Whose Stanley Kubrick? – 20th Anniversary Essay

Portrait of the elder Stanley Kubrick, circa 1999

Today (7 March 2019) marks the 20th anniversary of the death of director Stanley Kubrick, a man whose films are lauded among some of the finest cinematic art of the 20th century, encompassing the likes of SpartacusDr Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut.

To mark the occasion, CinePunked is presenting an essay examining the complex relationship of Kubrick’s art and image. ‘Whose Stanley Kubrick? The myth, legacy, and ownership of the Kubrick image’ was first published in 2008 in McFarland’s Stanley Kubrick: Essays on His Films and Legacy, and was the culmination of 18 months of research by CinePunked’s own Robert JE Simpson.

Drawing on archival research, exhaustive trawls through historical and contemporary press coverage, and exclusive interviews with Kubrick’s brother-in-law Jan Harlan, and producer Rick Senat the essay seeks to highlight the disconnect between the public impression, official line, and actual nature of Kubrick’s public image.

As Robert explains:

“This was a joy to work on, and completely absorbed my time and for a while served as the basis for a possible PhD project. While the essay received some good feedback, it wasn’t widely available, which was a shame considering the original focus of the research. I’ve been meaning to find a new home for it for some time, and the CinePunked archives is a perfect repository that will allow a wider readership to engage with the ideas.

I’ve kept the text as submitted for the original book, with a couple of updates to footnotes to note where the situation has changed since 2008 – when I wrote this, Kubrick’s archive was in the process of being transferred to the University of Arts, London, for example, and is now readily accessible.

Kubrick is a director I’ve loved since I first encountered his work as a teenager. That’s not to say I don’t find some of the work problematic at times, I do, but his films engage me conceptually and artistically. Visually stunning, no doubt drawing on his days as a photographer for Look magazine.

Highlight of the original process was sitting at Rick Senat’s house in St John’s Wood in London discussing Kubrick and his archive with Senat, who had been his long-time producer at Warner Bros (and who I had got to know as my boss at Hammer Films) and Jan Harlan, who was part of Kubrick’s family as well as executive producing a number of my favourite Kubrick films. The discussion was frank and open, and greatly influenced the shape of the final work. At that point, Kubrick’s archive was yet to be exploited, but by the time the book finally went to press, things were changing.

Twenty years on from Kubrick’s death and the questions I set out to answer remain pertinent. More than ever it feels as if we ‘own’ Kubrick, but the reality is that he remains as enigmatic as ever, and the more information that is teased out, the greater our fascination becomes.”

You can read the essay in our articles section or by following this link.

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