Every so often, I must light the candle, ring the bell, but never close the book.
Lighting the Candle
It is time for me to remember the life, the work and the art of Stanley Kubrick. In today's tsunami of massing media, of disposable
here-today-gone-tomorrow filmmaking, of mobile phone video ('it's a movie isn't it?')… I reach for the artistry and vision of Kubrick as a haven in the flood.
Consider the stunning discoveries of the Toba cataclysm, 73,000 years ago when our human species was reduced to less than 10000 individuals, a
third of whom were female—a near extinction of the species—then with that revelation, examine 2001: A Space Odyssey.
He died over twenty years ago, quietly in his sleep after shipping a final cut of his last film to his distributor. He created only sixteen
films for distribution and there will never be another film by Stanley Kubrick.
As each year goes by, more and more people realize what film artists have known since the 1960's... he was and remains singular among the
handful of unique filmmakers in the 20th century. As one director mused: "I look at the history of cinema and I see it divided into 'before Kubrick' and 'after
He transformed the role of music from a mood and emotion heightening component to the role of a character in a film. He created photography and
its love of lighting beyond the eye of any other filmmaker. He made production and costume design a signature of each frame. His sense of editing cannot be taught. He was singular
and in that he influenced the few important filmmakers that surrounded him.
So few films? It doesn't matter. Sometimes it may have taken him 4 or even 8 years to create a work, but each film encompasses more beauty than
most directors could achieve in a lifetime. And each of his films becomes a new film with each new viewing.
The high mark list begins with:
Paths of Glory
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
2001: A Space Odyssey
A Clockwork Orange
Full Metal Jacket
Eyes Wide Shut
There is much to say about these films. Each was released to a critical bewilderment and uproar. Some were wildly popular and delivered
huge returns at the box office. None of them ever lost money. One of them still sits alone as a cinematic work of art and a popular movie. 2001 is not a science-fiction film, or a drama, or a documentary... it's in a genre of its own, a vision of the future and its roots. The design and technical achievements of this film still stand alone today. It was created without CGI. Douglas Trumball, who supervised much of the photographic effects, went on to do the same for last pre-CGI film, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner.
Kubrick was also unique in that he had complete control of his films right down to their distribution, and advertising. He had a remarkable
relationship with one of the hardest-nosed, profit-driven studios in Hollywood, Warner Bros. Throughout his life and career, he looked to them as if they were a Renaissance patron
and that's how they treated him. He got whatever he wanted. He was their one Master — for which they wanted recognition. He was also a profitable one. Like Picasso, he showed how art and success and money mix – by living and breathing it 24 hours a day.
It's bad that he's gone. It's good that he lived. His envious critics are forgotten as all critics are. His imitators are disposible and
ignored. In today's empowered lowest-common denominator where everyone is an artist, where the art and artifacts of cinema are merchandised and made matter-of-fact in a maelstrom
of technology and voyeurism and youtubeability... his work remains an irresistible, unmitigated treasure.
Farewell to Iris and to Iris Farewell
I have always loved the Iris, especially the traditional one, purple with a sensuous golden center. It has an innate beauty in the way it
grows and develops, and it's wonderfully smart in the way it blossoms. So it was with one of the flower's namesakes, Iris Chang. She was a diligent and perceptive historian who was
also a gifted writer. Her 1997 Rape of Nanking became a best-seller and catapulted her to celebrity status which she used in her passionate and eloquent pursuit of historical justice.
On November 9, 2004, Iris Chang put a bullet in her head and ended a charismatic 36-year life. I knew her from a few telephone conversations
and a couple of meetings over tea and coffee. I didn't know her family. I didn't go to her memorial service because I don't go to funerals. They say she was depressed; they say she
was self-shattered from the depths she explored of humans' horrific treatment of other humans. She left a note asking to be remembered as she was: "engaged with life, committed to
her causes, her writing, and her family."
I don't understand depression with any clarity. It seems to be like a virus that re-programs the operating system of the mind and elevates one
of an individual's selves that usually only wanders in the deepest, darkest shadows of the memory. And I'm unclear about suicide as well. I've written about it – from a
deformed death-row inmate who opts for it to taste a freedom of self-choice he's never had to a woman who discovers that her mortality will coldly erase all that is her life and
opts for it to at least hold the eraser herself and warmly blank out all that she is.
These are created characters that lived within me. I wouldn't know how to paint such a profile of Iris Chang. I'm at a loss. And as with all
deaths, self-inflicted or not, I've acquired another irrevocable sadness.
She was a bright light, and when it burned out, there was just that more darkness to live with.
To Iris... farewell.