Films not only entertain us. They enable us to escape to another world. And for the next couple of hours or so, you don’t have a care in the world. That, for you, is its entrancing allure. As the lights come up again and the credits roll and as we go back to our prosaic lives, we’re left reeling from this profound experience. An experience so profound that it permeates beyond the screen and secures itself in our minds influencing our thoughts, attitudes and behaviour.
As a kid, I naively categorised films as either English or Hindi. I enjoyed films purely for their entertainment value and I distinctly remember the joy and pleasure of going to the cinema. But it was just a recreational activity at the time and, more often than not, the elated feeling lasted mostly until I hit the sack. The films I watched seemed like products manufactured in an assembly line of two factories. One called Hollywood. The other, Bollywood.
Though I loved films, I didn’t understand them. And it all changed on a typically lazy Sunday afternoon. But what and who provoked this definite shift in me?
A disturbing dystopian film by a certain Stanley Kubrick.
The beginning of a Kubrickian odyssey
In my early teens, watching films had become a sort of weekend routine after I heard friends rave on and on about the IMDb Top 250. (In retrospect, I’m not entirely convinced. It’s a decent list but not definitive enough.) I was picking off titles randomly until I came across A Clockwork Orange, which veritably made me realise, “how the colours of the real world only seem real when you viddy them on the screen.” After I watched the film, I realised (much like Alex) how the images and colours of the real world looked a lot more appealing through the medium of film.
It was the first film I wanted to rewatch and study. I came to understand how films could address the more important and serious issues, much like literature. They were no longer a mere source of entertainment. They were rather a medium that allowed us to look at ourselves and the world around us. It aided our self-discovery. To paraphrase Ingmar Bergman, “films go beyond ordinary consciousness, straight to our emotions, deep into the twilight room of the soul.”
Though I saw the film at the emotionally susceptible and vulnerable age of 15, it changed the way I saw the world. It triggered an undying love and newfound fascination for the world of films.
Kubrick’s emotionally dissociative and stylised look at violence in the film creates an aesthetic insularity (much like the films of Tarantino). An insularity akin to the protagonist’s own attitude towards violence. As Alex experiences the sinister reality and repercussions of his own wrong-doing and violence, I realised the sublime beauty of Kubrick’s vision. It was a life-changing cinematic experience like never before.
What made Kubrick unique?
As I began to explore more of Kubrick’s work, I began to understand his style a little more. How he invites us to see his personal vision with the perfect blend of evocative music, gorgeous cinematography and surreal editing to create a compassionate whole.
Rather than using completely original scores, he used classical orchestral music and to great effect. His use of music became a substantial part of his narrative as he always seemed to use it in the right context. Beethoven’s 9th and Rossini’s William Tell Overture in A Clockwork Orange or Strauss’s Blue Danube in 2001 or Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta in The Shining. He transformed principal and climactic scenes in his films with ethereal melodies.
When I saw The Shining, it was the first time I became aware of the camera. Kubrick’s use of the camera and the mechanics of his filmmaking began to intrigue me. And he used them in the most immersive ways to tell a story. The hauntingly beautiful Steadicam tracking shots as Danny rides through the hallways of the hotel on his bike, was pure cinematic brilliance.
2001: A Space Odyssey is the paradigm of what a film can accomplish that reading a book can’t. Kubrick makes intellectual and thought-provoking arguments through a delightful combination of image and music. The musical sequences are marked by a self-awareness with a mind of their own, as if they’re a character in the narrative. The cinematography is painstakingly meticulous and luscious. Technically and creatively speaking, Kubrick’s astonishing effort to craft this gem distinctly indicates the reason behind its timeless glory and acclaim. It will continue to be one of the most visceral and visionary poetic speculations on the genius and/or folly of human beings.
His films have often given a voice to the society’s current or eternal fears and fixations. His satirical treatment of the nuclear age in Dr. Strangelove during the Cold War, his examination of the hierarchical structure in armies in his anti-war film Paths of Glory, his foretelling of manned interplanetary travel and concerns about artificial intelligence in 2001: A Space Odyssey, or even the dehumanising nature of war and violence in Full Metal Jacket and A Clockwork Orange respectively. They all describe the cultural atmosphere and mood at the time. His films and their themes are so powerful and revolutionary that they continue to be seen, studied and heralded worldwide. A test of their timelessness.
My cinematic diet is a voracious one. As each new experience metabolises, I feel intellectually nourished and culturally richer. And I thank Stanley Kubrick for feeding this eternal hunger.