Although written before Stanley Kubrick's death, I felt this was a great eulogy. With thanks to Mark for this:
54th INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL LaBIENNALE DiVENEZIA
Venice, 27 August - 6 September 1997
Tribute to Stanley Kubrick
Of all the living film directors at work today, Stanley Kubrick is probably the one who best fits the definition of a living legend, his work forming one of the most fascinating series of films in the entire history of cinema.
Whilst quantitatively rather limited (with only thirteen films to his credit, including the project he is working on at the moment, Eyes Wide Shut), Kubrick's filmography is rare in the sustained quality of the works it contains (though one might mention in comparison such filmmakers as Eisenstein and Dreyer). Each new Kubrick film seems to create an unbeatable model for the genre in which he happens to be working: 2001: A Space Odyssey for science fiction, Barry Lyndon for costume drama, Dr. Strangelove for political satire, The Shining for horror, Full Metal Jacket for war films, A Clockwork Orange for dystopic science fiction. It is the very range of this variety which is so amazing, the ability Kubrick has to enter new ground and investigate it from a whole new angle.
The man and the artist reveal a certain number of paradoxes. In an era of media events and an uninterrupted flow of comments and commentary upon works, Kubrick has chosen solitude, retreat from the public eye (his last interview was ten years ago). It is almost as if he wants to force the public and critics to watch his films without being distracted by the director's comments, which are always reductive in some way or another.
A film maker of original and substantial imaginative powers, Kubrick has nonetheless always been inspired by literary texts (except for his first two, which he has since disowned as the work of a dilettante). Enjoying carte blanche and all the necessary material means for his films, Kubrick allows long intervals to pass before moving from one project to another. His concern with perfection is such that not only does he work on the film adaptation and script (alone or in collaboration), but also on the film photography, the editing (over which he has absolute sole control), the dubbing and sub-titling of foreign versions of the film and even the advertising campaign for the launch and the conditions under which the film can be screened. And yet alongside this insistence on absolute control over his work goes great creative elasticity, which means that Kubrick is always open to new ideas generated on the set and encourages his actors to improvise.
An extremely ambitious artist admired by all his peers -- from Coppola to Spielberg, and from De Palma to Cimino -- Kubrick is a point of reference in film making (rather as Orson Welles was in his own day). He manages to bring together the general and the cinephile public whilst sometimes totally wrong-footing the film critics (who have not always been able to grasp the importance of his innovations).
In awarding him what is the highest official recognition he has ever received, the Biennale is simply doing what is right and fitting -- because when one thinks of Kubrick one thinks of above all of the artists of the Italian Renaissance. As for Leonardo, art for Kubrick is also a question of technique and technical achievements -- be they the special effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey or the candle-lit shots in Barry Lyndon. And just like Leonardo, Kubrick too has sometimes been driven to abandon certain projects due to the extreme thoroughness, the unhurried personal pace, of his own continuous search for truth and beauty.
It is amazing just how much his films reflect the fears and anxieties of this end of the millennium. Playing upon the archetypes of the collective unconscious, his works seem to reflect what Adorno said of Alban Berg: "The very despair of his imagination has gone beyond the negativity of his time". For Kubrick art is a "mental thing" -- because the image always refers back to the idea; indeed, in defining his work Gilles Deleuze spoke of "brain films". However, none of the sophisticated analyses that have been generated by Kubrick's films will ever dispel the aura of mystery which surrounds the genius of creation.