Tag Archives: Stanley Kubrick

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #12 – STANLEY KUBRICK – incorporating a visit to THE KUBRICK EXHIBITION, COPENHAGEN

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #12 – STANLEY KUBRICK – incorporating a visit to THE KUBRICK EXHIBITION, COPENHAGEN

Stanley Kubrick and I do not have many things in common. But one of them is we both, when he was still with us, hate flying. From some limited research I learnt that Kubrick was in fact a qualified pilot but following an incident in the air it scared him to the extent he refused to fly again. The famous story of recreating the major parts of war-torn Vietnam in London because of this during the making of Full Metal Jacket (1987) has subsequently gone into cinematic folklore.

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I hate flying for a number of reasons. Firstly, I am a science ignoramus and therefore cannot get my head around how that big hunk of metal can actually take off. Moreover, the fear of being trapped somewhere that in a crash situation means I am NOT getting out alive is too much to bear. I mean, on a boat or train or driving in your car you’ve got a fighting chance, but on a plane you’re up cloud creek without a paddle. More prosaically, I do NOT enjoy travelling on planes. Aside from being able to get a beer at seven in the morning, flying is just pointless to me. I don’t really even like holidays. You only have to come back and the relaxation you earned is ruined by the stress of having to fly back home.

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I realise these are first world problems but for me to get on a plane is a big deal. Yet, my wife loves travelling and visiting new places so as an appeasement exercise I agreed to go to Copenhagen. What sweetened the deal though is we both love the films of Stanley Kubrick and, given it has yet to come to London, decided to go visit said exhibition before it ended in January 2018. I am glad I did. It was brilliant.

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As the photos show every one of Kubrick’s completed and non-completed projects were given a wonderfully curated and considered display. There were: props; scripts; clapperboards, letters from fans; video and audio-clips; letters of protests from angry cinemagoers; costumes; set miniatures; and hundreds of production documents identifying the famed meticulousness of Kubrick’s productions. It was an Aladdin’s Cave of Kubrick’s filmic life and well worth getting lost in for several hours. One hopes it comes to London soon so I can go again!

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So much has been written about Stanley Kubrick’s techniques, philosophies and film modus operandi, that rather than offer technical or thematic analysis I’d like to consider the personal impact Kubrick has had on my life. All I can say is that from an emotional level here is a filmmaker who has been with me as far back as I can remember. I recall watching The Killing (1956) on BBC2 in England when I was eleven and marvelling at the incredibly metronomic and overlapping structure. Then, at Christmas later that year, I recall watching Spartacus (1960) on TV with the family and enjoying the blood and guts and heroism of the lead character. I revelled in the Roman baddies being thwarted by a mere slave. When I found out a few years later they were directed by the same person I did not believe it; it blew my mind.

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With this knowledge and experience in mind, I consciously or otherwise looked out for other works by Stanley Kubrick. My memory is hazy but in my late teens I found Paths of Glory (1957) showing, no doubt on BBC2 (we still only had four channels then in England), and I recorded it on VHS and watched it over and over. Knowing nothing of the filmmaking process I was impacted by the incredible tracking shots putting us in the heart of the action. Timothy Carey, who stole the show as a vicious criminal in The Killing, again really stood out in this classic WWI anti-war film. But like in Spartacus, Kirk Douglas was fierce in his performance and his noble character protests against the injustice of the ruling powers within the poisonous French hierarchy.

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One film of Kubrick’s I never quite got into was Lolita (1962). I tried to read the novel many years ago but my young brain found it impenetrable.  Similarly, the film is a very dark comedy with a risqué theme of illicit romance and sexual awakening. The film was very controversial on release and Kubrick’s one film I have not watched many times but my feeling is that Kubrick was attracted to the weaknesses of masculinity in this work. Now, perhaps it is a sexist and lascivious film but I would need to re-watch it now to be able to fully commit to a clear critical view. One wonders if it would be made now given its context and complexity of gender and paedophilic representations. The PC, Neo-Millenials and feminist agendas would certainly have something to say about it and they would probably have a point. My feeling is though we should be allowed to make up our own mind on controversial works rather than carrying flaming torches on the internet threatening to burn anything that may be deemed controversial.

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Another film which is sexual, but this time more symbolically when compared to Lolita, is the anti-nuclear masterpiece Dr Strangelove: or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). Having watched it more recently and gained knowledge from the wonderful Kubrick exhibition, this scary and hilarious satire is filled with stupid, impotent and warring men bickering and squabbling over the future of a possible nuclear attack. It’s incredible to think that at the time of the Cold War a filmmaker could turn the fear of an atomic bomb attack into a comedy. But that is the genius of Stanley Kubrick because as an iconoclast he did just that. Like Paths of Glory, which was banned by the French government, the film garnered the ire of the military as Kubrick showed he wasn’t afraid to criticize those in power once again.

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2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is another film which, like Lolita, was one I did not see until years later. It was rarely on the television and only watching subsequent cinematic re-releases have I basked in the glory of this science-fiction classic. Kubrick’s work has sometimes been accused of formalism and technique over emotion and arguably 2001: A Space Odyssey is his most accomplished technical achievement. Yet the emotion is derived from the intellectual and philosophical journey of early man to that of enigmatic ‘Star Child’. One wonders at the combination of music and images to create a startling dialectic of wonderment, awe and enigma. What it all means is open to many interpretations and that too was the genius of Kubrick; there was rarely an easy answer to the themes raised in his films.

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While I admire 2001: A Space Odyssey more from afar, his next film  A Clockwork Orange (1971), is one which I have close cultural connections to. Of course, it was released when I was a baby but on entering my late teens the controversy caused on its release had still managed to reach the chattering testosterone of the boys’ school I attended. Here was a violent, sexual, sexist, profane, dystopic, misanthropic film with blood and nudity that had been banned (later I would find it had been withdrawn by Kubrick himself) AND WE MUST NOT SEE! Obviously that meant we HAD to see it. Alas, I didn’t see it until one evening, as a surprised 22 year old, at the Scala Cinema in King’s Cross when it shown illegally as a ‘secret’ film. Subsequently, this action by the above-underground repertory cinema caused legal action by Warner Bros., eventually forcing the cinema to close.

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Even without seeing A Clockwork Orange, before it’s bootleg London screening, I had immersed myself in the music on vinyl, bought posters, watched a theatrical presentation starring Phil Daniels; and of course read Burgess’s incredible novel a number of times. Myself and my brother loved the language and iconography and the danger of the piece. This is why censorship of all kinds can backfire because when you’re told you’re not allowed to see something it makes you want to watch it even more. Nonetheless, A Clockwork Orange would eventually be released openly and it still stands the test of time as a virulent and scathing attack on Governmental control of the proletariat. Of course, Alex the anti-hero is a psychopathic nightmare and a reflection of the brutal society established within the film and book. Again, Kubrick and Burgess’ original book can offer little in the way of solutions but rather a coruscating critique of humanity via an ultra-stylish and formidable cinematic and literary language.

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Kubrick’s next film following the Clockwork Orange controversy was Barry Lyndon (1975). Kubrick had put his typically meticulous planning into a film about Napoleon Bonaparte only for this to fall down for commercial reasons and the budget was then put towards another period drama. I have to admit I did not see Barry Lyndon in full until it was shown on Film Four a few years ago. I subsequently saw it again last year – restored to a 35mm print – at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square and was thoroughly absorbed by the tragic tale of the eponymous leading character. Kubrick’s insistent to shoot in low or candlelight gave the film a heavenly and picturesque glow; fascinating also was the structure of the film as Barry Lyndon’s life plays out via fate and a series of random misadventures. It reminded me somewhat of Forrest Gump (1994) where war and misfortune happen to and around him, while both films end similarly with familial tragedy. Many of Kubrick’s other films have rightly gained classic status with Barry Lyndon perhaps seen as a lesser film. But for me, the imagery and cinematography alone make it a masterpiece for me.

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Like A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining was a film released around the time of the 1980s “video-nasty” era and I watched a lot of those films on VHS. This was the time where my love of horror was formed and despite the enigmatic ending being lost on a dopey 12 year-old, I loved this story of a psychotic Jack Nicholson going mad and attacking his family. It was only years later on further re-watches that I fully appreciated the macabre psychological subtlety of the unfolding detachment from reality, which occurs to Jack Torrance. Of course, everyone recalls the “Here’s Johnny!” moment and is scared to death by his twisted actions, but everything before that is brilliant, as it masterfully builds and creates dread amidst iconic images including: the twin girls, red-patterned carpet, the maze and the creepy barman in the Overlook Hotel. Stephen King, apparently doesn’t rate Kubrick’s The Shining but I think he is wrong. I know he changed King’s excellent novel to fit his own vision but Kubrick’s The Shining stands the test of time today.

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Kubrick’s final two films, Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999) thankfully came out when I was old enough to see them at the cinema. Both are what I consider classic Kubrick mirrored structures. That is they are split into two long acts rather than the traditional three-act structure present in most classical Hollywood films. In Full Metal Jacket we establish the rigours of training Marines involving, from the film’s point-of-view, the dehumanizing stripping of humanity in order to turn men into killing machines. The second-half places such men into the Vietnam War and finds them lost in a black mirror of death and despair, attempting to make sense of the carnage around them. Such themes as the follies of war and damaging arrogance of those in rule are prevalent throughout his work including this film, Barry Lyndon, Dr Strangelove and Paths of Glory.

Having failed to get projects such as The Aryan Papers and Artificial Intelligence to the screen his next feature, Eyes Wide Shut, alas, was Kubrick’s final film. It benefits from close to career best performances from then married Nicole Kidman and Hollywood star Tom Cruise. I recall seeing it at a cinema in Fulham Road and my first reaction was it seemed unreal and ungrounded. The explicit sex scenes seemed stagey and were exploitational; plus Nicole Kidman’s acting aside the whole thing did not work for me on any level. Of course though the film, like many of Kubrick’s works, need to be viewed more than once for the nuance and subtle psychologies at work to seep through into one’s psyche. On further views of Eyes Wide Shut, the dark comedy and tragedy at work contextualises the sexual depravity on show revealing a dreamlike structure and strong moral compass which leads you to the conclusion hedonism and freedom of physical expression are empty vessels and vacuous pursuits compared to the relative safety of love, family and marriage.

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Walking round the Stanley Kubrick exhibition was a fantastic experience. Not only to revel in the artistic bricolage of the genius filmmakers’ oeuvre and history, but also to tread through my own memories of growing older watching Kubrick’s works. This and Copenhagen as a whole made it worth my while getting on a plane and suffering the stress of flight to venture to Denmark; where something totally not rotten was going on.

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FILMWORKER (2017) – LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW

FILMWORKER (2017) – LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW

Stanley Kubrick is the greatest filmmaker who ever lived. That is a fact.  He made films in all genres but indelibly stamped his own genius on the war, comedy, thriller, horror, satire, crime, science-fiction, historical and drama films he adapted and created for the big screen. His work contains a litany of iconic images, searing soundtracks, stupendous performances, great intelligence and provocative thought which ensures his films linger in the memory of those who have witnessed them. All hail a true cinematic master.

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But, while Kubrick is famous – or infamous depending on your point-of-view – for his meticulous perfection and incredible cinematic vision he did not work alone. He had an array of film technicians, cinematographers, designers, researchers, editors and assistants who slaved for him on his various projects. One such individual was self-confessed ‘filmworker’ Leon Vitali. He was a rising star in the acting profession and subsequently cast in Kubrick’s classic period drama Barry Lyndon (1975). Yet, having seemingly fallen under the spell of Kubrick’s omnipotent charisma and incredible vision he offered his assistance on Kubrick’s next production. So taken was he with the great man he was prepared to take any role available. Turning his back on acting – save for the occasional supporting role in the director’s work – Leon would become a faithful servant to the all-powerful Master.

Director, Tony Zierra, has crafted a very insightful, informative and touching documentary about both Leon Vitali and the filmmaking process. It reaches beyond the lights, camera and action of movie-making to dig deep into the dark recesses of Kubrick’s creative work which involved, for many: long sleepless nights, obsessive attention to detail, Sisyphean research and the occasional nervous breakdown. Vitali, himself, lived on the edge of insomnia while contributing to such film classics as: The Shining (1980), Full Metal Jacket (1987), and Eyes Wide Shut (1999).

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Vitali proves a fascinating character who, during his interviews, reveals a dedication, poignancy, love and sense of grief in regard to his working relationship with Kubrick. Indeed, Vitali seems to not have recovered from Kubrick’s passing following the completion of Eyes Wide Shut (1999); due to a seeming lack of recognition for Vitali’s contribution from Warner Brothers and the Kubrick Estate. Overall, I was completely drawn into this sensitive soul’s story of a man who seemed lost without his Master.

But this is not a negative or tragic documentary. It is instead a celebration of creative arts and the Vitali’s contribution to Kubrick’s life-work. His tasks were legion and included assisting with: casting, print transference, overseeing artwork, Film Festival releases, pre-production, stills photography; and acting as Kubrick’s studio conduit when he wanted to lambast someone. The film features many interviews, notably from Vitali but also: Ryan O’Neal, Matthew Modine, R. Lee Ermey, Phil Rosenthal, Pernilla August, Stellan Skarsgard, Danny Lloyd (all grown-up) and many, many more interesting people. They provide rounded commentary to Vitali’s contribution and their experience within the film industry; and more importantly the working process of Stanley Kubrick. Indeed, many of these anecdotes were very humorous and provided a real insight into the director’s way of working.

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Filmworker’s director Tony Zierra spoke eruditely after the screening too revealing his desire to represent the unheralded under-dogs within the film industry. He is very successful in doing so as he presents a touching tribute to one such under-dog in Leon Vitali. Ultimately, Filmworker is a documentary about filmmaking, obsession and the lesser known people working behind the camera.  It is highly recommended for fans of Stanley Kubrick and people who are intrigued by the filmmaking process. Most of all it stands as a fine tribute to the dedication of Leon Vitali; bringing him out of the shadows and into the light, giving him the credit he deserves for his excellent film work.

(MARK: 8.5 out of 11)

WESTWORLD (2016) SEASON 1 – TV REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

WESTWORLD (2016) SEASON 1 – TV REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

HBO’s Westworld was presented, previewed and marketed, like the fantastical flagbearer Game of Thrones before it, as the premium, high-end, star-studded television event of the year. Indeed, in my honest opinion it lived up to the hype and certainly turned out to be one of the shows of the year!

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Everything about Westworld screamed cinematic quality! Of course it’s origins spring from Michael Crichton’s classic sci-fi film Westworld (1973) where the robot hosts started killing the rich guests on holiday at an ‘A:I’ driven amusement park. The formula would then be amped up in Jurassic Park (1993) and its sequels, where instead of sentient androids, we had dinosaur clones attacking the staff and guests. This televisual delight developed – by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy – twists and turns that simple, yet ingenious premise, into a whole new machine; utilising the influences of Crichton, Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, Rod Serling, Harlan Ellison etc. as well as incorporating a number of their own concepts too.

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HBO have pumped $100 million dollars into ten sumptuous looking episodes and the filmmakers took the brilliant decision to shoot on 35mm film. This creative choice gives us exquisite cinematographic vistas of the West while at the same time enhancing the inner sheen of the hi-spec-steam-punk engineering on show underneath the actual “amusement” park itself. Allied to this we get a whole host of A-grade movie and character actors who bring a depth and gravitas to the proceedings.

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Leading the stellar cast is Anthony Hopkins as the established overlord Dr Robert Ford. His presence is felt throughout the park and initially staff and hosts seem to answer to him. Hopkins is terrifically understated in his performance but underneath the iceberg surface is an incredibly complex character who, while a technical genius, responds to human beings coldly. He sees them as obstacles to his grand narrative which seems to be written and re-written from episode to episode. While oddly unsympathetic his enigma drives the show, with his character attempting to control the hosts, staff and his environment while writing and rewriting the past and present.

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Working for Ford are an army of techs and security personnel responsible for guests and hosts alike. The most honest, it would appear, and one we root for is Bernard portrayed with subtle distinction by Geoffrey Wright. His velvety voice alone is enough to project emotion and meaning within every syllable uttered. Representing the corporate personnel are a fine supporting cast, notably, Sidse Babett Knudsen and Luke Hemsworth.

Similarly, the simulacrum hosts are expertly cast with: Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, James Marsden, Rodrigo Santoro and Clifton Collins Jnr etc. bringing a glamour, edge and depth of performance to the paranoid androids. Obviously there are visitors to the park and these roles are dominated by the magisterial Ed Harris and younger bucks Jimmi Simpson and Ben Barnes.


Overall, I found the show an incredible science fiction experience. The opening theme is a haunting gift to the ears, while the incredible imagery of the opening credits are a feast for the eyes.  Visually and aurally the series was crammed with wondrous sounds and vistas and the soundtrack was fabulous too including dark naked tunes by the likes of: The Cure, Radiohead and Soundgarden.  Violence, action, nudity and sexuality are freely on show but this is just skin for the rich narrative and themes which power the twisting story. Indeed, the themes ask us to question everything, like: who is human and who is a host? Should we, the audience, care about a character when they’re a robot?  And most importantly: when are the robots going to start killing the guests?


Halfway through though I must admit I was close to discontinuing and shutting down as I was struggling to connect emotionally with the characters. However, I realised this was a cerebral challenge; a puzzle or maze, which – much like Jonathan Nolan and his brother Christopher’s other work including: The Prestige (2006), Memento (2000) and Inception (2010) – I’ll try and solve. I’ll be honest not all of it hung together satisfactorily on first watch, however, on further views each episode’s timelines, narratives, flashbacks, flash-forwards, memories and dreams combined brilliantly, and I soon realised all the pieces were there to successfully put the puzzle together.

With its state-of-the-art effects, incredible design, brilliant actors, brutal violence, complex plots and classic Western genre setting, this postmodern masterpiece transcends genre and the storytelling process itself. Because at its core processing Westworld is about: the nature of narrative and controlling your story: past, present and future. Oh, that and lots of killer robots. So, overall, Westworld is a place I will certainly be coming back to time and time and time again.  Some might say the whole Westworld experience was a-MAZE-ing!

 

PATHS OF GLORY (1957) – CLASSIC FILM REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

PATHS OF GLORY (1957) – CLASSIC FILM REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike th’inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
Thomas Gray, 1751

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Stanley Kubrick is the greatest filmmaker who ever lived. That is a fact.  He made films in all genres but indelibly stamped his own genius on the war, comedy, thriller, horror, satire, crime, science-fiction, historical and drama films he adapted and created for the big screen. His work contains a litany of iconic images, searing soundtracks, stupendous performances, great intelligence and provocative thought which ensures his films linger in the memory of those who have witnessed them. All hail a true cinematic master.

Paths of Glory (1957) was Kubrick’s fourth feature film and certainly his biggest budget film to date. His previous film had been a B-movie crime masterpiece called The Killing (1956), which meticulously examined the planning, progression and aftermath of a racetrack robbery. Using a documentary style and surgically precise narrative structure The Killing is indicative of Kubrick’s subsequent ability to reinvigorate a genre with his masterly eye. However, Paths of Glory was, emotionally speaking, even more powerful than The Killing.

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The story is set in France, 1916, during the heated battle and burning mud of WW1 trench warfare. World War I is rightly (and then wrongly) thought of as the war to end all wars with millions of soldiers and civilians losing their lives in a coruscating damned hellish indictment against humanity. As if the incredible number of deaths between the warring factions were not enough the powers-that-be would also shoot their own men for cowardice and desertion believing this to be “good for morale” or at very least a warning to those who refuse the fight. This is the frankly insane setting for this formidable dramatic tale.

The main action concerns the court martial of four men chosen, apparently, at random to face a firing squad following a botched attack on a key enemy position called the ’Anthill’. War is a desperate prison even at the best of times but here the men are shown as broken, battered, starving, shell-shocked and on their knees spiritually even before the attack. When the suicide mission unsurprisingly flounders, ambitious and sociopathic General Mireau – portrayed with venal glee by George Macready – proclaims death to all who failed the glory of France. The seemingly more reasonable, yet equally poisonous Major General Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) lowers the numbers to be shot in a chilling scene that reduces human life to no more than barbaric bulls-at-a-market bartering.

The voice of reason amidst all this insanity is Kirk Douglas’ former-lawyer Colonel Dax; who himself was part of the failed raid on the ‘Anthill’ and could testify to the impossibility of the task. Dax is the audience’s conduit to the madness of those in charge; from the: choosing of one soldier by lots; the farcical trial and even the final execution where one unconscious soldier is woken up only to be shot dead moments later. Douglas is imperious in the role demonstrating a range of emotions from incredulity, despair, anger and a powerful sense of the righteousness. The final heart-breaking scene where he gives his men a few more minutes listening to the folk song tells us Dax is a sane man in an insane world run by psychopaths. The song is delivered hauntingly by the captured German girl (the actress Christine Harlan was later to become Kubrik’s wife) to men who are destined to die in the barbed-wire brutality of war.

Kubrick’s work (Barry Lyndon, Dr Strangelove, Clockwork Orange to name a few) is full of damning critiques of the upper classes, high falutin politicians and war-mongering men who use the working or lower classes to do their filthy bidding. In this film they are represented by Menjou’s politically-driven Broulard who sits comfortably in his Chateau quaffing wine and scissoring quail; all the while brave men are skewered in battle. Full of tragedy, wicked satire and black humour the screenplay based on Humphrey Cobb’s novel is eighty-eight minutes of sheer cinematic perfection, power and heartwrenching injustice and emotion.

Quite rightly Paths of Glory has been proclaimed a masterpiece and one of the greatest anti-war films of all time. Filled with the now-iconic tracking shots of bloody battle, plus many tremendous performances notably Macready, Menjou, Douglas and the scene-stealing, druggy sop that is Timothy Carey. Overall, I have watched this classic many times when young and having seen it on the big screen at the BFI recently I can testify that it has lost NONE of its grandstanding power. Forget the insipid blockbusters of today and revisit the master of cinema where and when you can: his name is Stanley Kubrick.