Saturday, April 19, 2008

Weakest of the Best - Stanley Kubrick

Without fully seeing the early films of Stanley Kubrick, this seems a little unfair to be looking at his entire filmography and pointing out the weakest film. Undoubtedly, it's probably one of those early films that doesn't hold a candle, but let's be honest; from Paths of Glory to Eyes Wide Shut, that is when Kubrick was really a true auteur. That being said, Stan the Man only had 10 films to his credit from 1957 to 1999, and we all know Spartacus is not really Kubrick's (as he denounced it as his artistic vision as director.) So let's just say of the 9 truly fantastic Kubrick Film at hand, which one seems to be lacking the true greatness of the overall film making experience.

That being said, the selection we are working from here is as follows in chrono order:
Paths of Glory
Dr. Strangelove
2001: A Space Odyssey
A Clockwork Orange
Barry Lyndon
The Shining
Full Metal Jacket
Eyes Wide Shut

Looking at that list alone, I applaud the greatness of such a career. Yes it wasn't as prolific as say Woody Allen or Steven Spielberg, but at least none of these are truly awful. That said one is clearly not as good as the rest.

Bloated, boring and only redeeming in it's visceral brilliance, Barry Lyndon is the winner this time at Weakest of the Best. Barry Lyndon is a period piece that follows the story of Redmond Barry, a pathetic man-child, into the ups and downs of high society in 18th Century Europe. The long and short of it is, we get to follow the whimpy and poorly acted Ryan O'Neal (whose daughter, Tatum, won an Oscar which clearly has led him to be a jealous parent) galavant around in fancy dress and whine about his situation. His whole tale is dumb luck and everything that happens to him happens out of this lucky situation. That's basically the plot without running through the three and a half trudging hours of exposition.

Where Barry Lyndon falls flat is the story and the acting. From Ryan O'Neal's uninspired Barry to the long and disjointed plot of his life just adds for a recipe of boring film making. Long films don't have to feel long. The Deer Hunter is over three hours long and that film is riveting from beginning to end. But that's because plot wise, the story is enrapturing. Even other films of Kubrick's that are longer, like 2001: A Space Odyssey at least create a world so different and interesting that the long run time doesn't drag. The characters in Barry Lyndon are just so downright boring that watching them for over three hours just doesn't work. I will give it to Kubrick that his visuals are outstanding. The vision he has is pure art. The idea of moving picture has never looked so good. But the best films know how to take that idea of art and add entertainment and story to it. This is where Barry Lyndon fails.

Some may argue that Eyes Wide Shut is his weakest film, but here is why I didn't say that. The acting in Eyes Wide Shut is far superior and this makes you intrigued by the story, even if it tends to drag at times.

I've heard some people say that Barry Lyndon is what they qualify to be Kubrick's best film, and I dare ask you what it is that you say makes this film his triumph over, say, Dr. Strangelove or A Clockwork Orange or 2001: A Space Odyssey?

Next time on Weakest of the Best, I will jump back to music and attempt to find the weakest song on Led Zeppelin IV.


Sassafras H. Wilmington said...

It's still on my "To see list" even though I've read that it's basically unwatchable...

Paul Tsikitas said...

It's not unwatchable. It's just drawn out and boring for the most part.

jmcleoson said...

Yeah, you know, it seems way too easy to point this one out, but I couldn't find anything out of that 9 to put beneath it. I always thought it was a techincally great film that was just boring, but you have a point with Ryan O'Neal. I don't know if Kubrick had an ego-trip moment where he thought he could take any flaky star and put them in a real film and suceed... but yeah, he sucks. And even the people who think 2001 is boring admit that this is a million times worse.

I think he wanted to do something beautiful and slow, like how Terrence Malick works. Of course, it's not liek his other films lack in visuals. It does seem like a confusing choice now... from what I've read, he wanted to do a historical epic on Napoleon for a long time and kept running into trobuble in preproduction. Maybe this was his way of getting that out of his system?

Besides Eyes WS, which gets a lot of flack and is pretty much a matter of taste, I do think someone could make an argument for The Shining, maybe for it being overrated and/or ruining Stephen King's story. Now, I love it, but I could see someone saying it's less than BL artistically (even if it's 9000 % more entertaining). I've heard people trash it.... but they usually can't accept horror movies as serious. I don't know.

BTW, people need to know how good Lolita is, espeically when you realize that he made it before R movies (the rating system was a few years away) and thus had to cleverfully avoid a lot of stuff. And Peter Sellers pwns.

Anonymous said...

I was expecting this to be your pick and I can't agree more. It really does come down to Ryan O'Neal. It takes a compelling performance to make you invest in a character for 3 1/2 hours and O'Neal certainly doesn't give one.

And yea, Justin, the beginning of Lolita is still one of my favorite beginnings of a movie.

Paul Tsikitas said...

A Huge Underdog for Kubrick is Paths of GLory. It's quite an amazing anti-war film around when anti-war films weren't as plentiful as the would be. Lolita is brilliant as usual and the one that probably gets more overrated than The Shining is Full Metal Jacket, even though I think it is great. But some people glorify it as his best and I just have to laugh at that.