs for, in developing the bonus materials for their discs. (Goodness knows, marketing people are rarely expert in any particular thing!) I wish Warner Bros. had given someone a call when they were preparing this disc. But alas, no such luck and no decent extras. After all the controversy about the audio and image transfers for the The Stanley Kubrick Collection, you would have thought they would have learned their lesson about who these discs are created to please (other than their own bottom line).
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsThe Stanley Kubrick Collection features some of the most astounding, confounding, disturbing, demanding, riveting, mind-boggling and mind-bending films every made. This companion documentary is an essential piece of any serious film buff's DVD collection and receives my highest recommendation as a fascinating look at the career and life of one of the most important cinema artists, ever. The film, at over two hours, is a wealth of detail and serves as a virtual seminar in film artistry and technique.
Jesse Shanks 2001-10-15