Back when I was a wee one, I first encountered deep details about Kubrick and his highly particular ways of doing things by way of Michel Ciment's excellent earlier book about the man. He was unlike most artists I'd encountered before that point, who when grilled about why they did things, either shrugged their shoulders or gave answers that had more the semblance of thought than any actual gears turning. Stanley always had answers.
It's so hard to talk about this stuff without lapsing into uselessly moralistic language. Few artists have the kind of systematic, exacting discipline he did, but that doesn't mean they were worse than he was. If I think of Kubrick as a model or an ideal, it's not because I would want to be spoken of in the same breath, but only because any additional discipline I can learn from another artist is likely to pay off. And his class of discipline was to understand what the significance of one's choices were — what it means to tell this story in this way with these creative decisions deployed in it.
One thing Kubrick noted, for instance (I plan to run down many of these examples in the future), is the supreme importance of choosing a good story. Banal as that sounds, it matters when the easy thing to do is to pick something that isn't important because of the story but rather because it provides you with opportunities to riff on the material stylistically. For a man known best for his absolute and controlled style, it's a strange sentiment — but then again, this was a man whose style was so careful and direct that it is almost no style at all.
In an interview he gave when promoting Paths Of Glory, he spoke of the theater as being in something of a degenerate state because it had to him become mainly a way for actors to show off than for playwrights to tell a compelling story. But he also believed that the burden shouldn't be on the artist to provide a thesis for the meaning of his work. Everyone takes away something different from a film, but the artist should always start from the strongest possible base — a good story — from which the audience can take things away.
When me and my brother were still quite young, we experienced something of a shock when we realized 2001: a space odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Dr. Strangelove, et al., were all products of the same man. At that age one could hardly draw a line between any two of them, let alone all of them. But the line is there if you look for it. I now see that it consists of nothing more than the man's interest in finding a magnetic story, one with pungency and distinction, and making the utmost of it in a way that seems almost transparent.
That, I suppose, is the spirit behind the concluding exchange for that interview:
What kind of movies do you want to create?
Only one kind.
I'll have more from this book later.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind