“What are geniuses like?”
I thought to myself, after I watched “Stanley Kubrick: A life in pictures”— on Amazon Prime— my very first exposure to the mastermind that was Kubrick. He does, indeed, checks all the boxes required of a genius. He was passionate, clever and gifted — but also a very confident, and controversial filmmaker who settled for no compromise when it came to his vision. It was his way or the highway.
You see it in the documentary that tells a tale from the sets of “The killing” where he is said to have told the well-known and well-respected Lucien Ballard,
“Lucien, either you move that camera and put it where it has to be to use a 25mm or get off this set and never come back”.
There never was an argument about focal points and camera lens on the set again. How Kubrick delivered that statement has to be considered. He said it in a very calm and confident way, and he made sure that Lucien knew he was dead serious about it. The fact that Lucien never said anything back to a young boy who was his junior in the field could be because, in that defining moment, Lucien acknowledged Kubrick for what he was. A genius, indeed.
Kubrick certainly was ahead of his time, and this trait lead him to think out of the box. By challenging the conventions of the society, he came up with controversial films like Lolita, Dr. Strangelove and Paths of Glory (an anti-war film).
It was with “Paths of Glory” that Kubrick made a breakthrough by honestly delivering the traumatic effects of war. If you have had a chance to watch the film, you will get the gist. The film is raw and full of clarity. Kubrick doesn’t shy away from attacking the duplicity of the men in charge. Instead, you get to see the courage of the men on the field. An earnest insight is given into the clueless soldiers who have no option but to say yes to the orders of their superiors, all under the pretense of patriotism. With great camera movements, you absorb the dread of war and take away the strong message that Kubrick is trying to deliver; there is nothing right about the war.
“Moscow gold could not have produced better propaganda,” a headline found in an American newspaper right after the release of Kubrick’s controversial film Dr. Strangelove. The film is yet another jab at the power politics which adopts somewhat of a satirical approach and takes the shape of a black comedy criticizing the cold war power struggle and the threat of a nuclear war. It was a brilliant movie that attracted massive crowds of young people. That is what Kubrick did; he not only attracted but also impacted all those who came to watch his films.
Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and Woody Allen are all praises for Kubrick. They recount the days they watched his movies. On the Paths of Glory, Scorsese being “amazed by its honesty”, Spielberg praised it for “its blend of delicacy and power” and Allen initially not liking “2001” but later came to admire it after watching it several times. To be a favorite amongst the likes of such great filmmakers of today says a lot about Kubrick.
Kubrick continues to remain a mystery for those who try to understand his personality, but that is exactly what sets him apart from many others. And that is precisely what sets apart geniuses from society. They do what they do best and leave the rest, wondering how they did it long after they are gone.