Growing up with the films of Stanley Kubrik

For film-loving Baby Boomers there was one director who made iconic and yet very different films from the 1950s until his death in 1999. That was the brilliant Stanley Kubrik.

Costume from Clockwork Orange at the 2019 London exhibition on Stanley Kubrik (image: Tony McMahon)

In 2019, I went to an exhibition in London celebrating his decades of cinematic achievement and some of my iPhone snaps are here for you to peruse. A curious mix of Roman togas; eighteenth century courtly costumes and fashion from a space age future. All reflecting the very broad palette of his movies.

As a kid I watched the epic Roman slave revolt movie Spartacus with the late Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis plus a supremely malevolent Laurence Olivier. There were always sword and sandals moves on TV in the 70s like Cecil B DeMille’s 1949 classic Samson and Delilah or the Mervyn LeRoy directed Quo Vadis from 1951. But Spartacus was different – superior – and gripping from start to finish.

That was how Kubrik began the 1960s before giving us entirely different offerings such as the seedy tale of Lolita, the darkly comic Dr Strangelove parodying our fears over nuclear war, and then the overblown sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I hope this doesn’t sound callous because it isn’t intended to be but watching my mother’s gradual mental decline as a result of vascular dementia often made me recall the fate of the ship’s super-intelligent computer in Space Odyssey.

The scene, if you recall, is where the astronaut David Bowman removes one-by-one the “modules” that make up the mega-brain of HAL9000. And as he does so, the computer initially pleads for him to stop then its speech becomes more slurred until it stops to function. Any of you who have watched the effect of dementia will know what I mean.

Kubrik then gave us the nihilistic and very controversial A Clockwork Orange – a movie that was banned for years. The first time I saw it, in the sixth form, was at a friend’s house on a pirate video with Spanish subtitles. The grim, relentless violence carried out by its main protagonist, Alex, was believed to have inspired copy-cat incidents. Though I suspect the tabloids hyped this beyond any measure of reality.

Into the 1980s and we had this slew of Vietnam movies in 1987 with Platoon, Full Metal Jacket and Hamburger Hill jostling for position at the box office. At the time, I think most of us plumped for Platoon as the best of the lot. But it’s Kubrik’s Full Metal Jacket that has stood the test of time. Apparently, I’ve read, Vietnam veterans thought Hamburger Hill was the most realistic but who remembers that movie – apart from me?

What Laurence Olivier wore in Spartacus (image: Tony McMahon)

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