Tribeca Film Festival 2021 Review: Kubrick by Kubrick

Year: 2020
Runtime: 73 minutes
Director: Gregory Monro
Writer: Gregory Monro

By Joan Amenn

Few modern film directors have been analyzed and dissected like Stanley Kubrick. Much as he evaded interviews that attempted to pry out of him details of his private life, he did occasionally grant access to a select few. One of these was French film critic Michel Ciment, whose recordings of his discussions with Kubrick and his book form the basis of this new documentary by Gregory Monro.

As brief as this film is at only a little over an hour long, it is entertaining in how it is structured around various props from Kubrick’s films and an old-fashioned tape recorder. The director is heard reflecting on his productions and his motivations behind his distinctive vision. For example, it is well known that “Barry Lyndon” (1975) was shot in natural light for the outdoors scenes and candlelight for the interiors because Kubrick wanted to realistically depict the 18th Century in the film.

What isn’t discussed as much is how he chose the music for the accompanying soundtrack to his projects although the conductor for “Barry Lyndon” amusingly tells of nearly throttling Kubrick after enduring a seemingly endless demand for another take. Of course, authentic instruments for the film’s era were used but we do not learn why the director chose the musical compositions he did. Often, his choices became as iconic as the films themselves. Who doesn’t think of “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” in reference to any science-fiction film, not just “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968)?

“As brief as this film is at only a little over an hour long, it is entertaining in how it is structured around various props from Kubrick’s films and an old-fashioned tape recorder.”

There are some brief interviews of various actors who reflect on working with Kubrick. The late, great R. Lee Ermey who was only supposed to consult on “Full Metal Jacket” (1987) and wound up giving a riveting performance in it, shows up on a talk show to recount how realistic the film seemed to him as a war veteran. An impossibly young Tom Cruise defends “Eyes Wide Shut” (1999) to Diane Sawyer in another clip of an interview about the director’s last film. As is pointed out in the documentary, almost all of Kubrick’s films deal with the veneer of normalcy or civilization being tested by an underlying conflict that breaks free and causes the basis for the story. In “The Shining” (1980) a small American family is thrown into extreme isolation and their underlying dysfunction surfaces to be exploited by a supernatural evil. In “A Clockwork Orange” (1971) society as a whole has a rotten foundation of violence and depravity that culminates in the “cure” of Alex at the end of the film. Of course, Alex is a product of that same immorality but the satire was lost on many when the film was first released and may not be apparent to some even now.

“Kubrick by Kubrick” is cleverly edited so that fans of the director’s films get to enjoy a small recap of each. It also makes use of a recreation of the bedroom scene at the end of “2001” when Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) encounters the aliens who have been helping humanity through the millennia. It suggests that Kubrick did not pass on in 1999 but simply evolved into a higher life form, like Bowman becoming the Star Child in the film. It is a comforting thought for those who love the enigmatic director’s work and clearly, Gregory Monro is a fan.

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