Thursday, August 19, 2004

Stanley Kubrick

The American Film Institute is running a weekly series of films at Arclight Cinemas Hollywood based upon its "100 Years, 100 Movies" list. Every Wednesday, they show one of the films from the list at what is arguably the best theater in Los Angeles (some have said the world, though I can't back this up by personal experience - however, based upon the theaters I have seen, I might be inclined to agree). You can get the scoop here.

Stanley Kubrick has always been my favorite director. It's no exaggeration to say that although he may not have been the director who first made me want to make films, he is certainly the one who has kept that passion alive. Each year, as I see more and more directors enter the field, that estimation of him becomes more and more solidified. Although I am excited at the prospect of some day discovering his better, and in fact anxiously awaiting their appearance, it hasn't happened yet. Last night, I saw what is arguably the best film from his canon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, at the Arclight, part of the AFI series.

I say "arguably," because I have too often entertained the eggheaded question of which is his best, Kubrick at the top of his game. It's a difficult question to answer, and I've only ever been able to narrow it down to five:

2001: A Space Odyssey
Dr. Strangelove
The Shining
Eyes Wide Shut

He made 8 other feature films and 3 documentaries, but the list above is usually the point at which my brain shuts down and begs equivocation. After all, it's difficult to choose which strand of hair on the head of your beloved seems most lustrous; to choose which turn of her wrist is the one that sent you first reeling; to choose...

But I digress.

I have seen 2001 dozens of times, but had never seen it on the big screen until now, and I couldn't have asked for a more perfect experience. The print, if not new, was certainly clean and uninflected by time. The facility at the Arclight is as close to perfect as one could hope. The brightness of the screen is rigorously controlled. The sound is flawless, rich, and calibrated in a way that would make even Ben Burtt or Alan Splet weep with emotion. And the audience (oh, yes - them) was reverent and unobtrusive.

Other than perhaps a couple of Kubrick's other films (see above), nothing that has been projected on a movie screen before or since that film was released has even come close to a real comparison. I should say it again, with emphasis: no one has ever come close to it.

I've made an annoying habit of complaining about the current state of the cinema, and while I can't give up that observation, I am comforted by the occasional reminder that there is hope. If you haven't seen a Kubrick film in a while, I recommend you do. Here is a complete list of his films - pick one and watch it this weekend:

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
The Shining (1980)
Barry Lyndon (1975)
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying
and Love the Bomb
Lolita (1962)
Spartacus (1960)
Paths of Glory (1957)
The Killing (1956)
Killer's Kiss (1955)
The Seafarers (documentary short - 1953)
Fear and Desire (1953)
Flying Padre (documentary short - 1951)
Day of the Fight (documentary short - 1951)

The cinema is our art form. It is the best, most complete means of self-expression we have. It can be a forum for ideas, for intellect, for passion. It doesn't have to be the banal circus that we have come to accept. It's too easy to forget that sometimes.

Sometimes, I need to be reminded.