In a career that spanned almost 50 years, Stanley Kubrick made just 13 features and a handful of shorts. Even then, that doesn’t tell the whole story. His first two films – the hour-long war movie Fear and Desire (1953) and the boxing drama Killer’s Kiss (1955) – were dismissed by Kubrick as amateur, while his fifth film Spartacus (1960), despite winning four Oscars, was something of a rescue mission, with Kubrick replacing fired director Anthony Mann.
Nevertheless, his work represents a towering, unparalleled achievement in cinema. This month sees the start of a two-month celebration of those films at London’s BFI Southbank; if you’ve never seen a Kubrick movie on the big screen, this is your chance – whether you fancy indulging in the mysteries and mayhem of his Stephen King adaptation The Shining or taking the ultimate trip with his seminal Arthur C. Clarke adaptation, 2001:A Space Odyssey.
All across April, Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange gets an extended run. Taken from Anthony Burgess’ novel, this tale of a violence-loving tearaway (Malcolm McDowell) and his gang became a cause célèbre when it was released in 1971; threats to Kubrick’s family meant that for years he withdrew the film from UK circulation. Perhaps aided by this controversy, this singular film about the corrosive effects of violence has retained its potency.
Also getting a long run, in May, is 1964’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Kubrick’s last black-and-white movie (and his second in a row with Peter Sellers, after Lolita), as anyone watching Trump jostling with North Korea will attest, this savage Cold War satire, showing just how easy it is to head towards global nuclear meltdown, feels disturbingly prescient.
While it’s disappointing that Fear and Desireisn’t being shown, the season does include several shorts – documentaries The Seafarers,Day of the Fightand Flying Padre are all to be found. As is his 1975 historical drama Barry Lyndon, based on William Thackery’s novel and starring Ryan O’Neal in the title role. Rarely has a period movie been so perfect.
Such is the titanic impact Kubrick’s work has made on cinema, the season also includes a series of films heavily influenced by his work – everything from We Need To Talk About Kevinand American Psycho(both indebted to A Clockwork Orange) to off-beat sci-fi films like HerandEx_Machina, which – like just about any other movie in the genre – walk in the shadow of 2001.
Also featuring are various panels and talks, including one on Kubrick’s interest in artificial intelligence (‘Stanley, Meet Alexa’). If this sparks your curiosity, it all coincides with a four-and-a-half month exhibition at London’s Design Museum, which promises costumes, props (including the Born To Kill helmet from his Vietnam masterpiece Full Metal Jacket) and interviews. Now is the time to revisit his genius.
The Stanley Kubrick season runs at the BFI Southbank until 30 May. Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition runs at the Design Museum from 26 April to 15 September. For more details, visit BFI and The Design Museum.
1. Lead Image: Stanley Kubrick, Dr. Strangelove.