Cats. In particular how to look after them. If one can sum up Stanley Kubrick, and let’s be honest, so much has been said, it would have to be the fifteen page document he left that contained instructions on how to look after his cats before flying to Ireland to film Barry Lyndon.
Of course, Kubrick was about so much more than just a well detailed list of instructions on how to look after his cats, especially Leo and Freddie. His working methods, filmography and dedication to perfectionism has become the stuff of legend, his films infiltrating the history of cinema and popular culture in a determined manner, but if you need an example on his work ethic, and the level of perfectionism he could bring to his craft, then one can see how he felt when he needed his cats attended to.
Beginning his career as a photographer for Look magazine, and ending by being the director in charge of the longest movie shoot ever (400 days for Eyes Wide Shut), never has a filmmaker caused so much discussion, controversy and influence in the way Kubrick has done.
2001: A Space Odyssey polarised audiences on its debut, A Clockwork Orange was withdrawn by Kubrick himself, Stephen King hated what he did with his adaptation of The Shining, and debate still rages on whether or not the released version of Eyes Wide Shut was completely his cut at all.
Even through all the controversies over his films, their content and his working practices, his work has become one of the most acclaimed filmographies to stem from cinema. His films were artful, full of impact, gorgeous visual compositions and ideas to chew on.
Not without controversies, his films have frequently been labelled as cold and un-emotional, a director more interested in his visuals and ideas rather than character or basic human interaction. Even when a modern director like Christopher Nolan is favourably compared to Kubrick, one can see the inherent difference already in that Nolan infests his characters with emotional arcs and heart-felt, albeit sentimental-free, story beats in a way that Kubrick did not.
If one compares Interstellar to 2001: A Space Odyssey, the former a tribute of sorts to the latter, then one can see the difference right away. One could even argue that there is no lead human characters in 2001 until the second half of the film, and that HAL, who even gets an emotional death sequence of sorts, is where Kubrick’s true heart of the movie lies.
Aspects like this have never stopped his films from being brilliant, however. His work has entered the pop cultural lexicon and been analysed and explored in ways that very few film makers get to, with the exception of David Lynch (who went on to pay tribute to the Star Gate sequence in 2001 in the recent Twin Peaks revival).
His ability to cross genres, from black comedy (Dr Strangelove) to Hollywood epic (Spartacus), science fiction (2001 and A Clockwork Orange) to horror (The Shining), war (Full Metal Jacket) and psychological drama (Eyes Wide Shut) is unique amongst film directors. He never felt like a journey man filmmaker, instead as a visionary who took to whatever genre or material interested him most. His masterful use of camera, sound and craftmanship infiltrated mainstream cinema and transcended it to the realm of art and is reason enough to celebrate that he ever existed at all.
Kubrick’s The Shining returns to select theatres this month accompanied by an all-new short documentary on the making of the film.