What stylistic devices/techniques/approaches does Kubrick use?

                          THE CONTORTED FACE

A fascinating thread that runs through Kubrick's output is that in 
EVERY film of his there is a character(s) who at one point become the 
focus of the camera's attention while there face is most mangled 

Full Metal Jacket - Leonard when he is crazy in the head
The Shining - Jack Nicholson's face obviously, in several
        scenes: Heeere's Johnny; looking out the window
        at the snow; banging on the door or the pantry etc.
Barry Lyndon - Captain Quinn's face during his duel with Barry when
        he goes to raise his pistol.
A Clockwork Orange - Alex obviously - the scene when he gets home 
        from the milk bar and after having set upon Billy Boy and the
        residents of HOME. And the end of course.
2001 - When Bowman is going "beyond the infinite" there are several
        scenes of his face being contorted.
Dr. Strangelove - The characters Gen. Buck Turgidson, Gen. Ripper
        and Strangelove himself all exhibit the contorted face at
        one time or another.
Lolita - Lolita herself makes a few of them, but James Mason doesn't
        really make any of those severe face contortions that charac-
        terize the others.
Paths of Glory - Kirk Douglas during the failed attack on the
        anthill - his face gets twisted while blowing his whistle.
The Killing - Elisha Cook (George Petey) makes the weirdest of faces
        when he kills his wife, her boyfriend and his hoodlum friend.


                            THE USE OF SPACE

[The following was a dialogue on Kubrick's use of space which appeared 
in the Kubrick newsgroup]


Frances Yates was an British scholar who specialized in hermetic 
philosophy. She wrote a book called THE ART OF MEMORY (Two of her other 
ENLIGHTENMENT.) The books can be tough going, but are well worth the 
repeated readings. 

THE ART OF MEMORY was about a mnemonic technique developed by classical 
orators as a way of remembering a speech. They would form in their 
minds an image of an architectural space (someplace large and open, 
usually a place they were familiar with), and then they would place 
within that space striking images and objects that reminded them of 
various parts of the speech. When it came time to speak, they would 
imagine themselves entering the architectural space and would proceed 
through it, room by room, seeing the icons that would then jog their 
memories. The space represented the structure of the speech, the icons 
represented the content. One of the rules was that the icons should be 
as striking as possible, even bizarre and grotesque. (To me, this 
sounds like the Overlook, with its stillframe horrors, and its endless 
snapshots of its history hanging on the walls. Also consider the 
sealed-off spaces of the WWI trenches, the War Room and Burpleson Air 
Force Base, Discovery, and Parris Island. And consider, of course, 
Kubrick's penchant for bizarre iconic imagery.) 

Later, during the Middle Ages, hermetic philosophers used the Art of 
Memory for their own purposes, weaving it into their philosophy of a 
pantheistic universe (for instance, seeing the icons as talismans that 
would draw down the influence of the stars). (Sorry if I've only 
confused the matter. Yates does a much better job at exposition.)

For me, the most important point is that these fictional internal 
memory-scapes were used to catalog the contents of a person's mind, not 
unlike the function of a personal computer or, eventually, virtual 
reality, which will make objective and shareable the metaphor of a 
personal architectural space. (All of which suggests that Kubrick is 
much farther ahead of his time than most people realize.)


Wonderful; very much like what a friend of mine, and anthropologist 
(and a friend & student of Jerome Rothenberg's) who said much the same 
thing about the though patterns of meso-american peoples -- they too 
used systems of architectural mnemonics.

Reading this I recall at once all the tracking shots of K's, most if 
not all of which center a character walking through a maze or set of 
hallways  --  THE SHINING of course but remember all those similar shots 
in CLOCKWORK; and even the handheld shots following Bowman & Poole 
around the ship in 2001. Even in STRANGELOVE, the camera following the 
crew up and down the fuselage of the plane, and in FMJ, the final 
scenes through the burned-out maze of buildings (or the camera 
following Bowman as he wanders about the alien's hotel suite . . . ) 
 . . . describing just as much the topology of the place as carrying 
forward the narrative of the characters actions; as though the place, 
its shape, its look & feel itself held the Message, and not the 
action . . . 

MG: The tracking shots are definitely part of it. So are the faces. But 
as with everything in Kubrick, these elements work on so many levels, 
and play off from each other in so many complex ways, that it's very 
hard to hold a good representation of it in your mind. (For example, 
remember that Kubrick first used the corridor tracking shot, in 
KILLER'S KISS, to represent a dream. And faces are used, in all the 
films, as an alienation effect. As far as faces representing an 
emotional index, see below.) That might be one reason why there's been 
so little good writing on Kubrick -- Any attempt to articulate the 
experience becomes a parody, because it does so little justice to the 
original experience. The best writing has come from people, like 
Annette Michelson and Gene Youngblood, who have staked claims on small 
pieces of territory and then mined them for all they're worth, 
fractally hoping that the part would somehow stand in for the whole. 
But I digress . . .

THE SHINING might be the best example of the (hypothetical) use of the 
Art of Memory. It's an isolated space that stands-in for an historical 
whole (the history of America). (What's really spooky is that it 
anticipated the whole direction of the 80s -- but that's another 
digression.) The movie revolves around memory (shining), especially 
subjective or fractured memory. Subjective: Wendy experiences the hotel 
as a series of horror movie cliches; Jack sees it as a vice den; Danny, 
the innocent, sees it for what it is. They create the space as 
projections of themselves. Fractured: The disorienting intersection of 
Jack's real-time experience and Danny's memory (his shining to 
Halloran) when Jack encounters the naked woman in the bathroom. Also, 
paper memory, in the form of the scrapbook containing the hotel's 
history that sits on Jack's writing table (which could be seen as the 
document that sends Jack over the edge). The icons: the Indian motifs 
dominate the architecture (and the site, a burial ground) while the 
official history populates the walls in staid black & white photos, all 
the same size. (And this is a dead giveaway, but Kubrick quotes Diane 
Arbus' Identical Twins, and Kubrick and Arbus were friends. He quotes 
Jim Thompson, from THE KILLER INSIDE ME, and he and Thompson were 
friends.) . . .


Kubrick's "coldness" has always been a point of critics. Even
Ray Bradbury, criticizing 2001, said that the "freezing touch of
Antonioni" hovers over Kubrick in this film. And Harlan Ellison
described Kubrick's view as so remote that it's almost alien -- this,
while praising Kubrick as one of the few authentic artists in film.

The coldness we see in Kubrick's work is there, but I think
it's a result of Kubrick trying to look at the human condition as
rationally as he can. After all, in DR. STRANGELOVE, we were willing
to destroy the world over economic and political differences that,
five hundred years from now, will seem meaningless. (Anyone remember
15th century ecclesiastical debates?) _2001_ wasn't about the human
characters at all, and the central character of _A Clockwork Orange_
was the subject of a very cold medical experiment. _Barry Lyndon_
forced this same distance on us as well -- these were people long dead,
whose goals were as ephemeral as the paper their eternal bills and
checks were written on.

Is Kubrick really this cold? I doubt it; there are scenes in
his films of genuine human pain and caring, but presented in an
observational, we're-watching-people-with-hidden-cameras style. The
death of Barry's son, and the horror of the final duel. That awful
scene between Jack and Danny, where Jack tells Danny he wants to stay
in the hotel "forever and ever." The exchage between Joker and Cowboy,
where they both 'agree" not to discuss Pyle's collapse, and Pyle's own
mental implosion.

But I think that the coldness people see in Kubrick's films is
mainly his observational stance. It's one of the things I like about
his films.


                    USE OF PARALLEL MISE-EN-SCENE

According to the Russian theorists, Kubrick's point in 2001 that Man had 
not evolved emotionally since the missing link should have been made by 
crosscutting between the apes and the humans. Instead, Kubrick stages 
and shoots the sequence where the astronauts discover the Monolith 
exactly the same way that he stages and shoots the scene where the apes 
discover the Monolith. By the same token, the scene around the coffee 
table with Dr. Floyd and the Russians, involving mounting tension as the 
discussion progresses, is shot and staged in a way similar to the scene 
in which the opposing groups of apes congregate around the water hole. 
Kubrick's methodology here is subtle and ambiguous; had he shot it using 
cross-cutting, more people may have "gotten" his point, but it would not 
have had nearly as much power as it does.



There is a degree of `intertextuality' to Kubrick's films which goes far 
beyond that in any other director of whose work I have any knowledge.

I am not referring here to certain directorial `trademarks', for example 
Kubrick's recurrent distorted facial close-ups, or even his love of 
eighteenth-century settings. What I have in mind are certain recurrent 
elements in the films of which I have experienced. A few examples off 
the top of my head:

1. The colour scheme for the scene on board the space station between 
Dr. Floyd and the Russians in _2001_. The walls are dazzling white; the 
chairs are red. This same colour scheme recurs in the washroom scene 
between Jack and Delbert Grady in _The Shining_. 

2. When Lord Bullingdon enters Barry's club in London to challenge Barry 
to a duel near the end of _Barry Lyndon_, his dress and the motion of 
the camera recalls Alex's progress through the record bar in _A 
Clockwork Orange_. 

3. The record bar shot in _A Clockwork Orange_ ends with a copy of the 
_2001_ soundtrack in view. 

4. In _Full Metal Jacket_, the composition of the shots for Joker's 
discovery of the bodies in the pit recollects the scene in _2001_ where 
Dr. Floyd discovers the Tycho Monolith. 

5. Various scenes in _Full Metal Jacket_ recollect scenes from Barry's 
short-lived military career in _Barry Lyndon_.

I am sure there are many more such echoes in Kubrick's work. . . . these 
serve to me as signposts that there is a unity of themes between 
Kubrick's films.

This is not to say that Kubrick is ever guilty of repeating himself, but 
rather that he is always re-examining those themes from different 
angles, shaped by the nature of the project he is undertaking.



Traditional films tend to tell you what to think and feel every step of 
the way. There is a kind of fear that pervades the classical cinema, 
part of it a reflection of the culture and its fear of disruption and 
outsiders, part of it a reflection of the rigid assembly-line structure 
put in place by the never-benign studio patriarchs. (THIS, more than 
storytelling and characters, which were already pretty moribund 
concepts, is what hyper-moguls like Spielberg and Lucas have brought 
back to cinema.)

Kubrick uses a more open-ended, less authoritarian approach. He places 
the pieces out there in the way that pleases him most and then says, in 
effect, "see what you can make of this." This allows the viewers the 
option of investing their emotions in the work, unguided by the 
characters. It also offers the viewers the option of rejecting the work 
if they want to (as many have). Rather than approach the films through 
the predetermined gateway of the hero (which, for instance, forces most 
women to either stand outside the film or see it from a, usually, 
hostile viewpoint), Kubrick encourages the viewer to approach the film 
directly, with as little mediation as possible.

After showing a film short I had produced to a few close friends, I was 
fascinated to see how their "mistaken" readings were so rich and 
detailed in comparison to the general feeling I had tried to convey. 
They weren't outside the theme of the film, but were rather more 
exegetical than I would have expected. They saw things that weren't 
there, but when I reviewed my own work, I could see them too. I decided 
I'd clam up about my "intent" from then on. Viewers must have more fun 
than directors, and I'd rather not spoil it.

After the personal experience of this phenomenon, my approach to 
criticism changed. I now sometimes saw those obscure objects of 
subtextual suggestion as words in the filmic poem, in which the author 
may have intended nothing more than what you immediately apprehend -- 
and maybe to tease your imagination a little. If I wrote eerie verse of 
ghosts and murders and little boys fleeing their slavering bloodthirsty 
dads, penned it in red white and blue ink, and arranged the stanzas in 
the shape of the US flag, what would you "read" in it? Seems a bit 
sophomoric and heavyhanded to me, actually. Kubrick is so much better, 
his hints at themes so subtly intertwined in the fine braided thread of 
the story that they are at the edge of perception. They are the 
flickering shapes behind closed eyelids whose meaning is only directed 
by subjective forces, set and setting. Then he provides the immediate 
visual and aural set, and the novel psychic setting, and lets you do the 
rest. A little hint here and a little hint there . . . and lookit! 
they're seeing murdered Indians and profound social commentary. By god 
that's good. That's very good. Glad I didn't use Arm & Hammer!



In 2001, the scenery, the setting, is as much one of the 'actors' as the 
humans are. The malevolent hotel [in THE SHINING] isn't just an 
assemblage of rooms and passages: it's a character in its own right, 
swallowing up Nicholson and his family. 2001's spaceships, corridors and 
control panels perform a similar function, swallowing up humanity into 
their disinfected, air-conditioned machinery, so that the people emerge 
as disinfected machines. THE SHINING's monstrous hotel spits its human 
victims out as monsters. And the killing field of FULL METAL JACKET's 
Vietnam churns out killers. Humanity is a victim of such environments. 
But these environments are man-made. The puzzle loops in on itself.
. . .

People shape the world around them, and are then shaped in turn by the 
worlds they have created. Kubrick charts the manmade landscapes of human 
experience truthfully. On his canvas, the people are indivisible from 
the background. The gaming board becomes indivisible from the people who 
sit down to play on it. . . .

[W]atch also for the extreme symmetries (the oh-so-neat squares on the 
board) which presage disaster in so many of Kubrick's films. BARRY 
LYNDON is awash with sumptuous architectural elegance. The war room of 
DR. STRANGELOVE is geometric to an extreme. 2001 is chock-full of 
symmetrical cabins and corridors. In FULL METAL JACKET, a crucial scene, 
the training sergeant's murder, takes place in a sterile white latrine. 
US army training barracks have latrines from a standard-issue pattern, a 
tidy row going along one wall. Abandoning his usual hyperaccuracy in 
favour of slight artistic license, Kubrick specially created a set with 
two rows, on opposing walls. Why? So that the bloodspattered slaughter 
could take place among symmetry. The icy white of the washroom opposes 
the mess of spilled blood. Hal's brain room in 2001 is just like those 
latrines: a symmetrical chamber of execution. . . .

Time and again, human plans are drawn up, hatched, in offices and 
conference rooms of hypnotic, even stupefying, geometric regularity; 
2001's square moonbase conference room; a manager's office in THE 
SHINING's hotel; the generals' palatial headquarters in Paths of Glory. 
The hotel in THE SHINING is a mass of corridors and stainless steel 
kitchen storerooms. (There are aural symmetries too. Remember the young 
boy's tricycle on the parquet flooring, whizzing onto a rug, off the 
rug, onto the next rug, back onto the floor: whirrr, clump, whirrr, 
clump . . . ?) Kubrick uses symmetry to achieve two very specific 
effects: firstly, to lull an audience into a sense of false security, 
and secondly, to parody or counterpoint the ensuing chaos, the asym-
metrical destruction. Danny's extravagant tricycle-rides around the 
hotel are repeated several times as joyride, rollercoaster, guided tour. 
Just when we think we've seen the ride, he sets off on another one, a 
tricycle trip too many (yawn . . .) and WHUMP! The wheels stop, the 
little feet falter on the pedals. Suddenly we have a spooky pair of twin 
girls, a liftshaft full of blood, a man wearing a sinister rabbit mask -
- just when we thought we were getting a bit bored with all this 
tricycle riding.

In 2001 Kubrick jets Poole into the abyss on a similar -- no, an exact 
replica -- of Bowman's previous and more or less uneventful spacewalk. 
The doors slide apart, the pod emerges, the hatch opens, the spacesuited 
figure is birthed into the immense vacuum like an insect emerging from 
an egg. Yes, we've seen this bit already, thank you. Ah, but we haven't 
. . .  As our eyes begin to wander, the routine is broken. A pod hurtles 
towards us, its claws grappling for murder. We, the audience, have our 
own little plan, and that's to sit there in the dark, imagining (what 
fools we are) that we know what's going on, what we've seen and what we 
haven't. Kubrick dashes our plans too, by introducing major dramatic 
moments, major plot calamities, just at the point where we are drifting 
off to sleep. His use of dramatic tension is seldom highlighted by 
warning wails or ta-dums in the soundtrack. He tricks us just as the 
gods do -- when we least expect it, when we are half-asleep with 
complacency. Kubrick's screen people set out their pieces in neat rows 
and start to play, only to find that the very chessboard itself reaches 
out and turns them into pawns in some other, some deeper and less 
tangible game. . . .

                                                      (P.B., pp. 148-9)




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