Arch-perfectionist Stanley Kubrick maintained a meticulous filing system of everything he did, his entire career stored away in thousands of boxes.
Blu-ray has been slow on the uptake in matching such obsession. Only three years after Kubrick’s masterworks were last released with several classics missing, this new boxset tries to make amends.
New arrivals here are 1962’s Lolita and 1975’s Barry Lyndon alongside the usual suspects, notably the 40th anniversary edition of A Clockwork Orange.
While not definitive, this represents the fruit of the director’s decades-long relationship with Warner Bros, who gave Kubrick the freedom to create his own universe from the English countryside – New York, Vietnam, outer space... Every one is essential.
Lolita is the birth of Kubrick as independent grand master, distancing himself from the mainstream with the cringe factor of his satire about a charming paedophile. The film is a natural starting point for this set, prefiguring Kubrick’s mature period in terms of his ironic (but moral) detachment, his abiding theme of youth being corrupted, and a striking vision of sex and marriage neatly bookended by his underrated swansong, Eyes Wide Shut (1999).
Barry Lyndon, meanwhile, might be the most extreme example of Kubrick’s style, with its glacial pace, hypnotic camerawork and ravishing imagery inspired by the paintings of old masters.
Kubrick used lenses developed by NASA so he could shoot by candlelight, creating a film that actually looks as if it was made in the past – the mirror-image to 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and its still-startling futuristic FX.
Long-banned and still disturbing, A Clockwork Orange casts a shadow over Kubrick’s later life and cinema in general. Yet possibly the most perceptive reaction comes via Kubrick’s own Full Metal Jacket (1987). In one film, ultraviolent kids are brainwashed into conformity by having their blood-lust removed. In the other, the Marine Corps put it back in again.
That leaves The Shining (1980), perhaps the perfect Kubrick movie in its cauldron of horror, black comedy and tongue-in-cheek autobiography, as Jack Nicholson channels his director as the unhinged writer. Fittingly, even this has a twin in the boxset: A Life In Pictures, the ace feature-length doc in which Kubrick’s associates confirm he was nothing like Jack Torrance in real life.
Masterpieces all, but judging by the extras some are more masterful than others. The 2008 packages (retained here) set a high standard, which A Clockwork Orange improves upon with several new featurettes.
Yet Lolita and Barry Lyndon get only bare-bones releases and solid if not spectacular transfers. Somebody should’ve checked Stanley’s boxes more thoroughly before putting this one out.
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