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.
Barry 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?
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?
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.
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.