Tag Archives: Film

Mr. Stanley Kubrick

I am proud to be a creator.

As I was reading this morning about the directing techniques of Stanley Kubrick, I felt a newfound pride swelling inside me. Here was a man who tried and failed, thousands (if not millions) of times, in a near-endless battle to achieve perfection. Here was a master, someone who drove his work beyond the boundaries of excellence and into the realm of genius.

Humans are flawed, and I’m the first to admit it. I can’t draw straight lines. I can’t light my scenes with the accuracy of a photograph. I am a human, and that means constant mistakes in my work and my personality. I will never sit down at my desk and produce something perfect on the first try.

I am not like my computer, which can always draw straight lines, every time, tirelessly, or always render a scene with accurate lighting. Knowing this hurts me; it feels like lifting weights but never getting any stronger. I am no Kubrick.

Nonetheless, Kubrick makes me proud of my humanity. I’m not a creator like him.  But like him, I am a creator.

yeahpaintingstyle_barrylyndonBarry Lyndon, 1975

Kubrick’s 1975 film, Barry Lyndon, is one of my favorite movies. I was first motivated to watch it by one critic’s suggestion that “every scene was like a painting”. Their appraisal was accurate: every scene in the film was riveting in composition, color, and lighting. The story cleanly encapsulates a man’s life and struggles in the space of three hours. It is the perfect film.

How did he do it? How did Kubrick manage such a massive undertaking with any level of mastery?

vlcsnap-2010-12-11-14h39m36s28 barry_lyndon_1280x800_64186Barry Lyndon, 1975

It is both a great comfort and a great challenge to me, knowing that Kubrick made mistakes. The difference between his work and mine is that he never allowed his mistakes to appear in the final product- he worked through them, no matter how difficult. This meant hours upon hours of painstaking thought and labor. It meant he only completed 13 feature-length films in his career.

However, it also meant that each one of those 13 was a masterpiece. It meant that Kubrick will go down in history as one of the greatest directors ever to call a retake.

There are several artists like Kubrick, whose work is irreproachably brilliant. The first one that springs to mind is Rembrandt (only because I recently got the chance to see some of his first editions in person). But there are outstanding masters in every field of the arts. They are like aliens, supernaturally gifted with creative ability. Is this true? Are some people just different, capable of genius from birth?


6a0120a8545b6a970b01a3fcd536c6970b-piBarry Lyndon, 1975

It is not true. Kubrick made mistakes. It was his ability to work through his own mistakes that made him a genius.

All of the great masters were (and are) humans. They were (and are) all fundamentally flawed. None of them could draw a truly straight line.

barry-lyndon-landscape barry-lyndon-duelBarry Lyndon, 1975

We know instinctively that nothing perfect comes from a flawed source. The root defines the fruit. Yet this natural law is defied when humans like Tchaikovsky, Steinbeck, and Kubrick composed a symphony, wrote a novel, or directed a film that still stands straight and tall in a gray crowd of mediocrity. They have done what a perfect computer will never do. They brought what is flawless out of what is flawed. They drew a straight line, and in the process it took on a quality of humanity; it became something more than perfect.


Double Feature Friday

I’ll bet you pickles to nickels you haven’t seen either of these very cool animated movies. Go ahead, prove me wrong.

The first, and the one I’m really into, is Grendel Grendel Grendel. It’s Australian in origin, and is that country’s second full-length animated feature.

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

Grendel Grendel Grendel (1981), directed by Alexaner Stitt,is a romp in the mysterious world of proto-medieval Scandinavia. The main character is a lovable and sophisticated green creature, Grendel from the epic poem Beowulf.

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

What makes this one so great? The humor is goofy, the art is lush and vivid, and the story builds itself methodically and intelligently. This movie sits squarely between juvenile and adult storytelling, having fun with the silly, colorful characters while also striking deep chords of loneliness and curiousity in Grendel’s personal life.

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

It also stars Peter Ustinov as the voice of Grendel- how can you beat that?

The second film is even a little further off the deep end. Angel’s Egg (1985), directed by Mamoru Oshii, is one long animated question.

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In a hauntingly beautiful 70 minutes, a young girl and a soldier wander a eerie landscape locked in eternal night. The plot, featuring mystifying references to the Biblical Flood, centers around a mysterious egg which the girl carries.

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If slow pacing makes a movie painful to watch, this is the Spanish Inquisition of animated films. But don’t let that stop you- it certainly has its moments. I would love to hear what you think it means, because even after watching it a second time, I’m still absolutely in the dark.

I’m always on the hunt for obscure animated classics! What are some of your favorites?

Christopher Nolan, You’re Doing It Wrong

I’m what you might call an “armchair film director”.

Without any training or legitimate background in Film, I like to watch movies and tell people what I would have done better.

“See that lighting?  I wouldn’t have lit that shot like that.  Not if I was the director.”

“See that elephant?  I wouldn’t have put that elephant in the foreground like that.  What were they thinking?”

“See that arrogant jerk directing from his armchair?  I wouldn’t have…” and so on.

Some of my favorite directors also happen to be pretty decent artists; and this is a skill which serves them well.

Guillermo Del Toro keeps notebooks full of concepts for his films.  Here are some doodles for Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), and two for Hellboy II: the Golden Army (2008):


guillermo del toro


Guillermo Del Toro, concept work for Pan’s Labyrinth, 2006

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Guillermo Del Toro, concept work for Hellboy II: the Golden Army, 2008

Ridley Scott is another terrific director who uses his artistic abilities (and a background in drafting) to great effect.  Below are some of his boards for Alien (1979).

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Ridley Scott, storyboards for Alien, 1979

All of the films listed so far are on a whole ‘nother level, visually.  Of course, nearly all movies are storyboarded these days, just as nearly all movies have a team of concept artists.  There’s no apparent need for a director to have any skill with a pencil; but I’d like to make an argument for the Artist-Director.

A director’s job is to have a vision for the finished film.  He oversees the progress of the project, always moving toward greater cohesion between film elements.  The movie has to be a whole, with each of its smaller parts working together in harmony, if it wants to move the audience.

Since film is primarily a visual medium, wouldn’t it make sense if the person who carried the artistic vision of the project (the director) was able to actually express his ideas on paper?


James Cameron, concept painting for The Terminator, 1984


James Cameron, concept painting for Aliens, 1986

In my not-very-humble-opinion, the director’s role should not be specialized.  He or she must be a storyboard artist, concept artist, expert on lighting, sound engineer, and everything in between in order to effectively manage an artistic vision.  The director should be comfortable wearing all of the hats at once.


Terry Gilliam, storyboards for Brazil, 1985

What are your thoughts?  Is this too much to ask, or are we asking too little of directors?