Any excuse for a party. Stanley Kubrick's films Lolita (1962) and Barry Lyndon (1975) appeared on Blu-ray for the first time this week, and Malcolm McDowell shared a few new anecdotes in a two-disc Blu-ray of Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971). So, in addition to releasing those titles separately, Warner Bros. has bundled them together with seven other films in Stanley Kubrick: Limited Edition Collection.
The studio talked Universal into letting it include Spartacus (1960) and Sony into lending it Dr. Strangelove (1964). The remaining titles are 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), The Shining (1980), Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999, the version without the computer-generated masked figures blocking the copulating couples). That's every film Kubrick directed between 1960 and his death in 1999.
Not that he didn't have other plans. For years, Kubrick prepared to make an epic about Napoleon, one of his heroes. Then MGM informed him that because another film about Napoleon (1970's Waterloo) had been released and performed poorly at the box office, the studio wouldn't finance his dream project.
Kubrick channelled some of his ideas into Barry Lyndon, a picaresque adventure based on a novel by William Makepeace Thackeray and set in the 1700s. He told the story at a glacial pace - the "slow, even, adult" approach he had planned for the Napoleon project, says one commentator in the box set. Yet even those who feel the time ticking by will concede that Barry Lyndon looks gorgeous, bathed in natural light, with several scenes that could be mistaken for the paintings of old masters.
There were other plans - for a film about the Holocaust, for a science fantasy (which became Steven Spielberg's AI: Artificial Intelligence) - but Kubrick was incapable of working quickly. Jan Harlan, executive producer of a few of his films, says Kubrick "admired Woody Allen for turning out every year a new film. He would have loved to do it, but he couldn't. It wasn't his style."
Jack Nicholson found that out on The Shining. "You know when you work for Stanley, he's not going to stop until it's exactly the way he wants it, right, wrong or indifferent." It's hard not to admire Kubrick's dedication, even if at times you can't imagine what he got on the 50th take that he wouldn't have had on the first.
Writers were naturally thrilled when Kubrick chose their works, but weren't always happy with the results. Stephen King, author of the novel The Shining, complained in 1983 that Kubrick "just couldn't grasp the sheer inhuman evil of the Overlook Hotel," and instead turned his story into "a domestic tragedy with only vaguely supernatural overtones."
Anthony Burgess, author of A Clockwork Orange, wasn't pleased that Kubrick based his film on the U.S. edition of the book, which lopped off the concluding chapter. In that chapter, the teenage rapist-murderer Alex (the character played by McDowell) has turned 18 and feels the urge to settle down, renounce violence and have a son. "The 21st chapter gives the novel the quality of genuine fiction," Burgess wrote in 1986, "an art founded on the principle that human beings change. ... The American or Kubrickian Orange is a fable; the British or world one is a novel."
Oh, and Gene Kelly was greatly upset that Alex sang Singin' in the Rain, Kelly's signature song, during a particularly ugly bout of rape and murder in A Clockwork Orange. It was a fluke, really. Kubrick wanted McDowell to sing something, and Singin' in the Rain was the only song McDowell could remember. As backhanded compliments go, that's a classic.
ALSO NEW THIS WEEK
Russell Peters: The Green Card Tour Live from the O2 Arena (2011) Peters, an enormously successful Canadian stand-up comic, knows his audience, which comes in every shade, though most of those in this southeast London venue appear to have, like him, roots in India. He plays national stereotypes like a harp, picking on individuals in the style of Dame Edna Everage and insulting them with a hint of Don Rickles. His strength is in a mastery of accents, a gift for improv and an impressive knowledge of the countries he talks about. An optional DVD track deletes his expletives, but it makes nonsense of half of his jokes.
Kaboom (2010) Writer-director Gregg Araki, who gave Anna Faris her best role to date in his 2007 stoner comedy Smiley Face, is back with another adventure of resilient, sexually active, buff young people getting into wild scrapes. Kaboom follows a bisexual 18-year-old named Smith (Thomas Dekker) as he and his gay and straight friends seek and enjoy casual sex, exchange ribald banter and, oh, encounter witchcraft and maybe the end of the world. Tone is everything, and Araki's tone is light and breezy, even when the plot darkens.
Passion Play (2010) Bill Murray must have felt he owed something to Mitch Glazer, co-writer of 1988's Scrooged. If so, consider the debt overpaid. Glazer wrote and directed this painfully misbegotten attempt at a cross between fantasy and film noir. Lily (Megan Fox) is a winged carnival attraction. Trumpeter Nate (Mickey Rourke) slept with the wife of brutal gangster Happy (Murray) and is now on Happy's to-do-in list. Lily is smitten with Nate. (Fox and Rourke? Uh huh.) Christopher Doyle's photography is lovely. For the rest, yikes. Film buffs will see one twist coming 90 minutes away.