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Stanley Kubrick - Prizefighter - A Space Odyssey - Still Moving Pictures


February also featured an exhibition, Still Moving Pictures; photographs 1945-1950 (Feb to April 2001) taken by Stanley Kubrick, the film director, who from his schooldays was taking photographs as a photo journalist for Look magazine, the photo-monthly based in NY. He used an unwieldy Graflex camera given to him by his father on his 14th birthday. He put his camera in a paper bag with a hole for the lens so he could shoot incognito. In 1945 the editor of Look, Lucy O'Brian, bought one of Kubrick's photos entitled Roosevelt Picture. It was a picture of a newsvendor bending over a banner headline announcing the death of President Roosevelt. Shortly after, he was hired by Look.

He covered more than 100 photo stories for Look. He had a degree of independence and often chose his own stories. He travelled around the country; he took photos of the young Montgomery Cliff living in Manhattan. Montgomery Cliff used to drink coffee all night to keep him awake so he could read his long scripts. The photos of Cliff look as if taken from an expressionist movie. Years later Kubrick said, "It was an invaluable experience. It taught me how things work in the real world. "He always had his camera with him on set. His producer said "Just as cop always carries a gun, Stanley always made sure he had a camera on set. "

Before Stanley Kubrick became a master of movies he was firstly one of America's leading photographers. A German professor and Kubrick enthusiast Rainer Crone has collected and combined the Look pictures that are on show in Edinburgh. Crone sees a direct link between Stanley's teenage work and his later career and said,"What Kubrick tried to do in his own unconventional way was to create a moving picture through his still camera. . . Although he was very young, he did something entirely new in photography. He wasn't a social photographer like Walker Evans and he didn't try to catch the right moment like Cartier-Bresson. He told a story, but then he stopped it, he suspended it with his camera, and that's why I have called the show Still Moving Pictures. "

Kubrick's life started in the Bronx; his father was a doctor and wanted his son to follow in his footsteps. They were prosperous. His father taught him photography at a very early age; they had a darkroom in their home. Very soon he became adept at pushing film at high speed to exploit natural available light. Having this edge at the age of 17 he was competing with NY veterans. "The combination of his young, technical skill and storytelling ability so early on was unbearable for photographers up to four times his age" says Singer his old friend from Taft (Kubrick's school). He also says that they paid regular visits to the cinema at the Museum of Modern Art, where Kubrick watched the entire collection twice. His favourite film was Eisenstein's rousing hymn to Russian statehood, Alexander Nevsky. Aside from closely studying Eisenstein's imagery and use of montage, Sinqer says, "Stanley never got over the Prokofiev score for the battle on the ice in that movie. He bought a record of it and played it over and over until his kid sister couldn't stand it and broke it over his head. "Oh Gosh, I can just image it! Ha, Ha!!

The most ambitious piece of photojournalism, Prizefighter, (a seven-page spread - a sequence of 19 shots) he had done for Look was about a day in the life of middleweight Walter Cartier. For his eight minutes of film Kubrick cut immediately to the end of that day, to the fight. The film is still a joined-up version of the photo-story, concentrating on the combatants, leaving everything outside the ring in semi-darkness. The low-angle shot that would become a Kubrick signature was forced on Kubrick by the weight of his Graflex nearly 4kg. Kubrick says he did everything on this little film, including cleaning up, but he was actually helped by his friend Singer who worked as a general assistant. Kubrick sold Day of the Fight for a mere $100 profit. But in 1954, after five short movies, he met James B. Harris who financed his movies and his directorial career began to take off. The introduction was the start of a promising partnership. Beginning with The Killing, Through Paths of Glory, Spartacus and Lolita, and ending with Dr. Strangelove in 1964, James Harris produced some of Kubrick's greatest movies.

Kubrick's A Space Odyssey was re-released after a third century in 2001 and is most remembered for the use of the music. The Blue Danube is remembered for it's impressive use of silence. The new print still did not contain the 17-minutes, which was cut from the original 30 years ago. The Pope showed interest in the movie so in collaboration between the Italian film distributor, Instituto Luce, and papal officials, the Pope saw it among an audience of 60 including cardinals and Vatican officials, Franco Zeffirelli, Ermanno Olmi, his wife Christiane and their daughter Anya and Jan Harlan, the producer. Also by Kubrick is A Clockwork Orange, which returned to the cinema after 27 years. It was removed after claims about the rapes and violence. It was Kubrick who banned his own movie in England. He never explained his reason but it is now available in Europe, UK and America. Kubrick said he was not ashamed of it, but he still thought the time was not right.

He was married three times: to a classmate, a Balanchine dancer and then to Chistiane Harlan. Harlan says of him,"Stanley smiled at me all through the audition, and he's been smiling on me ever since". Ahhh, isn't that so sweet, darlings??? Christiane is a German actress who played timid chanteuse in Paths of Glory, shot in Munich studios. She is also a painter; she helped design some of Kubrick's films. She has an album of photos of her husband entitled Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures, coming out soon. Kubrick's brother-in-law was his executive producer and his son-in-law an associate producer. Vivian, the youngest of his three daughters composed the music for some of his movies and made a documentary of her father at work on The Shining.

Kubrick was fascinated by war. He said, "It was the most irrational of man's actions. "But for me the most touching example of Kubrick is Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, produced and directed by Jan Harlan, his brother-in-law. It portrays Kubrick as a warm family man - married for 43 years and as a loving father to his three daughters. The documentary included some home shots of the family circle and behind-the-scenes of Kubrick at work. One of his daughters is based in California as a filmmaker and one is an opera-singer. As opposed to his reputation created by the media, he was in fact a very affectionate father - a very normal man.

Kubrick intended on producing a film about Napoleon but it never came to fruition. MCM backed off when another Napoleonic epic was being filmed which, ironically, did very poor business. Unfortunately, Kubrick had already hired armies from Romania and Yugoslavia and located a US manufacturer able to turn out tens of thousands of 18th and 19th century military uniforms made from hard-wearing paper!!!

In his documentary you can see Kubrick rehearsing Peter Sellers and Jack Nicholson with continuous repetition and variations of 40 to 50 takes for a scene in The Shining. I suppose this is why Jack Nicholson looks so crazy?? The documentary also featured his early job as a photographer for Look magazine. Much of Kubrick's early work in this film is really touching for the many Kubrick aficionados of the world.

Verinha Ottoni.




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