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The Master’s Voice: Monro’s ‘Kubrick by Kubrick’

by Greg Carlson | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Cinema | April 12th, 2021

The Master’s Voice: Monro’s 'Kubrick by Kubrick'

By Greg Carlson

09 April 2021

Joining the group of nonfiction portraits that includes “Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures,” “Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes,” “Room 237,” “S Is for Stanley,” and “Filmworker,” Gregory Monro’s “Kubrick by Kubrick” is a worthy addition to the growing collection of documentary films exploring various aspects of the life and career of the legendary auteur. The most devoted fans might complain that Monro doesn’t offer much in the way of revelation or surprise, but the movie’s primary allure is the voice of the master filmmaker. Drawing from a quartet of recorded interviews conducted by the great author, critic, and “Positif” editor Michel Ciment, Monro’s movie has the effect of placing the notoriously particular and media-shy Kubrick in the room with the eager listener/viewer.

“Kubrick by Kubrick” was initially broadcast on French television in 2020 via the Arte network. A planned American screening as part of the Tribeca Film Festival was scratched as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While it has so far popped up online in a few legal-to-view venues, the film remains elusive in the United States at the time of this writing. Interest in Kubrick will undoubtedly increase the odds of eventual digital/streaming availability, even if physical media enthusiasts may not want to hold their breath.

Along with the novelty of hearing directly from Kubrick, whose sound clips are paired with appropriate visuals frequently selected from his movies, Monro pays tribute to the Kubrickverse via a reconstruction of the iconic, otherworldly, Tony Masters-suggested, Harry Lange-designed bedchamber from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Just as the monolith appeared before David Bowman in the room with the illuminated floor and the Louis XVI-inspired furnishings, Monro adorns the environment with one-sheets and replicas of key props, like Jack Torrance’s typewriter and axe, Dr. Strangelove’s wheelchair, Dolores Haze’s heart-shaped sunglasses, and the Carnival of Venice mask familiar to Dr. William Harford.

Along with Kubrick’s own words, Monro fleshes out the individual segments on select SK films with a top-notch series of cuts from news stories, television clips, and a lineup of archival interviews. Performers Sterling Hayden (wearing a wonderfully bushy beard), R. Lee Ermey, Malcolm McDowell, Marisa Berenson, and other familiar faces convey individual insights and perspectives. Kubrick’s thoughts on larger-than-life characters like Torrance and Alex DeLarge are even more delectable and tantalizing, especially when they do not exactly align with popular readings.

Not every movie in the filmography gets the same royal treatment, but Monro’s approach works well as a kind of thematic primer on Kubrick’s storytelling interests as well as an insightful behind-the-curtain peek at some of the director’s attitudes. One especially tantalizing quotation suggests a yearning for advanced cinematic structures that could one day transcend the limits of conventional film grammar and language, when Kubrick says, “I do think the real explosion will come when someone finally liberates the narrative structure.”

Kubrick also says, “I think that one of the things that characterizes some of the failures of 20th century art and all art forms is an obsession with total originality.” Upon hearing both of these statements, one simultaneously longs for follow-up questions to further explore such incredible ideas and envies Ciment’s intimate audiences with Kubrick throughout the years. 

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