Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What I Did On My Weekend

Stanley Kubrick Edition

It was a rainy Friday night and having nothing else to do we put on a movie. I was fairly tired so I struggled to keep my eyes open for the entire running time. If it was any other movie I probably would have just let myself go to sleep, but I had a point to prove, in fact, a veritable unsettled grudge match to win against this film, and now, after multiple failed attempts I have finally watched the entirety of Stanley Kubrick's Lolita.

I've yet to see a Kubrick film which was anything less than brilliant and this is no exception. Based on the infamous novel by Vladimir Nabokov, the titular character is a precocious fourteen year old girl who becomes an object of sexual obsession for her mother's perverted house guest, the unusually named Humbert Humbert.

Making a mainstream movie about a paedophile is a pretty dubious proposition, so it's interesting to see how Kubrick pulled it off. The censors strict demands (this was released in 1962 so they were even worse than nowadays) meant that no such relationship between the main characters could be explicitly stated, so there's plenty of whispering in ears and untranslated but obvious allusions. It's slightly annoying that these constraints can still be placed on a film even though the offensive material is the very heart of the story, but in this case there's no need to be concerned as Kubrick is so skilled that he effortlessly hurdles such obstacles.

Lolita is surprisingly funny for a movie with such a unsavoury premise. Peter Seller's presence as Humbert's rival paedophile Clare Quilty of course guarantees a certain amount of humour, his scene in disguise as the school psychologist is especially good, but there's plenty of other amusing stuff to be found here (all enhanced by the slightly stilted, formal manners of the period the film was made in), such as the horrified look Humbert gets whenever Lolita's mother starts with her desperate sexual advances.

Then on the Saturday night I kept the momentum going and we watched another Kubrick movie that has been on the to watch list for far too long, Barry Lyndon.

This is Kubrick's period drama, following the fortunes of a young Irish man in the 1700s. It's one of his less famous works, partly on the account of the unusual-for-him genre, and partly because it isn't quite up to the standard his other films.

Of course we're talking about one of (if not the) greatest directors of all time here, so it's far from a disappointment. Unlike Lolita it feels much more like a Kubrick film. You've got your static shots of large, almost empty rooms, your unemotional, almost passionless characters and your incredibly slow pace. A pace that, it must be said, doesn't sit well with the movie's three hour running time. We can add to it's failings a general lack of emotional impact or resonance in the story, something that Kubrick normally does very well.

While it may not measure up to the rest of Kubrick's output, Barry Lyndon is still a fine movie. The visual aspects, which is to say the costumes and cinematography, are astoundingly vibrant and beautiful throughout the film, and rightly won an Oscar or two. And as with Lolita there's a lot of humour to be found here, particularly in the dry wit of the narrator:
“A lady who sets her heart on a lad in uniform must be prepared to change lovers pretty quickly or her life will be a sad one. This heart of Lischen's was like many a neighboring town that had been stormed and occupied many times before Barry came to invest it.”
A large part of the reason it doesn't quite sit as well as other Kubrick films is because of the dislikeable nature of our protagonist, Redmond Barry (later renamed Barry Lyndon). At various times during the story he is cowardly, violent, cruel, duplicitous and stupid, but by the end he does earn the begrudging sympathy of the viewer, simply by being more admirable than the society he finds himself in: the mercenary, pompous, vapid European aristocracy. There's a curious parallel with Lolita, where while the titular character begins as a typical empty headed teen, concerned only with selfish, immediate gratification, but becomes the least childish of all the characters in the movie, having been used and abused by the pathetic Humbert, the shallow hedonist Quilty and her petty, bitter mother.

They're both worth watching, but watch Lolita first.


Skarnz said...

Finally conquered Lolita, eh? I believe this deserves a celebratory drink!

Now, if only I wasn't at home alone on a monday afternoon...

Squirk said...

"on the too watch list" -- "Man, this film's timepiece-like qualities are amazing." "You don't think it's a bit too watch?"

Jon said...

Skarnz: Yes, the 'not drinking beforehand' idea helped a lot with getting through it.

Squirk: From now on I'm going to be scrutinizing every word you write on facebook for grammatical errors...

Squirk said...

"i is in ur commments
fixin ur grammrz"

I can always stop, if you like. In fairness, I wouldn't bother raising technical issues if you didn't set yourself such a high bar to start with.


Jon said...

It's OK. I actually kind of appreciate it! There's nothing worse than looking at a post you made two months ago and seeing a big glaring grammatical error...