Kubrick’s Greatest Lesson – Proving That Genre Doesn’t Define A Director


By Will Barber Taylor

Stanley Kubrick is one of the world’s greatest directors. He pioneered film and set a precedent for future filmmakers to follow. His use of semaphore and extended metaphors combined with stellar cinematography make the bulk of his work classics of the medium. Yet perhaps Kubrick’s greatest lesson to filmmakers of the future was this – you don’t need to be defined by a single genre.

Kubrick pursued this ideal throughout his movie career. Kubrick’s first great success was Spartacus (1960). An epic, almost biblically scaled film, Spartacus is on one level a typical Hollywood film of that period; large sets, legions of extras and an all-star cast. Yet Kurbick’s injection of thought and genuine concern into making the film uniquely stylish and grippingly realistic means that it rises above the standard blockbuster of the age.

Yet the sandstone swept world of Spartacus is miles away from Kubrick’s next film, Lolita (1962). Set in the present day it adapted Vladimir Nabokov’s disturbingly “adult” coming of age story. Shot in black and white, Lolita’s tone and creepy demure is miles away from Spartacus. They are so different some might think that they were made by two different directors – yet Kubrick’s hallmark of quality is there throughout.

Kubrick next five films are perhaps his greatest and yet all of them are so radically different. Dr Strangelove is one of film’s greatest black comedies; a meditation on the cold war and a disparaging jab at America’s foreign policy towards the USSR. 2001: A Space Odyssey is on one level a space adventure and yet on another is the development of humanity and the culmination of all man’s endeavours ultimately proving futile in the great scheme of change. A Clockwork Orange’s dark dystopia mirrors elements both Strangelove and 2001 in certain way, yet is also is the complete opposite of them – whilst Strangelove provides bleak laughter and 2001 hope of a species continuation, A Clockwork Orange presents life as a never-ending cycle of violence or oppression. Barry Lyndon and The Shining as similarly disparate – one an out and out horror film, the other one of the greatest historical films ever made. Yet Kubrick made them all, defying the modern norm of directors sticking to one genre.

The answer is, of course, obvious; Kubrick chose his films based on story rather than on genre. It didn’t matter whether the film radically differed from the previous one he had made, he made it because it was a story worth telling and one which he could make an excellent film out of. Kubrick’s greatest lesson to directors of the future was this: filmmakers should not be constrained by one form or another; they should be able tell stories based on the quality of their work rather than whether they fit conventional genre or not. For, conventionality often breeds the end of truly inspiring work.

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