Why is Stanley Kubrick considered possibly cinema's greatest director?

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24 January
11:37
1 February
11:20

"Kubrick is your great auteur. He’s your apex predator filmmaker"

People have got very, very strong opinions about Kubrick. Stanley Kubrick and Nic Roeg are the directors you can be talking about and a fight will break out. You can be in a viewing with people going, “This is the must unutterable pile of crap I’ve ever seen,” or, “It’s genius.” The criticism I quite often hear from students who are looking at Kubrick is that his work is very cold and very clinical, in a way that Orson Welles, for example, is not. There’s a kind of stepping back. They are very similar because they are so ambitious. And the difference between them is that Kubrick could remain that ambitious and get Warner Brothers to keep paying him to make these incredibly ambitious films. Due to his powers of persuasion, but also due to the kudos of having Stanley as your filmmaker, he could almost start off at that level and continue at it.

Kubrick is your great auteur. He’s your apex predator filmmaker. What I think is really interesting about him and the reason he remains popular to a certain level, is that he’s a brilliant maker of genre films. His whole career he almost goes through, one by one, the major film genres, makes one and does it better than probably anybody else. It’s at such a level of expertise and creativity with that photographer’s eye – because he was a photographer first – so everything coming through the lens is beautiful. He makes genre films that are huge and powerful.

His first films are noir-ish, like ‘The Killing’. Then he makes a war film with ‘Paths of Glory’. Then he makes a history film – ‘Spartacus’. Then he does your literary adaptation, ‘Lolita’. Then he does a comedy riff on contemporary politics with ‘Dr Strangelove’, followed by sci-fi, ‘2001’. ‘Clockwork Orange’ is a dystopian, near-future horror movie. ‘Barry Lyndon’ is your classic, historical piece, plus it’s an adaptation. ‘The Shining’, if you break it down, is a bog-standard Stephen King horror story. Look what he does with it! ‘Full Metal Jacket’ he goes back and does war again. Everybody’s made a Vietnam film, but he makes one that makes you go, ‘I didn’t think of that.’ Never mind ‘Apocalypse Now’, this isn’t just a rollercoaster ride, it’ll make you think as well. And ‘Eyes Wide Shut’, when that came out people were rowing about it for hours. It’s all genre, but he turns the burners up.

It’s also the effort he puts in to get what comes out on screen just right. With ‘Barry Lyndon’, they didn’t have the lenses on the market to get the effect he wanted from the candlelight, so he got someone to make them. And while people say he’s cold and clinical because of that distance with the camera, he also gets really good performances out of people. With Ryan O’Neal, you’re not expecting Paul Schofield, but it’s a great performance. Jack Nicholson in ‘The Shining’, he boxes him in, which no-one had done before. He got a performance out of both Cruise and Kidman in ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ and it’s all because of the attention to detail he brings to things that you’ve seen before.

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