Tag: Stanley Kubrick

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With 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick showed the way to a new level in film special effects. His techniques opened a door. Nearly a decade later, George Lucas walked through that door. George followed the Stanley playbook in some very important respects, among them: he didn’t farm out his special effects to specialized outside […]

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Classic Visual Effects


Films have always relied on visual magic, on camera and laboratory tricks, never more than today. Special photographic visual effects existed for a century before the advent of computer-generated imagery, and often play a part in our fondest memories of favorite movies. There were few electronically created effects of any kind before the Eighties, and we’ll eventually get to the CGI era, but first, a guide to the classic processes and trade secrets that made the magic that most of us loved, from Metropolis through 2001, from Inside the Third Reich through Back to the Future. It’s the story of a distinctive twentieth century craft that still has relevance today.

Every history of special effects starts with George Melies, who was a fairground illusionist who brought trick photography to audiences in Paris. Other early films mostly ignored effects, except for a perennial fantasy favorite, ghosts, easy to do with a double exposure. Silent films began using glass shots: painting an elaborate setting on a sheet of glass and filming through it. Simple, but if you’ve ever seen the YouTube clip of Charlie Chaplin roller-skating in a department store, getting “dangerously” close to a “sheer drop”, you’ve seen how good it could look, even back then, if you lined it up right.

When “2001” Beat the Press


2001: A Space Odyssey had its world premiere on the evening of April 2, 1968, in Washington DC’s Uptown Theater. It began with a massive distraction. The big news was made earlier in the day when Lyndon Johnson announced that he wouldn’t run for re-election. Having all of Washington preoccupied and eager to gossip wasn’t the best background for screening a challenging film for a VIP audience.

Official Washington was the home of NASA, and the buying end of the aerospace and defense industries. Many of these companies had given design advice early in 2001’s production, and they sat back expecting to see what Variety would call “a super-Destination Moon”, after the pioneering, hardware-heavy 1950 film that brought space and science fiction onto the Fifties screen. But that’s not what they got.

How 1967 Changed 2001


When MGM signed contracts with Stanley Kubrick, the studio originally expected 2001: A Space Odyssey to be ready for Christmas 1966, but that was soon understood to be unrealistic. A big opening in 70mm Cinerama theaters in April 1967 was the new goal, followed by wider release to mainstream theaters later that year. Towards the end of 1966, Kubrick finally showed a half-hour of clips of the film’s most visually impressive moments to Robert O’Brien, MGM’s CEO, as well as a handful of other MGM executives. They were relieved and reassured. The spaceships, the zero-gravity scenes, and details of the future were the most realistic ever made. As the year ended, MGM already knew they had a spectacular-looking space picture on the way. Crucially, though, they still didn’t really understand what kind of space picture they’d be getting.

To an unusual degree, many of the distinctive things about 2001 we’ve known for more than half a century weren’t yet created during principal production, when the actors were on the set. They came along later, in the laboratories and editing rooms, in 1967.

Kubrick’s message to the studio was, look how close to perfection we’ve come; don’t force me to rush the completion of these elaborate visual effects. Optical and other laboratory effects were being made to unprecedented levels of quality, and this was taking time. Plus, like any film, 2001 still needed to be edited, dialog dubbed, foley (sound effects) tracks done, and final music composed and mixed. Even vastly less elaborate films took a couple of months. With the complexity of 2001’s lab work, it’s understandable that this would push things later. In other words, he couldn’t make an April deadline.

“Liberals, They Hate ‘Clockwork'”


Even half a century on, Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange is still one of the darkest and most haunting of dystopian films about the near future. A bitter satire on the inability of judgment-free modern society to deal seriously with violent crime, it premiered in New York City fifty years ago this week, on December 19, 1971. As a student writer at NYU, I was able to see it a week early at a press and critics screening at the Cinema 1 Theater. Getting there that night was no joy; riding the graffiti’d-up Lexington Ave. subway, and watching your back on the dark, crime-ridden winter streets of Manhattan. It was a good prologue for seeing the film.

A month into its release, Malcolm McDowell gave an interview to The New York Times: “Liberals, they hate Clockwork because they’re dreamers and it shows them realities, shows ‘em not tomorrow but now. Cringe, don’t they, when faced with the bloody truth?”

The Times journalist asks about the effects of movie violence. McDowell drily noted that New York had 88 rapes a day. “I hate violence, but it is a fact, the human condition…Movies don’t alter the world, they pose questions and warnings. The Clockwork violence is stylized, surreal. Kubrick uses it only to warn us.”

ACF #33: Eyes Wide Shut


Friends, here’s our first Kubrick conversation–his last movie, Eyes Wide Shut, about the erotic temptations Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, I mean their characters, have to withstand at the turn of the millennium and how the spirit of Christmas might be replaced by a shocking and elusive conspiracy of elite perverts who dedicate themselves to restoring paganism!