Stanley Kubrick is overrated

Discussion in 'Movies' started by StephenAlto, Oct 25, 2007.

  1. StephenAlto

    StephenAlto Extra

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    From prior experience, I know that that phrase tends to prompt nasty stares, dropped jaws and thrown furniture. I’ve spent my entire adult life in the NYC filmmaking world and have learned that if anyone’s body of work is sacred, it’s Kubrick’s. About ten years ago, I asked a friend when he was going to see some of the Kubrick retrospective at Film Forum—when, mind you, NOT if—and he said, “Y’know, I’m not so crazy about his films.”

    This was a liberating moment for me. I gave it some genuine, soul-searching thought and came to these kind of simple conclusions: A Clockwork Orange is visually stunning but packs no where near the wallop it did when I was a teenager; The Shining is not very scary and actually quite silly; Full Metal Jacket is twice as long as it should be; and 2001 is just plain boring.

    Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not a sourpuss hater who just wants to antagonize people by pushing my opinions. I love films and love being positive about them. I think the heart of this is: Kubrick’s color films are overrated and his B&W films are under-discussed (Dr. Strangelove aside).

    I guess I’m bored of the one-sided conversations about his body of work from the second half of his career. When I first saw Paths of Glory—a decade after I saw Full Metal Jacket—I freaked. Equally powerful as his 1986 film, but half the length! And Lolita regularly gets derided by the Nabokov junkies, but time has borne out James Mason’s performance as perhaps his strongest. And The Killing has structural ideas and edits that still draw blood. And yet I don’t hear these films discussed or lauded half as much as his color output. (Mind you, I’m only using B&W vs color as a casual dividing point, not as a strict line of demarcation.)

    Anyway, in the midst of the abundance of press for the new Kubrick box (which doesn’t focus on his color films but more succinctly his most popular films), I thought it might be a good time to toss this notion out and see what you guys think.
     
  2. dana martin

    dana martin Cinematographer

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    Well I respect your opinion, that stated I think the difference isn’t nearly color vs. black and white as it is Spartacus, the only time he worked as stated as a hired gun, after that I think that it became more, that he would have total control of what he wanted to do, I personally love his earlier work, and have stated many times that Paths of Glory fully deserves a deluxe treatment , as a great antiwar film, the killing deserves the same, and I know that some will disagree but I still say QT took more from that film for Reservoir Dogs than just a premise.

    Just my opinion is that every one of his films are a character study.

    I know that some hold him as a God amongst directors, myself included, just look at the signature block, but I would rather be saying this about any one of those directors, instead of discussing Uwe Boll, so many good directors, but where is the product, Carpenter is a huge Hawks fan but never has done a big screen western ? And the Wood is Ed Wood, crappy movies, but he did make them his way.

    And I think the kindest thing to say is that the material was never dumbed down for a 14 year old as most films that are targeted at adults are now, if I want to see that I can catch a PG-13 film that is meant for a wider audience.
     
  3. TravisR

    TravisR Studio Mogul

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    The 'problem' with Kubrick is that he gets such deserved praise that that praise can't help but become over rating (to invent a word). The same thing with The Beatles, they're excellent but from some of the praise you hear, I should be on the ground weeping in religious ecstasy when I hear them or see Kubrick's movies but nothing is ever that good.

    Just because it's overrated, doesn't mean it isn't good. [​IMG]
     
  4. StephenAlto

    StephenAlto Extra

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    Well put, which is something I failed to stress. I DO aspects, portions, even most of his later work--just not as much as I've been led to believe I would. But it's this weird feeling I used to have in my early 20s that NOT fully LOVING those films meant I was prob. not bright enough (especially when it comes to 2001) or patient enough (especially when it comes to 2001!).

    I rarely fall to peer pressure, but when it came to his films, I followed the prevailing trends of the late 80s/early 90s: watch and re-watch Strangelove, 2001, Clockwork Orange and The Shining; avoid Spartacus, etc.; and ended up losing any interest in exploring further. And that's the main drawback of that: I was almost 30 before I saw The Killing, which is such a shame! So maybe that's why I've adopted this attitude, in hope of encouraging others to dip further into his library instead of revisiting the ones they've already seen many times.
     
  5. Jon Martin

    Jon Martin Cinematographer

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    You know, I hate to say it, but I kind of agree.

    While I do love pretty much all of his films, I don't LOVE them. Despite all the positive words about the new set (and the previous ones), I haven't picked it up because, having owned most of the films on laserdisc, I realized I never had the urge to watch them.

    There is a coldness to his films that creates a sort of distancing effect. It is hard to really care about them, as much as admire them.
     
  6. Corey3rd

    Corey3rd Screenwriter

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    he's no Norman Taurog.
     
  7. StephenAlto

    StephenAlto Extra

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    I wish I had posted it sooner bec. you guys are articulating things for me better than I can! THAT--what you wrote above--hits the nail on the head. I own most of his films but the only ones I ever revisit are earlier ones. Which says a lot. The better comparison there is with music. Sure I KNOW Sgt. Pepper is a great LP--so how come when I get the mood to listen to the Beatles, why do I rarely, rarely put that one on? I had to go about 15 years of passing that over before I said to myself, y'know knowing it's a great LP and actually liking it are 2 different things.
     
  8. StephenAlto

    StephenAlto Extra

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    Another great way of putting it. I do think the sense of humanity was more prevalent in his earlier work.

    I know it's like apples and oranges, but I care a hell of a lot more for the fate of Sterling Hayden's character in The Killing than I do for Malcolm McDowell's character in Clockwork Orange. Also, while Vincent D'Onofrio's character in Full Metal Jacket--which I always like to call "Heavy Metal Jacket"! [​IMG] --may be the most sympathetic character in Kubrick's later films, he hardly lets us get close to him, the way he does with Kirk Douglas's character in Paths of Glory.
     
  9. Corey3rd

    Corey3rd Screenwriter

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    Cause Sgt. Pepper's isn't as great as Revolver and Rubber Soul. It's just Rolling Stone that has forced it down your throat (although their first record guide actually panned it) about its pure greatness. To me, it was the moment when John Lennon grew bored of being a Beatle.

    To say that Kubrick is overrated is fine, but what who is a properly rated director? I know enough people who hate Marty's movies. Same with Stone or any other named director with a film course based on his body of work.

    While I joke about Norman Taurog, i keep ending up with his films in various boxsets. They're alway entertaining (especially Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine). Nobody rates Norman Taurog. The guy has an Oscar and has done at least a dozen films that people always saw on TV.

    Although there's no colder a filmmaker than Robert Wise on Andromeda Strain.
     
  10. StephenAlto

    StephenAlto Extra

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    Sorry if it's off-topic, but I think Rubber Soul is the Beatles' Revolver.[​IMG]
     
  11. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

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    Mr. Kubrick is not quite as good as Michael Curtiz, director of The Sea Hawk.
     
  12. Josh Steinberg

    Josh Steinberg Producer
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    Define "overrated".

    How do you rate a filmmaker? How do you reconcile your own tastes and opinions against everyone else's? How do you determine objectively if something is worth the subjective praise it receives?

    I'm not saying this to pick a fight or anything, I think it's perfectly acceptable to not care for the works of Kubrick, or the Beatles, or anyone else, or to think that the work, while having good qualities, isn't as legendary as others might claim. I'm not a big fan of using the term "overrated" (though of course I'm just as guilty as the next guy in throwing it out there at times).

    When I read critical works examining Kubrick's films, I often read about the technological brilliance of the films, be it the astounding effects in 2001, the beautiful and delicate candlelit photography of Barry Lyndon, or the steadicam work in The Shining. Surely the man deserves all of the credit he's given for his technical prowess.

    When I read about his films being influential to a generation of filmmakers, both in his style of filmmaking (The Killing is often cited as being a huge influence on Quentin Tarantino), and his desire to work independently, it's hard to argue against that. I'm not sure if Star Wars ever happens if 2001 doesn't come first; not because the movies are similar plotwise or thematically, but just because 2001 showed how one could do a film with effects work capable of carrying a story.

    So the only category remaining is how good the films actually are, and I think it's tough to get a handle on that. What I mean by that is, if someone says that they think "2001" is one of the best movies ever made (as I've been known to say), how can you discount someone's opinion as not being valid? For all of the people that love Kubrick's films, there are plenty of people that don't. Few people I went to film school with knew about his work before they started there... they had probably seen The Shining or Full Metal Jacket, but didn't really have a conception of who the man was or his whole body of work.

    In this one instance, I think it might be more of a case of people who love Kubrick being very expressive about it, because there's a lot in his films to want to discuss if you love them. Does that mean he's overrated? Well, I dunno, because plenty of prominent critics weren't fans, audience reaction has always been mixed, and his name isn't as widely known to a modern day mass audience the way Spielberg's is.

    I don't know that I'd agree that his oldest films are underrated, if only because I so often hear critics, filmmakers and fans citing films like The Killing and Paths Of Glory as being the masterpieces they are. They might not be as widely known, but it would seem that among those who do know them, they're pretty well regarded.

    There are those that will always maintain, no matter what, that the Beatles are the best band ever and always have been and always will be. Some people will say that's because they came first, and some people won't even offer that much as an explanation. Other people will say the Beatles are a fantastic band that was the best of their generation. Others still will say that they were just the right band at the right time, but aren't any more extraordinary than a different group of people would have been under the same circumstances. And then some people will say that they might have been good by yesterday's standards, but that their music isn't really that special by today's standards. Who's right, who's wrong? I don't know. But I think Kubrick gets a lot of similar comments about his work.

    I often cite "2001" as being my favorite film of all time, but it's just that: MY favorite. I don't even know if it's his best film; there are at least half a dozen works of his that you could claim that of. Some people insist his early films, like The Killing and/or Paths Of Glory were the tops, and that he became overindulgent in later years, never quite fulfilling the promise they saw in those films. Others will think that Dr. Strangelove is his best film, mixing a killer wit with great performances and socially relevant commentary. Some people consider A Clockwork Orange to be his best. That you can make an argument for multiple films being his best work only speaks to the strength of his work, in my opinion. 2001 is my favorite. Is it his best? I don't know that I can answer that, I just don't have a good answer. Sometimes I look at Eyes Wide Shut, and see everything he did in that film, and consider that to be his finest hour. It's entirely subjective, and without an easy or obvious answer.

    (Then again, I think Sgt. Pepper is the Beatles best album...not their best songs, but the best and most cohesive collection of tunes presented as a whole. I think it's possible to have a favorite album by someone that doesn't contain your favorite songs by them, because an album and a song are two very different things, and I don't think it's as simple as "the more songs on it you love, the better the work is as a whole".)
     
  13. L. Anton Dencklau

    L. Anton Dencklau Second Unit

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  14. RickER

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    I could say ______ is overrated and give you five or six reasons why, and it would be the truth, my truth. But that doesnt mean it IS true. Every director has a few stinkers, and most have more than a few stinkers. But just because i dont like Frenzy, or another 2 or 3 Hitchcocks that i cant think of right now, you and i cant call him overrated, because he isnt. 2001 is boring, but it also has greatness. I think he wanted space to seem grand, but also make you feel like someday this will be as common as a ride down the highway. You also have to THINK while you watch it, think, and talk about what it all means. The effects are still grand 40 years later. nothing like them had ever been seen before, you cant forget that. Dont let the new and exciting effects we see at the movies diminish it! I only wish i could have seen 2001 back then, but i was only 4. A Clockwork Orange was shocking when i first saw it in the 80s. But now you have Hostel, and CO seems quaint, but its still a powerful movie. I only own about 4 Kubrick movies. But i put him on the same list as Ridley Scott, James Cameron, and John Carpenter. He just didnt make a huge number of films for the many years that he was in the business.

    P.S. i agree 100% with why you feel the way you do, and i think the reasons you said are right on the money. But in the end....its just a matter of taste! [​IMG]
     
  15. Corey3rd

    Corey3rd Screenwriter

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    The records play together in the same time as a single CD.
     
  16. Kirk Tsai

    Kirk Tsai Screenwriter

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    My three favorite Kubrick films are Paths of Glory, Strangelove, and The Killing. Not going to say anything else to avoid the wrath of the Kubrick police. [​IMG]
     
  17. Douglas R

    Douglas R Cinematographer

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    I certainly think his films are over praised. Some, which I hugely enjoyed when first released, have not held up well over time. I now find 2001, which I saw several times on release, to be far too slow, in fact almost unwatchable. I still enjoy Paths of Glory, Spartacus, Lolita and Barry Lyndon but care little for the others. Although he was innovative, I don't think Kubrick's complete body of work was anywhere near as impressive as Hitchcock, Ford or Wilder.
     
  18. Matthew_Def

    Matthew_Def Stunt Coordinator

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    Any a given day I'm prone to say Kubrick is my favorite director. I've seen all but 3 of his films (Spartacus, Lolita, and Killer's Kiss); I've loved them all.

    It's an opinion, but I think it's easy to see why people love Kubrick. His obvious technical abilities are hard to deny, the compositions are often breath-taking. It's the emotion that people have problems with and, as with the irrational aspects of humanity, they hit people different ways. For me they hit the exact note I want, even need. I would never call his films cold, because I can relate to these characters, in some way.

    I think everything he's done has a similar feel and deals with similar themes. I find it very hard to like one of his films and not another. Of course I have preferences. I can't chose a single greatest film of his, because I do not have the same level of feelings everyday, but my top 3 would include Barry Lyndon, Eyes Wide Shut, and A Clockwork Orange. Yet I still recognize the masterpiece of 2001, which I feel in nearly everyway is the best thing he's ever done, but cannot say it's my favorite. At the moment it does not affect me the same way those other films do.

    Yet, two of those films I chose are usually regarded as Kubrick's worst. I think EWS is the Kubrick film that let's the audience closest to his characters and really allows one to understand the mindset and every choice of Bill Harford. I find Barry Lyndon to be epically personal, with a tragic character that garners little sympathy, sort of the opposite of A Clockwork Orange.

    Of course, I never expect people to love Kubrick as much as I do. I tend to praise him a lot and instill high expectations. But I hope people like what they see enough to revisit him sometime later, and enjoy it more everytime. My appreciation grows for every film of his whenever I rewatch them. Always seeing new things and enjoying what I previously loved about the films.

    For, the record I dislike the word overrated (or any derivative). It's stated more as fact than opinion, and when used in reference to opinions, it means little. How can someone overrate something? It's what they believe. It's a word that implies that someone has a wrong feeling.

    Anyway, some people just ain't gunna like his films. That's their business, but it doesn't mean that someone else can't love what they see. He deserves to be regard as a great Director.
     
  19. Tarkin The Ewok

    Tarkin The Ewok Supporting Actor

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    Saying somebody or something is "overrated" usually just means that your opinion is in the minority. I don't care if I'm in the minority or not, so I'll just give my opinion on the topic at hand.

    Regarding Kubrick specifically, I haven't seen enough of his work to give an opinion. I did not care for 2001, but I liked Dr. Strangelove. The Shining and Spartacus are on my list of films to see someday.
     
  20. Holadem

    Holadem Lead Actor

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    It might have been Ebert who said that there is perhaps no director whose work film fans crave to appreciate more than Kubrick's. Failing to remember the exact quote, I am gonna try and clarify the tenor of it: No director generates more insecurity among film enthusiasts than Kubrick. There is no director who makes film enthusiasts say "it's not you, it's me" (and mean it) more than Kubrick. I hope that makes sense.

    So yes, it goes directly to what I highlighted in the quote above. I think Ebert would agree.

    More than his work, I think it's Kubrick fanatics who are responsible for this phenomenon. I couldn't tell you why. He may have his place among the Greats of Cinema(tm) (2001 rightly buys that place all by itself IMO), but he certainly does not transcend them. The thing is that you would never hear the staunchest Hitchcock or Bergman fanatics ever claim such a thing about their favorite. You wouldn't hear Kubrick fans explicitly say so either. But they are the only ones who do give that impression (i.e., God is Kubrick.) Rabid Kubrick fans are only second to rabid Star Wars fans as far as boorish and annoying film fanaticism goes.

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    H
     

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