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The day Stanley Kubrick died I was terribly saddened. My grief was for a very selfish reason, simply that I would see only one new Kubrick film for the rest of my life. That film was Eyes Wide Shut and it proved to become one of my favorite Kubrick films. But losing Kubrick too early was a tragedy, not just because it would push A.I. onto Spielberg's desk, but because Kubrick still had a few films left in him and those films, would undoubtedly be masterpieces. Masterpieces are fewer and further between now more than ever and if the current state of film-making is any indication, there will never be another Kubrick.
The other day I was sent a link to a fascinating Channel 4 documentary directed by Jon Ronson titled: Stanley Kubrick's Boxes. When Ronson is invited to Kubrick's estate after the reclusive director's untimely death, Ronson becomes captivated by the thousands of boxes stacked and stored throughout Kubrick's stately home. The boxes (and their contents) become the subject of his documentary. What you learn about Kubrick though the contents in these boxes is that he is obsessed with detail oriented work, the methodology behind the perfection of his films. This isn't so much of a revelation as it is impressive with how much research and pre-production Kubrick would put into his films. He left no stone unturned, concrete proof that every single frame of a Kubrick film is deliberately and painstakingly crafted. This is the price of perfection.Searching through all of these boxes as a way to glimpse into the mind of Kubrick has a Rosebud quality to it and Ronson addresses this in the doc's conclusion. He concludes that he found his Rosebud within a few lines spoken by Kubrick on a videotape acceptance speech for his DGA Lifetime Achievement Award. Kubrick states: "Anyone who has ever been privileged to direct a film also knows that although it can be like trying to write War and Peace in a bumper car in an amusement park, when you finally get it right, there are not many joys in life that can equal the feeling." Ronson adds that this quote makes it apparent Kubrick realized in order to make films of genius -- in a world full of bad films -- there has to be a method: precision and detail. In my opinion, there is no question Kubrick is the most important director since Orson Welles. Watching Boxes I now feel I have a better understanding why.
When a man who was as smart - not entirely nuts, there's something of a
difference when looking at an artist - as Stanley Kubrick made a film,
it became like erecting a skyscraper: lots and lots of planning,
researching, more researching, writing and re-writing, very long
casting sessions, long (definitively Kubrickian long) shoots, editing,
and finally, more often than not, perfect film-making. For those who
may on a given day say out loud that Stanley Kubrick is the greatest
filmmaker post-silent era (which I myself have uttered on occasion), a
documentary like Stanley Kubrick's boxes realizes on this man's
obsessions and passions and curiosities and singular attention to
detail that it also revealed a tragic flaw: in a career that spanned
over 40 years, he directed only 13 feature length films, and in the
last 30 years of his life directed 4. One of the things that will
endlessly interest me is how a man had such a wealth of knowledge about
one thing that if it got turned off or something happened with the
project it was like literally losing a child. And, oddly enough for
such a (compared to, say, Woody Allen) un-prolific man, he never went
on "holiday" or even really recognized what it was to take a holiday.
This documentary is essential if only for highlighting this and other parts to Kubrick, the actual man as he was as well as the "mythology" that surrounded him for being so reportedly reclusive and eccentric (the opposite was really the case, as a married man with a bunch of kids and cats and dogs who merely enjoyed privacy and creative independence as earned luxuries), with the aid of so many boxes full of "stuff" that it took the director 4 years to look through it all. As meticulous as he was in his everyday life, so was he in storing everything. We see the stills of various hats tried on for Clockwork Orange. We see the legal paperwork Kubrick fired out over a mid-70s sci-fi show that ripped off 2001. We see a handful of the hundreds of hours of audition footage of the grunts for Full Metal Jacket. Hell, we even get to see one or two "looney" videos from pranksters-cum-stalkers who sent Kubrick videos parodying his films.
We also get some touching and funny anecdotes from his family (wife and kids) and those closest to him like his assistants (Leon Vitali has some particularly good ones), all unearthing stories to go along with what's pulled out. Some of it, indeed, comes close to unbelievable. But at the same time it can range from insightful without having anything to do with movies (i.e. long transcripts about how to deal with feline behavior) and the mountains of research dedicated to Napoleon and Louis Begley's Wartime Lies. The real hardcore Kubrick fans might not find a whole lot to look at- not sure who they are as I'm possibly one and didn't bicker much- but everyone else, even casual fans, would do very well to seek this out (it's finally aired in the US on Sundance channel). At the least, we get some stuff for film-buffs to geek out on like super-duper rare behind the scenes footage with FMJ.
Stanley Kubrick's Boxes (2008)
**** (out of 4)
I've often wondered what type of genius or madman someone like Kubrick would have to be in order to create the masterpieces that he did and this documentary tries to uncover some of that. Director Ronson was invited to the Kubrick Estate to go through thousands of boxes that Kubrick had saved up throughout the years and what we see are some rather amazing items, which show why it took the director so long to make movies. In his final 19-years Kubrick only made three films and the reasons why are discussed here. If you're a fan of Kubrick then I don't see how it would be possible not to love this documentary even though, sadly, it only runs for just under an hour. Some of the things we see and learn are rather shocking and mysterious. The mysterious figure that Kubrick was is certainly going to be even more mysterious after this film but it does give us a close look at how the genius worked. The most amazing section were notes from fans that the director collected. Apparently he read them all and would mark them as being positive, negative or crank meaning threatening. He would then take the letters and put them together by the movie and then break them down into the cities where they came from. Even more astounding is how much pre-production he would do when making movies. He had his nephew, a photographer, spend a year taking pictures of stuff that would eventually go into Eyes Wide Shut and that includes thousands of photographs for gates, which would end up only being seen for a matter of seconds in the movie. Fans of Full Metal Jacket will also get a kick out of learning that Vivian Kubrick's documentary is still safe and at the estate in the form of 18-hours worth of footage. We get to see a few clips here including one with Kubrick debating when tea breaks should happen. There's a lot of wonderful footage in this documentary and it's great to know that the Estate has turned all of this stuff over to the London University of Arts where anyone can go and look through them. The bad news is that it's apparently true that Kubrick destroyed all the outtakes from his films, which is strange since this documentary shows that he saved everything. There's also some great talk about his Holocaust movie, which he worked on for nearly three years before giving up on it after the Spielberg movie started production.
Of course Kubrick is the best director of all time; this should be
obvious even to the most deluded Bunuel-sniffing film student. But I'm
not going to sit here and write a sniveling, awe-filled adoration
piece, making a god out of a mere mortal. There is quite enough
over-the-top idolatry as it is in Paris Hilton's Age Of The Idiot...
SKB has a very unusual approach to tackling a dead human subject: by digging through his numerous boxes clues are found as to how insanely perfectionist Kubrick had become post-"Strangelove" (fittingly enough, the weakest movie after "Spartacus" - not counting those early 50s films, naturally).
Evidently, Kubrick was a collector, not a thrower, which I can perfectly understand. But unlike the kind of garbage I keep lying around my flat, Kubrick's is rather fascinating and worthwhile.
As the documentary gradually drew to a close there was a sense of disappointment because there's enough material in those boxes to make a 10-hour documentary, as opposed to the pitiful 45 minutes we're given here; mere breadcrumbs. Ronson just scratches the surface. There should be a docu series on these boxes, with each episode tackling a specific subject: an entire episode could be easily dedicated to the crank letters, for example. A two-part episode should be about the footage his daughter shot of Kubrick filming "FM Jacket". Another episode could be about his meticulous search for props, yet another could be about the hunt for ideally suitable locations, etc. Unfortunately, Kubrick destroyed all his out-takes (a fact that made me grin a bit), but there's easily a whole episode somewhere in those boxes about screen tests. I even sense that an episode could be made about his numerous pets, and if you think there are no viewers interested in a subject as narrowed-down as that, think again... Kubrick was one of the last true eccentrics of the movie world, and as such he's interesting to non-fans as well. The pet episode could be aired as an Animal Planet special.
We're all peeping toms, and what could be more fun than to have such relatively intimate sneaks into the private life of a semi-loon as interesting as Kubrick... So open all of those damn boxes and make more documentaries, frcrissakes! I'm sure the Kubrick estate headed by his widow wouldn't mind.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Documentary from Sundance and Channel 4 about Stanley Kubrick's boxes. The boxes contain all of the research for all of his films from 2001 to Eyes Wide Shut. It's the story of a man who was obsessed with the films he made and all of the tiny little details involved in making them. Its a tribute to the depths that Kubrick would go to to make a film. It also shows why in the later years so few films were made as his planned film on the Holocaust was sidelined when Steven Spielberg planned and shot Schindler's List while Kubrick was still wading through the research. We see the Fan letters, the crank letters, reports on books and scripts as possible subjects (including a pass on the Killing Fields), film of Kubrick shooting films, the odd memos, the stationery, and everything else that Kubrick collected when he made (and tried to make) films. It'a an intriguing portrait of a man, or at least a man's obsessions through his detritus. It's more a side bar portrait to the man rather than a full portrait and actually would make a nice companion piece to the short documentary thats on the Eyes Wide Shut DVD The Last Movie: Stanley Kubrick and Eyes Wide Shut. Worth a look if you've ever wondered about the man and his obsessions which were always oddly reported in the media.
To be quite honest, and I say this as a major Kubrick fan, hoping to
direct films myself one day, that I learned more about the man from
this one documentary than I have any other. It is short, yes, but it
describes the genius and eccentricity of Kubrick so well.
I really can understand Jon Ronson when he says he was privileged by the experience, going through the so called "kubrick boxes" getting an incredible insight in Kubrick's mind. Also I was relieved when they in the end said that the boxes where now stored in a London film school for preservation and educational purposes.
There really isn't anything wrong about this documentary, other than Jon Ronson's bad habit of giving some rather silly and stupid movie references in the middle of interviews and as I said earlier, it was a little short. If Jon Ronson ever decided to make a longer cut of this documentary, I would love too see it.
Stanley Kubrick was an intensely interesting man. He was also secretive
and reclusive. Not surprisingly,very little media exists about Stanley
and/or the production of his films.
Jon Ronson has taken boxes from Kubrick's house and opened them. The boxes contain pictures and documents from the director's productions and after examination, permit the Kubrick curious to glimpse aspects of Stanley's mind and method. Ronson puts the distillation of his finds into this meandering documentary film.
There are some impediments during the film. Ronson's voice is irritatingly nasal and high pitched. And when he pronounces the letter "S", the sibilance is so intense that his deliberately calm demeanor becomes painful.
Also, there is too much of Mr Ronson in the film. The viewer could be forgiven if they were to be confused about his the subject and who is the reporter.
Otherwise, the subject of Kubrick's Boxes is fertile ground for you if are interested in the man. And with some effort and concentration, we got past the Mr Ronson's heavy hand and grating voice.
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