By Jake Watt
2nd August 2020

Deep, strong voices are from the diaphragm. You really have to engage your core. The voice of Stanley Kubrick - flat, calm, unassertive - belies the fact that his name has long been a byword for demanding genius and director mystique.

Grégory Monro's documentary 'Kubrick by Kubrick' uses, for the first time, the audio of interviews conducted by French critic Michel Ciment, chief editor of French film magazine Positif. The audio is a rarity, as most of Kubrick's comments only appeared in print. The result serves as a good introduction to his oeuvre, with the famous final room from '2001: A Space Odyssey' and props like Peter Sellers' wheelchair in 'Dr. Strangelove' and the Venetian masks from 'Eyes Wide Shut' serving as visual focus points.


"I don't particularly enjoy the interviews, because one always feels under the obligation to say some witty brilliant summary of the intentions of the film," Kubrick complains to Ciment. "I've never found it meaningful or even possible to talk about film aesthetics even for my own films." Nonetheless, his interviewer manages to drag some fascinating opinions and nuggets of information out of him. These range from anecdotes surrounding his films to his status as a "quintessential perfectionist" who would grind his actors down with umpteen takes until they didn't know who they were or what day it was.

Ciment's recorded discussions with Kubrick mainly revolve around 'A Clockwork Orange', 'Barry Lyndon', 'The Shining' and 'Full Metal Jacket'. "You're attracted to villains," Ciment observes, to which Kubrick quotes John Milton's Paradise Lost: "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven."

"You're attracted to villains," Ciment observes, to which Kubrick quotes John Milton's Paradise Lost: "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven."

Kubrick never allows himself to get trapped into explaining his art, and shrugs off lines of inquiry with answers like: "I don't know what led me to make any of the films I made." The documentary does emphasise that all of his movies are about "the connection between the conscious and unconscious life", humanity and savagery.

Coming in at a lean 75 minutes, the total amount of time we actually get to hear Kubrick speak is limited, and 'Kubrick by Kubrick' bolsters the audio with excerpts from Kubrick's films, some behind the scenes footage and home movies, and archival interview fragments from collaborators like Malcolm McDowell, Jack Nicholson, R. Lee Ermey and Shelley Duvall.

Kubrick will forever be remembered as a difficult genius, a perfectionist who didn't play nice with those unaligned with his vision. While 'Kubrick by Kubrick' isn't a comprehensive look at his life or his work, it does offer some fresh insights into his outlook towards cinema and the filmmaking process. Heaven for Stan stans, and quite a bit there for movie buffs, too.

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