Nearly a decade has drifted since his sudden death, but Stanley Kubrick’s astonishing oeuvre – it’s easy to forget he made just 13 films – continues to loom like a monolithic shadow. Megalomaniac giant, superhuman obsessive and hermit genius, he often seemed more myth than moviemaker. But Kubrick was a visionary culture-grinder of the modern era, leaving behind a collection of truly unique spectacles, all with big questions throbbing inside their unforgettable structures.
It’s been a long, typically Kubrickian wait, but finally a worthy DVD boxset gathers five of his greatest films in scrubbed-up Special Editions (also available separately). And boy, has it been worth it. Each movie comes with its own commentary and (bar Full Metal Jacket) a second disc of gripping, intimate docs and featurettes.
The biggest of the bunch is 2001: A Space Odyssey, the film in which Kubrick went to infinity and beyond – a year before man set foot on the moon. Hours of Making Of material and legacy assessment begin with lengthy new doc The Making Of A Myth, presented by James Cameron, no less. There’s vintage footage of Kubrick on set and past and present interviews with Arthur C Clarke. There’s also fresh chinwags with Kubrick’s producer, tech crew and, well, seemingly everyone else, from William Friedkin and Spider-Man FX guru John Dykstra to Alien screenwriter Dan O’Bannon and doughy US critic Roger Ebert.
Effects maestro Douglas Trumbull and Kubrick’s wife Christiane recall the cosmic scale of the director’s demands (“Stanley would walk around saying, ‘Please draw me an image that doesn’t remind me of anything in a colour that doesn’t exist’”). Trumbull spills yet more info on the commentary, although cardboard star Keir Dullea fills the dead air with empty babble.
MALCOLM IN THE MIDST
No danger of that from Malcolm McDowell. The bulging-eyed Brit is a tremendous presence on A Clockwork Orange’s chat-track (he’s joined by doc-maker Nick Redman) and on the terrific 86-minute doc O Lucky Malcolm!, where he rattles off fantastic stories from his entire career and gets saluted by a who’s who of the Brit film industry. Two more smashing docs complete the disc: Still Tickin’ wades through the shit-storm surrounding the film’s release, withdrawal and return, while Great Bolshy Yarblockos! sees another galaxy of filmmakers (hello, Mr Spielberg!), collaborators and critics unload a massively informed, anecdote-rich Making Of.
Nine years after Kubrick’s mesmerising horrorshow of stylised swagger and surgical intellect became the most controversial film in Brit cinema history, the director returned with The Shining. Kubrick’s stay at the Overlook gets the same quality treatment across a superb commentary by steadicam inventor Garrett Brown and biographer John Baxter, plus two utterly comprehensive Making Of docs.
Each runs to less than 30 minutes, but not a second is wasted: the weight of first-hand accounts, insight and pure affection on show here is phenomenal. Vivian Kubrick’s precious mini-doc, shot hand-held during filming, survives from the previous DVD release and there’s a further bonus in an interview with Kubrick’s longtime composer Wendy Carlos.
It was another seven years before Full Metal Jacket’s double-barrelled assault on ‘Nam and a further 12 before Eyes Wide Shut proved that even the world’s biggest movie stars would bow to Kubrick’s might. Gangs Of New York screenwriter Jay Cocks and stars Vincent D’Onofrio, R Lee Ermey and Adam Baldwin lay on Jacket’s cut’n’paste commentary, sharply edited for minimum waffle.
The disc’s Making Of doc doesn’t disappoint either, with much marvel directed at Ermey’s “endless resource for obscenities”, the fact that East London doubled for Vietnam and how Kubrick coaxes a performance (says D’Onofrio: “‘Do it again, do it better.’ He’ll say it right to you”). Just a single-discer mind, but in a boxset packed with great stories, Ermey gets to tell what might be the best…
“We’re driving in Stanley’s wife’s brand new SUV,” explains Full Metal Jacket’s iconic drill sergeant. “We’re looking for a place to do a scene. Stanley’s driving and pointing and talking. And I’m sitting there watching us driving towards a 6ft deep ditch. Stanley, as he talked, drove off into this ditch and the car went over on its side. Stanley reached up, pushed the door open, climbed up... and he’s still talking. ‘We’ll put up the tent over here...’ Then he climbs down from the car and starts walking back to the camp. Can you believe this shit?”
Kubrick’s fin de siècle sign-off Eyes Wide Shut – another masterwerk, not about sex, but about capitalism – gets the smart discussion it deserves in the commentary by Sydney Pollack and historian Peter Loewenberg, while the second disc devotes itself to the method and madness of the legendary shoot (listed as The Guinness Book of World Records’ ‘Longest Constant Movie Shoot’). There’s also a look at Kubrick’s numerous unrealised dream projects in two more stellar docs.
Finally, boxset buyers get the bonus doc Stanley Kubrick – A Life In Pictures, a celeb-heavy portrait by longtime Kube collaborator Jan Harlan. Of Kubrick’s fully formed classics, only The Killing, Paths Of Glory, Barry Lyndon and Lolita now continue to wait for the Special Edition treatment. But there’s enough here to keep any Kubrick fan hooked until they happen. Utterly, utterly essential.