Tuesday, March 22, 2011

ROBERT FRANK


Robert Frank is an important and influential figure in the development of photography in both America and throughout the world. His most notable work was The Americans which came out in 1958. Frank is Swiss and The Americans took a fresh and skeptical outsider's view of the United States.

Frank's major influence was Walker Evans, and with his help he secured a Guggenheim grant in 1955 to travel across the US and photograph the society from all perspectives. He shot with a 35mm Leica, and took 28,000 shots over the next two years. The final edit and book contained 83 images. Frank took his family along on his road trips and visited several cities including Detroit, Savannah, Miami, New Orleans, Houston, LA, Reno, Salt Lake City, and Chicago. He had some trouble traveling through the South and was arbitrarily thrown in jail in Arkansas.

After returning to New York in 1957, Frank met Jack Kerouac and showed him some of the photographs he had taken. Kerouac was enthusiastic about the project and contributed the introduction to the US edition of The Americans. Frank also became friends with Allen Ginsberg, and became one of the main visual artists to document the Beat subculture. Frank was interested in the tension between the optimism of the 50s and the realities of class and racial inequality. This tension gave his work a clear contrast to the images of most American photojournalists who concentrated on the successes of American culture. Frank also used unusual focus, low lighting, and cropping that deviated from the accepted photographic techniques in his stark black and white work.

The Americans was originally published in France in 1958, and was finally published in America in 1959 by Grove Press. Initially it received negative reviews. Popular Photography derided its images as "a meaningless blur of grain, muddy exposures, drunken horizons, and general sloppiness." Over time The Americans was seen to be a strong critical and dark comment on the inequality and hypocrisy of America and its stature grew, and it became a great influence on other photographers and artists. The Americans is now considered to be one of the seminal works of American photography and art history.






By the time The Americans was published in the US, Frank had started to work as a filmmaker. Pull My Daisy came out in 1959 and was written and narrated by Kerouac and had Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and others from the Beat circle in it. The Beat philosophy emphasized spontaneity, and the film had a haphazard improvised quality. Many years later the co-director Alfred Leslie revealed that it was actually carefully planned and rehearsed.

Frank also made Cocksucker Blues in 1972, which was a documentary of the Rolling Stones. The film shows the band on their '72 tour, engaging in heavy drug use and having group sex. The Stones were disturbed when they saw the finished film as it captured the loneliness and despair of life on the road. Mick Jagger told Frank it was a fucking good film, but if it showed in America they would never be allowed into the country again. 

Frank continued his interest in film and video, but returned to making still images in the 1970s. His later work is more visual autobiography and consists largely of personal photographs. The later works consists of narratives made out of constructed images and collages, using words and multiple frames of images that are scratched and distorted.





Frank moved to Nova Scotia and withdrew after the deaths of his children. His daughter Andrea was killed in a plane crash, and his son Pablo was a schizophrenic who died in a mental hospital. Frank became a bit of a recluse declining most interviews and public appearances, and his later work deals with the impact of loss and tragedy. At times he has accepted offbeat assignments. He directed music videos for New Order and Patti Smith, and his photos can be seen on the covers of The Rolling Stones' Exile On Main Street and Tom Waits' Rain Dogs.

Robert Frank's work has made a major impact on the artistic approach to image making in America and throughout the world.


Monday, March 14, 2011

LOU REED


Lou Reed has been creating music for over 40 years and continues to use rock and roll as a forum for literary expression. Reed expanded the vocabulary of rock and roll lyrics by singing about the previously forbidden territory of drugs, sex, gay and transgender characters, depression, and suicide. His work has a dark edge and a tortured beauty, both with his words and the raw, jagged music that frames his stories. His work is real and honest and he is seen as punk's most important ancestor. His work depicts harrowing urban realities with a romantic passion.

Reed found early success with The Velvet Underground in which he was the guitarist, vocalist, and principle songwriter. The other members were John Cale, Sterling Morrision, and Maureen Tucker. They gained little mainstream attention during their career, but in retrospect they are seen as one of the most experimental and influential rock bands ever.

The Velvet Underground caught the attention of Andy Warhol and he gave them a spot as the house band at his studio The Factory for his Exploding Plastic Inevitable events. Reed was inspired by many of the characters at the Factory and wrote about them in his songs. Warhol had the idea for the Velvets to take on the German ex-model Nico as a chanteuse and Reed wrote several songs for her to sing.



 In 1967, The Velvet Underground and Nico was released by Verve Records and it gained notoriety for its experimental sound performances and its focus on controversial subject matter. Largely ignored upon release, the album is now seen as one of the finest and most influential rock records ever produced. It is credited with opening the door to glam rock, punk, post punk, goth rock, and shoegazing and inspired many young listeners to start their own band.

I'm Waiting for the Man describes a man's effort to obtain heroin. Venus in Furs is inspired by the 19th century novel of the same name and deals with S&M. Heroin details an individual's use of the drug and the experience of feeling its effects.

Femme Fatale, All Tomorrow's Parties, and I'll Be Your Mirror were sang by Nico and had a dark romantic quality.

Reed wrote most of the lyrics and weren't written for shock value. Reed was inspired by such writers as Raymond Chandler, Nelson Algren, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Hubert Selby, Jr. and felt a literary approach could work with rock music.

John Cale was responsible for much of the album's experimental sound. He was influenced by La Monte Young, John Cage and the early Fluxus movement who believed in alternative ways of producing sounds. Reed was already experimenting with alternative tunings and on Venus in Furs and All Tomorrow's Parties the guitars were tuned down a whole step, which produced a lower, fuller sound.

Cale also used his viola on several songs using a drone technique where a single note is sustained over a long period of time. He would vary his attack, speed, and add other notes on top to make the sound have a different tone while maintaining the same pitch.

The album cover was known for the recognizable banana print by Warhol on white. Early copies invited the owner to peel slowly and see. Underneath was a flesh-colored banana.

The Velvet Underground and Nico is simply an album that should be in all record collections.

The band went through changes and conflicts, but released three other albums. Warhol was left behind after the first album and Cale left after the second album, White Light, White Heat.

White Light, White Heat came out in 1968 and mixed gentility with anti-beauty. The raw, distorted, and feed-back sound of Sister Ray was a great influence on punk and experimental rock. The Gift contains a recital of a short story against a loud rock sound. Lady Godiva's Operation is about a transsexual's botched lobotomy and the title track describes the use of amphetamine.

The last two records became more of a vehicle for Reed's songwriting. The Velvet Underground came out in 1969, and Loaded came out in 1970. The latter contained two of Reed's most successful songs, Rock and Roll, and Sweet Jane.

Reed left VU in 1970 and signed a contract with RCA and recorded his first solo album simply titled Lou Reed using top session musicians including Steve Howe and  Rick Wakeman of Yes. The album mostly contained different versions of unreleased VU songs that had been shelved. It contains I Can't Stand It and Lisa Says, and a beautiful version Ocean.


Transformer was released in 1972. David Bowie and Mick Ronson co-produced the album and introduced Reed to a wider audience. The hit single Walk On The Wild Side was both a salute and critique of misfits, hustlers, and transvestites in Warhol's Factory. The album's sound was a change for Reed as Perfect Day used delicate strings and soaring dynamics.



In 1973, Reed released Berlin which was one of his most powerful and moving recordings. It didn't do well when it was released but over the years has become a cult classic. It is a tragic rock opera about two junkies in love and details their disintegration with stories of domestic abuse, drug addiction, adultery and prostitution, and suicide. 

Berlin differs greatly from most Reed albums as it uses orchestral arrangements, horns, and top session musicians, with Reed only playing acoustic guitar and providing the dark vocals.
The album was produced by Bob Ezrin and also uses recorded sound effects. This is my favorite Lou Reed solo album as it produces a strong emotional experience. Anyone who has ever had a relationship gone wrong should be able to relate to this album. Listening to it is like experiencing the pain and anguish of a bitter breakup. 


In 2007, I had a chance to witness Berlin performed live at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn. Julian Schnabel filmed the event and it was later released on DVD.


In 1974, Reed went a different direction and put out an excellent live album, Rock 'n' Roll Animal. This record contained seminal versions of Sweet Jane, Rock and Roll, and Heroin with a hard rock band complete with blistering guitar solos.

Metal Machine Music came out in 1975 and was a double album of electronically generated feedback loops. Many interpreted the album as a fuck you to the record company, but in recent years Reed has been creating serious experimental improvised music with his wife Laurie Anderson, and others including John Zorn. 


Street Hassle (1978) emerged during the punk scene that Reed helped to inspire. It has some very strong compositions on it including The Street Hassle Suite that last over ten minutes.


The Blue Mask (1982) returns to a more stripped down approach using only guitar, bass, and drums and has several strong songs including The Gun, The Blue Mask, and Waves of Fear.


The 1989 album New York is a great collection that comments on crime, AIDS, and various public figures.


Reed collaborated with John Cale on the 1990 album Songs for Drella which is a song-cycle biography of Andy Warhol that they wrote after Warhols' death in 1987.


Magic and Loss (1992) is a meditation on death, inspired by the loss of two close friends by Reed. The title song is again a moving emotional experience.



Lou Reed continues to produce music and has made many other albums including Set The Twilight Reeling, Ecstacy, and The Raven which recounts the writings of Edgar Allan Poe through word and song and features various guest vocalists including Laurie Anderson, David Bowie, Antony Hegarty, Steve Buscemi, and Willem Dafoe.

Lou Reed has created a diverse body of work and opened the door to a more literary form of song writing that is framed by a rock architecture that is powerful and influential and still revolutionary today.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

WILLIAM BURROUGHS


William Burroughs was one of the main figures of the Beat Generation and a major postmodern writer. He was one of the most culturally influential and innovative artist of the 20th Century. He wrote novels, short stories, essays, and published interviews and correspondences. Burroughs also created collages and collaborated on recording projects and appeared in numerous films.

Burroughs early work is mostly semi-autobiographical drawing on his experiences as a heroin addict and living in various places including Mexico City, London, Paris, Berlin, and Tangier, locations he collectively referred to as "The Interzone."

He attended Harvard for a time, but dropped out and spent years travelling and doing various jobs. In 1943 while living in New York City, he befriended Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac who would all become influential Beat writers. 

Burroughs writing subverted the moral, political, and economic systems of modern American society using a dark, sardonic humor. His early books Junky, Queer, and The Yage Letters,  written in the 1950s, were relatively straightforward linear narratives compared to the revolutionary style he would develop with the fragmentary cut-ups of Naked Lunch and the books that would follow.

In 1951, Burroughs shot and killed his wife Jane Vollmer in a drunken game of "William Tell" at a party above a bar in Mexico City. After various legal proceedings he was able to return to the US, but the event had a huge impact on his life and writing. 

"I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would never have become a writer but for Joan's death, and to a realization of the extent to which this event has motivated and formulated my writing. I live with the constant threat of possession, and a constant need to escape from possession, from control. So the death of Joan brought me in contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and maneuvered me into a life long struggle, in which I have had no choice except to write my way out."

Before the death of Vollmer, Burroughs had mostly completed his first two novels in Mexico, but they weren't published until later. Junky was published in 1953 by Ace with the help of Ginsberg. When it first came out it was under the pen name William Lee and called Junkie: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict ( it was later republished as Junkie and Junky). The other novel Queer wasn't published until 1985. The Yage Letters written with Ginsberg was published in 1963. It was based on Burroughs travels through South America, looking fro a drug called yage, which promised to give the user telepathic powers.


Junky was Burroughs first published novel and has come to be considered the seminal text on the lifestyle of heroin addicts in the early 1950s. Burroughs speaks as an eyewitness reporting on the feelings, actions, and characters he meets in the criminal fringe of New York, New Orleans, Mexico City, and a Federal Narcotics Hospital/Prison in Lexington, Kentucky. The book presents a detailed account of a drug addict's passage into the seedy underworld, the search and suffering for a fix, and characters he encounters in the process. Burroughs immerses the reader into the world of the addicted. 

Junky is told in clear, calm, and precise prose and has a hard boiled style. The narrator is intelligent and recognizes the risk he is taking by using narcotics, but also shows the control the drug has on the user. He acknowledges guilt about his predicament and doesn't elicit sympathy from the reader. Junky simply lays out the facts of a world that most would rather ignore. It doesn't glamorize drugs, but doesn't condemn the addict either. Junky is a testimony to a hard way of life, but in the process exposes society's ignorance, intolerance, exploitation, and hypocricy about the issue. 

The book is also about a man's attempt to deal with his addiction and change his life. Junky displays Burroughs acute graphic description and shows flashes of his originality that would manifest in his later works starting with Naked Lunch.


In the mid-50s Burroughs lived in Tangier and wrote, often under the influence of a marijuana confection known as majoun and a German-made opioid called Eukodol. These writings would grow into Naked Lunch which was his first venture into a non-linear style with Ginsberg and Kerouac helping him type, edit, and arrange the sequences into the final book. Excerpts from Naked Lunch were first published in the US in 1958 in Black Mountain Review and Chicago Review and caused controversy for what some saw as obscene and anti-social characters and behavior. The book itself was published in 1959, and slowly became notorious across Europe and the US, garnering interest from young hipsters and certain literary critics. Once published in the US, Naked Lunch was prosecuted as obscene by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but in 1966 the book was found not to be obscene. The case against Burroughs novel was the last obscenity trial against a work of literarture in the US.



Burroughs was living at the Beat Hotel in Paris in 1959, and met Brion Gysin and was exposed to the artist's cut-up techniques with both words and pictures. Burroughs already interested in non-linear narratives, started cutting up words and phrases and creating new sentences. He collaborated with Gysin on a book of words and collages called The Third Mind. The actual process of the publication of Naked Lunch was partly a function of a cut-up presentation to the printer. Burroughs sent the manuscript in pieces, preparing the parts in no particular order and was published in this authentically random manner. Gysin was also a painter and invented the dream machine a stroboscopic flicker device that causes the viewer to experience increasingly bright, complex patterns of color behind their closed eyelids leading them to enter a hypnagogic state.

Naked Lunch is structured as a series of loosely-connected routines and are intended to be read in any order. The narrator William Lee takes on various identities while moving between the US, Mexico, Tangier and the dreamlike Interzone. The method in which the novel is written causes the reader to see only fragments of what is happening. Elements appear, disappear, and reappear later. Different perspectives within a larger picture is a theme that runs throughout the book. By decentralizing the plot Burroughs produced a series of caricatures, satires, and parodies throughout the novel and the content includes various taboo fantasies and eccentric characters like Dr. Benway and peculiar creatures like the predatory Mugwumps.

Naked Lunch is a difficult book to summarize because of its radical technique and extreme shifts in time and space and seems to mirror the workings of a junky's brain. It depicts a world that includes addicts, black markets, strange doctors, odd creatures, and totalitarian governments. It is both disturbing and funny. It has a science fiction quality and seems to forecast such later phenomena as AIDS, liposuction, autoerotic fatalities, and the crack pandemic, and deals with escaping the control of societies norms.

The manuscripts that produced Naked Lunch also produced the later works The Soft Machine, The Ticket That Exploded, and Nova Express and these novels include an extensive use of the cut-up technique.


The Soft Machine (1961) is concerned with how control mechanisms invade the human body. The narrative deals with drug abuse and treatment and includes secret agents, time travel machines, Mayan priests, and mind-controlled slaves.


The Ticket That Explodes (1962) continues the adventures of Agent Lee in his mission to investigate and subvert the methods of mind control being used by The Nova Mob, a group of intergalactic criminals intent on destroying Earth.


Nova Express (1964) is a social commentary on human and machine control of life. Burroughs attempts to use language to break down the walls of culture, the biggest control machine. He uses Inspector Lee to express his own thoughts about the world and finds that language is the only way to maintain dominance over the powerful instruments of control which are the most prevalent enemies of human society.


In The Wild Boys (1971), Burroughs again uses the structure of loose episodes written in a process of free association and stream-of-consciousness. It takes place in an apocalyptic near-future and exhibits the struggle between The Wild Boys, who are a revolutionary tribe of youths living free of the conventions of civilization, and the remnants of civilization who are paranoid and hedonistic. The Wild Boys live apart from the mechanisms of social control such as religion, nationalism, and family.


Exterminator! is a short story collection published in 1973. Some of the pieces had been published in magazines such as Rolling Stone and the Village Voice. The book contains some of Burroughs more well-known shorter works including Twillight's Last Gleamings and Ali's Smile. The title story is about an insect exterminator, a job Burroughs held at one time.


In the 1980s Burroughs produced three novels known as The Red NIght Trilogy, with the first being Cities of the Red Night (1981). The book is narrated from two different viewpoints. The first is set in the 18th century and follows a group of pirate boys who land in Panama to liberate it. The other thread follows a detective tracing the disappearance of an adolescent boy. Burroughs writing again follows a non-linear course through time and space. The title refers to a pilgrimage through the six cities of the red night which may take multiple lifetimes. Each reveals a different permutation of the famous aphorism of Hassan i Sabbah: "Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted." In the novel, the world is plagued by a sex related viral disease that destroys humanity, similar to AIDS, that would emerge a few years after the publication of Cities of the Red Night.


The Place of Dead Roads (1983) was the second book of the trilogy. It chronicles the story of a homosexual gunfighter in the American West and starts withe his death in 1899. The book incorporates contrasting themes and time travel episodes, and makes use of Burroughs extensive knowledge of firearms.


The final book in the trilogy is The Western Lands (1987). The title refers to the western bank of the Nile River, which in Egyptian mythology is the Land of the Dead. The book explores the after-death state by means of dream scenarios, hallucinatory passages, talismanic magic, occultism, and superstition. The novel has passages from ancient Egypt and autobiographical sections from Burroughs own life as well as references to contemporary culture.


Interzone (1989) is a collection of short stories many of which had been written and published in earlier years. Twilight's Last Gleamings was  written in 1938 in collaboration with Burroughs' childhood friend Kells Elvins, and is widely thought to be Burroughs' first work of fiction. The villian of the piece, Dr. Benway would play a pivotal role in Naked Lunch. This version of the story is different than the one published in Exterminator!. Interzone comes from writings that were a transition from the first-person traditional narrative style such as Junky, and the later more experimental work. The collection includes the stories The Junky's Christmas and Spare Ass Annie. The concluding section called WORD was part of the original Naked Lunch manuscript.


In 2008, Penguin published And The Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks which was a collaborative novel written by Burroughs and Kerouac in 1945. The title comes from a news broadcast that Burroughs had heard about a fire at the St. Louis Zoo. The book is written in the form of a mystery novel, and consists of alternating chapters by the two authors. Burroughs writes as the character Will Dennsion, and Kerouac writes as the character Mike Ryko. The story is based on the killing of David Kammerer by Lucien Carr who were friends of the writers. Carr stabbed Kammerer in a drunken fight and by some accounts in self defense and dumped his body in the Hudson River. Carr confessed the crime to both Burroughs and Kerouac but neither informed the police and when Carr finally turned himself in it brought legal problems for both writers. Burroughs never considered this book a distinguished work, but it is interesting when studying his evolution as a writer.

William Burroughs was a radical visionary and important figure in expanding the boundaries of literature.


Friday, March 4, 2011

STANLEY KUBRICK



Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb came out in 1964 and presented an absurd and satirical narrative about the Cold War and the possibility of a Nuclear Holocaust. It was the 7th film by Stanley Kubrick and was the first of three consecutive masterworks he would create. Next would come 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968, followed by A Clockwork Orange in 1971. Kubrick was an American, but lived in England for most of the last four decades of his life. He was known for being obsessive and for his slow method of working, and for being a perfectionist. He maintained complete artistic control over his projects and worked at his own pace, but still had big-studio financial support. 

Kubrick's films are characterized by a formal visual style and meticulous attention to detail. He was a photographer before moving to film and each frame displays a great compositional sense. His later films often have elements of surrealism and expressionism and don't always contain a linear narrative. Man becoming dehumanized by war and technology is a recurring theme in his work and his films have both an ironic pessimism and a cautious optimism at the same time. 


Dr. Strangelove centers around an unauthorized American nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, initiated by a deranged US General named Jack D. Ripper played by Sterling Hayden. 


The film takes place in three different locales. The first is Ripper's Air Force Base, where RAF Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers) tries to stop him by obtaining the codes to call off the attack. Ripper is a rapid anti-communist and thinks the reds want to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.


The second location is the Pentagon War Room where The President (also Peter Sellers) and General Buck Turgidson (a hilarious George C. Scott) try to develop a strategy with the Soviets to stop Ripper's bombers from dropping their nuclear bombs on Russia. Turgidson gets in a fight with the Russian ambassador prompting The President to proclaim, " Gentleman, you can't fight in here, this is the war room!"


The third location is the B-52 bomber that is commanded by Major Kong where the crew attempts to carry out their mission. Slim Pickens plays Kong as a cowboy, a good old boy patriot who wants the folks back home to be proud or their actions. A young James Earl Jones plays one of the crew members on the plane.

In the War Room, The President calls Russian President Kissoff and explains their predicament and gives him info on the attack so the Russians can defend themselves. But the Russians have a doomsday machine that will destroy all life on the planet as an automatic reaction to a US nuclear attack. Turgidson thinks it is all a load of commie bull.


About halfway through Dr. Strangelove (again Peter Sellers) appears in the film. With wild hair, sunglasses, a German accent, and constantly holding and smoking a cigarette, and living in a wheel chair, Sellers creates one of the most disturbingly hilarious characters in cinema history. 

He is an advisor to the President and the military in the War Room. After a while it becomes clear the B-52 commanded by Kong has evaded the Soviet attempts to shoot them down. Turgidson becomes excited and wants to attack and wipe out the Ruskies. The cowboy Major Kong rides the bomb to its target like he riding a bull. Then we have the mushroom cloud.

In the final scene Sellers gives a crazed and brilliant performance as Strangelove proposes an elite group of humans go underground, where they will survive by breeding and slaughtering animals and have ten women for every man so they can start a new society. His arm seems to have a life of its own as it constantly tries to rise into a Nazi salute. He calls the President Mein Fuhrer and raises to his feet from his wheel chair at the end. 

Dr. Strangelove is crafted in black and white and presents a hilarious satire on the absurdity of the arms race and both the US and Soviet ways of dealing with a potential nucelar war.


Kubrick's first feature film was Fear and Desire which came out in 1953. It was a war story about a team of soldiers caught behind enemy lines. While it got respectable reviews, Kubrick later dismissed it as an amateur effort. His next film Killer's Kiss (1955) is about a boxer at the end of his career who gets involved in a love triangle in which his rival is involved with organized crime. Both films were produced and made independently by Kubrick.


In 1956, Kubrick made The Killing which followed the conventions of a film-noir in both its cinematography and narrative. It was written by Kubrick and the crime novelist Jim Thompson. The story centers around a meticulously planned racetrack robbery gone wrong after the mobsters get away with the money. Starring Sterling Hayden it was Kubrick's first feature with a professional cast and crew. The narrative is told out of sequence as a non-linear story told from the perspective of different characters. It was a major influence on films to come including Quentin Tarantino's Resevoir Dogs (1992).


His next film was Paths of Glory (1957) which starred Kirk Douglas. It is set during WWI and follows a French army unit ordered on an impossible mission by their superiors. After the mission fails, three innocent soldiers are charged with cowardice and sentenced to death as scapegoats. Douglas plays Colonel Dax, a humanitarian officer who tries to prevent the soldier's execution. The film was critically acclaimed and admired in the industry, establishing Kubrick as a major up-and-coming director. Paths of Glory was praised for its unsentimental and spare combat scenes and its raw black-and-white cinematography.


Kubrick took over the helm of Spartacus (1960) after Anthony Mann was fired by the studio two weeks into the shooting. The film was based on a true story of a doomed uprising by Roman slaves. Kirk Douglas was instrumental in bringing Kubrick onto the production but they argued throughout the filming and it ruined their relationship. Still the film was a critical and commercial success and established Kubrick as a major director.


In 1962 Kubrick made Lolita based on the novel by Vladimir Nabokov. The book was about a middle-aged man named Humbert Humbert (James Mason) who has an affair with his 12 year old stepdaughter (Sue Lyon). Obviously, the book and the film were controversial and Kubrick tried to tone down the material especially when referring to Humbert's lifelong obsession with nymphets. Sue Lyon was only 14 when the film was made and Shelly Winters plays the mother whom Humbert has only married so he can be close to the young girl. Lolita was the first film of Kubrick's that Peter Sellers would act in, and would be followed by his triple role in Dr. Strangelove.


After Dr. Strangelove, Kubrick spent five years developing 2001: A Space Odyssey which came out in 1968. The film was photographed in Super Panavision 70. Kubrick wrote the screenplay with science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, expanding on his short story The Sentinel.

The film begins 4 million years in the past when a group of apes encounter a mysterious black monolith, which seems to trigger their ability to use a bone as both a tool and a weapon. The new knowledge allows them to reclaim a watering hole from another group of apes. The victorious ape throws the bone in the air at which point Kubrick cuts to an orbiting satellite around the year 2000. A group of Americans have dug up a monolith on their moon base that is similar to the one encountered by the apes. The monolith sends a signal to Jupiter and months later astronauts are sent on a mission to explore Jupiter, not aware that their true purpose is to investigate the mysterious signal. During the mission the ship's computer Hal 9000 malfunctions but resists disconnection. Hal terminates life support for most of the crew before it is shut down by the surviving astronaut David Bowman (Keir Dullea). Bowman uses a space pod to explore another monolith in orbit around Jupiter. He is hurled into a portal in space at high speed and has strange cosmological experiences. His interstellar journey ends with his transformation into a fetus-like new being enclosed in an orb of light gazing at Earth from outer space.


2001 had striking cinematography and groundbreaking visual effects including a moving abstract light show known as the Star Gate sequence that was a psychedelic journey into the infinite reaches of the cosmos.

The film was also famous for its use of classical music including Also sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss and The Blue Danube waltz by Johann Strauss. Kubrick also used the music of contemporary avant-garde Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti to great effect with the images of the film.

2001: A Space Odyssey portrayed a future humanity largely dissociated from a cold machine-driven environment. The film contained very little dialogue and most of it was between the computer Hal and the astronaut. The film's ambiguous and perplexing quality has always fascinated audiences. The meaning of the film is subjective and open to interpretation. 2001 influenced all science-fiction films that followed.


In 1971 Kubrick released A Clockwork Orange which was an adaptation of the Anthony Burgess novel that was a dark and shocking exploration of violence in society. The film was originally rated X and provoked much controversy.

The story takes place in a futuristic version of Great Britain that is chaotic and authoritarian. Malcolm McDowell plays Alex DeLarge, who is a teenage hooligan and along with his friends, known as "droogs", happily torment, beat, rob, torture, and rape others without remorse. Alex winds up in prison after beating and killing an older woman. He is put into an experimental program where the treatment, known as the Ludovico Technique is used to try to inhibit his violence tendencies. He is conditioned by watching hours and hours of violence put to the music of Beethoven whom he loves and was his one human feature. After the treatment he no longer can stand to hear classical music. At a public demonstration he is treated cruelly, but does not fight back and his sex drive is now gone making him less human. After being freed he runs into his old friends who are now policeman and they kick his ass without mercy.

He then goes to live with a political writer who is initially sympathetic to Alex's plight until he recognizes Alex as the one who brutally raped his wife and left him paralyzed. Alex then becomes a pawn in a political game.

A Clockwork Orange was controversial because of its explicit depiction of teenage gang rape and violence and blew up when copycat crimes happened in England by criminals wearing the same costumes of the characters in the film. Still, A Clockwork Orange was a unique, provocative, and powerful film about how far should the government go when dealing with violence and again displayed great cinematic technique by Kubrick.


Barry Lyndon came out in 1975 and was period piece about an 18th century Irish gambler and social climber. He insinuates himself into English high society, eventually marrying a countess. The world of aristocracy turns out to be a shallow, dull, and decaying. He falls from grace after a series of persecutions.

The film uses innovative lighting techniques where by using a high-speed Zeiss lens interior scenes are shot with only candlelight giving the film an 18th century painting quality. Kubrick also uses traditional Irish songs performed by The Chieftains, as well as the classical music of Vivaldi, Bach, Handel, and Schubert. Barry Lyndon is a long slow film but very beautiful and again creates a unique viewing experience.


Five years later Kubrick released his next film The Shining which was based on the best-selling horror novel by Stephen King. The film starred Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrence, who is suffering from writer's block and takes a job as an off-season caretaker of a high-class resort deep in the Colorado mountains. The job requires spending the winter isolated in the hotel with his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and his telepathic son Danny. As winter sets in and the family's isolation deepens, the demons and ghosts of the hotel's dark past emerge in the phantosmagoric visions of Danny and drive his father into becoming a homicidal psychotic. 

To emphasize the claustophobic oppression of the haunted hotel, Kubrick made extensive use of the newly invented Steadicam which allowed smooth camera movements in enclosed spaces. The film is full of beautiful compositions and has many memorable scenes including one in an outdoor garden maze.


In 1987, Kubrick made Full Metal Jacket which was set during the Vietnam War. The film begins in a South Carolina boot camp where the drill instructor relentlessly pushes the recruits through basic training in order to transform them from worthless maggots into motivated and disciplined killing machines. A private played by Vincent D'Onofrio is unable to cope with the program and slowly cracks and murders the drill instructor and then kills himself.

The film jumps to Vietnam and follows Joker played by Matthew Modine, who is a reporter for a military newspaper and uses wit and sarcasm to detach himself from the carnage around him. The platoon advances through Hue City which has been decimated by the Tet Offensive and the film climaxes in a battle between the platoon and a sniper hiding in the rubble. In the end Joker is made to confront the horrors of war.


Kubrick's final film was Eyes Wide Shut (1999), and starred Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as a wealthy Manhattan couple on a sexual odyssey. The film is based on Arthur Schnitzler's Freudian novel Traumnovelle (Dream Story). The film takes place in 1990s New York while the novel was set in 1920s Vienna.

The film follows Cruise into the sexual underworld after his wife shatters his faith in her fidelity by revealing her fantasy to give him and her daughter up for one night so she can be with another man. This generates doubt and despair in Cruise's character and he roams the streets acting blindly on his jealousy.

He trespasses into a ritual of a mysterious sexual cult which causes him to think twice about seeking sexual revenge. After this experience he sees he has no moral high ground on his wife and they begin to mend their relationship. The film is full of slow methodical dream-like sequences that are visually arresting in the typical Kubrick fashion.

Stanley Kubrick was a great filmmaker who made work of great precision and beauty and still had the ability to make interesting and powerful statements about the society in which we live.