Stanley Kubrick: Influence Through Film

Brent Wiese

Influence: A power affecting a person, thing, or course of events, especially one that operates without any direct or apparent effort. (American 926) Many people can be considered influential, from Wolfgang Mozart to Abraham Lincoln to Mahatma Gandhi to Kurt Cobain. These people, and others, have indirectly affected the world around them through their actions, ideas or art. It is important to recognize those who have influenced popular culture so that modern socio-political trends can be better understood. Filmmaker Stanley Kubrick has influenced popular culture in various ways. He directed and produced thirteen feature films during his 46-year career. His death on March 7, 1999 marked the passing of a legend. Kubrick’s films are critically acclaimed as classics in their genres, from 1957’s anti-war masterpiece, Paths of Glory, to 1980’s pinnacle of horror, The Shining. Kubrick’s films were (and are) influential, not only in the Hollywood arena, but also in popular music and by the part they played in dictating public ideas and discourse.

Stanley Kubrick was very well respected among film circles. "Kubrick’s work has generated strong defense from his admirers…." (Falsetto 3) His death brought eulogies from very well respected leaders of the film industry. Two-time Best Director Academy Award Winner Steven Spielberg said of Kubrick, "He copied no one while all of us were scrambling to imitate him." (Spiegelman) Three-time Oscar Nominee Oliver Stone said that Kubrick was the "single greatest American director of his generation." (Spiegelman) Twice Best Actor Nominee, Tom Cruise, and his wife, Nicole Kidman, co-stars of Kubrick’s final film, 1999’s Eyes Wide Shut, lamented, "We are thankful to have had the opportunity to share this experience with him. He was a true genius, a dear friend and we will greatly miss him." (Cox) Further evidence of the high esteem his colleagues held for him is the fact that Stanley Kubrick has been nominated for thirteen Academy Awards. (Oscars) The American Film Institute (AFI) named three films by Stanley Kubrick in the AFI’s list of the top one hundred films ever made. (Pubweb) The top 250 films of all time, as ranked by the Internet Movie Database, include nine Kubrick films. (IMDB) Obviously, Kubrick is respected by the film society, and a logical result of this respect is the influence he has had on the film society.

Kubrick’s influence on film is manifested in several ways, one of which is the popularity of the art film. One criterion for a film to be considered an "art film" is a high Average Shot Length (ASL). A high ASL is achieved by incorporating many long takes into a film. In 1963, the ASL of all movies was a very low 7.5 seconds. (Falsetto 33) However, Kubrick’s 1962 film, Lolita, has an ASL of 17.5 seconds, which is clearly well above the average. (Falsetto 33) Many of Kubrick’s other films also have high ASLs. For example, "[i]n Barry Lyndon…[t]he ASL of sixteen seconds places it firmly within the art film category." (Falsetto 39) The fact that many of Kubrick’s films have an ASL so far above the average show that he was on the cutting edge of the long-take aspect of filmmaking. Thanks to Kubrick’s pioneering, many recent art films involve long takes. Popular examples of long takes in modern movies are the opening shot of 1997’s Boogie Nights and the restaurant scene of 1990’s Goodfellas.

The advancement of the long-take aesthetic is not the only effect that Stanley Kubrick has had upon the film industry. He has influenced everything from lighting to special effects to film content. Daily Variety film critic Leonard Klady says, "he was in the pantheon of great film making. He did so many things so well and raised the bar for film from special effects to the use of music." (Spiegelman) Warner Brother’s co-chief executive officer Robert Daly states that "Stanley's unique vision and protean abilities as a filmmaker have fascinated and inspired audiences and colleagues for almost a half-century." Danny Lorber of iPOP online magazine, comments on the ubiquitous influence of 2001: A Space Odyssey:

Other than Citizen Kane, I'd say this is the most significant and important Hollywood work ever made. In terms of technology and narrative sophistication, the film was light years ahead of any science fiction film that came before it. Kubrick spent years perfecting every detail and model that went into the film's conception and what resulted was a warning of sorts about the dangers of computers and humanity's destructive tendencies away from the organic tools of life. 2001 was layered with meaning, suspense and disturbing ambiguity. The science fiction genre has no other entry this smart and challenging. [Steven] Spielberg and [George] Lucas, who have made the most prominent sci-fi works since 2001, are inspired in every way by Kubrick's opus - but their films come short in every artistic and intellectual way. (Lorber)

As yet another example, Michael Ciment, biographer, lauds Kubrick because "[h]is experiments with transparencies, models and other special effects for 2001, with direct sound recording on light-weight microphones for A Clockwork Orange and with lighting for Barry Lyndon have all engendered technological improvements and accentuated the impression of reality." (Falsetto 9) These few affirmations of Stanley Kubrick’s influence are woefully inadequate to get a true feeling for how influential his films really were.

The films of Stanley Kubrick have also influenced popular music. The 1968 release of 2001 had a profound effect on the music of the late sixties. The film inspired David Bowie to write "A Space Oddity," his epic song of the dialogue between "ground control" and Major Tom, an astronaut who becomes separated from his spaceship. Another immediate example of the influence of 2001 is the twenty-three-minute psychedelic jam, "Echoes," by Pink Floyd. Roger Waters, the musical genius behind Pink Floyd, produced "Echoes" so that it would correspond to the "Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite" portion of 2001 in style, content, length, and timing. 2001 is not the only Kubrick film that has had an impact on pop music. New Musical Express magazine says that "A Clockwork Orange has been a massive stylistic influence on everyone from David Bowie to Blur." (NME) As another example, "Baby Got Back," the 1992 hit by Sir Mix-A-Lot, sampled a sound clip of a Vietnamese hooker saying, "Me so horny," in Kubrick’s 1987 film Full Metal Jacket. Another influence of Kubrick’s films is the popularization of classical music. Kubrick’s use of Strauss’s "Also Sprach Zarathustra" in 2001, or Rossini’s "William Tell Overture" in A Clockwork Orange have popularized those works and other classical pieces. Evidence of this popularity is the live cover of "Also Sprach Zarathustra" by Phish at a concert in 1997.

Kubrick’s influence on entertainment does not end with music. Countless examples exist of Kubrick’s effect on entertainment, even today. The music video for the song "Symphony 2000" by rapper EPMD involves the rapper acting out a scene from The Shining. The book 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke, was actually written after the movie came out. In addition to the book version of 2001, many books have been written about Stanley Kubrick, including several biographies. Yet another example of Kubrick’s influence on modern culture is the fact that enough references to Stanley Kubrick and his films in the popular television show "The Simpsons" exist that an entire web page is devoted to chronicling these references. Several of Kubrick’s films are popular enough in themselves as to be elevated to "cult classic" status, especially A Clockwork Orange. These are only several examples to show the extreme effect that Stanley Kubrick has had on popular culture.

Kubrick’s films have always been talked about. He had an ability to make films that dealt with issues concurrently in the public mind. Robert Kolker commented on this ability of Kubrick:

The films of his trilogy – Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange – were commercially successful and demonstrated an unerring ability to seize upon major cultural concerns and obsessions – the Cold War, space travel, the ambiguities of violence – and represent them in images and narratives so powerful and appropriate that they became touchstones, reference points for these concerns: myths. (Falsetto 9)

Dr Strangelove is a black comedy about a nuclear war accidentally occurring. It was released in 1964, the height of the Cold War, and forced the public to reevaluate their stance on the Cold War. 2001, Kubrick’s semi-religious film dealing with space travel and extra-terrestrial contact, was released in 1968, a year before the first manned mission to the moon. Needless to say, the film was very popular because of the press coverage of the space race. 2001 was in theaters for over a year. A Clockwork Orange is about a violent young man who is conditioned so that he can commit no violence, and is subsequently taken advantage of by his previous victims. Released in 1971, A Clockwork Orange played upon the thoughts of the horrendous violence in Vietnam, and the uncertainty of whether that violence was necessary. These are only three examples of how Stanley Kubrick’s movies relate to public ideas and discussion; each of his films has influenced public thought to some extent.

All of the previous paragraphs are unnecessary, given that a single viewing of any film directed by Stanley Kubrick will reveal that he is influential. It would be near-impossible to not instantly see parallels to modern ideas or entertainment. Stanley Kubrick was an influential man; much can be learned from his work. If you have never seen a Kubrick film, stop reading this immediately and rent one of his movies.

Works Cited

"AFI’s Top 100 List." http://pubweb.nwu.edu/~dnw318/afi.html (18 Oct. 1999).

American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. v. 3, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992.

Cox, Dan. "‘Eyes’ Sheds Tear." 1999. http://www.highroadproductions.com/FRAME/kubrick.htm (18 Oct. 1999).

Falsetto, Mario. Perspectives on Stanley Kubrick. London: Prentice Hall International, 1996.

Falsetto, Mario. Stanley Kubrick: A Narrative and Stylistic Analysis. London: Greenwood Press, 1994.

Lorber, Danny. "Stanley, You Will Be Missed." 1999. http://www.ipopmag.com/reviews/rev_990312_Kubrick.html (18 Oct. 1999).

"Search the Academy Award Nominations and Winners." http://www.oscars.org/database/index_frame.html (18 Oct. 1999).

Spiegelman, Arthur. "Hollywood Mourns Kubrick, Hails ‘Great Filmmaker.’" 1999. http://www.film-411.com/kubrick/latimes.html (15 Oct. 1999).

"Stanley Kubrick, film director 1928-1999." 1999. http://www.nme.com/newsdesk/19990208143224news.html (18 Oct. 1999).

"Top 250 Movies as voted by our users." 1999. http://www.imdb.com/top_250_films (18 Oct. 1999).