Well, I’ve done it. With recent viewings of once impossible-to-find copies of Stanley Kubrick’s 1953 offerings, “Fear and Desire” and “The Seafarers”, I have officially watched every reel of film this man ever created. Hey, don’t snicker…this has been some journey! My Kubrick obsession began around 1985 with constant re-watchings of “2001: A Space Odyssey”. That kick was prompted by the December 1984 release of “2010: The Year We Make Contact”—which was not directed by Stanley, but by Peter Hyams. “2010” is a sober, straightforward, respectful sequel—and it was even a modest hit when released over 27 years ago. I saw it in the theater back then, and I owe the movie a debt of gratitude. Yes, a non-Kubrick film began my Kubrick adoration. Let the history lesson begin… My first movie-going experience with Kubrick was “The Shining” in 1980. That film, like most of Stanley’s work, fell into a neat description—you don’t always know what you’ve seen, but you know you’ve seen something. Hailed as a horror classic now, “The Shining” was critically derided upon its release 32 years ago. Stephen King, author of the original novel reportedly despised it. So much so that he personally supervised a television mini-series remake in 1997. Like much of Stanley’s post-“2001” work, it has built its reputation over time. Kubrick was consistently ahead of his time. Many are still filing over to “the love side” for his last completed film, 1999’s “Eyes Wide Shut”. If you’re one of those…welcome aboard. After “The Shining”, it was a four-year gap until Hyams’ “2010”. I saw that upon its release without ever having a proper beginning-to-end look at “2001”. I enjoyed “2010” and wanted to know more. Well, I must’ve watched “2001” a dozen times over the next couple of years. I pondered it, studied it, tried to figure it all out, concocted theories, dismissed theories, read the original novel, read the follow-up novel, ultimately accepted its ambiguities—and I can openly and unreservedly call it one of the greatest films ever made. It is a masterpiece. And I am unable to accept denial of its quality. You don’t have to enjoy it as much as me, but you can’t dismiss it either. It has earned respect…and there wouldn’t be a “Star Wars” or “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” without it. I finally got to see “2001” in a theater in late 2001 in Manhattan…and it was glorious. So, “2001” really set the ball rolling. 1987 saw the release of “Full Metal Jacket”. And, of course, the trip was made to see that. Again—misunderstood and ahead of its time. Many critics applauded the training camp first half, but were not as appreciative of the Vietnam War second section. Include me in this group. I’ve now come over to a vast appreciation of the latter portion—often finding complex nuances within the framework that I missed during my initial views. It’s one of the best Vietnam War films. In 1988, I ventured to a small revival house in Manhattan’s Soho for a double feature of Kubrick’s “Killer’s Kiss”(1955) and “The Killing”(1956). Both were unavailable for home viewing at the time…easy to get those now. The 1990’s ushered in a restored version of Stanley’s “Spartacus”—a Kirk Douglas-produced epic that was heavily censored in 1960. And in 1999, “Eyes Wide Shut”…the last completed work. There will forever be an asterisk associated with that release because Kubrick passed away 4 months before its summer release. Us Kubrick fiends had waited 12 long years since “Full Metal Jacket”, and we were salivating for the master’s follow-up work. When Kubrick succumbed unexpectedly, we realized—even though the studio and star Tom Cruise assured us that “final cut” had been delivered—that it would never truly be completed. Stanley would’ve been tinkering with it in the editing room until its premiere and, most likely, beyond. He was the definition of perfectionist. But what he left us would have to suffice—incomplete or not. This was IT. There would not be another. I made sure to visit “EWS” twice that summer, and would later purchase the DVD of the European-released version without the digitally produced “hooded figures” created to partially obscure the orgy scene from us puritanical Americans. But “Fear and Desire” and “The Seafarers” proved elusive. Until recently. Stanley Kubrick directed 13 features and 3 short films over the course of roughly 50 years. 1951’s 16 minute “Day of the Fight” and 9 minute “The Flying Padre” have not been all that difficult to unbury. I caught hem both on Turner Classic Movies in the last decade and they are both readily available on Youtube at last check. But Kubrick himself abhorred his cheaply shot “Fear and Desire”(it was mostly financed by his uncle), and attempted to destroy and/or block any existing prints. But, at least a couple have always remained out there. There was a one-week-only one Manhattan screen showing in the early 90’s(I missed it). Or one could travel to Rochester, New York to watch it at the Eastman/Kodak Museum(aka George Eastman House). Then TCM, bless their little hearts, presented a restored print broadcast this past December—thankfully rendering the dismal-quality, Italian subtitled Youtube version unnecessary. Soon after that, I finally obtained a DVD of “The Seafarers” via Netflix(after several previous attempts), and completed my 27 year mission. Victory is mine! Take note, “The Seafarers” is little more than a 30 minute promotional documentary financed by the Seafarers International Union. Most sane people wouldn’t be caught dead watching it once. Well, I watched it twice—one of those times with commentary by filmmakers Keith Gordon and Roger Avary. And I’ve never claimed to be sane. There are things to be culled from this presentation, even though Kubrick took the job just for the cash. Some of his signature shots and lighting technique are obvious in retrospect. And “Fear and Desire”, although amateurish at times, is priceless as the infancy of Stanley’s feature future. There is now word that all 3 short films plus “Fear and Desire” will be released on a special disc-for-purchase in the fall of this year. The quartet has been the Holy Grail for many of us over the years, and soon everyone will be able to join the small crowd. I’ll avoid a formal review of either “Fear and Desire” or “The Seafarers”. Neither could be called great film-making, but for us Kubrick completists—they are pure gold.
On Stanley Kubrick…completion.