Thursday, November 8, 2012

Review: 'The Stanley Kubrick Archives'

Stanley Kubrick’s background as a still photographer was fully apparent in his cinematic works. His images held up magnificently when editor Alison Castle floated them from the screen to the pages of her 2004 book The Stanley Kubrick Archives. These shots “scanned directly from the film reels” constitute Part 1 of Castle’s massive tribute to our most awe-striking filmmaker. She allows these iconic images—Jamie Smith wielding a mannequin in Killer’s Kiss, Sterling Hayden watching his fortune blow down a runway in The Killing, James Mason painting Sue Lyons’s toes in Lolita, Slim Pickens riding a bomb in Dr. Strangelove, the moon and sun aligning with a looming monolith in 2001, the 50mm paintings of Barry Lyndon, the blood-flooding elevator of The Shining—to speak for themselves, reminding us of how the essence of filmmaking is pictures not words and how often dialogue was unneeded in so many of Kubrick’s most powerful scenes.

Part 2 fills out the story with new and old essays and articles on Kubrick’s life and work. I was impressed that only two of the interviews Castle selected for this section had previously appeared in Gene Phillips’s Stanley Kubrick Interviews. There’s also a shockingly insightful analysis of 2001 by a 15-year old girl, which Kubrick called “the most intelligent I’ve read anywhere.”

Part 2 is the real meat of The Stanley Kubrick Archives, not only because of the text, but also because of the less familiar images of the master’s still photos, movie outtakes, and behind-the-scenes shots. There’s a wild circa-Spartacus shot of a poncho-sporting Kubrick beating the bongos while James B. Harris jams along on what looks like a tin pan. There’s a generous selection of thirteen stills from the climactic pie-fight cut from Dr. Strangelove, and most thrilling of all, test shots and designs of aliens for possible inclusion in 2001.

The only downside of The Stanley Kubrick Archives—and this applies to all books of this sort—is that it has the potential to kill a movie’s magic. There are a few behind-the-scenes shots that may affect my ability to get lost in 2001 the next time I watch it. You’ve been warned.

Taschen Books has just republished The Stanley Kubrick Archives in conjunction with the company’s twenty-fifth anniversary. Get it at Amazon.com here:

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