Like Max Ophuls ("Lola Montes"), Orson Welles ("Citizen Kane"), Carol Reed ("Odd Man Out"), and David Lean ("Oliver Twist"), Kubrick was obsessed with what he could do with camera movement as opposed to editing a series of shots. And, like these directors, Kubrick was an aesthetic explorer into the possibilities and impact of camera movement as much as he was a narrative director telling a story. He chose to move the camera about the chateau in the interior scenes in "Paths of Glory" as much for the joy of the movement as for the benefit of the narrative. Kubrick also enjoyed using pop music as reference points in his films, as well as such technical challenges as using candle illumination for the interiors in "Barry Lyndon." These technical and aesthetic choices were the equivalent of Kubrick telling a joke — all are amusing but they are not the source of power in the Kubrick film.
In this section, we are looking for that mixture of a director's idea and camera choices that yields filmic power. Many such examples can be found in Kubrick's work. First, let's look at an editing idea: I need to transport the audience to a different time, so I am going to use the idea of time and how it is experienced as my editing idea.
In "2001: A Space Odyssey," the dawn of man sequence begins in timelessness. This translates into extreme long shots that are static and give little indication of a change in the time of day as we move from one shot to the other. The next scene introduces the ape as a vegetarian. The scene is shared with other animals, and the sequence ends with the ape becoming food for the leopard. The pace throughout the scene is even, with nothing to indicate a temporal shift. As we move through the next scenes, primarily mid shots are used to introduce new ideas, such as night implying danger. When we arrive at the introduction of the monolith, the camera angles shift and we have a shift in the power grid. Pace has entered, albeit modestly.
244 When we arrive at the discovery of the weapon much changes.
Close-ups emphasize the importance of the bone. A cutaway to the monolith introduces a new idea—the power of the stone and the potential power of the bone. Once the potential for a weapon has been introduced as an idea, rapid cutting to the killing of animals and the primacy of the ape follows. Close-ups tell us that the importance of the discovery is understood. The rapid pace of the cutting indicates that a different sense of time has been established. The sense of time is totally changed from the opening scene at the dawn of time.
Turning to "Barry Lyndon," the idea once again was to transport the audience to a different time, to the different rhythms of the 18th century. To do so, Kubrick slowed down the pace of the introduction to "Barry Lyndon." He moved the camera physically but also used a zoom lens in order to lengthen the shots. The result is that, instead of shots lasting a few seconds, numerous shots last 30 to 60 seconds. By the time this first sequence is concluded, we are on 18th-centery time, or at least Kubrick's version of it. He has via an editing idea transported us into another sense of time—the dawn of man in "2001: A Space Odyssey" and the 18th century in "Barry Lyndon."
A second idea Kubrick employed and tried to capture with the camera was the restlessness of the Harfords in "Eyes Wide Shut." He used the moving camera to represent that restlessness. When the film opens, Bill and Alice are preparing for a party. They leave their spacious Manhattan apartment to go to the museum-like residence of Victor Ziegler. The camera roams before them, recording their restlessness. At the party, when Bill is preoccupied by two beautiful women, the camera again records them moving. Whether the restlessness implied here equates movement with sexual desire or energy is open to interpretation. Once Alice begins to dance with the handsome Hungarian, the camera again moves, left to right, right to left, simulating the seductive movement of a dance. The movement also seems to center them to the exclusion of others at the party (except for Bill). The proximity of the camera to the dancing couple also raises the seductive quality of their proximity to one another. Again, the restlessness of the camera creates a feeling. In both of these scenes, the movements have a self-absorbed quality and a sexual quality. The camera movement furthers Kubrick's ideas about the source of the restlessness or the dissatisfaction of these characters. This restlessness, of course, goes right to the heart of Kubrick's director's idea.
Finally let's look at the sniper attack in "Full Metal Jacket." It 245 exemplifies how Kubrick used point of view to convey the idea that war is all about killing and fighting to retain one's humanity. The sequence has two phases—the sniper's attack on the platoon and the platoon's attack on the sniper. In the first phase, Kubrick applied cinéma vérité strategies, such as the hand-held camera, the extensive use of camera movement, and the strategic use of close-ups, to give the audience a feeling of being under attack. During this phase, three members of the platoon, including its leader, Cowboy, are killed. The deaths are sudden and violent.
In the second phase of the attack, the attack on the sniper, the pace slows down and many static shots replace the moving shots. In this scene, only one person, the sniper, is killed. This scene has many more close-ups than the scene that preceded it. In this scene, Joker's decision about killing the young female sniper who wants to be killed is presented as intense and painful and in close-up. The aggression of the rest of the platoon toward the enemy contrasts sharply with Joker's conflicted feelings about killing. When he does shoot her it is his humane response to a suffering person rather than revenge against a hated enemy who moments before had killed his only friend in the platoon. By slowing down the scene and focusing on Joker's dilemma, Kubrick humanized the enemy and created a paradox for the viewer. If my enemy is human can he remain my enemy? This is the consequence of Kubrick's director's idea in "Full Metal Jacket." Modern war is the largest shadow cast over modern life. Killing is killing, whether in its modern version or a more ancient form.
Few directors are more powerful than Stanley Kubrick when he deployed the camera and the edit to his director's idea.
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