Stanley Kubrick: recluse, perfectionist, innovator, chess player, family man, uncompromising genius, a whirlwind of creative force who was as loved by audiences as he was hated by critics. Known for exploring the sinister and the macabre, Kubrick rapidly established a reputation for fearlessly exposing the dark side of human nature. This can be seen in his representation of paedophilia in his adaptation of Lolita as well as in the sadistic glee with which world leaders played about with nuclear warheads as if they were toys in a sandpit in Dr Strangelove. It’s also seen in the question of whether Alex and his “droogs” can ever be cured of their desires for ultra-violence and rape in A Clockwork Orange. Pre-Kubrick, music had often been the flashy jewellery to highlight the neckline and plunging cleavage of film, but through giving his visual sequences an almost constant and unforgettable soundtrack he was able to marry audio and visual together just like the inseparable, if slightly pathetic, star-crossed lovers.
During the 1980s, Kubrick followed up his previously ground-breaking and controversial films with the equally challenging and experimental The Shining (1980) and Full Metal Jacket (1987). For The Shining, Kubrick took the horror genre by the feet, flipped it on its head, waggled it about until it went very red in the face, then dropped it on the floor for good measure. He achieved this by altering Stephen King’s story so that it created horror through interior madness and deterioration in contrast to previous horror films which had sunk comfortably into the soft leather armchairs of the external supernatural. The stunning sweeping mountain sequences at the start of the film lay the ground for further dream-like tracking shots that give The Shining an insidious, haunting quality. Omnipresent music gives the more sedated scenes a sinister edge and reaches an almost ear-splitting pitch by the climax, to the extent that it’s a pleasant surprise during the credits to realise that the windows haven’t shattered. What glues the film together is undoubtedly Jack Nicholson’s demonic performance, where his demented caterpillar eyebrows, maniacal grin, crazed looks and ‘Here’s Johnny’ sequence leave the viewer in a state of white-knuckled, wide-eyed (and optionally, wet-trousered) terror.
Kubrick also put his own unique spin on Full Metal Jacket, creating that rare thing: a war film devoid of a moral or political standpoint. The effect of this was such that the viewer is shown not only the atrocities of warfare but also its beauty. Here, once again refusing to be cowed by the whip of convention, Kubrick compartmentalised the film into two distinct sections to create the impression of “the duality of man” through capturing the dehumanising effect of military training during the first half and man’s ability to regain identity through killing and destruction during the second. He masterfully satirises the recklessness and lack of pity with which the men fight, through maintaining painfully jovial music throughout the most appalling scenes of slaughter. Some of the most poignant moments in the film remain the soldiers’ loss of identity through their heads being shaven, Gomer Pyle’s decent into madness in the bathroom and the later scene shot from the point of view of the casualties of war.
A goliath force in the film world, with a personality and beard to match, Stan will forever remain in our hearts, minds and DVD collections. Louis Pigeon-Owen
SUCK MY BLOCKBUSTER
The 1980s was the first decade to be truly dominated by the blockbuster. The phenomenon actually started with Jaws in 1975 but did not hit its stride until the 80s. The summer was typically seen as an ‘off’ season for cinema, people were out enjoying themselves and aside from dwindling Drive-in Cinemas, no one wanted to be inside; aside from the huge success of Jaws (the release of which was delayed until the summer when people were out on the beaches) and Star Wars: A New Hope in 1977.
Three years later The Empire Strikes Back opened the 80s with a bang. The wild success of Jaws saw the beginnings of the franchise film, cemented then by the Star Wars trilogy’s popularity. As the Blockbuster gained popularity, so did the practice of attaching a number to the end of the dead horse you were flogging. But despite the rise of blockbusters cursing us to suffer through summers filled with Family-Adventure 6 and Yes We Made Another Sequel 5, the 80s witnessed some of the most beloved franchises to date. Stephen Spielberg, master (and arguably creator) of the blockbuster dominated the decade, releasing the Indiana Jones trilogy and smashing box office records with E.T. James Cameron entered the scene with his action hit The Terminator and Aliens.
Whether or not a film is a ‘blockbuster’ or not, is determined by its revenue. Anything could be a blockbuster from the 1980 comedy Airplane! to action classics like Die Hard. The important thing was that the films make back their budget and draw in massive revenue. Blockbusters resulted in a move away from the idea of making a film with ‘legs’, one that could bring in a stable audience during the weeks of its release. The new trend was to have a smash opening weekend, drawing in huge crowds, as who cares if the audience drops off in the second week due to bad press. The importance of the opening weekend to draw in the crowds before word spreads. That’s why the action-adventure genre is so common for blockbusters. The idea is to tease the audience with enough epic spectacle to get them queuing round the block come release day. Furthermore, the prospect of huge opening sales is why the blockbuster and franchise films are inexorably linked. While audiences like to be surprised, if you can serve said surprise on the same plate all the better. Have something that people love? Try adding Sean Connery as the father or just doing the film again but in the future this time.
The 80s was a golden age for Blockbusters and looking at each year’s biggest films, there is a refreshing lack of sequels. As it stands now, every summer we see yet another slew of sequels. This year we can look forward to Furious 7, Mission: Impossible 5 and Terminator 6. The 80s capitalised on the blockbuster, producing some cracking films, a fact that Hollywood is aware of and so keeps trying to reboot/remake/ruin them. Perhaps they’re on to something if they keep flogging the putrid corpse of a franchise long enough, the carbonised remains will turn to diamond. So perhaps in a billion years or so we’ll see Shrek 995,900,333 clean up at the Oscars. George Barker